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First-Year Seminar

Small class size and close contact with faculty

Simple things done well

The two most fundamental elements for life long learning are writing well and thinking clearly. At Bates, you’ll develop both from the start. Our First-Year Seminar (FYS) is a small class focused on improving your writing and critical thinking skills. Developing these skills early will help you in your transition to college-level academic work while also introducing you to your academic advisor.


Fall 2013 First-Year Seminar Programs

We know it’s easier to learn about something you’re interested in, so check out the listing below, and find a course you’re passionate about pursuing!


Working one on one

Your First-Year Seminar professor also serves as your academic advisor, a person you can talk with about your academic choices and direction. We’ve learned that students feel more comfortable asking for advice from a faculty member they know through a class.
Meet our extraordinary faculty mentors


FYS 84. 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. Taught by Gene Clough.


FYS 177. Sex and Sexualities. This course studies the representation of sex and sexualities, both “queer” and “straight,” in a variety of cultural products ranging from advertising and novels to music videos and movies. Topics may include connections between sex and gender queerness suggested by the increasingly common acronym LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer); the advantages and inadequacies of using such labels; definitions and debates concerning pornography, sex education, public sex, and stigmatized sexual practices such as BDSM; the interrelations between constructions of sexuality and those of race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, and class; and the necessities and complexities of ensuring consent. Taught by Erica Rand.


FYS 221. Medicine and the American Civil War. Relatively little improvement in Western medical science and care occurred between the time of the American Revolution and the Civil War. By 1861, both the United States and the Confederate States of America were faced with the sudden appearance of large numbers of sick and injured people, which overwhelmed the existing medical care systems. This course examines the state of medical science in North America in the mid-nineteenth century and looks at the impact that one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history had on medical care. Topics include the development and operation of military medical care systems, the impact of these systems on the population as a whole, and changes in medical science that resulted from the war experience. Taught by Glen Lawson.


FYS 266. Fakers, Forgers, Looters, Thieves: Art and the Law. 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. Taught by Rebecca Corrie.


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. Taught by Gwen 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 PHYS 108 and is designed for students who had a strong background in high school physics. Taught by Mark Semon.


FYS 277. The Fantastic in Modern Japan. From the surreal novels of Murakami Haruki to the utopian and dystopian visions of Miyazaki Hayao’s animated films, contemporary Japan offers the international world a rich array of cultural products centering on the fantastic. Western response tends to see the futuristic visions of these novels and films as expressive of Japan’s level of comfort with the post-industrial world of high technology, but is that impression accurate? What is the genre of the fantastic? How is it used by writers and filmmakers in Japan today? What questions do they raise about self, society, and the environment? What answers do they offer? This course examines the nature of the fantastic as an artistic genre and its expression in a variety of recent Japanese films and stories. Taught by Sarah Strong.


FYS 284. Burning our Planet. From the first campfires of the Paleolithic people several hundred thousand years ago to the invention of the modern internal combustion engine in the twentieth century, fire has played a key role in human cultural, economic, and technological development. The deliberate use of fire, however, has resulted in major modification of the planet’s environment, including widespread changes in the landscape, a loss of biodiversity, and global warming. This course examines the history of and relationship between humans and fire, and the impact of fire on the planetary environment. Taught by Bev Johnson.


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. Taught by John Strong.


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 fieldwork and independent research. Taught by Patricia Buck.


FYS 324. The Celtic World: Archaeology and Ethnohistory. Today, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Cornwall and Brittany are often considered “Celtic” lands. This label evokes a series of related languages, music and other artistic traditions with shared histories, but the origins of Celtic cultures are more complex. Over 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, mariners and craftspeople who cooperated, competed, founded many settlements, raised many fortresses, and developed diverse and lively arts. Roman armies and migrating Germanic tribes fought hard to subdue the Celts, and they succeeded in many places. This seminar will discuss the archaeological, documentary and ethnological evidence of Celtic societies from their early origins to their recent histories. Taught by Gerald Bigelow.


FYS 362. Biomedical Ethics. The rapid changes in the biological sciences and medical technology have thoroughly transformed the practice of medicine. The added complexity and power of medicine has in turn revolutionized the responsibilities and duties that accompany the medical professions. This course explores the values and norms governing medical practice from multiple perspectives, including Asian and Islamic approaches. Topics include the rights and responsibilities of health care providers and patients; the justification for euthanasia; and the problems of access, allocation, and rationing of health care services. Taught by David Cummiskey.


FYS 369. Saving Capitalism/Capitalists. The sub-prime mortgage crisis, the Enron scandal: What hath capitalism wrought? Our everyday economic interactions are within the framework of capitalism. Undergraduate study in economics typically takes this social system as given while rarely shining critical light on it. Apologists tout capitalism’s attendant political freedom and wealth accumulation; detractors complain about its resulting materialism and injustice in the distribution of wealth. Economists, social philosophers, and theologians have critically examined capitalism. Students in this course read and discuss works by some of these authors and prepare their own papers arising from their study of capitalism. Taught by George Perkins.


FYS 376. Inequality, Community and Social Change. Many high schools include some kind of community service among their graduation requirements, suggesting a series of assumptions about the role of schools (and colleges and universities) in their communities. This seminar addresses the relationship between community engagement and higher education, as well as broader questions about community action and social change. Along with an introduction to how social scientists think about social inequality, the seminar offers students an opportunity to spend two hours per week participating in service-learning projects with organizations oriented toward social change and social justice in the Lewiston community. Seminar discussions and assignments focus on exploring the local community, and connecting students’ community experiences with readings about community engagement, social responsibility, and social change. Taught by Emily Kane.


FYS 381. Visualizing Identities. This course examines definitions of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, and culture in diverse visual materials. Students think critically about the ways that we articulate and interpret self and other. Each week students analyze examples of visual culture as a means to evaluate constructions, experiences, and interpretations of identities. Themes explored during the semester include gender, feminisms, masculinities, race and ethnicity, globalism, and cultural identity. Taught by Professor Aimée Bessire.


FYS 389. Psychology and Film. Motion pictures can have a powerful influence on the perceptions, attitudes, and behavior of audience members. In this course students view several films and examine their depiction of various psychological topics including human development, perceptual and cognitive processes, social interactions, and abnormal behavior. Are the characters stigmatized or are the portrayals accurate? In what ways do movies affect viewers? Can this medium be used as a therapeutic technique in addition to providing entertainment? Using primary readings as guidelines, students explore these and other questions through discussion and written assignments. Taught by Katherine Mathis.


FYS 393. DiY and Mashup Culture. How did consumption become creative? How did musicians associated with punk, hip hop, electronica, and dub reggae create new art from the discarded refuse of late twentieth-century life? This course takes up the do-it-yourself ethic as a defining impulse in contemporary musical culture, informing the democratic amateurism of punk, the “found sound” innovations of the experimental avant-garde, and the collage aesthetic of the digital “mash-up.” Students explore Lawrence Lessig’s Creative Commons, with its challenges to copyright law, and engage with the work of John Cage, Bikini Kill, Brian Eno, the Raincoats, M.I.A., and Girl Talk, among others. Taught by Dale Chapman.


FYS 395. The Sporting Life. Sporting events such as the Super Bowl, World Cup, Olympic Games, and March Madness suggest the magnitude of importance of sports in many people’s lives. The fact that so many people so passionately engage in sports as participants and spectators also indicates its significance. The import of sport can be considered from a myriad of perspectives, from the social and natural sciences to the humanities. In this interdisciplinary course, students consider a variety of sources including academic articles, personal memoir, fiction, film, and observation. Taught by Susan Langdon.


FYS 396. Genealogy and the Art of Inquiry. Family histories are full of fact and fiction: Some names and dates are recorded on official documents, but details are lost and gaps remain. In this course, students examine primary and secondary sources in order to construct their family tree and reconstruct their family stories. Bringing genealogical research and academic research together, students not only investigate their family’s background but also make an extensive inquiry into larger questions of history, place, and culture. Taught by Hillory Oakes.


FYS 401. Reading the Wild in Film and Literature. We imagine the wild as both a place (wilderness) and a concept indicating something beyond restraint or limit, something purely free or even impermissible. Why are we so attracted to wild places, and why do we value the presence of the wild in our culture? This course examines depictions of the wild in films, poems, essays, and stories, and it grapples with how the wild relates to gender, identity, modern conflict, exploitation, and spiritual and aesthetic values. Students write both informal reflections and analytic essays, and they present research on representations of the wild in literature and film. Taught by Misty Beck.


FYS 404. On the Road to Spain. Paella, bullfights, flamenco, castles, the Inquisition, gypsies and tapas. For over two centuries such images of Spanish culture have filled the American imagination, and have inspired a variety of travelers, from Romantic poets to civil rights activists, foodies to film directors, to hit the road to Spain. Through the study of food, music, literature, journalism, film and TV, this first-year seminar looks at the ways in which Spain, as a real and an imagined destination, has figured in shaping individual and collective identities on this side of the Atlantic. Issues related to the phenomena of travel and tourism, the activities of recording travel experiences, and the ways in which notions of race, gender, and nation determine the traveler’s experience of Spain, frame discussions of course materials and provide a foundation for written and oral assignments. Taught by David George.


FYS 405. Zombies: Can Math Help?. The goal of this course is to devise defense strategies to prepare for a zombie attack. To achieve this goal, students use mathematical models to simulate and better understand possible attacks. For maximum preparedness, students consider multiple scenarios. Do zombies move quickly or slowly? When a zombie bites a human, does the human become a zombie immediately, or might there be hours – even days – of incubation time? How easy is it for zombies to create more zombies? When we change our assumptions, we must change our mathematical models accordingly, and our strategies for human survival may also need to change. Taught by Meredith Greer.


FYS 407. Violence and Political Order. Why do some organizations use violence in pursuit of their goals and others don’t? Why are some uses of violence effective and other uses fail?  This course explores these questions through the study of three contemporary issues: organized crime, torture, and terrorism. In considering each, students read histories and descriptions of the phenomenon and explore why and when violence is used. They study what these troubling phenomena tell us about political order and how societies have learned to control violence. Students examine a range of texts including memoirs, histories, and theoretical literature, and write a range of papers: a personal essay, a policy analysis, and a research paper. Students also present their ideas in class presentations and structured discussions. Taught by Jason Scheideman. 


FYS 414. The End of the World. A persistent apprehension of the end of the world has haunted the human imagination for millennia, and it is growing at the moment. This course proposes a historical and analytical investigation of four scenarios of the end of the world: Christian Apocalypse, environmental devastation, nuclear holocaust, and the posthuman. Students examine a wide range of cultural artifacts from novels to popular science publications, religious writings to philosophical texts, with a special emphasis on contemporary film. Taught by Denis Sweet.


FYS 416. Borders, Boundaries, and Belonging. This course explores the ways in which we create a sense of belonging and identity by drawing distinctions between ourselves and others. How and why do we construct and enforce these differences? What would it mean to conceive of our own identities without excluding others? The course examines the implications of these questions for us as individuals, as members of communities, and members of nations, through readings in literature, cultural studies, geography, and political philosophy, among others. Class discussion also examines the borders that define academic writing and belonging within a scholarly community. Taught by Lauren Vedal.


FYS 418. Drawing as Thinking. How can we put Disney and Michelangelo in the same sentence? Although their results are vastly different, they were both searching for the most alive two-dimensional images possible. They achieved this through drawing as thinking. Until fairly recently, drawing has been seen as thinking made visible, as ideas literally appear and new ideas are generated. This course explores the methods used by Renaissance artists and later by animators and considers the techniques and thought processes of artists. Exploration through writing as well as drawing from the nude figure is used to gather information for figure invention. Taught by Gary Rattigan.


FYS 420. Reading the Lord of the Rings. In this course students read J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings with particular attention to its language, style, and context. Students examine how Tolkien, himself a student of medieval languages, used modern English (and Elvish) to construct an enduring world of fantasy. Close reading of the text is emphasized, with supplemental discussion of Tolkien’s academic and cultural contexts, including his life at Oxford, his collaborative relationships with the Inklings, and the visual translation of his book in Peter Jackson’s film trilogy. Taught by Sylvia Federico.


FYS 421. Sacred Sound, Religious Music. This course explores the relationship between religion and music by examining the notion of sacred sound. What is sacred sound? How does it differ from secular sound? Where do we find sacred sound in ritual? Is it produced through speaking, chanting, or singing? Students examine sacred sound and music in the traditions of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. They consider sacred sound in the mystical traditions of these religions, including comparisons with Buddhist and Hindu traditions. Finally, they explore the connections between hip hop and religion, analyzing religious themes in the work of artists such as Mos Def. Taught by Ali Akhtar.


FYS 422. Strangers in the House. For many children, the first experience of difference occurs in their families. Some children are born deaf to hearing parents, they are born with multiple severe disabilities to able-bodied parents, and they are born with Down syndrome. In Andrew Solomon’s book Far from the Tree, he describes families whose children experience these and other differences. In this seminar, students use Solomon’s book to examine the research, practice, and politics that surround particular developmental disabilities and the general questions about identity and community that they raise. Along with meeting in seminar, students work in community settings a few hours each week. Taught by Georgia Nigro.


FYS 423. Humor in Literature and Visual Media. What is humor? How do we define what is funny? Is humor a universal phenomenon that works across cultures and different generations of readers and film viewers, or is it place and time specific? In this seminar students discuss various manifestations, strategies, and functions of humor in selected literary and visual narratives and they consider existing theories of humor and laughter. Open to students with a sense of humor. Taught by Jakub Kazecki.


FYS 424. The Biology of Cancer. Despite new discoveries in the biology of cancer and advances in cancer treatment, cancer accounts for nearly one in four deaths in the United States today. What is cancer, and what makes it so difficult to diagnose early and treat effectively? Students examine the biological basis of cancer, and look at how environmental agents and certain microbes can lead to cancerous growth. They also explore the genetics of cancer and address the question, “If I have a relative with cancer, will I get it, too?” Finally, they consider the effect of cancer on the individual and on society. Taught by Stephanie Richards.


FYS 425. Politics and Memory. The twentieth century casts a long shadow over Eastern and Central Europe: two world wars, ethnic cleansing, communist dictatorships, and, most tragically, the Holocaust. Each country has its share of victims, villains, heroes, collaborators, and cowards. Efforts to make sense of this history, even after all these years, remain a topic of intense political debate. This course examines historical writings, films, and monuments to explore the politics of memory in Eastern and Central Europe, with particular attention paid to Germany, Poland, and Russia. Why does historical memory of these events continue to have such emotional and political power in this region? What choices are made in memorializing history, and what are their contemporary political implications? Taught by James Richter.


FYS 427. Ecopsychology: The Human-Nature Relationship. Ecopsychology is concerned with the psychological dimensions of our relationship to the environment. As a developing and interdisciplinary field of inquiry, ecopsychology provides the opportunity to explore conceptions of self and nature, the perceived schism between humans and nature, and the psychological sources and repercussions of environmental degradation. In the context of these themes, students explore the cultural evolution of the Western mind, the psychology of climate change, and the role of perception, attention, and community in healing the human-nature relationship. Throughout, the fundamental question is: How can humans become more adapted and responsive to current ecological conditions? This course includes one required overnight field trip. Taught by Laura Sewall.


FYS 428. Nature and the Natural. Where does nature come from? How do we identify and classify what is natural and distinguish it from what is not — and what do we do to ourselves when we make those decisions? This course takes up these questions using writing from the British eighteenth century. This was a period when nature and the natural received new cultural attention, so much that historians sometimes suggest that nature was “invented” as a concept at this time. Our readings, discussions, and written work will examine the cultural, political, and even psychological consequences of this shift towards the natural, from poetic descriptions of agricultural labor to accounts of human feeling grounded in controversial theories about “sensibility”— a supposed natural human capacity for feeling. Taught by Nick Valvo.