All ILS Courses 

ILS 400

ILS 126 Principles of Environmental Science (PEC/Hon) – Cathy Middlecamp - 4cr

This course relates principles of environmental science to our daily activities, with an eye to sustainability, conservation, and systems thinking. It introduces science as a process of inquiry and discovery rather than just a pre-established set of facts. Topics relate to energy, water, and land use, and include food, electric power, materials, buildings, transportation, and waste. This course is "very ILSy" in addressing two interdisciplinary topics:  energy & food on the UW-Madison campus.  For example, what's the big picture relating to our energy use, including lighting, vehicles, waste, and even the Charter Street heating & cooling plant?  Where does our campus food originate, what is its carbon footprint, and what happens to food waste?  What initiatives are now underway by WE CONSERVE and by the Office of Sustainability?  Each week, a laboratory investigation that originates in our teaching space at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery will help you to find answers to questions such as these.  Although this course meets the physical science breadth requirement, you'll find that it contains a dash of the humanities and social sciences as well.


ILS 153 Ways of Knowing in Sciences (PEC) - Basil Tikoff- 4 cr

This is introductory science course for non-science majors provides an overview of scientific discovery and the nature of science. It will explore science as a process of inquiry through five broad scientific concepts representing a range of disciplines: astronomy, geology, chemistry, biology, and ecology/atmospheric sciences.


ILS 200 Critical Thinking & Expression (Comm B/Hon) -  Kido Lopez 3cr

What does it mean to think critically? To find fault?  To employ intellectual rigor? Can we imagine a method of critical thought that produces writing with the potential to change the world? This course takes the definition of “critical thought” seriously in order to expand our idea of what critical communication is and has the potential to be. Getting beyond the standard connotation of “critical” thought as finding fault with others’ ideas, we will explore other definitions of the word “critical,” including:

 1. Constituting a crisis

2. Involving grave uncertainty or risk

3. Crucial or essential

4. Constituting a turning point

Taking these definitions as versions of what critical thinking is or can do, we will examine critical pieces of writing and other forms of expression from Western, colonial, and post-colonial experience, asking ourselves what part the simple act of thinking critically had in the most important events in our history, and honing our own writing and thinking skills along the way. Material for the class will include texts and artwork from the history of colonization and independence in the Atlantic Rim, seminal works from the contemporary avant-garde, important speeches from the American Civil Rights movement and the radical youth movements of the 1960s, as well as a variety of other examples of truly critical human thought and expression. Through a semester of careful investigation of the power of critical thinking, students will be asked to broaden their own ideas of what their own writing and thinking have the capacity to do or become in the world. Assignments for this course emphasize the development of written and oral communication skills essential for a variety of kinds of real-world success, as well as academic excellence. This course fulfills the Communications B requirement


ILS 201 Western Culture: Science, Technology, Philosophy I (N) - Hsia - 3cr

What does science have to do with religion? What does it mean to have expertise about the natural world? What difference do politics and funding sources make to scientific investigation? Learn how to think critically and historically about science in this course by exploring such fundamental questions across two millennia. This is the first in a sequence of introductory courses that treat primarily scientific (but also related technological and medical) developments from antiquity through the twentieth century.  ILS 201 begins with early technology and Babylonian astronomy, and moves into classical Greece and the two traditions fertilized by Greek mathematics, medicine, and natural philosophy (i.e., the civilizations of medieval Islam and Latin Christendom).  It concludes with the Scientific Revolution in early modern Europe, culminating in Newton’s unification of physics and astronomy.  As we will see, many of these developments are intertwined with the histories of philosophy, religion, and institutions. (FYI:  ILS 202 covers Newton to the 20th c.)

ILS 202 Western Culture: Science, Technology, Philosophy II (NEC) – C. Jackson - 3cr

Western science and technology in the making. Major developments viewed in philosophical and social context from the 17th to early twentieth century. Students will learn a lot about the connections between commerce, manufacture, exploration, and war, changing conceptions of man’s place in nature, and our ability to control the world around us. And, in the process, we will come to a new understanding of the relationship between science, technology and society. Cannot be taken by students who have taken History of Science 202 or 404. ILS 202 offers an introduction to the history of the sciences between the late seventeenth century and the early twentieth century, with the aim of understanding the varied ways of knowing that have come to be known as “science.” We will ask: What does it mean to know something about nature?  How can we be sure this knowledge is secure? And what is this “scientific” knowledge of nature good for, according to people in particular times and places? In pursuing these questions, we will treat such pivotal intellectual developments as Newtonianism, the conservation of energy, and Darwin's theory of evolution. At the same time, we will seek to understand the relationship between these ideas and the broader cultural context in which they took place, paying particular attention to the ways it was possible to “do science” in different times and places. These big, messy, important questions and relationships are among the most important in our culture's history and remain central to understanding the condition of modern Western and global culture today.

The class meets three times a week, twice in one-hour lectures and once in a discussion section led by a TA. Attendance is required in lectures and discussions. Note that this course conveys Natural Sciences breadth credit for L&S. If you wish to take a similar course for Humanities breadth credit, consider signing up for History of Science 202, which meets with ILS 202 for its lectures (but has different emphases in discussion sections and assessments). 

ILS 203 Western Culture: Literature and the Arts II (L) Aylward - 3cr

ILS 203 is a survey of Western literature and art from classical antiquity to the medieval period, with a substantial emphasis on the textual and material remains from ancient Greece and Rome. It will provide a foundational knowledge of some of the works of art and literature that have shaped the Western intellectual tradition, as well as challenge students to contextualize their own attitudes and beliefs.


ILS 204 Western Culture: Literature and the Arts II (LEC) Dijana Mitrovic - 3cr

The development of literature and the arts from the Renaissance to the modern period: such figures as Shakespeare and Michelangelo through T.S. Eliot and Picasso. Literature and art in the context of society and ideas. Overall, the focus of the course will not be on “art appreciation” but on how cultural contexts – the ideas and values regarding religion, philosophy, political thought, social practices, aesthetics, and related fields – shape and make possible the various expressions of Western art and literature during this period.

The class meets three times per week: twice in approximately one-hour lectures that I will lead (Tuesday and Thursday) and once on the day assigned as your Discussion Section and taught by your teaching assistant. Attendance is required at lectures and discussions. Course objectives include providing students with a broad overview of the major trends and periods in Western literature and the arts, as well as the contexts in which these movements occur, that is, within the history of ideas and culture from the West’s early modern period to the present. Examples of painting, sculpture, architecture, drama, poetry, fiction, music, intermedia art, street art and other expressive forms are placed in the historical context of prevailing and/or resistant cultural values and ideas. Plus, you’ll do much better on the “Arts and Culture” questions for “Jeopardy” and “Trivial Pursuit”...  Overall, the focus of the course will not be on “art appreciation” but on how cultural contexts – the ideas and values regarding religion, philosophy, political thought, social practices, aesthetics, and related fields – shape and make possible the various expressions of Western art and literature during this period. Emphasis is placed on integrated learning across the arts and humanities. Students will be encouraged to look critically at the results of Western civilization even as they are invited to admire its many achievements. As well, projects are designed so that students can work independently and creatively with the material learned in class.

Some specific course themes include:

1) The idea of “culture” as an ongoing site of struggle, conflict and contested symbolic meanings and values, rather than a collection of static monuments

2) Evolving attitudes toward, and constructions of, what is meant by “nature,” and the Western relationship to it

3) The manner by which Western culture comes to measure time, space and the world in order to have knowledge and power over it, and the “shape” it gives to its knowledge and values

4) The evolution of a peculiarly “Western” sense of Self/Identity based in particular ways of seeing and conceptualizing the world

5) Some relations between the knowledges we associate with art and with science

ILS 205 Western Culture: Political, Economic, & Social Thought I (Z/S) - Avramenko - 3cr

The objective of this course is two-fold. First, this course introduces students to the basics of Western political, economic, and social thought. Through a careful reading of canonical texts, the elementary symbols and concepts of Western thought will be discussed. Our second objective is to learn how these symbols and concepts can be brought to bear on contemporary problems and how they can inform questions concerning our own political and social order. What part, for instance, does reason play in our world? What does a good citizen look like? What is the good human life? What is the place of violence? What does justice look like? Thinkers such as Homer, Thucydides, Plato, Aristophanes, Aristotle, and Augustine may be considered.


ILS 206 Western Culture: Political, Economic, & Social Thought II (ZEC) – D. Kapust - 3cr

The development of Western political, economic and social thought from the Reformation to the present day: the origins, logic and evolution of liberalism, Marxism, and organic conservatism as the principal systems of thought of the modern age. Through a careful reading of canonical texts, the elementary symbols and concepts of Western thought will be discussed.  From these readings, student will learn how these symbols and concepts can be brought to bear on contemporary problems and how they can inform questions concerning our own political and social order.

This course introduces students to the basics of Western political, economic, and social thought.  Through a careful reading of canonical texts, the elementary symbols and concepts of Western thought will be discussed.  From these readings, student will learn how these symbols and concepts can be brought to bear on contemporary problems and how they can inform questions concerning our own political and social order.  What part, for instance, does reason play in our world?  What does a good citizen look like?  What is the good human life?  What is the place of violence?  What does justice look like?  Thinkers such as Machiavelli, Luther, Rousseau, Kant, Smith, Hobbes, Nietzsche and Heidegger may be considered.

ILS 234 Genres of Western Religious Writing (b_HIC) – Ulrich Rosenhagen - 3cr

Writing intensive course based on the conventions in which Western writers have expressed religious ideas. Readings from Jewish, Christian, and other spiritualities. This course introduces some key aspects of Jewish, Christian, and Islamic thought and historical experience by exploring a range of texts from antiquity to the modern era. We begin by considering major themes in the sacred scriptures of each religion – themes conveyed via such literary genres as narrative, law, prophecy, gospel, epistle, apocalyptic, and poetry – with a focus on ways in which later texts interact with earlier ones. The middle unit of the course examines different approaches, in the medieval and early modern periods, to knowing and experiencing the divine. We will consider how monotheistic thinkers drew on Greek ideas about reason and knowledge, and we will read bits of philosophical theology, mystical writing, and polemical treatises on the nature of religious and intellectual authority. In the final course unit we will read two spiritual autobiographies and a novel to explore relationships among religious tradition, identity and the search for meaning in the modern world. 

ILS 251 Contemporary Physical Sciences (PIC) – BasilTikoff - 3cr

Twentieth century physical theory and its application in science and technology. Relativity and the quantum theory; modern cosmology and astrophysics; the quantum basis of chemistry and molecular biology; nuclear physics and nuclear power technology; lasers. Philosophical problems connected with these theories are addressed.

This course is about how scientists figure things out, with a particular focus on how scientists discovered that humans are changing the Earth’s climate. An integral and interesting part of the scientific process is the different methods scientists use, the ways they work as a community, and how that community interacts and reflects the larger society.  Consequently, this class emphasizes the commonalities between different sciences and how scientific knowledge is generated.  Because of this approach, we will often emphasize some historical aspects of the acquisition of scientific laws, hypotheses, theories, and the construction of models.  In particular, we will focus on scientific uncertainty (inherent in all scientific data and interpretation), which plays an important role in scientific practice. 

ILS 252 Contemporary Physical Sciences (PIC) – BasilTikoff - 3cr

Contemporary Life Science examines the biological underpinnings of modern human civilization. To understand the modern condition, we will explore history beginning with the evolution of humans and the principle plants upon which people depend.  This course will consider plants and human evolution, human migrations, how the ice age influenced the origins of agriculture, the rise of cities, and the cultural and political evolution that followed. We will consider the expansion and collapse of civilizations in classical times, then shift to the age of exploration and discovery in the 15th century and the mass migrations of plants, people, and disease.  As exploration shifted to settlement, growing populations set the stage for the industrial revolution.  The products of the industrial era set the stage for the modern agriculture that has fueled unprecedented human population growth.  Increasing human impacts on the global landscape today raise questions about how the future of humanity will unfold. Careful scientific practice has given rise to the incredible technical advances society enjoys today, but these same advances have led to unintended complications that are best addressed holistically.  This course will use a systems approach to consider why modern human civilization has come to function as it does and where it is headed in this century.

You make decisions each day that help determine the shape of the world in which you will live.  Near the end of our semester, we will consider how human civilization will rise to meet the challenges posed by the increasingly apparent modern ecological crisis.  When situations are uncertain, people can turn away or they can work to direct the change.  This course may leave you uneasy about the future, but it will also give you tools for moving forward.  I hope you will be excited by the role you can play in shaping the future of our communities, our culture, and the world.

Topic Courses 

ILS 253 Literature And Society (LIC) – Z.Paul- 3cr 

Representative episodes in the interaction of literature and society, organized either around a set of social institutions and their literary connections or around a set of literary forms and their social connections. Instead of assuming that literature lies beyond the pale of political life, we will explore the hypothesis that literary works are marked by the very relations of power that structure subjects and societies at large. The goal of this course is thus to discover ways of reading and thinking politically, while attending to the staging of political problems in literary texts. Special attention will be paid to new relational modes that literature imagines.

ILS 253 Literature and Politics: Power, Writing, Resistance (LIC) – Z.Paul- 3cr 

This course examines a series of political, philosophical, and literary texts in order to imagine the possible relations between power, writing, and resistance. Rather than using literature as a key to politics, or imposing political themes on literary works, we will attend to how literature—taken as a coded form of linguistic and aesthetic practice—and politics—understood both as the exercise of power and strategies of resistance—might be related. Throughout our readings we will attend to three related questions: What is the power of literature? Can literary writing affect political consciousness? Does literature enable modes of resistance? The goal of this course is thus to offer students of politics insights into how literary works represent and negotiate political questions in writing, and inversely, to encourage students of literature to read and think politically.

ILS 253 Literature And Society (LIC) – Kido Lopez- 3cr

Representative episodes in the interaction of literature and society, organized either around a set of social institutions and their literary connections or around a set of literary forms and their social connections.

ILS 275 lecture 2: “Sports and Society” (IIC) – Thomas Bunting- 3cr

“Sports and Society,” examines a large question -- what is the relationship between sports and political life? The course tackles this question by examining both theoretical texts and practice based accounts of sports in American life. Key questions include: How does watching sport inform the political and social realm? How does sport form community in democratic life? How are inequalities manifest in sport? What is the role of virtue in sports and politics? How are economic issues seen through sport? And finally, how do technological politics emerge in the realm of sport?

ILS 275 Special Topics “Remix and Appropriation in Western Tradition” (IIC) – Shawn Peters- 3cr

This interdisciplinary humanities course explores traditions of remix and appropriation in a number of cultural and technological forms, including literature, art, architecture, film, and music. Special attention will be paid to how inherently combinatorial practices spark innovation and creativity. Students will write essays and collaborate in small groups on a semester-long creative project.


ILS 275 “Narratives of Justice and Equality in Multicultural America” (Z) - Shawn Peters- 3cr

Evolving and contested concepts of justice and equality are an integral part of American public life – they play a key role in mediating our relationships with one another and with the state.  But where do these ideas come from, and, as significantly, what kind of real-world impact do they have on the lives of individuals hailing from a diverse array of racial, ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds?  Moreover, how are narratives about justice and equality rendered in American culture, and how do such stories reflect and/or influence the way we live today?

This interdisciplinary course examines such questions by engaging a variety of narrative texts, including the first season of the award-winning HBO drama The Wire.The critical inquiry sparked by these works will allow us to focus our discussion of justice and equality on four broad areas: economics and poverty; race and ethnicity; law and public policy; and the criminal justice system.  One of our main goals throughout the semester will be to chart the overlaps and interconnections between these realms – the complex and sometimes unpredictable ways in which they shape, and are shaped by, one another.  To help us make meaning of these linkages, we’ll scrutinize the myriad ways in which notions of justice and equality are rendered in cultural forms ranging from scholarly books and articles to songs, films, television programs, and even underground DVD’s. 

ILS 275 “The U.S. in Vietnam: Music, Media, and Mayhem”- Bradley/Werner- 3cr

"The U.S. in Vietnam: Music, Media and Mayhem" provides a veteran-centered focus on the culture and events of the war in Vietnam and the Vietnam era.  Framed around the music, film, journalism (both print and television) and war literature of the era, the class challenges students to look beyond the stereotypes of the 1960s, and of Vietnam vets in particular, to recognize the complexity of experiences which are much more complicated than the convenient labels of pro-war "Hawks" and anti-war "Doves."

ILS 275 “Literature and War” Professor Daniel Kleinman 3 credits 

This new ILS seminar would examine the ways writers from antiquity to the modern period represent war in literature and explore its political and ethical issues.  The course would examine major examples of writing about war from the Western literature starting with Homer’s Iliad and selections from Thucydides’s history of the Peloponnesian War.  There would then be a subsection devoted to Shakespeare’s depiction of war: we would study Henry, one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays about war and national conquest, and then probably study Antony and Cleopatra, major dramatic exploration of the conflict between war and love.  One aim of the course, already highlighted in the sections on ancient writers and Shakespeare, would be to consider the multiple perspectives from which writers examine war as they explore its heroic and national dimensions, along with its brutality and the human cost of warfare.  We would then move on to examine later examples from the literature of warfare: Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage; a selection of poetry from World War I poets (e.g. Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Rupert Brooke); Erich Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front; Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun.  If time permits, we might conclude with Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 or Norman Mailer’s epic novel of warfare in the Pacific, The Naked and the Dead.  Writers have provided some of the most vivid, thought-provoking, and skeptical depictions of warfare.   This course would encourage students across the humanities to think about warfare and its human costs in much more reflective, probing ways.

ILS 371 Interdisciplinary in Arts & Humanities (LIC) - 3cr

The financial crisis of 2008 highlighted the growing power of the financial sector both in the U.S. and in the modern economic world in general, along with the potential dangers and abuses that are associated with its increasing prominence. In its wake, there is undoubtedly now a greater urgency to reassess the normative questions at stake in the study of political economy. This semester we will consider these questions by examining important works, both historical and contemporary, which have contributed key ideas to normative discussions of political economy.


ILS 371 Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (LIC) – Richard Avramenko - 3cr

This course will offer students an opportunity to consider carefully Tocqueville’s Democracy in America.  Our analysis will consider, among other things: the relationship—historical and logical—between aristocracy and democracy; the instability of democracy; the institutional mechanisms that serve as antidotes to these instabilities; the significance of taste in Tocqueville’s thought; the case for American Exceptionalism; the place of religion in democracy; whether Tocqueville himself recognized the limits of his “institutional” political science; and finally, the prospects for democracy and democratization around the globe. The intention is less to defend what Tocqueville says than to begin to comprehend the way in which he thought through democracy and its problems and the way this thinking can be brought to bear on our contemporary political predicaments.

ILS 371 Community, Society, Economy (LIC) – Brendon Westler - 3cr

The objective of this course is to examine the ideas of political economy and to question how the economy should be connected to society. Within this broad objective, there are two specific areas of study.  First, through a careful reading of several important works, we will endeavor to discover the philosophical origins of political economy. That is, we will set out to find not the beginnings of political economy as a process of policy making, but rather to uncover the theoretical motives and problems that give rise to political economy as a way of thinking in general.  Second, we will explore a series of powerful critiques from theoretical quarters and vantages. In so considering these texts, we shall endeavor not only to discover how they address the optimism of modern thought, but also to explore the applicability of their arguments at the dawn of the 21st century.  By the end of the course, students will be familiar with a number of major thinkers of political economy, including Smith, Kant, Marx, Polanyi, and Hayek among others.  Students will also leave the course with the philosophical tools to judge contemporary interplay between society and economy.    

ILS 371 The Human Condition (LIC) – Jonathan Schwartz - 3cr

Hannah Arendt was one of the most influential philosophers, social theorists, and public intellectuals of the twentieth century. Having experienced first-hand many the most traumatic and perplexing political experiences of the twentieth century, including totalitarianism, economic collapse, genocide, world war, and the nuclear age, she sought to come to terms with those experiences at a level of philosophical depth and ambition that has arguably been unmatched by any other philosopher since. This semester we will read Arendt’s most significant texts, and work to come to terms with her conclusions about the meaning of the unique period of time that was twentieth century.

ILS 372 Science, Politics and Poetry of Intelligence (SIC/Hon only) – Zakir Paul - 3cr

We live in a world in which competing notions of intelligence are implicitly being tested and displayed. From IQ tests to artificial intelligence, the intellectual faculty seems to dominate and administer vast aspects of the modern world. But what does it mean to be intelligent? Who or what constitutes intelligence and who decides? Are all humans equally intelligent? Is intelligence uniquely human? Such questions have received many conflicting and contradictory responses in the history of ideas. Indeed, the very lack of consensus about ‘intelligence' makes the study of faculty such an intriguing topic today. This course examines leading discourses and representations of intelligence in various fields—from philosophy, psychology, and the history of science, to political theory, literature and cinema. These classic and contemporary texts will present us with evolutionary, anthropological, political, national, linguistic, and metaphorical definitions of intelligence, allowing us to explore the nature and the limits of the faculty both for individual subjects and political communities across history. 


ILS 400 Capstone: Liberal Education and Leadership: Does Meiklejohn Still Matter? - Peters 3cr

Required Capstone for Juniors and Seniors seeking ILS Certificate.

In a participatory seminar, we will explore the relationship between liberal education and leadership. What might Alexander Meiklejohn and those who motivated him--from Socrates and Kant to John Dewey, James Baldwin, Bertolt Brecht, and the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court--teach us about the often fraught link between critical thinking and civic engagement? The first part of this capstone will generate a set of shared questions about liberal education and leadership; the second part will turn the course over to you to grapple collectively with the two weightiest questions Meiklejohn faced, namely, what and how to teach and learn in a diverse and democratic society. The senior capstone offers a chance to look back over your ILS education and forward to the many opportunities and challenges that await you. What will be your “ILS Toolkit” as you head into your future?