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First-Year Seminars

Each First-Year Seminar offers an opportunity for entering students to develop skills in writing, reasoning, and research that will be of critical importance throughout their academic careers. Enrollment is limited to fifteen students to ensure the active participation of all class members and to permit students and instructor to concentrate on developing the skills necessary for successful college writing. Seminars typically focus on a current problem or a topic of particular interest to the instructor. First-Year Seminars are not open to upperclass students. They carry full course credit.

General Education Information for the Classes of 2008, 2009, and 2010. One designated seminar may be used in fulfilling General Education requirements. In addition, one designated seminar may be used to fulfill the quantitative requirement. Designations are listed in the introductory paragraphs of departments in the Catalog.


FYS 024. The Magic Mirror.

Kermit Hall, an eminent historian of American law, wrote a book called The Magic Mirror, the theme of which is how the history and culture of American people are reflected in laws. The mirror metaphor itself —speculum juris—has been around the law for hundreds of years often suggesting that human laws do or should reflect another order, natural or divine. Yet the law, in practice, actually contours what it sees and then imposes the reshaped image back on what it then again reflects, and so on and on—truly, a magic mirror. The seminar considers opinions in a collection of appellate court cases that demonstrate this reflexive ability of the law to both show and to influence who we are. Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. S. Sylvester.

This course is referenced by the following General Education Concentrations

FYS 084. Anatomy of a Few Small Machines.

One can treat the products of technology as "black boxes"—plain in purpose but mysterious in function. A more flexible and exciting life is available to those who look on all such devices as mere extensions of their hands and minds—who believe they could design, build, modify, and repair anything they put their hands on. This course helps students do this primarily through practice. Only common sense is required, but participants must be willing to attack any aspect of science and technology. Field trips are required. Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. G. Clough.

FYS 172. Power and Perception: Cinematic Portraits of Africa.

Most Americans have "seen" Africa only through non-African eyes, coming to "know" about African society through such characters as Tarzan and such genres as the "jungle melodrama" or the "nature show." In this seminar, films from the North Atlantic are juxtaposed with ethnographic and art films made by Africans in order to examine how to "read" these cinematic texts. Related novels and ethnographic texts help to answer central questions about the politics of representation: What are the differences in how African societies are depicted and why are different issues and points of view privileged? Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. E. Eames.

This course is referenced by the following General Education Concentrations

FYS 203. Family Value: Tales of Childhood and Kinship Across Cultures.

This course examines through close readings of literary works and film the variety in the human experience of childhood and family. Multiple meanings of "family" (parentage, kinship, community) and "value" (worth, meaning, ideal, usefulness) are revealed as the course explores both specific cultural contexts and the confusion of identities that emerge in various accounts of childhood. Important works of fiction and autobiography are read in the light of issues of race, class, gender, religion, and sexuality. Readings for the course may include works by Dorothy Allison, Fatima Mernissi, Toni Morrison, Cheikh Hamidou Kane, Anne Frank, and David Leavitt. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. K. Read.

FYS 234. The U.S. Relocation Camps in World War II.

During World War II, the United States government interned more than 110,000 American citizens of Japanese descent and resident Japanese in "relocation camps" far away from their homes. This course studies the history of Asian immigration to the United States; the political, social, and economic conditions of the United States prior to internment; the relocation camps themselves; and the politics of redress leading to the presidential apology over the wartime "mistake" a half-century later. Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. A. Hirai.

This course is referenced by the following General Education Concentrations

FYS 236. Epidemics: Past, Present, and Future.

The course covers principles of epidemiology, mechanisms of disease transmission, and the effects of diseases on society throughout history. The emergence of new diseases, drug resistance, and biological terrorism are discussed. Social effects of bubonic plague, typhoid, tuberculosis, smallpox, yellow fever, Ebola, Marburg, AIDS, hantaviruses, and Legionnaires' Disease are studied. Enrollment limited to 15. [S] [W1] Offered with varying frequency. P. Schlax.

This course is referenced by the following General Education Concentrations

FYS 242. Blackness (and Whiteness) in the Social Imagination.

Aspects of ourselves we hold most dear, most changeless, are in actuality socially fashioned. Drawing on perspectives from various disciplines, students reflect on the historical and symbolic formation of "blackness" and "whiteness" as modes of social assortment as well as the clamor and silences that surround their pervasive presence. How did they become rooted in the modern social imagination? How are the two related, what is their relationship to other ethnic and racial categories, and how do they intersect with issues of class and gender? How are they lived and experienced, and how do they change over time? How did some immigrant groups, like Jews and the Irish "become white," for example, in the twentieth-century United States? Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. C. Carnegie.

This course is referenced by the following General Education Concentrations

FYS 253. NATO's Moral War.

On 24 March 1999 NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) launched the last major military campaign of the twentieth century. For seventy-eight days the world's most powerful military alliance applied its sophisticated arsenal against the rogue government of Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic. NATO leaders claimed a moral responsibility to take action to end Milosevic's repressive policies against the ethnic Albanians living in Yugoslavia's southernmost province, Kosovo. In the end, NATO achieved its goals, but at what cost? In this course students examine the diplomacy leading up to the NATO campaign, the propaganda and media manipulation used to justify "going to war," the environmental impact of the bombing, and questions of sovereignty and international law that were finessed by all sides. Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. D. Browne.

FYS 266. Fakers, Forgers, Looters, Thieves.

Beyond the public face of museums lies the complex world of collecting: the art market, art law, and their sinister underside, art crime. In the last decade, as victims of the Holocaust have sought to recover collections looted by the Nazis, these issues have become more visible, but in fact they are myriad and confront every curator, dealer, collector, and art historian. This course explores a wide range of topics in their legal and ethical contexts from the work of famous forgers such as Joni and Van Meegeren to the looting of Asia and Africa by colonial powers, the clandestine excavation and illegal trading of antiquities around the world, and the pillaging of museums by Russian, German, and American soldiers during World War II. Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. R. Corrie.

This course is referenced by the following General Education Concentrations

FYS 271. Into the Woods: Rewriting Walden.

On 4 July 1845, Henry David Thoreau declared his independence and moved to a shack in the woods near Walden Pond. Ever since, many individuals have repeated his experiment in one form or another. This course examines a number of these Thoreauvian experiments and their historical context. Why do these individuals take to the woods? What do they find there? What do their experiences say about American culture and society? In seeking answers to these questions, students read a variety of literary, historical, and autobiographical texts. Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. G. Lexow.

FYS 274. Physics in the Twentieth Century.

An introduction to great twentieth-century discoveries in physics, including the wave-particle duality of light and matter, quantum effects, special relativity, nuclear physics, and elementary particles. Laboratory experiments such as the photoelectric effect and electron diffraction are incorporated into the seminar. This seminar can substitute for Physics 108 and is designed for students who had a strong background in high school physics. Enrollment limited to 15. [S] [L] [Q] [W1] Offered with varying frequency. H. Lin.

FYS 280. Confucius: Faith and Transgression.

This course introduces students to a set of values and a way of life often understood to be at the core of East Asian civilizations. Confucius' teachings began spreading as early as the sixth century b.c.e., first in China and then in other parts of East Asia. For much of the past two millennia, the Confucian canon provided a compelling if not always universal foundation for spiritual and cultural development, social institutions, and state government in China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. This course begins with the very basic question of what it means to be a Confucian, and then proceeds to explore the Confucian commitment to ethics, culture, politics, and society, and the canon's sometimes controversial relationship with commerce, nature, and womanhood. All materials are presented in English. Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. S. Yang.

FYS 289. The Life of the Buddha.

The Buddha Siddhartha Gautama, also known as Sakyamuni, is famed as the founder of the Buddhist religion. Though he lived in Northern India about 2,500 years ago, most of what we know about him consists of legends that were developed by Buddhists over the centuries. The course examines these legends, with an eye on the factors that led to their evolution, and the ways in which changing conceptions of the Buddha reflect developments in Buddhist thought. At the same time, it serves as a basic introduction to the fundamental teachings and practices of Buddhism. Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. J. Strong.

This course is referenced by the following General Education Concentrations

FYS 292. Growing Up Perfect.

Every one of us wonders what we would be like if we realized our full potential, and every society struggles to describe the royal road to human perfection. From Aristotle's "reflective intelligence" to J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter, the library shelves bulge with examples and advice. In this course, students read classic guides of self-improvement from 2,000 years of global culture Roman, Chinese, American, and European looking for the cultural supermodel that makes a best-seller, or moves a society. Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. D. Grafflin.

FYS 300. Exploring Education through Narratives.

In this seminar, stories, once the primary way knowledge passed from one generation to another, are the basis for examining educational topics and issues. Students read fictional, biographical, autobiographical, and other narratives to learn more about some aspect of education and/or schooling. Topics include teachers and teaching; teacher/student roles; gender identity; students' experiences in school; and how race, class, ethnicity, sexuality, or other differences may cause some to feel like outsiders. Students conduct field work and independent research. Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. H. Regan.

FYS 305. Corporal Culture: Body and Health in America.

This seminar addresses a variety of topics related to body and health, from body image to body dysmorphia. Students read both primary sources (largely research) and first-person accounts related to eating disorders, diet and nutrition, body image, drug and alcohol use, smoking, sexuality, cosmetic pharmacy, fashion, definitions of physical and psychological "health," sex and gender, exercise, and organ transplantation. The seminar involves weekly writing assignments, occasional in-class assessments, student presentations, and a final writing project. Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. K. Low.

FYS 308. Searching for the Good Life.

What are the things that bring people happiness? Does marriage, for example, bring more happiness or unhappiness to those who choose it? Does wealth make people happy? If so, how much wealth is enough to ensure happiness? Is a productive career likely to bring happiness? How well do most individuals do at selecting the things that will bring them sustained happiness? Is happiness even the right yardstick to use in measuring the goodness of life? And at the end of life, what constitutes a good death? In this seminar, students grapple with these and related topics in regular discussions, projects, and papers. Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. M. Sargent.

This course is referenced by the following General Education Concentrations

FYS 324. Archeology of the Celtic World.

Today, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall, and Brittany are considered "Celtic" lands. This label emphasizes a group of traditional languages with shared histories, but the origins of Celtic cultures are more complex. More than two thousand years ago Celtic peoples were the first iron-using populations to inhabit a broad area from Spain to Romania. They were farmers, herders, and mariners who cooperated, competed, founded many settlements, raised many fortresses, and developed lively artistic traditions. Roman armies and migrating Germanic tribes fought hard to subdue the Celts, and they succeeded in many places. However, Celtic languages and many other aspects of culture were preserved in the lands of the European Atlantic fringe. This seminar examines regional case studies that use archeological methods to explore the unrecorded histories of the Celts. Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. G. Bigelow.

FYS 329. Latin American Time Machine.

The nations of Latin America often appear in popular films or newspaper headlines as places of economic turmoil, homes to military dictators, or unfortunate victims of environmental disaster. What lies beyond tales of sunglass-wearing caudillos or vanishing rainforests? This course examines the historical roots of issues and events in present-day Latin America, such as the U.S. embargo on Cuba, the Zapatista uprising in Mexico, immigration, and the illegal drug trade. The course is grounded in historical analysis and methods; in addition to books and articles, students analyze newspapers, images, films, and first-hand accounts of events. Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. K. Melvin.

This course is referenced by the following General Education Concentrations

FYS 335. Watching the Detectives.

This course explores one of the most enduring popular forms of American fiction, the detective story. From the hard-boiled private eye Sam Spade to the Navajo tribal police detective Jim Chee to the chief medical examiner Dr. Kay Scarpetta, the literary detective has been continuously reinvented. Driven by two of America's most distinguishing characteristics, ingenuity and violence, the detective genre variously engages one of our culture's most cherished ideals—individualism. By focusing on the literary and cinematic reinvention of the detective, this course considers how the genre has evolved to represent American culture. Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. M. Hanrahan.

FYS 339. Owning Ideas: Intellectual Property and the World Economy.

Intellectual property (IP) rules allow inventors, writers, artists, and composers to control the use of their creations. Patent, trademark, and copyright rules are adopted by societies believing such protection to be essential to economic and social progress. Critics of IP protection believe such rules to be unnecessary, and perhaps an impediment to economic and social development. This seminar explores the origins of national and international IP regimes, and examines current IP controversies such as Napster. The goal is to develop a framework for evaluating the effect of IP regimes on economic development and human well-being from a variety of disciplines. Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. J. Hughes.

FYS 341. King Arthur: Myth and Legend.

The story of King Arthur of Britain and his Knights of the Round Table is one of Western civilization's most enduring legends. This course explores those elements of the Arthur story that make it so universally compelling and the ways in which its details have been adapted according to the needs and desires of its changing audience. Topics considered include feudal loyalty and kinship, women and marriage, monsters and magic, the culture of violence and warfare, and the stylistic and narrative features of the legendary mode. While students read these legends critically, they also explore their popularity: How and why has the myth of Arthur proven so universally appealing? Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. S. Federico.

FYS 346. Desire, Devotion, Suffering.

Despite the fame of its otherworldly philosophies, classical and medieval India produced a wealth of sensual, evocative literature focusing on pleasure and passion. A selection of lyric, dramatic, and epic poetry (in English translation) from various regions highlights these preoccupations among humans, demons, and gods. The poems deal with erotic desire and disgust; earthly love carried into spiritual realms; and the transformation of erotic deprivation into spiritual prestige. The course introduces specific Northern and Southern Indian traditions featuring Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim poets. Lectures and prose readings provide cultural background and interpretive strategies; music, slides, and film clips connecting literature to the performing and visual arts are also considered. Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. S. Sengupta.

FYS 348. Literature through Cataclysm.

What happens to the literature of conservative societies that undergo cataclysmic change? In the early to mid-twentieth century, three countries ruled by a czar or emperor were propelled by cataclysms—the Russian Revolution, World War II in Japan, and serial wars in Vietnam—into radically new political and social orders, and also sparked new literary and cinematic expression. This course studies literature, nonfiction, and film on both sides of the cataclysms. Each student chooses a fourth country or culture for individual exploration. Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. W. Hiss.

FYS 349. Lawyers, Real and Imagined.

From Portia to Atticus Finch, Johnnie Cochran, and Elle Woods, real and imagined lawyers have amused, inspired, and fascinated us. What values do fictional lawyers reflect and what purposes do they serve? Do they bear any resemblance to real lawyers? In this seminar students examine a variety of fictional, historical, and recent cases and observe live court proceedings in order to explore what our own responses to lawyers, real and imagined, reveal about our attitudes concerning power, justice, responsibility, ethics, race, and gender. In addition to class meetings, students attend court proceedings outside of class time. Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. J. Cole.

FYS 350. The Arctic Sublime.

Now the focus of grave concerns over global warming, the Arctic generated a different set of anxieties in the nineteenth century. Perceived as strange and terrifying, and deadly to those who tried to chart and conquer it, the region was a source of the sublime; its inhuman greatness both inspired and appalled. Drawing on literary and visual representations, students examine the "Arctic sublime" and consider the artistic and ideological purposes it served for Romantics and Victorians. Works include Shelley's Frankenstein, Poe's Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, and "The Frozen Deep," a melodrama by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins. Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. L. Nayder.

FYS 351. Hearing Duke Ellington.

How did the musical contributions made by Ellington and his bandmates transform American (and global) culture? How did ideas of race change throughout the twentieth century, and how did Ellington negotiate those changes? What are the stories that jazz historians tell about Ellington, and why does it matter how these stories are told? In the course, Duke Ellington's music serves as a point of departure for developing a critical language for music, and allows students to explore questions that go to the core of American cultural history during the twentieth century. Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. D. Chapman.

FYS 352. The Identity of Persons.

It is common enough to hear that being Irish, or being a woman, or being African American, or being a professor, is central to some person's identity. But what is a person? What is a person's identity? And how can something like ethnicity, or gender, or race, or profession be central—or fail to be central—to a person's identity? This seminar encourages consideration of these questions by introducing students to the long philosophical tradition of reflection on the concept of a person, the notion of identity, and the role that self-description plays in constituting the person and her identity. Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. M. Okrent.

FYS 353. Making Performance.

In this course, students simultaneously explore current and historical relationships of performance to culture, while actually making performance. Using the skills they come in with, those they don't know they have, and those they are convinced they have not, students create experimental performances in many areas, from music to video, and physical theater. The course celebrates creative use of the skills that enter the room and encourages venturing outside of the safety of practiced accomplishments to explore unknown territories. Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. C. Dilley.

FYS 354. Passion, Work, and Words.

Can one particular passion form the thread for a vocation rich in meaning and task? In this course, students examine the written work and lives of several environmentalists. Each, daring to use several distinct kinds of writing that reflects different audiences, purposes, and perspectives, taught their intellectual passion and simultaneously created challenging and satisfying vocations. Their writing crosses "disciplinary boundaries" and suggests ways that our own passions and knowledge can be told, expressed, reported, or narrated. Students consider the creative possibilities that such work inspires, and imagine and practice distinct kinds of writing their own vocations might invite. The course includes two half-day field trips. Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. S. Kinsman.

FYS 355. How Did They Know That?.

"The Earth is round" is an example of one of those facts we all know and take for granted. But how do we know this? Certainly photographs from space show a round Earth, but over 2,000 years ago Eratosthenes assumed the Earth had to be round because he learned that on a certain day the noontime sun was directly overhead in one city, but it was not overhead in a city further north. Who else made discoveries like this? How much was known? How were people affected? Students uncover the history behind facts in astronomy, biology, physics, and mathematics. Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. S. Ross.

FYS 356. Mountains and Rivers without End.

This seminar proposes a sustained discussion of Gary Snyder's long poem, Mountains and Rivers without End, including reading and writing about associated texts in Chinese and Japanese poetry and drama; Asian wisdom traditions; geology, hydrology, botany, and ecology; Native American literature; and Beat works by Kerouac, Kyger, and Ginsberg. Students explore contemplative Zen practices, as well as the mountains and rivers of the Gulf of Maine, with a day trip to the White Mountains and possibly a fall recess canoeing trip on the Allagash. Visits from some of Snyder's collaborators and a conference call with the poet himself may enrich the conversation. Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. J. Skinner.

FYS 357. Cocaine, Politics, and the Americas.

Traffic in cocaine is one of the major ways in which Latin America has penetrated markets, culture, and society in the United States in recent decades, and the drug trade has influenced relations between the two areas. This course examines cocaine in a regional and historical perspective, tracing the path from production to consumption, and the history of coca and cocaine over the last century. The course is designed to provide students with an understanding of the complicated relationships between the United States and Mexico, Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia on a variety of levels: societal, economic, and political. Enrollment limited to 15. [W1] Offered with varying frequency. H. Soifer.

This course is referenced by the following General Education Concentrations

FYS 358. Forensic Chemistry.

Given the intense popular interest in television programs such as CSI, this course investigates the procedures and decision-making that accompany forensic chemistry. What fundamental chemical concepts underlie forensic analysis? Methods of collecting, preserving, and analyzing samples are discussed. The laboratory component of the course involves a series of staged crimes in which samples are gathered and analyzed using state-of-the-art measurement techniques. Evidence is then analyzed and presented for trial. Enrollment limited to 15. [S] [L] [Q] [W1] Offered in the Hughes Summer Scholars Program. T. Wenzel.