First Year Seminars provide a foundation for our students’ intellectual lives both inside and outside the classroom by helping them to develop critical thinking and communication skills and practices; to enculturate themselves within the Colleges’ intellectual and ethical values and practices; and to establish a strong network of relationships with peers and mentors on campus. 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 magic, social responsibility or country 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 will 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 are sure you will find several that interest you. After you have 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 7.

Fall 2019 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 Cheryl 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. Typical Readings: Sebold, Lucky; Beah, A Long Way Gone; Danticat, Brother, I'm Dying; Ojito, Finding Mañana.

FSEM 011 - Britpop: From Beatles to BrexitProfessor Rob Carson
Pop music is music of the moment: it crystallizes a specific point in space and time within a culture and preserves it in three glorious minutes of song. In this class, we'll immerse ourselves deeply in the history of British music from World War II up to the present day, from Vera Lynn to Adele, from the Kinks to the Clash, from David Bowie to Benjamine Clementine, from the Specials to Stormzy. We'll use this remarkable playlist as a lens to examine how British culture has evolved over the past seventy-five years, a culture that always seems to be accessible to Americans on some levels but also oddly impenetrable on others. (George Bernard Shaw famously described the UK and the US as “two countries separated by a common language.”) By casting our imaginations overseas for a semester, we will inevitably come to reflect upon ourselves with new eyes as well; and by exploring one of the world's greatest musical legacies, we will come to hear contemporary music with fresh ears too.

FSEM 017 - Old Art Meets New Chemistry, Professor Liliana Leopardi
This new branch of art history focuses on an artwork as a physical object: it studies the materials, techniques and production methods that went into its making, as well as artists' reflections on the process of creation. This course will be linked with the FSEM by the same subject taught by Walter Bowyer. (We have already requested to teach our courses on special designated time so that we may hold lab session together - these will be supervised by Walter Bowyer; the historical lectures. Discussion sessions will be supervised by me). The course will focus on the history of art technology as well aspects of applied science. Students will work hands on with a wide variety of materials and experience making specific ones themselves. The course will also include excursions to nearby labs that deal with historical conservation and/or reconstructions. (Both Walter Bowyer and I have received a private grant from Yale University to fund this particular aspect of the course).

FSEM 018 - Genocide and the Modern Age, Professor Michael 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 & the Mind, Professor Gregory 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? Typical Readings: Sommers, A Very Bad Wizard: Morality Behind the Curtain; Appiah, Experiments in Ethics; de Waal, Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved; and selections from Journal of PhilosophyJournal of Consciousness Studies.

FSEM 029 - Why Are Some Countries Rich?Professor Jenny Tessendorf
Why are some countries rich while others remain poor? The answer matters because 'rich' versus 'poor' translates into significant differences in the quality of life of the 'average' person in these countries. The history of the post-WWII period is littered with the corpses of 'big ideas' that purported to answer this question and thus provide the key to growth. Colonial exploitation, low investment rates, inadequate spending on education, insufficient financial liberalization, among others, all failed to answer the question by themselves and certainly didn't provide the magic elixir for growth. We will examine the merits and the failings of these big ideas and consider some newer proposals as well. We'll particularly look at the roles of geography and of political, social and economic institutions and the incentives they create. There may be no single big idea that will work for every country, but we will identify some characteristics that clearly separate the “poor” from the “not so poor.

FSEM 038 – Religion and Film: Exploring Meaning in FilmProfessor John Krummel
The course examines religious themes and motifs as depicted in experimental, avant-garde and art films. These include themes such as transcendence, the sacred, exile and home, ritual, faith and doubt, knowing God, mortality, reincarnation, the fall, suffering, and so on, all having to do with the existential question of meaning in life. We will begin the term with a series of introductory essays that explore what is religion, the relationship between film and religion, and how to “read” or analyze film. We will then watch a feature-length film about every week and a half; read selected primary and secondary literature dealing with the religious theme depicted in the film as well as literature on the film itself and/or the director; and discuss and interpret the film after watching it. None of these films present religion in a traditional light. They often challenge mainstream assumptions about religion. And in some of the films religious motifs are not at all explicit. Through the process the first-year students will be introduced to the culture of the Humanities in general and methods of how to read and analyze written material and visual material while relating them together and to one’s own life and the world one is familiar with.

FSEM 042 - Face to Face: Interrogating RaceProfessor James McCorkle
Do we live in a post-racial world or a new Jim Crow society? What are the legacies of slavery, segregation, and apartheid? What is meant by white privilege? How do we value human life and what are the ways of developing emancipatory movements? This course examines the parallel structures of segregation in the United States and apartheid in South Africa.  The basic premise is that through the lens of another culture we can come to examine our own.  The causes and effects of segregation and apartheid on contemporary race relations are the central focus.  How race affects gender, class, and social spaces is explored throughout the readings.

FSEM 048 - Performing America, Professor Alex Black
The title of this course can be read two ways: First, it proposes that America is a nation of performers.  The course, then, is an introduction to the long history of performance in the United States.  What counts as performance?  It's a harder question to answer than you might think-- and it's one that we'll engage for the next four months--but a tentative response could be:  all of literature and culture.  There's what actors, dancers, and musicians do, but there's also the work of writers and other artists.  Second , the course title argues that America--what it means to be American and what America means--is enacted through creative and critical acts of performance.  In order to study these performances, we will use methods from the humanities, the arts, and the social sciences.  In the process, we will research and writhe and talk about plays, poems, and novels, movies and music, as well as events happening on campus and around town.

FSEM 055 – Russians Discover America: Imaginers, Observers, ImmigrantsProfessor Kristen Welsh
How do we define America? Does your definition mesh with what the rest of the world might think? This course explores American culture and identity by proposing and testing definitions for these terms. Our raw material for this project includes words, sounds, and images created by Russian and Soviet artists and travelers. Some of our texts are fictional, some are not, and some blur the boundaries between the two. Some were created by people who visited the U.S. and went home again, some by exiles both voluntary and involuntary, and some by artists who simply imaged America from afar. This course focuses on asking questions, using your imagination and analytical skills to make sense of the unknown, and using points of encounter between strangers (people, language, nations) to enhance your understanding of life in the United States.

FSEM 072 - Rock Music and American Masculinities, Professor Chip Capraro
Elvis, Dylan, the Beatles, the Stones, Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen. They were some of the central figures in the history of rock music in America and England from the 1950's to the 1980's. But what kind of men were they? This seminar offers an interdisciplinary look at the lives of these men of rock through the lens of men's studies: i.e., through the history and theory of men's identity and experience. In their study of the biographies of the men who made the soundtrack of mid-20th century Anglo-American popular culture, students will develop an appreciation for the role of gender, race, class, sexuality, and nation in shaping men's lives.

FSEM 077 - Metacognition & Social JusticeAssociate Dean for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment & Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning Susan Pliner
This course answers these questions and serves two purposes. One is to introduce students to meta-cognition, reflective practice and self-assessment. Students will explore how the continual assessment of one’s own process, knowledge, and critical questioning guides learning progress and development. Students will examine learning theory including, Bloom’s taxonomy. Kratwohl’s effective domains. Fink’s taxonomy of significant learning. KoIb’s learning cycle, and Perry’s meta-cognition as a means of self-discovery in relationship to identity and foundational theories of social justice. The second purpose is to apply meta-cognitive techniques to exploring and investigating to foundational principles and theories of social justice rooted in civil rights social movements, within which concepts such as social justice, oppression and liberation are central categories for analyzing, evaluating and transforming interlocking systems of discriminatory institutional structures, cultural practices, and social behavior. Issues of power and powerlessness are central to the course as they illuminate how social arrangements are imagined, constructed, and challenged. Students will be introduced to key concepts, methodologies, and competencies connected to the field of social justice studies.

FSEM 078 - Sustainable Living and Learning, Professors Beth Kinne, Whitney Mauer, and Tom Drennen
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. This is a linked FSEM pod with three sections

FSEM 080 - Politics, Inequality & Climate Change, Professor Paul Passavant
Climate change is occurring faster than expected, yet the United States remains immobilized in its face. Does this prove true the statement that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism as we stare almost hypnotically into the depths of catastrophe? In this course, we will first seek to understand what climate change means for the world and the United States. In particular, we will consider how climate change interacts with social and economic inequalities. Next. we will consider what can be done to manage its effects and what that might mean for social organization. Finally, we will consider political movements and public policies that offer us hope in limiting the causes of climate change, including one grassroots movement that took shape on the shores of Seneca Lake.

FSEM 085 - Knowing Bodies, Professor Michelle Ikle
How do you live in your body? What choices do you make every day? 'Knowing Bodies' is an introduction to claiming oneself through the education of the mind and body simultaneously. Students begin to explore the relationships between body and mind and how they project themselves to the world. Students learn to acknowledge their individuality while improving movement potential and self expression--oral, written, and movement-based. Students become keen observers while learning about the structure and movement potential of the human body through movement explorations and hands-on techniques. They develop skills for improving movement facility and begin to acknowledge and understand conscious and unconscious behaviors. Students demonstrate self identity and artistic expression through the creation of art collages and movement studies while becoming more effective communicators through journal writing, discussion, oral presentations and movement expression. Typical Readings: Olsen, BodyStories; Minton, Body and Self; Feldenkrais, Awareness through Movement.

FSEM 101 - New Chemistry Meets Old Art, Professor Walter Bowyer
Art and science sometimes seem incompatible. In this course, we challenge that perception. We begin with art history and the scientific discoveries that impacted painters, especially discoveries and inventions of new pigments. At the same time, we use art projects to reinforce fundamental scientific principles. We then explore prehistoric art in depth, especially the ancient cave art found in Europe, to illustrate how science helps us understand ancient art. Finally, we ask how human creativity has changed over the past 40,000 years. This question requires a thorough understanding of the similarities and differences between biological and cultural evolution. This course is part of a Learning Community. Visit page 19 for more information. Typical Readings: Ball, Bright Earth: Art and the Invention of Color; Vialou, Prehistoric Art and Civilization; Delamare and Guineau, Colors: The Story of Dyes and Pigments.

FSEM 105 - Golf Course Architecture: Literature, History, and Theory, Professor Chip Capraro
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.)

FSEM 111 - Paris, Je T'Aime, Professor Catherine Gallouet
This course will examine contemporary French life in the light of American points of view about France today.  We will study Paris as the perceived historical and cultural "center" of the French world.  French life will be studied through its multiple productions, (the life of the city, cinema, literature and cuisine).  We will pay particular attention on how Americans have related to the city and its culture, and by extension to French culture, by examining the experience of American expatriated in France, and how their representations may construct stereotypes of the "city of lights" and of France. It is recommended that students register for one of these French courses: FRE 101, 102, 120, 130, 225, 226, 227

FSEM 115 - Active Forgetting, Professor Alysia Kaplan
In this course we will look at a wide array of relationships to memory association, repetition and reappearance, as well as forms of `active' forgetting. In order to contextualize memory's role in visual and cultural theory as well as aesthetic politics-we will look at memory in the framework of art, history, psychology, and politics.

FSEM 116 - Life and Death of Che Guevara, Professor Colby Ristow
Over fifty years after his death, Che Guevara remains one of the most polarizing 
historical figures in the world. Pioneer of modem guerrilla warfare and architect of an anti-American revolution just ninety miles from U.S. soil, Che Guevara embodied the radical sixties in all of its turbulent glory: to some he was a young, handsome, anti-imperialist in the age of revolution; to others an uncompromising, violent, communist in the age of Cold War. He was both an 'icon of cool' and a 'ruthless mass murderer.' In death, the legend of Che and the controversy surrounding it have hardly diminished. The image of the Guerrillero Heroico has become the most widely circulated photo in the world, and one of the world's most ubiquitous branding tools, used to sell everything from t-shirts to vodka. Ironically, the world's foremost Marxist revolutionary has become a commodity, spread around the globe on the wings of capitalist enterprise. In this course, we will examine Che Guevara as a three-dimensional man of his times - a loyal son, a guerrilla leader, a willing executioner, and an ambassador for global revolution; and as two-dimensional symbol of a generation - of masculinity, of counter culture, of cultural appropriation, of commodification.

FSEM 128 - Country Music and American Society, Professor Ronald Gerrard
Country music is full of contradictions. It is both traditional and modern, both authentic and inauthentic, both inside and outside of mainstream popular culture. It espouses traditional family values but frequently sings of drinking, cheating and violence. Some describe it as the ‘half barbaric twang’ of hillbillies and rednecks, while others describe it as bland commercial pop for suburban soccer moms. To its harshest critics, country is “music for morons” or even a “force of social menace.” More sympathetic listeners characterize it as “working class poetry” or “three chords and the truth.” More is going on here than simple differences in musical taste. Views of country music are related to deep issues in American society. This course uses country music as a way to explore such issues. It takes country music seriously as both art form and social phenomenon, and uses it as a starting point to explore issues such as race, class, gender and region in a rapidly modernizing American society. Country music is treated as a complex lens through which various groups (urban and rural, rich and poor, white and black, liberal and conservative, north and south) portray themselves and imagine one another. The course will cover historical and lesser-known forms of country as well as contemporary songs and artists. As part of the course, students will be expected to attend several movie nights throughout the semester where they will watch films related to the course content.

FSEM 141 - The Lens of Stand-up Comedy, Professor James Makinster
It is one person in front of an audience with the goal of making others laugh. Yet stand-up comedy is so much more. Comedians force and challenge us to look at our lives, our communities, and society in ways that we may not yet have considered. Issues that relate to the dimensions of social class, racism, sexual orientation, gender identity, cultural reproduction, and the very nature of human existence are explored both implicitly and explicitly. This course will examine the role of stand-up comedy in the human experience, the ways in which different comedians present and leverage their own lives, and what we might learn through the attempts of others to make people laugh. Text and videos will serve as context for active exploration of a wide variety of issues and topics.

FSEM 144 - Parched: Past, Present, Future of Water, Professor Tara Curtin
Water is a necessity of life.  It is nature's ultimate paradox: the softest natural 'element' in both classical and eastern thought and yet one capable of overcoming all the others.  Water is an agent of purification, healing, nourishment, and mechanical power.  It is also an agent of destruction and devastation.  Water is the most plentiful natural resource on Earth and yet a resource that increasingly proves unobtainable when humans seek and need it most.  In the midst of global climate change, environmental crises for water resources and the political debates over water, we have come to the realization of our complete dependence on water.

Students will examine and draw conclusions about the nature of humankind's encounter with water using maps, biographies, autobiographies, poems, movies, novels, and scholarly articles.  Through lectures, class discussion, debates, short essays, blogging, and research papers, this course will provide students with the tools to explore how the environment naturally produces safe, clean drinking water; how humans obtain and use these water resources; water quality and water pollution; water treatment processes; energy generation; and how we can sustain our water resources in perpetuity. This course is a learning community with GEO 186.

FSEM 157 - Madness in History, Culture & Science, Professor Stephen 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 175 - Climate Change: Science and Politics, Professor Nicholas 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. This course is a learning community with GEO 182.

FSEM 186 - Eat Like A SlavProfessor David Galloway 
Food: if we are lucky, we consume it three times a day. But is it just something that keeps us going—or is there more to it? In this course, we will investigate the role that food plays in Russian culture from its earliest documented forms to the present day. We will consider a variety of interdisciplinary contexts in which food takes a central role, including literature, economics, history, nutrition, and folklore, as well as the ways Russian food has been presented to the world at large. We will examine the peasant diet, which for hundreds of years supported a massive political empire, as well as the luxurious habits of the upper classes, where Western European influences first took hold. Our work will find its practical application in a weekly kitchen laboratory session where we will construct these dishes as we discuss the nature of food in Russian culture of the last several hundred years. 

FSEM 191 - Whales and Dolphins, Professor Matthew Crow
This seminar will focus on whales as actors in human history, as well as their own and that of the wider natural world. We will be exploring ways to think about whales  in history, and what it means to think about animals as having history and culture, Our readings will look at the importance of whales as symbols of indigenous cultures around the world, as captivating figures in the public imagination, as a critical part of the story of modern economic history through the whaling industry, and as animals at the forefront of the human study of nonhuman culture and intelligence. What are the implications of acknowledging whales as having language and culture, and what does that help us understand about our own? This course is a learning community with ENV 110.

FSEM 194 - JPN: Ghosts, Demons & Monsters, Professor James-Henry Holland
Godzilla. Pokémon.  Films like  "Spirited Away " or " The Ring."  The ninja magic of Naruto.  The shape-shifting demons of Inu Yasha.  These are all examples of the Japanese supernatural, re-packaged for world consumption.

But what does the American consumer miss out on when enjoying these Japanese tales?  Why is occult lore such an important part of the expressive culture of Japan?  What is the historical or religious basis of the " soft Power" of  "Cool Japan"? What do we learn about japan-and about ourselves-when we shiver to a well-told Japanese ghost story?

FSEM 199 - Build Your Own WesterosProfessor Eric Klaus
What if you could create your own Westeros, Hogwarts, Middle Earth, Narnia?—these realms inspire and captivate. However, these worlds are more than adventure, intrigue, and chainmail; they have histories, mythologies, social norms and rituals, in short, they are cultures. Fictional cultures, but cultures nonetheless. So what is culture? Is it what people wear? Or how they worship, celebrate, and mourn? Or how they govern themselves or what they eat? Or even how they create and understand art? All of these? We will take on these questions by building fictional cultures of our own. To prepare us for this, we will learn to think of culture as more than objects. It is a system, a network of filters through which we make sense of the world and create our place in it. After building a theoretical basis and analyzing one of the most famous and important fictional worlds in the Western tradition, Dante’s “Inferno,” you will build your own fictional world and visit the fictional worlds of your classmates to explore cultural differences and how those differences are overcome.


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.



Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.