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Northwestern Students Take Humanities Plunge

Alternative spring break option showcases Chicago-area cultural offerings

“It’s not only about having fun and going on interesting field trips, but also about giving the students a lens through which they can view the different events.” – Thomas Burke, assistant director for the Kaplan Institute

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University students looking for an alternative spring break can now immerse themselves in the riches of the Chicago area during a new for-credit, five-day crash course in the arts and humanities.

Students of all majors can attend a closed rehearsal of the new mariachi opera at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, take a drawing class at the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe and learn improv techniques at The Second City before a performance.

Funded by Northwestern’s Kaplan Institute for the Humanities in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, “The Humanities Plunge” will be held March 23 to 27. Applications for the pilot program will be accepted through Sunday, Jan. 18.

The course essentially covers a humanities “bucket list,” including movies, theater, dance, architectural tours, museum visits and culinary adventures.

For sustenance during the five-day course, students will sample a variety of ethnic restaurants around the city.

At the same time, faculty members will provide a structured framework to help students critically assess the experience. To earn half a credit, students need to write three blog posts during the week, and a short reflective paper is due during the spring term.

“It’s not only about having fun and going on interesting field trips, but also about giving the students a lens through which they can view the different events,” said Thomas Burke, assistant director for the Kaplan Institute.

During a visit to the Chicago Botanic Garden, for example, Sheila Wille, the Andrew Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Environmental Humanities at the Kaplan Institute, will talk about the history of botanical and entomological illustration, primarily in Europe during the Age of Exploration. After the lecture, the students will take a botanical drawing class with one of the art teachers at the Botanic Garden.

“The great thing about this part of the ‘plunge’ is that they will get to learn the history of art and science  -- ‘armchair’ knowledge -- and then they will actually try to practice that art and science,” Wille said. “These are complementary ways of learning history that also will give them a sense of where scientific illustration is today.”

Event tickets, transportation and some meals are free for the students.

For more information, visit the Humanities Plunge.

The tentative schedule of events for “The Humanities Plunge” follows:

  • Lecture on Chicago's literary history
  • Chicago Architecture Foundation walking tour
  • Film at Chicago's Gene Siskel Film Center


  • Lecture on the history of botanical art at the Chicago Botanic Garden
  • Botanical drawing class and visit to the “The Orchid Show” at the Chicago Botanic Garden
  • Performance of “Marie Antoinette” at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre Company


  • Introduction to Commedia dell’Arte and the Viola Spolin collection at the Northwestern Library Archives
  • Hands-on introduction to improv fundamentals at The Second City
  • The Second City’s 103rd Mainstage Revue


  • “Doris Salcedo Retrospective” at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago
  • Lecture on Modernity and Regionalism in Chicago and Midwest Dance History
  • Premiere of "Power Goes" by the Chicago-based dance company The Seldoms at the MCA Main Stage


  • Lecture on Chicago's opera history
  • Special closed rehearsal of the new mariachi opera “El Pasado Nunca Se Termina” at Lyric Opera of Chicago
  • The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s “Beyond the Score” production of Brahms' Symphony No. 3 at the Chicago Symphony Center
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