ESF Courses


  • Structure of ESF: The ESF seminar meets once per week for an hour 15 minutes. The writing workshop will meet twice per week for an hour and 50 minutes each session. The plenary meets on Fridays for 90 minutes.
  • About the seminars: ESF consists of six linked seminars, described below. Participating students will enroll in one seminar, taught by a faculty member from the featured discipline (or disciplines, in the case of team taught seminars). Each seminar has its own syllabus, reflecting the expertise, interests, and passions of the faculty, as well as their own takes on the common theme of self-fashioning through education. Each seminar will have two sections with a maximum of 15 students each.
  • Requirements fullfilled: All ESF courses fulfill at least one of the WAYS distribution requirements as well as the PWR requirement. 
  • Enrollment options: For ESF students, staring Aug. 4 at 8:00 a.m. PST, all enrollment changes can be made using this form. For non-ESF students, you may enroll in ESF 50 to receive one unit for attending all lectures. 

ESF Seminar Descriptions

ESF 1/1A: The Active, Inquiring, Beautiful Life 

Instructors: Blair Hoxby, English; Caroline Hoxby, Economics

Seminar schedule: W 2:15 - 3:30 p.m. or W 4:15 - 5:30 p.m.

Moving through history from the Rome of the Emperor Hadrian, to the city-states of Renaissance Italy, to the newly founded republic of the United States, we will examine how self-made men fashioned themselves and their surroundings by educating themselves broadly.  We will ask how a liberal education made their active careers richer and more transformational.  Authors may include Marcus Aurelius, Marguerite Yourcenar, Baldassare Castiglione, Raphael, Thomas Jefferson, John Stuart Mill, and Cardinal Newman.  We will also take up the great debate on whether a liberal education or vocational training is the surest path to advancement.  We will engage this debate through the works of W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington but also take it up to today's struggle over the same issues— a struggle which engrosses both highly industrialized and developing societies.

ESF 1/1A Syllabus

ESF 2/2A: The German Tradition of Bildung or How to Become a Global Citizen

Instructor: Kathryn Starkey, German

Seminar schedule: Th 11:30 a.m. - 12:45 p.m. or T 3:15 - 4:30 p.m.

This course considers education not as training in external knowledge or skills but as a lifelong process of development and growth in which an individual cultivates her or his spiritual, cultural and social sensibilities. This concept of education—education as a formative and transformative process in the development of the self—is called Bildung in German and has a long tradition reaching back to the Middle Ages. The term first appears in the writings of the mystic Meister Eckhart who defines it as self-composure which he regards as a crucial stage in our spiritual development. The concept of Bildung takes on a secular meaning in the Reformation, when Ulrich von Hutten first coined the phrase that has become Stanford’s motto: Die Luft der Freiheit weht (The wind of freedom is blowing.). What he meant is that the cultivation of oneself leads to the freedom of thought, freedom to act, freedom to assert oneself as an individual, freedom to access knowledge, and freedom to determine one’s own role in society.

This idea of education as an internal and transformative process is central to debates in the nineteenth century— both in Germany and the United States—in which self-reflection is seen as key both to the cultivation of an individual’s identity and to her or his role as a member of society. In this course we will read reflections on education as self-fashioning by some of the greatest German thinkers spanning from the Middle Ages to the present. We will also enjoy some contemporary parodies of such reflections. These readings and our discussions will help us to understand Stanford undergraduate education as a transformative process of self-realization in our global society.


ESF 6/6A: The Wind of Freedom

Instructor: Robert Harrison, French and Italian

Seminar schedule: M 11:00 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. or M 1:15 - 2:30 p.m.

Stanford’s unofficial motto, “the wind of freedom blows,” engraved in German on the university seal, invites us the ponder freedom in the context of education. What is the relation between freedom and the “liberal” arts? Does studying free your mind? Does free will even exist? If so, how does education help you develop its potential? This course will look at various authors—from antiquity through the 20th century—who have thought about the blessings, burdens, and obligations of human freedom. Beginning with Eve in the Garden of Eden, we will explore how exercising freedom in your personal choices and conduct not only determines your fate as an individual but carries with it a measure of responsibility for the world. We will place special emphasis on the implications of such responsibility in our own time.

ESF 6/6A Syllabus

ESF 7/7A: The Transformation of the Self

Instructor: Andrea Nightingale, Classics

Seminar schedule: T 11:30 a.m. - 12:45 p.m. or T 1:15 - 2:30 p.m.

Socrates famously claimed that the unexamined life is not worth living. Socrates and other ancient thinkers examined themselves and found that they did not match up to their own ideals. They thus set out to transform themselves to achieve a good and happy life. What is the good life? How do we change ourselves to live a good and happy life? How do literature and philosophy help us to understand ourselves and to achieve our social, ethical, and personal ideals? In this class, we examine Socrates and Augustine’s lives and ideas. Each struggled to live a good and happy life. In each case, they urge us to transform ourselves into better human beings. The first half of the course focusses on the Athenian Socrates, who was put to death because he rejected traditional Greek ideals and and proclaimed a new kind of ethical goodness. The second half focuses on the North African Augustine, an unhappy soul who became a new man by converting to Christianity. These thinkers addressed questions and problems that we still confront today: What do we consider to be a happy life? Do we need to be good and ethical people to live happily? Is there one correct set of values? How do we accommodate other people’s beliefs? Is it possible to experience a transformation of the self? How exactly do we change ourselves to achieve our higher ideals?

ESF 7/7A Syllabus

ESF 8/8A: Recognizing the Self and its Possibilities

Instructor: Kenneth Taylor, Philosophy

Seminar schedule: T 10:00 - 11:15 a.m. or T 1:15 - 2:30 p.m.

Some philosophers have argued that we have privileged and direct access to our inner selves. If this were true, it would make self-knowledge perhaps the easiest sort of knowledge to obtain. But there are many considerations that mitigate against this view of self-knowledge. Consider, for example, the slave who is so oppressed that he fully accepts his slavery and cannot even imagine the possibility of freedom for himself. Such a slave fails to recognize his own capacity for freedom and autonomous self-governance. Though the slave is perhaps the extreme case, many people, it seems, fail to recognize the full range of possibilities open to them. In this course, we shall examine both some of the ways in which one’s capacity for self-recognition may be distorted and undermined and the role of education in enabling a person to fully recognize the self and its possibilities. What constrains the range of possibilities we see as really open to us? Contrary to the Cartesian, we shall argue that full self-recognition is an often a hard-won achievement. And we shall ask how education might function to give us a less constricted and more liberating sense of the self and its possibilities. We will consider such questions through the lens of philosophy, literature and psychology.

ESF 8/8A Syllabus

ESF Scheduling Information


Faculty Seminars

ESF 1, Section 01, W 2:15 – 3:30 pm (B. Hoxby & C. Hoxby): Room 160-329

ESF 1A, Section 01, W 4:15 – 5:30 pm (B. Hoxby & C. Hoxby): Room 160-329

Writing Sections

ESF 1, Section 02 AND ESF 1A, Section 02, TTh 11 - 12:50 (Ashton): Room 90-92Q

ESF 1, Section 03 AND ESF 1A, Section 03 TTh 3:15 - 5:05 pm (Abbott): Green Earth Sciences 134


Faculty Seminars

ESF 2, Section 01, Th 11:30 am - 12:45 pm (Starkey): Room 260-002

ESF 2A, Section 01, T 3:15 - 4:30 pm (Starkey): Room 200-105

Writing Sections

ESF 2, Section 02 AND ESF 2A, Section 02, MW 9:00 - 10:50 am (Watson): Room 160-326

ESF 2, Section 03 AND ESF 2A, Section 03, MW 11:00 am - 12:50 pm (Frost): Greeth Earth Sciences 134


Faculty Seminars

ESF 6, Section 01, M 11:00 am - 12:15 pm (Harrison): Education 210

ESF 6A, Section 01, M 1:15pm - 2:30 pm (Harrison): Education 207

Writing Sections

ESF 6, Section 02 AND ESF 6A, Section 02, TTh 11 am - 12:50 pm (Pierson): Thornt 210

ESF 6, Section 03 AND ESF 6A, Section 03, TTh 3:15 pm - 5:05 pm (Pierson): Room 110-101


Faculty Seminars

ESF 7, Section 01, T 11:30 am - 12:45 pm (Nightingale): Room 110-112

ESF 7A, Section 01, T 1:15 - 2:30 pm (Nightingale):  Room 110-112

Writing Sections

ESF 7, Section 02 AND ESF 7A, Section 02, MW 9:00 am - 10:50 am (Shirazi): Room 160-323

ESF 7, Section 03 AND ESF 7A, Section 03, MW 1:15 - 3:05 pm (Brod): Room 260-012


Faculty Seminars

ESF 8, Section 01, T 10:00 - 11:15 am (Taylor): Room 260-003

ESF 8A, Section 01, T 1:15 - 2:30 pm (Taylor): Education 229

Writing Sections

ESF 8, Section 02 AND ESF 8A, Section 02, MW 11:00 am - 12:50 pm (Kreitmar): Education 130

ESF 8, Section 03 AND ESF 8A, Section 03, MW 2:15 -  4:05 pm (Kreitmar): Room 260-002