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Arts & Science Program

ARTSSCI 4MN1 / Local Explorations

An experiential learning course, which offers students the opportunity to explore issues of local significance and global relevance. Students may pursue independent study options or, when available, participate in assorted modules.

These are 1-unit modules that can be taken by any student in any level. The content and schedules vary annually. Details may be found below or by contacting Arts & Science Program Administrator Rebecca Bishop ( or ext. 23153). These courses are evaluated on a Pass/Fail basis. Some modules may require a fee to cover costs of travel and accommodation.

ARTSSCI 4MN1 may be repeated, if on a different topic. Enrolment is limited.

Please Note:

  • Payment of McMaster course credit fees (i.e. tuition and supplementary fees) for ARTSSCI 4MN1 is in addition to the module fees if applicable.
  • Even if all funds for the trip are paid, you are ineligible to participate in the module if you have not enrolled in the course.
  • Submission of the necessary Release Form(s) must be submitted prior to the start of the course.

winter 2021 modules

This course explores how we, as interconnected individuals, make decisions and exercise judgement. Using law as a starting point, we will discuss legal reasoning as a formal mode of decision-making, and specifically, how judges come to their decisions. We will then branch off into lessons from psychology about making both major life decisions and small everyday choices. Next, we will study algorithms and critically consider the possibilities and pitfalls of outsourcing decisions to machines. Finally, we will reframe decision-making and judgement through an equality lens and use fiction to explore imaginative dimensions of the topic. One aim of this course is to explore theories of decision-making from a variety of disciplines in order to help you feel more comfortable making decisions and exercising judgement.

Module Schedule: 
Thursday 28 January 2021 6:30-8:30pm
Thursday 4 February 2021 6:30-8:30pm
Thursday 11 February 2021 6:30-8:30pm
Thursday 25 February 2021 6:30-8:30pm

Theories of Decision-Making and Judgement Course Outline

Loneliness has been described as one of the biggest public health issues of our time. Although the urban environment is densely populated, social isolation is pervasive. Furthermore, cities have long been characterized by economic and racial segregation, reinforced by urban planning frameworks and policies. This course will explore the concept of “connection” in the urban environment through the lens of city planning, public health, and sociology. It will also examine foundational questions and thinkers around loneliness as part of the human condition.

In this course, you will learn about patterns of polarization through a variety of historical and contemporary case studies, as well as efforts to foster more connected communities. Through seminar-style discussions and reflective exercises, you will be challenged to relate course themes to your own experiences.

Module Schedule:
Sunday 7 March 2021 10am-1pm
Monday 8 March 2021 10:30am-1:30pm
Sunday 14 March 2021 10am-1pm
Monday 15 March 2021 10:30am-1:30pm

Patterns of Social Connection in the City Course Outline

Winter 2020 Modules

It has occasionally been said that Artscis are indecisive (who us?). This course is about decision-making in different contexts. The aim is to help students become better at making decisions.

We begin with judicial decision-making, as a case study of a formal decision-making process. This study of judicial decision-making will introduce students to one aspect of the legal system. We will explore questions about how intuition, reason, and legal constraints like precedent influence decisions, and how writing reasons can help judges clarify their thinking. We will discuss what lessons judicial decision-making offers for personal decision-making.

We will then look at what other disciplines have to say. Behavioural psychology offers insights into how our brains work when we make decisions. Feminist relational theory posits decision-making, beyond an individual exercise, as a process where we think about ourselves embedded in relationships with others.

This course will involve readings, response papers and practical exercises, based on which we hope students develop a personal praxis for making decisions they stand behind. There may be an opportunity for students to present what they learn at the World of Work Forum.

Module Schedule:
Sat. 18 – Sun. 19 January 2020 9:30am-3:30pm (LRW-3038, McMaster University)

Leanna Katz, Arts & Science alum (2012)
Daniel Carens-Nedelsky, Arts & Science alum (2012)

Theories of Decision-Making and Judgement Course Outline
Theories of Decision-Making and Judgement Application Form

Winter is the misunderstood season. We will explore, with an Algonquin Park cabin stay, winter as a fundamental expression of Canadian identity through the lenses of history, geography, and literature. While travelling by snowshoes and skis, and of course sitting around the fire, we will examine key stories and characters in our Canadian understanding of winter, including Franklin, wendigos, Sam Magee, and Grey Owl. This exploration will also include the “idea of North” and the Norwegian friluftsliv approach to winter outdoor life. The central goal is to embrace the winter season as a “place” in our personal psyche and Canadian consciousness.

To do this we must be active in a thriving winter place where we are engaged in winter chores of chopping wood for our fires, drawing water from our ice hole, and clearing roofs of burdensome snow. We will learn the key winter activities of snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, building a snow shelter (Quinzee) and setting up a wall tent wood stove camp.

Please note that there is an additional trip fee ($200) to cover accommodations, transportation, and equipment rentals. A $100 deposit is due upon application submission.

Module Schedule:
Thurs. 9 January 2020 5:30-6:30pm (LRW-3038, McMaster University)
Sat. 15 – Tues. 18 February 2020 (Algonquin Park)

Dr. Bob Henderson, retired Arts & Science instructor
Jeff Cameron
Zach de Jong, Arts & Science alum (2018)

Winter as Place Course Outline
Winter as Place Application Form

Fall 2019 Modules

This one-unit module will explore the concept of urban placemaking, a collaborative process of animating public and private spaces to strengthen the social and cultural fabric of cities. We will look at community-driven placemaking aimed at solving local issues such as food insecurity, economic instability, and social isolation, as well as developer-led placemaking initiatives with (often controversial) goals of revitalizing entire neighbourhoods.

This is an experiential, place-based course. We will discuss urban placemaking initiatives around the world, including the “Rebuild Foundation” in Chicago, “Project Row Houses” in Houston, and Prinzessinnengarten in Berlin. We will conduct site visits of several Toronto-based projects, including “Daniels Spectrum,” a community cultural hub that was built as part of the Regent Park Revitalization Plan. Using these spaces as case studies, students will participate in facilitated discussions about the challenges associated with ensuring that they are vibrant, community-driven, and financially sustainable.

Please note that there is an additional fee of $15 for this module and students will be responsible for covering their own travel costs associated with participating in the module (e.g. GO Transit).

Module Schedule:
Saturday 5 October 2019 10am-5pm (Toronto, various locations)
Sunday 6 October 2019 10am-3:30pm (One James North-112, Hamilton)
Monday 21 October 2019 6:30-8:30pm (LRW-3038, McMaster University)

Jackie Brown, Arts & Science alum (2014)
Ros Pfaff, Arts & Science alum (2013)

Urban Placemaking Course Outline
Urban Placemaking Application Form