The Catholic University of America

Washington Past and Present: An Introductory Study

Since 2011, Catholic University has offered a unique undergraduate course on the city of Washington, D.C. Using an interdisciplinary approach, the class teaches students about the city they live in:  its history and politics, its art and architecture, the regional economy, and the people who live and work in the city.  More than a study of our nation's capital, the course explores how Washington, D.C. illustrates broad theories and principles from a variety of academic disciplines.  Themes include how cities evolve over time; how neighborhoods form, decline and revive; how the national intersects with the local in a capitol city; the tradeoffs between economic development, economic diversity, and neighborhood preservation; and how national and local communities are defined and lived.

In addition to discussion sections and lectures by faculty, the class takes students on excursions to neighborhoods and important sites throughout the city of Washington.  A variety of guest speakers also visit the class, including local politicians, congressional and White House staff, officials from the Smithsonian and other area museums, local reporters, business representatives, and advocates for the homeless. Many of the speakers who share with the class are CUA Alumni. The class also emphasizes to students the importance of learning how to ask probing questions about their environment, gather and analyze data to answer them, and effectively communicate their answers.