Sixteen Must-Take Courses This Spring

YOUR TRUSTED friends at the Sphere collaborated to compile a list of Stanford’s best. Arranged in alphabetical order, our recommendations are guaranteed to have something for everyone. Take a look at our most comprehensive list yet.

ARTHIST 155C: Abstract Expressionism: Painting/Modern/America (AMSTUD 155C)

Every student at Stanford should take a class with Professor Nemerov. He is a powerful, engaging, and dynamic lecturer whose poetic close readings of art will leave a lingering emotional impact. Although the lectures certainly center on abstract art, they are also about the human condition and what is at stake in all art. This class will change the way you look at abstract expressionism and give you the sensibility to integrate pieces studied in class into your own life. Sections are also a treat; students get the opportunity to look at pieces from the artists discussed in lecture at the Anderson Collection.

Units: 4
Ways: AII
Reading: Light
Time: MW 1:30-2:50

BIO 144: Conservation Biology: A Latin American Perspective

Human-caused global environmental changes, from climate change to globalization, are at the leading edge of the disruptions wrought by the Anthropocene. Stanford’s curriculum on these changes, and the steps that need to be taken to counteract them, is woefully small— there’s a reason why there’s a petition circulating to hire faculty focused on the interdisciplinary topic of Environmental Justice. But while we wait for the University to address the systemic gaps in its curriculum (which, at the rates things go, should happen by the time we’re a meter underwater), taking a class that focuses on those changes isn’t a bad idea. Professor Rodolfo Dirzo is an expert on the ecology and culture of Latin America, and his approach, taking equal time to survey the abundant biodiversity of the region and the abundant threats to it, is one that’s equally appealing to biologists and laypeople simply interested in these pressing issues.

Units: 3
Reading: Heavy (for biology) / Light (for the humanities)
Ways: None
Time: MF 3:30-4:20

COMM 151: The First Amendment: Freedom of Speech and Press

“Freedom of speech” isn’t just invoked by that asshole down the hall who retweets Charlie Kirk. It’s a fundamental building block of American society, but it’s also one that’s been scrutinized by the Supreme Court countless times over the nation’s history—and sometimes it’s been found that free speech isn’t entirely free. Are hate speech, obscenity and incitement protected by the First Amendment? What does campaign finance have to do with free speech? And how wrong does a journalist have to be in order to be found liable for defamation? It’s been said that the Constitution is a living document: this class takes you through every stage in the life cycle of one of its most essential parts.

Units: 4-5
WAYS: None
Reading: Light
Time: MW 3:00-4:50

COMM 154: The Politics of Algorithms (COMM 254, CSRE 154T, SOC 154)

Algorithms, algorithms, algorithms—that’s all you ever hear at Stanford. Here, in the heart of Silicon Valley, it is all too easy to start thinking of algorithms as objective creators of facts. It can often be difficult to step back and look critically at these technological innovations, especially at the lightning pace at which they seem to be coming. Luckily, there’s a class for that! With readings ranging from Michel Foucault to Mark Zuckerberg, this class covers the political influences and consequences of the algorithm as well as potential solutions to the more unsavory effects of unbridled algorithm use and development. Taught by Professor Angèle Christin, an expert on the usage of algorithms and analytics, this class is perfect for STEM and humanities students alike.

Units: 4-5
Reading: Medium
Ways: SI
Time: TTh 1:30-2:30

COMPLIT 253: Hannah Arendt, Facing Totalitarianism (GERMAN 253, JEWISHST 243A)

Few modern political philosophers are as gripping as Hannah Arendt. She has written, among other topics, on totalitarianism, revolution, the relationship between power and violence, and the difference between the public and private spheres. Many humanities courses will assign bits and pieces of Arendt’s works, but this course is a unique opportunity to explore her thought more thoroughly and, with it, reflect on fundamental questions of human nature.

Units: 3-5
Ways: AII, SI
Reading: Medium
Time: T 3:00-5:50

CSRE 100P: Student and Community Organizing for Social Change

The majority of courses at Stanford, even those that touch on the topics of justice and change vital to political organizing, are strictly academic endeavors. You read sources, discuss issues, but rarely learn anything about the actual work of making social change. CSRE 100P is a corrective to this trend—it’s a one unit course that meets 6 times throughout the quarter (mostly on weekends) focused entirely on how to effectively and strategically achieve social change. It also features a killer list of guest speakers, including organizers who worked on the Green New Deal and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ campaign.

Units: 1
WAYS: None
Reading: Light
Time: Two Friday sessions and four Saturday sessions

ECON 182: Honors Market Design

In essence, a market is simply a set of rules chosen such that people and resources may be allocated in the best possible way. In market design, you get to play around with these rules, and with the definition of “best possible” itself. You’ll find out how you got matched through the Marriage Pact, why the housing draw is actually pretty fair (from a formal standpoint), and how markets in general can be designed to be resistant to self-interested individuals attempting to exploit the system—all this from the brilliant and extremely caring Professor Fuhito Kojima, one amongst the unusually many market design superstars at Stanford.

Units: 5
WAYS: FR
Reading: Light
Time: TTh 1:30-3:20

EARTHSYS 180: Principles and Practices of Sustainable Agriculture

Spring quarter is here, and with it (eventually) come beautiful sunny days. Why spend hours in a lecture hall or classroom, idly staring at the grass outside? Instead, take a course on our very own O’Donohue Family Stanford Educational Farm. In EARTHSYS 180, half of the class is spent in the open-air classroom in the center of the farm, and the other half is spent walking among (and tasting!) the rows of crops and learning hands-on sustainable practices every step of the way: cultivating the soil, making compost, harvesting fruit, and more. You’ll learn about what agricultural practices have been used in the past, what effects they’ve had on our soil, and about how we can transition to robust, sustainable practices to continue to feed our communities in an era of climatic uncertainty.

Units: 3-4
WAYS: SMA
Reading: Medium
Time: TTh 1:30-4:20

ENGLISH 126B: The Nineteenth Century Novel

This course centers on the emergence of the novel as a major cultural form in the 19th century and its reflection of the period’s growing concerns: the meaning of moral action, individualism, and urban experience. Although the reading is hefty, the novels are thoughtfully chosen and  very enjoyable. Professor Brink-Roby is also a wonderful instructor who is adept at creating lively and fascinating discussions. Take the opportunity to study some incredible novels with an equally incredible professor!

Units: 5
Ways: AII
Reading: Heavy  
Time: MW 11:30-1:20

FILMSTUD 213: Theories of Melodrama

Offering a fascinating study into the politics and aesthetics of melodrama, this course will challenge your ideas of this popular but ridiculed mode while positioning it within critical discourses surrounding gender, sexuality, race, class, and nation. Take this for an opportunity to explore films from Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America, a diverse selection from such auteurs as Pedro Almodóvar, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Wong Kar-wai.

Units: 5
Ways: AII, ED
Reading: Medium
Time: T 1:30-4:20 (class), 5:30-8:20 (screening)

HISTORY 200G: Doing Intellectual History

Ideas matter, but they are neither born nor transmitted in a vacuum. How, then, should we think about ideas? Keith Baker, one of the world’s foremost experts on the French Revolution, will lead this seminar on how we’ve tried to understand ideas, their origins, and their impacts through time.

Units: 5
Ways: None
Reading: Heavy
Time: M 1:30-4:20

History 204D: Advanced Topics in Agnotology

Most people know, in a vague, received-wisdom sense, that the tobacco and oil industries are up to some shady shit. They’ve heard about court cases or leaked documents secondhand, or they’ve just gotten a nebulous sense that there’s more to them than meets the eye. You’re probably in that position too—you can’t name any specific incident or anything, just a general sense that something’s wrong. Professor Robert Proctor’s course on Advanced Topics in Agnotology (the study of ignorance) will reveal—through meticulous use of archival materials from tobacco and oil corporations themselves—the depth and pervasiveness of these industries’ manipulation of the truth.

Units: 5
WAYS: None
Reading: Medium
Time: M 1:30-4:20

HISTORY 297D : Oral History and the Partition of India

Courses on India are both underoffered and undersubscribed at Stanford, which, if you know anything at all about Indian history, doesn’t make any sense. Though it’s hard to get around the problem of limited offerings, those limited offerings tend, in our limited experience, to be very, very good. This particular course will be drawing from oral history archives on Partition—one of the most tragically interesting topics in recent Indian history—to learn both (a) oral historical methods and (b) some modern Indian history. As an undiscountable plus, 297D is taught by Ryan Perkins, Stanford’s South Asian Studies Librarian and an all-around badass (motorcyclist, modern-day Indiana Jones, etc).

Units: 5
Reading: Medium
WAYS: None
Time: TTh 4:30-5:50

INTNLREL 123: The Future of the European Union: Challenges and Opportunities

The European Union, for all its dysfunction and confusion, exists as one of the most crucial institutions of the modern era. Yet, as is apparent with Brexit, it’s often deeply misunderstood, not least by those in power. This popular course taught by political scientist Christophe Crombez ran out of seats on the first day, and with good reason: it promises a three-pronged exploration of the EU’s economic policies, sovereignty disputes, and global position in the future. You’ll leave having not only demystified the EU, but also having (hopefully) developed a habit we all need: regular news consumption, which is required!

Units: 5
WAYS: SI
Reading: Medium
Time: MW 3:00-4:20

PHIL 2: Introduction to Moral Philosophy (ETHICSOC 20)

Is good subjective? What is the good life? How do we organize a just society? There may be a shortage of ethics in Silicon Valley, but PHIL 2 is here to help you think about the hard questions those around you won’t. The syllabus features a diverse bunch of contemporary philosophers who rigorously engage with present-day ethical challenges. Professor Maguire is also a smart, engaging, and open instructor who helps students to think deeply about ethics and have fun doing it. A must.

Units: 5
Ways: AII, ER
Reading: Medium
Time: MW 3:00-4:20

POLISCI 247G: Governance and Poverty

There are plenty of political science courses offered on the unfortunate trio of poverty, violence, and bad governance, but not many courses can offer both a theoretical deep dive and real-world solutions. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, Professor Magaloni-Kerpel leads this lively and challenging seminar, with a particular focus on Latin America and Mexico, and examines the use of experimental design and policy to understand and alleviate poverty and violence. Not only is the syllabus exceptional, replete with fascinating recommended readings alongside required ones, but the course stands out as an incisive look into solutions and actions too often missing on Stanford’s campus.

Units: 5
WAYS: SI
Reading: Heavy
Time: MW 1:30-2:50

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