Signature Courses - Session I

Signature courses do not require prerequisites, and the topics have broad appeal to undergraduates across schools at UVA. Most are interdisciplinary courses and address topics that are both timely and of enduring significance. These high enrollment courses will be delivered online during Session I. Each course has one or two primary instructors.

To determine whether a class fills a major/minor requirement, enroll in the class and check your AR Form or contact the major/minor department directly.

ANTH 2589/PHIL 2500 The Past, Present, and Future of Humankind

Faculty: Erin Eaker and Rachel Most (Philosophy and Anthropology)

What does it mean, in the present day, to be a human being? Where did we come from? Where are we going? Drawing from the disciplines of anthropology, archaeology, evolutionary biology, psychology, and philosophy, we will explore the deep history of how we—the species Homo sapiens sapiens—evolved. We will focus the evolution of those traits that seem so distinctively human, such as language, abstract thought, agriculture, art, mythmaking, and morality. We will study what makes civilizations rise and fall, and we will take stock of where we are as a species at the present moment. Will the traits that made us such a successful species help us rise to the challenges of the future? Or are we doomed by our very nature?

New Curriculum: Artistic, Interpretive, & Philosophical Inquiry
Traditional Curriculum: ANTH - Social Sciences requirement; PHIL - Humanities requirement

SOC 2559 Biological and Social Foundations of Race, Racism, and Health Disparities

Faculty: Ian Mullins (Sociology) and Priya Date

Public health data have shown that COVID-19 disproportionately affects communities of color in the United States. Black and Latinx populations have higher rates of infection and are three times as likely to die of complications from COVID-19 compared to their white counterparts. This shocking disparity has reinvigorated old debates over the nature of race. Some view it as evidence for the biological existence of racial difference, while others view it as the result of enduring social inequalities. Yet the SARS-COV2 virus does not recognize race or skin color, and genetic explanations of COVID-19 health disparities neglect that the genes influencing skin color are distributed independently of genes that influence the risk for any particular disease. Instead, data overwhelmingly show that factors like underlying health problems, dense living conditions, occupation, and access to health care contribute to the susceptibility to COVID-19. 

New Curriculum: Social & Economic Systems

PLAP 3160/GSVS 3160 The Politics of Food

Faculty: Paul Freedman

How and what we eat is basic to who we are as individuals, as a culture, and as a polity. This course looks at the production and consumption of food in a political context. Food politics and policies have critical implications for climate change and the environment, for public health, and for racial justice and political equality. This course looks at food politics through a series of “food fights.” We will examine controversies over agricultural subsidies, taxation, farming practices, meat production, food safety, nutrition guidelines and labeling requirements. In doing so, we will explore some of the most important features of American democracy, including legislative politics, regulation, interest group activity, federalism, public opinion, and representation. Ultimately, we will examine the ways in which the politics of food represents both a reflection and a distortion of fundamental democratic principles. We will also examine a number of current issues confronting food politics and the food system in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

New Curriculum: Cultures & Societies of the World or Social & Economic Systems

STS 2500 Technology and the Frankenstein Myth

Faculty: Ben Laugelli

Frankenstein lives! Mary Shelley’s cautionary tale remains as arresting and relevant today as it did when her novel was first published in 1818. Why does Shelley’s story and creature still haunt our collective cultural imagination? What does her novel have to say about the pursuit of techno-science both in her time and in our time? 

We’ll begin the semester with a close reading of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which is widely credited as the first science-fiction novel. We’ll pay special attention to how the novel elaborates the Frankenstein myth in its depictions of science, technology, and the scientist/engineer. We’ll also consider how Shelley’s novel engages with developments and discourse pertaining to early nineteenth-century techno-science.

 In the second part of the semester, we’ll analyze several science-fiction films and short stories that interpret and update the Frankenstein myth, including James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein (1935), Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (1993), Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), as well as a selection of Isaac Asimov’s robot stories. These works draw on themes and tropes in Shelley’s novel to address concerns about contemporary and emerging techno-science, including gene-editing technologies, artificial intelligence, and technologies of de-extinction. Your work in the course will culminate in a research paper that examines public discourse about a controversial emerging technology, together with a pitch for a companion science-fiction story that reflects on the technology’s social and ethical impacts.  

Fulfills STS 2000/3000-level requirement


Cancelled Signature Courses

  • ENWR 1559 Global Advocacy, Democracy, and Public Narrative
  • PSYC 2559 An Introduction to Cognition and Cognitive Biases
  • PSYC 3559 Predicting Choices in Today's Chaotic World: Analyzing Decision Making using Advanced Regression Models
  • PSYC 3559 How to Build a Healthy Human Brain