HNRS 250B Chicago: City of Museums

Basic information

  • Location: Chicago and Grand Rapids
  • Dates: January 11–16, 2021
  • Cost: $800 (estimate)

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this off-campus program has been suspended. The information on this page is available for reference and planning purposes, but may no longer be accurate. If and when Calvin is able to re-open this and other off-campus programs, information will be provided at the main Off-Campus Programs website. If you have questions or concerns, please contact the Off-Campus Programs office.

This Honors interim course explores that latter strain of history through the lens of Chicago’s many museums.

Carl Sandberg, in his 1914 eponymous poem, described Chicago as the “City of Big Shoulders,” emphasizing an industrial Midwest pragmatism: a city of stockyards and railroads, of ambition and sweat, a city marked by planning, building, breaking, and rebuilding. Much of that late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century planning continues to shape Chicago in the twenty-first century, just as there’s been plenty more breaking and rebuilding over the last hundred years. And yet alongside this vision of raw commerce, Chicago has long aspired to civic and cultural accomplishments to rival cities like New York and Boston.

This Honors interim course explores that latter strain of history through the lens of Chicago’s many museums. After spending the first portion of the interim on campus in Grand Rapids, the second part will be based in Chicago, where we’ll visit about two dozen institutions: art museums including the Art Institute of Chicago (founded in 1879) and the Museum of Contemporary Art, but also museums dedicated to a wide range of subjects: the Field Natural History Museum, the DuSable Museum of African American History, and house museums including the Clarke House (the oldest surviving house in the city, dating to 1836), the Driehaus Museum (an 1883 Gilded Age mansion), and the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum (an 1889 settlement house that basically saw the birth of social welfare in the United States as Jane Addams and her team advocated for child labor laws, women’s suffrage, healthcare reform, and immigration policy).

The course will provide students a foundational knowledge of Chicago’s history while also serving as a primer to museums and museological practices. Particular attention will be paid to understanding an exhibition as advancing a set of intellectual arguments and the process of interpreting objects for general audiences. Course assignments will include written responses to readings, a journal, and a proposal for a hypothetical exhibition. Chicago (Jan.11-16) and Grand Rapids. Fee: $800. C. Hanson.


$800 (estimate)

Questions / contact

Craig Hanson

Craig Hanson

Associate Director, Honors and Collegiate Scholars;
Professor of Art History
Full profile



  • Course code:
  • Credits:
  • Semester:
  • Department: