A tour guide points in the distance with a large group of students following his gaze.

Detroit-Focused Courses

The University of Michigan offers dozens of courses that have a Detroit focus or component. Course topics are wide-ranging, including sociocultural anthropology, history of art and culture, and real estate. For example, the Topics in Sociocultural Anthropology course offered through the College of Literature, Sciences and the Arts, students will look at Detroit from the perspectives of music, social and architectural history, cultural anthropology, literature and film and learn how to make films.

Here’s a sampling of courses offered during the Fall 2018 term:

China Connections

This course focuses on the histories, urban patterns, and shared imaginations of the future that link Detroit and China. As two sites for thinking about local and global politics at different geographic sales, China and Detroit are key locations for understanding architecture and building practices today.

Detroit Cultural Connections

Interdisciplinary student team participate in the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) Plaza & Midtown Cultural Connections International Student Design Competition and Summit. Students registered for this unique course will have the extraordinary opportunity to engage in a design competition already attracting well-regarded design professionals representing over ten countries and 22 cities from around the world.

Detroit Connections: In the Classroom

In this course students teach a weekly art class to elementary age children in a Detroit public school. To prepare and contextualize this work, readings that address issues of urban education and the perceptual and artistic developments that occur in childhood are assigned.

Design Studio: Detroit Neighborhood Entrepreneurs Project

As part of an interdisciplinary project assisting neighborhood-based small businesses in Detroit, students work with entrepreneurs to solve problems and address barriers to growth. Students learn skills for working in collaborative teams, interacting with clients, and thinking critically to define design opportunities, propose and implement solutions.

Real Estate Fundamentals

The course gives students tools to help develop cities with vitality, including lively, transit-oriented downtowns and livable neighborhoods through real estate development and investment. This is an interdisciplinary course oriented towards students in business administration, urban and regional planning, urban design, public policy, law, landscape architecture, natural resources and environment, and others.

Citizen Interaction Design

This course aims to create information tools that support 21st-century citizenship. This is a project-based, experiential learning course where students apply their skills to create information products in partnership with a Michigan community. Students will work in teams, travel to the partner community, and have support of administrative staff to manage projects.

Detroit Litigation Advocacy Workshop

Detroit Litigation Advocacy Workshop Students in the Detroit Litigation Advocacy Workshop (“DLAW”) will participate in the City of Detroit’s affirmative public interest litigation program.

Topics in Black World Studies

This course is a rare opportunity to engage Detroit simultaneously from theoretical and practical perspectives, from the perspectives of music history, social history, architectural history, cultural anthropology, literature, and film.

Topics in Critical Issues

This course gives you an opportunity to ask, “Why not me?” and create solutions to pressing social challenges. This 1-credit mini course is part of the Critical Issues Series presented by optiMize Social Innovation. The Critical Issues minicourses feature expert speakers from campus and beyond, with each speaker introducing a pressing issue facing society and challenging students to design creative solutions.

Applied Liberal Arts Topics

Without classroom walls, students will earn about the built environment from within, from the spaces themselves, as they simultaneously occupy that environment. They will be asked to engage directly and reflect critically on aesthetic, technical, and social factors observed and researched at the University of Michigan campus, in and around Ann Arbor, in Detroit, and on two regional filed trips to Columbus, Indiana, and Midland, Michigan.

Detroit Initiative

This course is an experiential field course involving one visit per week to an African-American, Arab-American or Latino community in Detroit. Students are assigned to work with community-based organizations on projects to improve the well-being of children and families. Projects involve such activities as tutoring, developing outreach activities, assisting in child care settings, and working in community education projects.

Made in Detroit: A History of Art and Culture in the Motor City

The embodiment of “Modern Times” was the assembly line and Detroit, dubbed “the capital of the Twentieth Century” played an important symbolic role in the modern imagination. Yet while artists depicted Detroit’s industry as an abstract emblem of twentieth century progress—and later of dystopian decline—the city has a complicated labor, racial, and political history that its art, architecture, and urban planning help us to question. This seminar examines how Detroit has been presented in modern art, and the role that the arts and architecture have played in the city from the 1880’s to the present.

Topics in Sociocultural Anthropology

This course is a rare opportunity to engage Detroit simultaneously from theoretical and practical perspectives, from the perspectives of music history, social history, architectural history, cultural anthropology, literature, and film…. We will read, we will write, and we will learn how to make films with the help of an award winning filmmaker from Berlin. We will approach Detroit from the perspectives of race, gender, sexuality, democracy, urbanization, suburbanization, industrialization, de-industrialization, emergency management, and the future.

Topics in U.S. History

This research seminar is a new History Lab course that will investigate unsolved or un-prosecuted cases of racial violence and police misconduct in the city of Detroit during the 1960s and 1970s. Members of the seminar will work in teams, conduct archival and database research, interview historical participants, and collaborate in creating an online museum-style digital exhibit that combines historical narratives with reproductions of key documents, photographs, and audiovisual recordings. The class website will be the pilot project of a new Policing and Social Justice Lab designed to create an online database of thousands of police killings in Detroit and to ‘solve’ particular cases through detective field work and presentation of evidentiary findings to a public audience.

Honors Core Writing in Humanities

This course will take up the current tensions around gentrification and redevelopment in the city of Detroit.

Detroit Initiative

This course is an experiential field course involving one visit per week to an African-American, Arab-American or Latino community in Detroit. Students are assigned to work with community-based organizations on projects to improve the well-being of children and families. Projects involve such activities as tutoring, developing outreach activities, assisting in child care settings, and working in community education projects.

Community-Based Internship – Semester in Detroit

An internship with a community and/or cultural arts organization is a core requirement of the Semester in Detroit experience. With the leadership of the Semester in Detroit Associate Director, students and organizations both participate in the process of making effective matches, thus providing a challenging academic experience for students while contributing toward the organization’s mission and community agenda. Students develop a work plan early in the semester in conjunction with their direct supervisors.

Community-Based Internship Reflection Seminar

All of the activities and assignments in this seminar contribute to the achievement of the four primary goals: 1) Strengthen students’ analytical framework for their internship experience in the Detroit community and deepen understanding of the subjective motivations for their interest in this work; 2) Draw intellectual connections among a diverse array of student internship experiences that builds our classroom community as well as enhances opportunities for organizational collaboration; 3) Deepen understanding of the contemporary context that underpins student internship experiences in Detroit — i.e., the social, economic, cultural and political; 4) Share student internship experiences and accumulated knowledge with the wider world through public forums such as community blogging, presentations, and other mediums.

Study Off-Campus: French Service Learning

The objective of this service-learning course is to offer advanced students of French an opportunity to engage in experiential learning related to community service work. It provides French students with unique service learning opportunities by connecting them with partnered community organizations outside of the University setting which deal with French-speaking immigrant communities. Currently, students volunteer at Freedom House in Detroit, an organization which offers shelter and legal help to victims of persecution seeking asylum in the US, many of whom come from French-speaking Africa.

Special Topics: Detroit Artist as Activist

This course will explore the role the arts have played in resisting systemic inequalities, fighting injustice, and giving voice to those on the margins. We will consider both the strengths and limitations of art, particularly creative writing, as a force for social change as well as art’s effectiveness in engaging communities. Further, we will use the study and practice of creative writing to deepen our understandings of and relationships to the city of Detroit.

Special Topics: Environmental Justice Organizing in Detroit

This course looks at movements, resistance, resilience, and liberation. Community organizing is one of the most popular areas of specialization to the School of Social Work.

Empowering Community Through the Arts

How can the arts affect change in communities? This Engaged Learning course challenges the understanding of what it means to be empowered and how to be an agent of empowerment. Open to all U-M students, this class explores what it means to be empowered and to how to collaborate across communities through participation in arts-based programs in Washtenaw County and Wayne County.

Spanish Language Internship Project I

The Spanish Language Internship Program aims to connect Spanish-speaking students with partnered community based organizations to provide unique service learning opportunities with the Latino community in Washtenaw County and Southwest Detroit area.

Social Science Junior Seminar

This course will explore the history of Detroit and the southeast Michigan region during the twentieth century. We will track important social, economic, and political transformations in the city’s history: the persistence and impact of racial and ethnic conflicts; the ways in which class conflicts have shaped the urban landscape and the workplace; the impact of immigration on Detroit’s social and political development; the interplay between the auto industry and the urban environment; the ongoing struggles over political power and for control of the city; and the changing ways the city is represented, both among its citizens and in the broader American consciousness.

Project Community

SOC 225 is an experiential course that is designed to help students participate in and reflect on community-engaged learning experiences through a sociological lens. Students are able to gain new perspectives on social inequalities through their experiences at a variety of sites, including elementary schools, afterschool programs, health clinics, correctional facilities, social services agencies, advocacy centers, and other community organizations in Southeast Michigan.

The History and Future of Detroit

Detroit was the nation’s most important city in the Twentieth Century because of the auto industry, the emergence of the blue collar middle class and development of the New Deal. Now it is the most negatively stereotyped city in the nation. The course describes changes in Detroit and emphasizes policy developments in Rust Belt metropolises as they cope with the restructuring of employment.

Community Organization

This course will provide an orientation to community organization as a field of practice and educational program in the School of Social Work, with special emphasis on the Community Scholars Program (CSP). It will examine core concepts, practice methods, curricular competencies and course content, including CSP as a special program for building capacity and creating change at the community level in Detroit neighborhoods and other urban and rural areas nationwide.

Detroit History and Culture

This interdisciplinary course explores the political, social, and cultural history of Detroit by examining ways various groups and classes have interacted with and been shaped by structures of power and influence. This course highlights trade and commerce, newcomers, and the influence of organizations and institutions within the contexts of labor, race, ethnic, and religious histories and current affairs, and examines how these fit into the evolution of Detroit from the 19th century to the present. Where pertinent the influence of national and international movements are included.

Studies in Detroit Culture

This course is an attempt to define a modern cultural history of Detroit. Taught by two faculty members, the emphasis of the course will vary but the following aspects of the city’s cultural history will be covered is some detail: its literature, arts, music and architecture; its social conditions and broader American cultural context.

The Arts & Culture of Detroit

This interdisciplinary course explores the modern and contemporary cultural history of Detroit, examining the ways in which various population groups have been creative from the nineteenth century to the present. The course highlights the work of architects, designers, photographers, visual artists, poets, and musicians, and situates them in the broader cultural context of American art and history.

Community Action: Detroit

Using the Detroit Metropolitan region as a case study, students will examine the local history of different types of community organization-grassroots citizen action groups, non-profit social service agencies, issue coalitions, and government-sponsored councils-as a way of understanding the concepts of self-interest, power, institutional change, community control, and leadership. The class will examine how history, ecology, culture, economics and individuals working in groups shape communities including Detroit. Through this examination, students will develop the understanding and skills needed to act as collaborators and leaders in the community working with different organizations to help empower citizens and affect social change. 

Studies in Detroit Culture

This course is an attempt to define a modern cultural history of Detroit. Taught by two faculty members, the emphasis of the course will vary but the following aspects of the city’s cultural history will be covered in some detail: its literature, arts, music, and architecture; its social conditions and broader American culture context.

Semester in Detroit: Writing on Detroit

This course serves as an elective course for the Semester in Detroit (SiD) program. It is devoted to short fiction in search of a creative rendering of the people in Detroit, a city which offers rich opportunities to explore the theme of the “other”. Students will develop short narratives that capture their impressions of the city through its people. Each student will find Detroiters to “study” and creatively report on. Class discussions will help direct students.

Social Services in Detroit

This course focuses on social service provision and the social work profession within the city of Detroit. The course addresses working with multiple populations and multiple service providers. A significant component of the course consists of guest speakers who have experience working in the city. The class will often meet off-campus at various social service agencies; students will be responsible for their own transportation.

Semester in Detroit: 20th Century Detroit History

This course serves as the core course for the Semester in Detroit (SiD) program. It examines the transformation of Detroit from the late 19th, through the 20th and into the 21st Centuries. Our goal is to identify the main forces and patterns of change in Detroit’s past that have shaped the contemporary city you encounter today. Thus, the course is organized chronologically, but we will be exploring the city’s history alongside consideration of contemporary social issues, challenges, and debates. Course material will include a range of readings, films, and excursions. Through discussion of this material and in written assignments, the course encourages you to develop your own interpretation of the circumstances, challenges and opportunities currently facing the city. Students must apply to, and be accepted by, UM-Ann Arbor’s Semester in Detroit program to enroll in this course.