Nineteen Must-Take Courses This Winter

WINTER QUARTER. Frigid in ambient air temperature, but typically also in spirit. To warm you in the coming months—and to offer entertaining, educational respites between pluvial sprints across the quad—the Sphere has compiled an alphabetized list of the most scintillating classes at Stanford. In recognition of recent (frightening) events on the global political stage, we’ve especially tried to identify classes to help you make sense of the months ahead. Worried about imminent war with Iran? Try POLISCI 245R with Abbas Milani. More generally anxious about authoritarian politics both at home and abroad? We have a seminar for that, too. Keep reading below for our longest course list yet.

CS 152: Trust and Safety Engineering
Wondering what Facebook can do about its role in mass killings or disinformation campaigns? Look no further than this class. The instructor, Alex Stamos, worked as Facebook’s Chief Security Officer until 2018, when he clashed with the company leadership while handling Russian interference in U.S. elections. Now he’s at Stanford, and he’s teaching a course on how to build systems that mitigate just such abuses. For those of us who are keen on criticizing Facebook for its recent missteps, the class will offer hands-on experience in addressing them: in the class, students will get to build an online chat system that tackles safety issues from cyberbullying to terrorism. Don’t miss it. (CS 106B is a prerequisite.)

Units: 3
WAYS: None
Reading: N/A
Time: MW 3:00-4:20

EARTHSYS 125: Redesigning and Rethinking the Environmental Justice Movements (CSRE 125E, URBANST 125)
“Environmental justice” is one of those phrases you hear thrown around in activist gatherings and heady social science classes—a way of shoehorning mentions of climate change into a conversation, a shaky bridge between social justice terminology and the often hyper-white world of environmentalism. The field, which originated in the 1980s, at first mostly considered the impact of pollution and waste on different communities. As the scope and intensity of the climate crisis have deepened over the past decades, so has the scope of environmental justice. In this class, Indira Phukan and David Gonzalez help guide you through these new dimensions of the field, engaging through both critical readings in the foundational texts of environmentalism and practical action in partnership with real-world environmental groups.

Units: 3-5
WAYS: ED
Reading: Medium
Time: TTh 11:30 AM-1:20 PM

ECON 1: Principles of Economics
This class is not compellingly taught, and its economic models are profoundly outdated: Mark Duggan provides an introduction to the neoliberal economics that both the right and left nowadays refute. That all being said, some grounding in the basics of economics—even this flawed paradigm—is essential to modern life. You probably won’t enjoy it, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.

Units: 5
WAYS: SI
Reading: Light
Time: MW 9:30-11:20

EE 103: Introduction to Matrix Methods (CME 103)
If you just took CS 106A and are looking to apply your computational knowledge, then 106B isn’t necessarily the best next step. Forget binary search trees, recursion, and pointers: linear algebra is the language of modelling real-world phenomena. This class is perfect for non-majors looking to supplement introductory CS with practical applications in data analysis and modeling, ranging from financial portfolio optimization to image processing and biological simulations. Brad Osgood’s humor and emphasis on intuition bring the subject to life, and Stephen Boyd’s problem sets apply the class’ techniques to surprisingly varied problems with compelling results. 

Units: 3-5
WAYS: AQR, FR
Reading: N/A
Time: TTh 9:00-10:20

ENGLISH 91A: Asian-American Autobiography
What exactly is Asian-American memoir, and how does it work against the forces of racialization and assimilation in America? This is just one of the many questions explored in this intimate classroom setting with an award-winning author and professor, Chang-Rae Lee. Beyond intellectual questions of identity and belonging, this class will also push your writing to the limit. Professor Lee is a truly careful reader whose comments will sharpen your prose and teach you how to completely inhabit a single line. 

Units: 3-5
WAYS: CE, ED
Reading: Light
TIme: MW 1:30-2:50

ETHICSOC 174B: Universal Basic Income (ETHICSOC 274B, PHIL 174B, PHIL 274B, POLISCI 134E, POLISCI 338)
Every election season brings with it unexpected pitches and candidates. Few have caught fire like Andrew Yang and his proposed panacea: Universal Basic Income (UBI). Can it replace means-tested welfare? What role should it play in our economy as automation takes over? What amount is just? In discussing a policy that chagrins and appeals to lefties and right-wingers alike, Stanford is lucky to have Juliana Bidadanure, a leading expert on UBI and advocate of a student-driven classroom. If you want to learn what makes the #YangGang tick, this is the class for you.

Units: 3
WAYS: ER
Reading: Medium
Time: Th 9:00-11:50

FEMGEN 103: Feminist and Queer Theories and Methods Across the Disciplines (FEMGEN 203)
Offering a broad yet thorough overview of feminist interventions in a variety of disciplines, this course is a must-take for anyone interested in how feminist concerns interact with knowledge production. An excellent selection of readings offer a rigorous overview of concepts like standpoint theory, intersectionality, and postcolonial feminist critique—the perfect foundation for challenging the next chud who complains to you about “grievance studies.” The course also emphasizes research skills and research preparation, historically concluding with a series of seminars led by Stanford researchers and faculty.

Units: 2-5
WAYS: A-II, ED
Reading: Medium
Time: MW 10:30-11:50

HISTORY 185B: Jews in the Contemporary World (CSRE 185B, HISTORY 385C, JEWISHST 185B, REES 185B, SLAVIC 183)
It begins with Alexander Portnoy and it ends with A Serious Man. Alexander Portnoy, to be clear, is not a serious man, more or less by his own admission—but Mother, so many admissions! After History 185B has you begin with Philip Roth’s scandalous and brilliant Portnoy’s Complaint, you’ll watch one of America’s greatest dramas (Mad Men), follow it with one of its greatest comedies (Seinfeld), and bookend the two with the films of Elia Kazan and the Coen Brothers. Bridging the gaps between, you’ll read The Cut and academic theory. If you have any interest in Jewish film, history, or literature, Adrien Smith and Steven Zipperstein’s class is not to be missed this winter.

Units: 3-5
WAYS: ED, SI
Reading: Light
TIme: TTh 12-1:20

HISTORY 278B: The Historical Ecology of Latin America (HISTORY 378)
When we think about climate change, our eyes are usually set on the future rather than the past. But the latter is just as important if we are to grasp the impact humans can have on the environment, and the effect these changes have on societies. Mikael Wolfe, who has pioneered research on water management’s links to the Mexican Revolution and subsequent agrarian reform, can approach environmental history like no one else at Stanford.

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

HISTORY 338A: Graduate Colloquium in Modern British History
We continue to live in a world defined by the British 19th century, a period during which a small island country pioneered the Industrial Revolution, and went on to colonize a third of the world’s land surface. Through the empire, Britain spread its purportedly superior modes of civilization—a process responsible for outcomes as disparate as the consolidation of the caste system in India and the globalization of English middle-class notions of gender. If that doesn’t sufficiently wet your whistle, Professor Satia leads a damn good seminar; she’s witty, incisive, and brilliant.

Units: 4-5
WAYS: None
Reading: Heavy
Time: T 1:30-4:20

PHIL 194W: Imagination in Fiction and Philosophy
Antonia Peacocke’s genre-bending class inquires first into the nature of imagination before going on to explore imagination in fiction. In its whirlwind tour of philosophy and literature, this class should appeal to readers of all stripes. If Aristotle and Hume aren’t really your thing, you can take pleasure in reading them alongside Lovecraft. If Lovecraft’s too lowbrow, you’ll probably like Coetzee; if Coetzee’s too spare, try David Foster Wallace. And if DFW’s “too pomo and cute”? Sophocles is neither pomo nor cute. Even if you’re more into math than reading, you can look forward to finishing with Flatland: A Romance in Many Dimensions—the most captivating novel of polygons and class in the annals of Victorian lit.

Units: 4
WAYS: AII, ER
Reading: Medium
Time: MW 1:30-2:50

POLISCI 114S: International Security in a Changing World (INTLPOL 241)
Our world is constantly adapting to crises. One day North Korea threatens to use long-range ballistic missiles, and the next day Russia develops new technologies for international warfare. This class will teach you professionals’ key considerations when dealing with these pressing matters. Combining the views of Scott Sagan, Joseph Felte, and Harold Trinkunas, you’ll learn to appreciate the intricacies of some of our world’s most complex issues. But what sets the course apart is its 48-hour simulation, through which you’ll apply all the theoretical knowledge acquired to a plausible scenario. (So plausible that last year’s simulation was the assassination of Suleimani.)

Units: 5
WAYS: SI
Reading: Medium
Time: MWF 9:30-10:20

POLISCI 134: Ethics for Activists (ETHICSOC 134)
Emilee Chapman’s classes are fantastic for newcomers and veterans of political theory alike. This class is being offered for the first time this quarter and examines ethical considerations in activism. Students will learn to form and evaluate logical arguments about the ethical dimensions of their work beyond the classroom, and they will consider the limitations of logical argument in discussing ethical and political issues. 

Units: 5
WAYS: ER
Reading: Medium
Time: TTh 1:30-2:50

POLISCI 213C: Understanding Russia
Russia has long presented itself as a puzzle to the West, one that has challenged established notions of development, modernization, and, perhaps most notably, what a communist state should look like. Beginning with the collapse of the Soviet Union, this course, taught by Kathryn Stoner, attacks the puzzle of why and how contemporary Russia has found itself again at the center of world power politics despite predictions to the contrary. With a unique array of challenging assignments—a critical essay, a policy memo, an op-ed—and an equally lively collection of readings, Stoner’s course holds the promise of what the study of international relations should be: a broad and deep investigation into the contours of power and our assumptions, right and wrong, about that power in the world today. 

Units: 5
WAYS: None
Reading: Medium
Time: TTh 1:30-2:50

POLISCI 244A: Authoritarian Politics 
This course is not for beginners. Surveying the best of recent political science research on authoritarianism, this advanced course covers the themes you would expect, but kicked up six notches. Led by two deeply knowledgeable professors, Lisa Blaydes and Beatriz Magaloni—the latter of whom brings a refreshing and memorable humor to all her classes—are challenging yet accessible. If the Trump era or the rise of China have given you any ideas about the nature of authoritarian systems, this is the place to explore them. 

Units: 3-5
WAYS: None
Reading: Medium
Time: T 1:30-4:20

POLISCI 245R: Politics in Modern Iran
A great revolutionary said there are decades in which nothing happens and weeks in which decades happen. Only hindsight will tell us if we are currently in the latter kind of week. Second best to hindsight is a strong grounding in the history that has led us here. This class is taught by Professor Milani: an eminent, world-class scholar in Iranian Studies. Anyone in the present should be hesitant to make predictions, but if the coming days shake the world, this class may be your best chance to develop a stable foundation to see it from.

Units: 5
WAYS: SI
Reading: Heavy
Time: W 2:30-5:20

POLISCI 246A: Paths to the Modern World (POLISCI 446A) 
As far as the Sphere is concerned, a modern education must include an understanding of why the modern world is the way it is. And this understanding would be incomplete without knocking the West from its traditional position as the platonic ideal of modernity and putting it, rightfully, in perspective. This middle-level political science course (it assigns articles rather than entire books) surveys recent global research on state formation and economic development. Never dry or repetitive, and deeply engaging in a manner that challenges our deepest-held notions of how the world works, this course is sure to be revelatory for all majors. 

Units: 3-5
WAYS: None
Reading: Heavy
Time: T 9:00-11:50

PHIL 179W: Du Bois and Democracy (CSRE 179W, ETHICSOC 179W, PHIL 179W)
Political philosophy at Stanford usually focuses on the likes of Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, and Locke. This course, a survey of W.E.B. Du Bois’ political thought, is a welcome exception. It promises a refreshing take on democracy, race, and revolution from one of America’s greatest thinkers.

Units: 4
WAYS: None
Reading: Medium
Time: TTh 3:30-4:50

TAPS 127W: Introduction to Clown
“Nobody cared who I was until I put on the nose. Before this class I was but another student, but now I am a clown of the highest order, capable of creating laughter which will be heard in eternity. My name echoes throughout the crevices of the clown world and I am revered and respected. All this was because this class has made me come to accept who I really am. A clown. You too are a clown. Accept and jump into the abyss.” —anonymous reviewer, Carta 

Units: 3
WAYS: CE
Reading: Clown
Time: MW 1:30-3:20

 

Image courtesy of Ali Almossawi on Flickr.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s