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FIRST-YEAR SEMINARS

First-Year Seminars are designed to stimulate intellectual curiosity, introduce academic expectations and engage you independent of future major or minor choices. The seminar topics vary each year, as do the professors who teach them, so the classroom discussions are always fresh and interesting.

Each Seminar is constructed around a different interest, like flight, consumerism or rock and roll music, and Seminar classes are small – usually about 15 students – which helps students feel more comfortable in a new environment and allows the students and faculty members to develop close working relationships.

Below, you'll find a list of the First-Year Seminars being offered during the fall semester. This year's Seminars cover a wide-range of topics and disciplines, and we're sure you'll find several that interest you. After you've looked over the list and identified the courses that you find appealing, log in to the Orientation website and complete the Academic Direction Task no later than June 6.

Fall 2015 First-Year Seminars

Please note: We provide the listing below as a resource for students and families, not as a complete listing. As courses fill up with students, they will be removed from the Academic Direction form, but they may still appear on this page. The Academic Direction task is the most up-to-date source of currently available courses.

FSEM 003 - First Person Singular (Professor Forbes)
What's up?  What's happening?  What's new? How you been? How you doing? We say these things every time we meet a friend --and we really want to know. Readers of memoirs ask these or similar questions, and memoirists give us the answers -- beautifully. We're lucky that curious people have so many memoirs to choose from. And for the last several years we’ve had memoirs from all over the world, not just the United States. This First Year Seminar studies the contemporary memoir in a multicultural setting. Through the books we read, we travel to such places as Somalia, the Sudan, Egypt, and Cuba. Students write critical essays about the memoir in general and the books we read in particular. They also write their own short memoirs -- vignettes from their life. And students do research on the day they were born and complete an oral presentation on the findings. The course ends with students writing a final essay on what they think constitutes a good memoir.

FSEM 013 – Violence in the Sea of Faith (Professor Whitten)
During the Middle Ages, the Mediterranean sea was home to people of the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  These communities often fought violently for territory, converts, and wealth.  This class explores the nature of religious violence in the pre-modern Mediterranean by examining the topics of Islamic expansion, the Crusades, and persecution.  In the course, we will also challenge the assumption that all interactions were violent by investigating convivencia in Spain Egypt, and Sicily.  We will read many different types of medieval texts including crusade narratives, travel writings, biography, and chronicles.  Lastly we will explore how science, art history, philosophy, and archaeology help us understand the complexity of the medieval world.

FSEM 018 – Genocide and the Modern Age (Professor Dobkowski)
We live in an age of genocide. Genocide is a crime against humanity because it negates human value itself. The 20th century began with the destruction of the Herrero people in what is now Namibia in Africa; there followed  the genocide of the Armenians by the Turks, the mass murder of the Roma (Gypsies) and the Jews (Holocaust) by the Nazis, the cruelties of the Stalinist Gulag, the ravages of the Pol Pot regime in Cambodia, and the mutual genocidal massacres of Hutu and Tutsi in Rwanda and Burundi. Recent genocidal events in the Balkans and in the Darfur region of the Sudan underscore the persistence of the problem.  These human tragedies have the potential to undermine the value of human life, the meaning of history and modernity, the relevance and truth of religion and culture, and the significance of social organization. Students in this course will examine the history of genocide and its impact on culture, politics and religion. Together we will confront the dilemma of how to orient life, thought and action around the memory of mass death and broken cultural traditions.

FSEM 023 – Monkeys, Morality and the Mind (Professor Frost-Arnold)
What am I? What can I know? Are my choices free? Is there any reason to be an ethical person?  These are traditionally considered questions for philosophy, yet many recent scientific findings may influence how we answer them. In this seminar, we will consider the impact of contemporary science on philosophy and ask: What, if anything, does evolution have to do with morality? What do psychological findings about humans’ biases show about what (and how) we can know? Is the notion that humans have free will consistent with our current neuroscientific accounts of the brain? If human actions are highly dependent on situational/ contextual factors, as several recent psychological findings have shown, what does this reveal about my identity or personality?

FSEM 024 – The Avian Persuasion (Professor Manring)
If you've ever wished you could fly, join the club. If you've ever wondered why you wished you could fly, take this course.  Humans have always been drawn to birds. We'll ask why as we try to understand human relationships with birds from the perspectives of writers, musicians, scientists, and back yard bird-watchers, among other types of thinkers by getting in their shoes. In doing so, can we discover and develop individual relationships with birds that will enhance our connection to the natural world? Can such a heightened awareness change our ways of being, and help change the fate of a planet? Activities include: outdoor birding, scientific and literary readings, film viewings, field trips, a falconry presentation with live birds, guest speakers, critical and creative writing, discussion, individual field observation time, and personalized, species-specific final projects. Viewings come from films such as Winged Migration, March of the Penguins and The Life of Birds; book-based readings include excerpts from Song of the Dodo, Wesley the Owl, Sibley's Birding Basics, The Goshawk, Winter World, The Birde's Conservation Handbook, Mind of the Raven, and Providence of a Sparrow, as well as articles and literary works. The course will emphasize active synthesis of firsthand experience and outside/secondary sources.  Each student will need a field guide to the birds of North America (Sibley or Peterson recommended) a field notebook, and binoculars (8x recommended).

FSEM 040 – Fields of Play: Improv in Life and Art (Professor Williams)
Quick! Make a hat out of rubber bands, an old sock, and a map of the Northeast! Add on an unfinished sentence and take it in a new direction. Move across the room staying connected to someone else's earlobe...sing a nonsense song...draw your autobiography... Sound strange? We use improvisation everyday when we talk with friends, react without thinking to something new, or walk our own pathway to dinner. Artists use improvisation deliberately, to create new melodies, discover unique movements, or create spontaneity on stage. Scientists use improvisation to test new theories, or to go beyond known limits. Business managers use improvisation to encourage creative thinking, solve problems, or to design products. The ability to improvise is innately human, but many of us find it intimidating. We don't like to be "on the spot," we worry about looking foolish, we like to feel in control, and the unscripted possibilities of "anything goes" seem more terrifying than liberating. Fields of Play: Improvisation in Life and Art is a course for students who want to challenge themselves, and to free their minds and bodies from doing the same-old, same-old routines everyday.  Improvisation is a practice; a discipline that has many forms but one prerequisite: the courage to let go of preconceived plans and trust your words/actions/expressions are absolutely right for the moment.  Each class involves improvisatory which demand total participation as a thinking, breathing, moving, emoting self.  Improvisation reveals who you really are. In addition to the doing of improvisation, students study its theoretical underpinnings and how improvisation; techniques and theories are applied to the arts, education, politics, and sciences.  It's fun, stimulating, and rewarding.

FSEM 042 – Face to Face Interrogating Race (Professor McCorkle)
This course examines the parallel structures of segregation in the U.S. and apartheid in South Africa.  The basic premise is that through the lens of another culture and history, we can come to examine our own. The causes and effects of segregation and apartheid on race relations are the central focus. How race affects gender, class, and social spaces is explored throughout the readings. Taught from the perspectives of professors from South Africa and the United States, the course provides unique insights into the histories of these two countries.

FSEM 069 – Fiction, Autobiography, Ethnography: How We Write Ourselves (Professor Mayshle)
How do we write about ourselves in relation to others? How do we write about others in relation to us? One way is to look at narratives in the genres of fiction, autobiography and ethnography. In this course we will deepen our understanding of the strategies and techniques used in fiction and the personal essay, become acquainted with ethnographic writing, and explore the possibilities of interconnecting these three genres; what writer and ethnographer Ruth Behar tellingly refers to as “blurred genres.” We will read widely in a variety of ethnographic, fictional, and autobiographic genres, including literary journalism, autobiographic ethnography, the memoir, family stories, and fiction that uses first-person voices. And we will ask what writing, as a personal act of witnessing written in diverse genres, means for each of us in our own varied contexts.

FSEM 078 – Sustainable Living & Learning (Professors Drennen, Kinne, Lewis, and Rowse)
We are all consumers.  We buy things.  We use things up. We throw things away.  Often we do all of this without considering the life cycle of these "things."  Think about all the t-shirts you own. Do you know what materials make up your t-shirts?  Moreover, do you know what was required to get these t-shirts to you in the first place?  While these questions may seem to have simple answers, the reality is that each of the "things' we consume has a complex secret life of its own, one worthy of further consideration.  This course will explore the complex relationship between sustainability and consumption, paying specific attention to the myriad ways in which individual consumption practices shape global outcomes.

FSEM 103 –  The Reality Effect (Not a Dark and Stormy Night) (Professor Hess)
Stories infuse our lives. In this course, we will examine real stories - perhaps urban legends like "Kentucky Fried Rat," political or advertising storytelling, even identity narratives like college application essays - all kinds of stories that humans shape and that shape us in turn. Our core question is "How do we use narrative, and how does narrative use us?" We will aim to become more adept at analyzing real stories for craft, purpose and impact, but we will also aim to become more skilled at telling real stories by creating some of our own; expect much reading, writing, and revision. We may explore virtual reality narratives or the biological basis for narrative, or other choices based in part on student interest.  Please note, this is not a fiction-writing course, although fiction writers may enjoy and benefit from it.

FSEM 105 – Golf Course Architecture: Literature, History, and Theory (Professor Capraro)
Golf Course Architecture in America: History and Theory What is actually at play when someone plays golf? Game design theory suggests that golf is the occasion for a certain experience shaped by rules, actions and skills of the golfer, and the golf course itself. Unlike a basketball court, each golf course is unique, due to a deeply intentional design by a golf course architect. As Alister Mackenzie insists "The essence of golf is variety." We approach multiple questions: What are the basic elements of golf course architecture? How do golf course architects imagine the game of golf when they design and build a golf course? What kind of experience do they intend for the golfer? What impact have diverse people, male and female, black and white, rich and poor, who have played golf had on the history of golf course design? What are the actual lived experiences of golfers, and how have they changed over time? We will pay special attention to the work of important architects who were active locally, and we will visit some of their amazing creations. (Note: Playing golf is not a requirement, and learning how to golf and learning how to design a golf course are not included in the syllabus.) This seminar is part of a Learning Community requiring students to enroll in SOC 100 Introduction to Sociology which is also a Service Learning course. Visit the Learning Community webpage for more information.

FSEM 109 – The Mughals (Professor Yadav)
From 1526 to 1858 CE, the Mughal Empire ruled over an ever-expanding swath of the Indian Subcontinent.  At its height the empire was wealthier than all of Europe combined and it generated the most beautiful monumental architecture the world has ever seen.  Yet the empire would eventually become hollowed out and serve as a mere façade for one of its vassals, an expansionist European corporation.  How did this happen?  This course uses primary texts and scholarly works to examine the ways in which art, architecture, courtly practice, gender, history, language, marriage alliances, material culture, religious syncretism/ polarization, and a military market were used to fabricate and unwind a sovereign state in South Asia.

FSEM 110 Education, Justice & Happiness (Professor King)
Worried about injustice and misery in a society that had executed his great teacher, Socrates, for "corrupting the youth," Plato devoted one of the greatest books ever written to the question of how people can live in a way that leads to social justice and personal happiness. His concerns inspired him to investigate many topics that remain important today:  education, the equality of the sexes, democracy and tyranny, psychological health, class divisions, censorship and the nature of art, and the nature of knowledge and reality. Plato's Republic remains one of the most interesting works about education, justice, and happiness.  In this seminar, we read the Republic, cover to cover, along with modern works, and discuss the parallels between these important topics as they arose in ancient Athens and as they arise in the 21st century and in our own experience.

FSEM 112 – Music and Ethics (Professor Walker)
This course examines enduring ethical questions, claims, and arguments through the lens of music.  Ethics is a branch of philosophy whose goal is to systemize and defend concepts of right and wrong outside of the institutions of culture, religion, law, and family.  Why is morality important?  What is the value of human life?  Why is there suffering?  Is happiness an imperative?  Over the course of the semester, students will critically engage some of the most canonical answers to these questions, and learn to apply them to musical works ranging from Buddhist chant to Chief Keef.

FSEM 118 – Creating: Myth & Mind (Professor Collins)
This course critically examines various perspectives on the nature of creative activity in the arts, sciences, and everyday life. Students read a wide range of both descriptive and theoretical literature (psychological, philosophical, historical, and sociological) while trying to articulate their own ideas on concepts such as creativity, creating, genius, intelligence, invention, and problem solving. The emphasis throughout is upon analyzing concepts of the creative in terms of actual creative experience. This course places a premium on student writing and student participation.

FSEM 123 – Ancient Warfare: How Homer's Iliad Changed the World (Professor Himmelhoch)
The "West's" first literary work in Homer's Iliad, a poem about war that made an indelible imprint on later European cultures. Every Greek and Roman author, and many later European authors, strove to emulate and respond to this one text. What does this mean for us? Is the Iliad  'only literature', or has its cultural impact been more pervasive? Why was ancient Greece's first literary act a martial one? What does it mean that our culture views Iliad as a foundational text defining who we are as "Westerners?” To what extent does Homer's Dark Age culture shape our own? To investigate these questions, we will first read Homer's Iliad. What are epic's origins? What is the Iliad's story? Next, we will discuss the text as an historical document: Are Homeric values and combat 'authentic'? From here, we will discuss how later Greeks and Romans viewed the Iliad. Finally, we will assess how the Iliad might inform our own understanding of war, violence, justice, and injustice.

FSEM 125 – Hunger (Professor Maiale)
In 1826 Brillat-Savarin wrote, "Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are." But what can we tell from studies of not eating?  This course will explore the hungering of fasting ascetics, anorexic girls, medieval saints, crash dieters, occasional cannibals, professional athletes, TV contestants, strategic political fasters, and famine and environmental disaster victims among others.  Our subject will be cravings, desires, uneasy sensations, and weakened conditions as occasioned by the lack of food or some other unmet need.  We will examine the myriad ways that hunger is constructed cross-culturally to critically analyze what it means in relation to other features of daily life.  Using multidisciplinary accounts such as fiction, history, ethnography, biography, and film, we will examine how in particular contexts what we gloss as hunger can inform larger issues, such as the relationship between the individual and society, society and culture, and the local and the global.

FSEM 126 – The Accidental Scientist: Mysteries of Experience (Professor Prabhakar)
Some things need not be taught: our very own sense of wonder, our lush imaginations and simple, enduring curiosities. These are tools we are born with. Or are we? We begin with the willingness to ask questions, big and small, about the nature of Life and this thing we call Experience. Why Accidental Scientist? Because we do not set out to read a textbook on Sociology, Biology or Etymology; but still we want to know: the evolution of a kiss; the chemistry of memory, pain, loss, and of lies; where, in the brain, the memories live, the lies are kept; why some kinds of music lift us to ecstasy but not others; whether our personalities reflect biological mechanisms; the puzzle of smell; the origins of our words, accents, sounds; the delicate connections across Art, Biology, Music, Psychology, Poetry and Philosophy. Crucially, we want to know of these, and more, in plain-speak, in accessible ways that will not erode that first, polished sense of wonder, but fuel it. As cartographers of our experiences, we ourselves are, perhaps, the most important texts, but we will also be aided by information from a wide variety of genres and disciplines. We shall look for, and find, mystery and meaning in the most personal and idiosyncratic places.

FSEM 128 – Hidden Country (Professor Gerrard)
For most Americans who live in cities and suburbs, rural America is “hidden country,” out of sight and out of mind.  This course will explore rural America by considering one of its most distinctive cultural products, country music.   Now known worldwide, country music is rooted in rural America and in particular the southern white working class. It continues to have such cultural associations today, and is often seen as a reflection of rural ideas and values.  The seminar will explore this issue, examining the way that country music has historically expressed, created and distorted images of rural America in the popular imagination.   Often, rural people are stereotyped as (for example) rednecks, cowboys, hillbillies or simple family farmers.  Small-town life is either romanticized as wholesome and virtuous, or demonized as backwards and narrow-minded.  The course will explore the truths and half-truths expressed in country music, and the broader use of rural imagery as a means for both urban and rural people to understand and cope with a rapidly changing American landscape.   More generally, it considers music (as both art form and social commentary) within a broader context of history, cultural geography and personal and social psychology.

FSEM 134 – Wilderness and the Wild (Professor MacPhail)
There are more than 677 federally designated wilderness areas in the United States.  A continuing fascination with wild places is evident in the popularity and critical success of such films as 127 Hours, Into the Wild, and Grizzly Man.  Do you enjoy getting away from it all, or wonder at those who do?  This seminar will explore peoples' fascination with wild places.  We will attempt to answer such questions as what makes a place a wilderness, how the concept of wilderness has changed over time, and how the value and meaning of wilderness differs across cultures.  Our approach to what one historian calls "the problem of wilderness" will be multifaceted.  We will explore the history, ethics, philosophy, politics, aesthetics, and economics of wilderness.  Ultimately, our attempt to understand wilderness will be a means to critically examine our own places in the natural world.

FSEM 143 – In Search of an Inca (Professor Rodiguez-Mansilla)
Through centuries, the Andes have been the settlement of advanced civilizations as well as the scenario of significant events in Latin American History.  " In Search of an Inca" is an exploration of the Andean culture through the concept of utopia.  Since the trauma of the Spanish conquest, the people of the Andes have elaborated different projects based on myths transmitted orally, as well as, written chronicles since the early times of colonization until the present that refer to the return of the Inca- the idealized fair ruler who would bring prosperity to the impoverished and afflicted.  Testimonies of this utopian discourse are abundant and present in diverse cultural manifestations: paintings, architecture, literary texts, and ritual celebrations.

FSEM 145 – Einstein, Relativity and Time (Professor Spector)
Einstein's theory of relativity is one of the triumphs of human thought, changing our understanding of our universe. The implications of relativity, which arose from a simple consideration of light, reached far and wide, from understanding the origins of the universe, to re-thinking philosophical issues, to influences across the arts. In this course, we will explore relativity, its concepts and its mathematics. This will lead us into related areas from exotica like black holes and time travel, to a better understanding of light in science and the arts, and to the social and historical context from which relativity emerged.

FSEM 147 – Africa: Myths and Realities (Professor Thornberry)
Africa is in the continent Americans probably understand the least. As a result, there are many myths and misconceptions about the people and the countries of this vast continent. This course examines the reality of Africa from many viewpoints: its geography, environment, demographics, and history; its social, economic, and political structures; and its art, music, and literature. Students also examine contemporary issues in South Africa, Nigeria, Senegal, Rwanda and elsewhere. Central to the course is an examination of the role of development projects and foreign aid. Among the course's varied experiences are guest lectures, films, and readings. 

FSEM 157 – Am I crazy?  Madness in History, Culture, and Science (Professor Cope)
Mad geniuses, crazy athletes, weird artists, political and religious fanatics, horror films, ghost stories, the confessions of loners, losers, and outcasts-all have to do with the distinction between that which is strange and that which is familiar, those who are similar to us and those who are different, those who are normal and those who are abnormal-in short, those who are "crazy" and those who are "sane."  In this seminar, our aim will be to come to terms with what this curious and mercurial thing called "madness" is, as well as what it means-ethically and politically--to decide that someone is mad and someone else is not.  Among other things, we will look at 1) how the definitions of madness and sanity have changed radically over the course of recorded history;2)how these definitions often overlap with broader social and cultural definitions of normalcy, morality, health, fitness, and criminality, 3)how the discourse of madness often intersects with social and cultural attitudes towards gender, race, class, ethnicity, and sexuality.  By reading texts from numerous disciplines (psychology, philosophy, medicine, science, history, fiction, drama, anthropology, sociology) as well as viewing a number of films and conducting our own preliminary research, we will explore varying definitions of "madness" from a broad cultural and historical perspective, paying particular attention not only to the ways in which madness has been defined, but how different cultures and societies at different historical moments have celebrated, pathologized, or sought to "cure" the insane.

FSEM 164 – Encountering Difference (Professor Kafrawi)
Encounters happen every day.  We encounter people of different civilizations, nations, race, religious, class, sex, and gender at schools, workspace, supermarkets, public square, and other venues.  What do we expect when we meet other people?  How do we respond when we encounter difference?  What constitutes difference?  Why do we fear difference?  Why do people stereotype?  Could the fear of the other necessitate one to control the narrative, the people, or their resources?  Or, could encounter with the other become a life-changing experience?  What needs to be done for us to have a meaningful encounter with the other? After discussing the philosophical foundation for encountering different realms of reality through reading a passage on the allegory of the cave in Plato's republic, this course will explore on three fields in which we encounter difference.  The three cases encountering difference will include:  Christian Spaniards' encounters with Native Americans, racial-ethnic encounters among Americans, and interfaith encounters in the post-911 world.

FSEM 175 – Climate Change: Science & Politics (Professor Metz)
Recent scientific research shows clear evidence that the Earth is warming faster than at any point on record.  Most scientists agree that much of the recent warming of the Earth is due, at least in part, to human-related activities.  However, this near consensus disappears within the political world as the topic of climate change has become one of the most divisive in recent memory.  This seminar will explore the ways in which climate change translates into the political realm, first by discussing the fundamental science.  Armed with this knowledge, students will explore the policy implications of climate change and dissect a variety of political opinions on the subject in an attempt to separate political fact from fiction.  Additionally, students will probe the underlying reasons behind the various political opinions on climate change, ranging from campaign contribution records to political district economics.  An underlying goal of the seminar will be to identify a pathway for realistic political consensus on climate change that might approach the scientific consensus and allow for future policy progress on the climate change issue.

FSEM 180 – The Blue Planet (Professor Finkelstein)
Water controls life on planet Earth.  Water is a universal solvent, wherever it goes, it takes along valuable chemicals, minerals, and nutrients.  Water is the only substance that exists naturally on Earth in all three physical states of matter-gas (water vapor), liquid (water), and solid (ice and snow).  The heat capacity of water controls our weather and climate.  Water, economics, politics and wealth can be intimately tied together.  When water flows, its power can be harvested.  Where rains occur on a predictable basis, sustenance through farming can be achieved.  Civilizations depend upon accessible drinking water.  Does water control civilizations and politics?  When water doesn't flow or droughts persist, civilizations can collapse.  What is our relationship with water?  How does global climate change alter these relationships?  Students will characterize our local and global relationship with water and climate using scholarly articles, maps, biographies, movies, music and novels.  Through discussions, presentations, debates, guided journals and short essays, we will explore the bounds that water places on humanity.  This course is taught as a learning community.

FSEM 183 – You are Where You Eat (Professor McNally)
Food. It seems to be on everyone's lips these days. In fact, of course, it always has been. In this seminar our focus will be on this local area. Food will be both the end and means of our study. We will read, write, harvest, cook and eat in the style of some of the different kinds of people who have lived in what is now Geneva, N.Y. Our menus of reading and eating may include Iroquois, French Trappers, English settlers, African American communities, recent Geneva immigrant cuisine from Italy, Syria, and Latin America, industrial/global food and, finally, the counter current back to eating from our own food shed. We'll learn that knowledge can be endlessly amplified, that it must always be changing because the world is always changing, that real comprehension is located in your body as well as your mind, that knowledge is always multi layered, and that the most precious understandings are those which promote your own growth and empowerment.  You'll learn how to do new things, from each other and from local people. And you'll end the term with a much fuller knowledge of this place where you are living for four years - where to get a free lunch or organic beer or fresh kohlrabi or wild garlic or blue eggs.

MORE INFO

You'll notice that some of our Seminars are also part of a Learning Community, a distinctive living and learning environment that enhances the connections between courses and extracurricular events.

Learn more about Learning Communities.