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

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 071. Ancient Stories to Modern Ears.
Much of the literature that has survived from antiquity, including the scriptures of the world's major religious traditions, was once communicated orally. Through analysis of storytelling technique and the impact of oral delivery on hearers, the course addresses the problem of how to interpret stories from remote ages and varying ethnic and religious traditions, and how meaning has been affected in the shift from events of communication between persons to literary works. Students examine stories from Homer, Aesop, Genesis, the Gospels, Jewish Rabbinic and Hasidic sages, early Christian hermits, and the Islamic Hadith. Enrollment limited to 15. R. Allison.
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. G. 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 sadomasochism; the interrelations between constructions of sexuality and those of race, ethnicity, gender, nationality, and class; and the necessities and complexities of ensuring consent. Enrollment limited to 15. E. Rand.
FYS 193. WISE Women: Women In Science and Engineering.
Imagine a future where women make up fifty percent of the scientific community. Would the practice or content of science be different in such a world? This course examines the status of women in science through an exploration of the lives, times, and works of women scientists, past and present. Enrollment limited to 15. B. Shulman.
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. A. Hirai.
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. R. Corrie.
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. H. Lin.
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. Enrollment limited to 15. S. Strong.
FYS 278. Hell's Fire.
The idea of hell and damnation plays a crucial role throughout much of Western culture. It provides a dark shadow of religious belief and evocative imagery to continually evolving concepts of divine justice, sin and its commensurate punishment, and the end of time. This seminar undertakes an archeology of knowledge regarding the history and practice of hell and damnation. Students investigate philosophical and religious writings, great works of literature such as Dante's Inferno and Goethe's Faust, and view representations of hell in the arts and film. The seminar concludes by posing the question: Do hell and damnation, now secularized and this worldly, continue to live on in the modern period, as in Auschwitz and the Gulag? Enrollment limited to 15. D. Sweet.
FYS 282. Issues in Oceanography.
Even though the ocean covers nearly three-quarters of the earth's surface, we know less about many aspects of the ocean than we know about the backside of the moon. Yet the ocean is an important source of food and mineral resources, it supports diverse ecosystems, and ocean processes are critically important in determining short- and long-term climate change. This course examines current topics in oceanography through reading, writing, discussion, and occasional field trips. The issues explored include fishing, deep-sea mining, marine pollution, coral bleaching, coastal development and erosion, El Niño, and climate change. Enrollment limited to 15. W. Ambrose.
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. P. Buck.
FYS 309. Matters of Life and Death.
When is it morally justifiable to engage in an action that results in death? This seminar considers some of the most difficult moral questions currently being debated in our society. Issues discussed include euthanasia, abortion, genetic engineering, war, and terrorism. Particular case studies are explored, and careful attention is given to the ethical arguments that can be made for contending positions on these questions. Enrollment limited to 15. D. Cummiskey.
FYS 315. Understanding Risk.
Risk touches our daily lives in countless ways and affects our choices in such things as how we move about the planet, enter into relationships with others, choose our life's work, and attend to our physical and mental well-being. Simple acts such as eating a hamburger, buckling a seatbelt, or swallowing an aspirin invoke the long and colorful story of humankind's relentless desire to eliminate randomness and control the future. Using case studies on such topics as airplane safety, genetically engineered foods, financial markets, and entrepreneurship, students examine the role of risk in our personal lives from several disciplines. Enrollment limited to 15. R. Pallone.
FYS 325. The Body.
From our earliest experiences we understand the world through our bodies. But how we think about the body is shaped by social and cultural forces. This seminar explores cross-cultural conceptions of the body by considering the following questions: What is the body? How does the body reflect collective and subjective notions of sexuality and gender? To what extent is what we do with our bodies a reflection of a particular identity? Or is bodily expression an indication of conformity to social norms? To explore these questions we examine how different cultures conceptualize the body, focusing on specific cases that challenge our basic beliefs about what a "normal" or "natural" body is. Enrollment limited to 15. H. Lindkvist.
FYS 326. Choices and Constraints.
Are humans free to chart the course of their own lives, or are their fates predestined by their social locations? This seminar explores the tension between personal agency and social forces that structure human lives. The history of the intellectual debate over the roles of agency and structure frame classroom discussion of ways in which personal experiences are shaped by both social structures and systems of inequality based on race/ethnicity, class, gender, and sexual orientation. Acknowledging the role of individuals as agents of social change, students grapple with their responsibilities in perpetuating and transforming social institutions such as family, religion, health care, and the workplace. Enrollment limited to 15. H. Chirayath.
FYS 327. Katahdin to Acadia: Exploring Maine Geology.
This course introduces students to field geology by exploring many geologic landscapes in Maine. This hands-on, field-oriented course on the 500-million-year-old geologic history of Maine includes one required daylong fieldtrip (Mount Washington or Vinalhaven Island), and one required overnight trip (Acadia National Park or Baxter State Park). Local half-day trips to Streaked Mountain, the Poland Spring, Sunday River, Morse Mountain, Seawall Beach, Pemaquid Point, and Rangeley round out the field excursions. Field trips involve strenuous hiking and/or sea kayaking in a range of weather conditions. Learning to read maps and recording observations in field notes and sketches form a major focus of the course. Enrollment limited to 15. J. Eusden.
FYS 328. Borderland: The American Suburb.
Once the slums outside the city walls, suburbs set the standard in the United States by the 1950s¿the picture of the good life. The American dream of happiness in a single-family home in an attractive, congenial community inspired many urban dwellers to work, save, and get out of the cities they perceived as physically, socially, and culturally chaotic, polluted, and just too crowded. This course examines the development of the American suburb from its origins in the early nineteenth century to its heyday in the 1950s. Who were these suburbanites? What were they seeking, and what did they find in the borderland between city and country? Enrollment limited to 15. G. Lexow.
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. K. Melvin.
FYS 330. Moral Questions and Political Choices.
Life in a global context asks us to answer and act on complicated moral questions. On what basis do we make these choices? In a world framed by oversimplified political rhetoric and media images, how do we learn to think deeply about poverty, genocide, war, children's health, women's roles, human rights, or human happiness? This course explores the many-sided moral questions embedded in political discussions and decisions. Students read political philosophy, fiction, essays, and media articles, and write both research papers and personal essays. The purpose is to better understand our potential as humans and as citizens in an ever smaller and more interactive world. Enrollment limited to 15. A. MacLeod.
FYS 332. A Raisin in the Sun.
This course examines Lorraine Hansberry's classic 1959 American drama, A Raisin in the Sun. Hansberry received world-wide critical acclaim for her play and she became the first African American playwright to receive the New York Drama Critics Award. The play has become a touchstone in the careers of numerous black performers including Sidney Poitier and more recently hip-hop impresario Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and Cosby Show alumna Phylicia Rashad. This course explores the enduring value of this play by paying particular attention to its form as drama, film, and musical; its articulation of American values; Hansberry's critique of race, gender and class; the drama as a response to Cold War politics and the growing civil rights movement; and its Pan-African and diaspora politics. Enrollment limited to 15. C. Nero.
FYS 333. Literature Talks Back.
Writers create new worlds not only out of their own historical conditions but also out of the literary legacies thrust upon them, and they may be most original when most artfully responding to these literary sources. This seminar encourages students to enjoy the detective work of tracking down how and why late twentieth-century texts may appreciate earlier works as precursors, and yet "talk back" to their assumptions about the world. Students explore such cross-cultural dialogues as those between Derek Walcott's Omeros and Homeric epic, Maxine Hong Kingston's Tripmaster Monkey and Walt Whitman's poetry, Jeanette Winterson's Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and the Book of Leviticus, John Wideman's Philadelphia Fire and Shakespeare's The Tempest, and the Osage Carter Revard's poetic ecology and Wallace Stevens's symbolist poetics. Enrollment limited to 15. C. Taylor.
FYS 334. Film Art.
This seminar is an introduction to the study of cinema art. Examples are drawn from the silent era, classical Hollywood, the European art film, and American independent film. Students examine the basic elements of cinema: image, sound, music, structure. They watch two films each week, read film criticism, and write short papers on each film as well as a longer paper at the end of the course. Enrollment limited to 15. S. Dillon.
FYS 335. Watching the Detectives.
This course explores one of America's most enduring popular art forms, the detective story. From Edgar Allan Poe's Inspector Dupin to Dashiell Hammet's Sam Spade, from Tony Hillerman's Jim Chee to Patricia Cornwell's 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 detective genre has evolved to represent American culture at home and abroad. Enrollment limited to 15. M. Hanrahan.
FYS 336. Nanotechnology Project: Manipulating Atoms.
A hands-on introduction to the interdisciplinary field of nanotechnology—technology based on nanometer-scale structures. Students break into groups and become "specialists" to complete a class-wide collaborative nanotechnology project. Possible projects include designing and building a simplified scanned probe microscope, and fabricating and characterizing nanostructures. Students learn to identify and organize the tasks required of a long-term project. Clear and effective communication is emphasized as students communicate within and among groups, give brief talks, and write more formal papers. No previous experience is assumed, but the collaborative nature of the seminar requires the full and active participation of all participants. Enrollment limited to 15. M. Côté.
FYS 337. Intercultural Musical Experience.
How do "first" musical experiences affect individuals and societies? Has a single hearing of any music transformed the way one views oneself and the world? These questions are perhaps most dramatically addressed in the cross-cultural musical encounter. From the age of "discovery" to the present day, the intercultural musical experience has been a focus of aesthetic pleasure, artistic exchange, colonial and racist constructions, identity formation, missionary zeal, and exoticist fantasy. In this seminar, students explore cross-cultural musical encounters from a variety of perspectives and are introduced to the concept of "music as culture." Enrollment limited to 15. G. Fatone.
FYS 338. A Walk in Your Own Footsteps.
Why is it easy to find one¿s way around one's hometown after a thirty-year absence? Why is it difficult to retrieve memories of one's first three years? Are "flashbulb memories" always accurate? In this seminar, students explore these and other questions about autobiographical memory. Topics may include childhood amnesia, memory for real and imagined trauma, the disruption of autobiographical memory, and the role of memory in ethnic conflict. In addition to reading and writing, students collect data about their own and others' autobiographical memories. One Sunday afternoon field trip is scheduled in September. Enrollment limited to 15. G. Nigro.
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. J. Hughes.
FYS 340. Planetarium Production.
Since 1963, the College's Ladd Planetarium has been a resource for school and civic groups in the Lewiston-Auburn area. In this seminar, students conceive, write, and produce planetarium shows for public presentation and educational outreach. Students might choose to develop shows on topics such as constellation myths of different cultures, an interesting astronomical object or class of objects (comets, the Orion Nebula, supergiant stars, supernova explosions, etc.), important historical developments in astronomy (for example, Ancient Greek cosmology, Galileo's amazing first nights with the newly invented telescope, or Edwin Hubble's discovery of the expansion of the universe), or the development of and scientific results from a major contemporary ground-based or space-based astronomical observatory. Previous experience with astronomy is helpful but not required. Enrollment limited to 15. E. Wollman.
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. S. Federico.
FYS 342. Revolution and Constitution.
This course considers three moments in history when citizens rejected the political system under which they lived and created new constitutions to govern the exercise of power in their homelands. The cases considered vary from year to year, but include ancient Athens, Ming Dynasty China, the French Revolution, colonial New York, and the British partition of India. After introductory sessions, students play the role of historical actors, allied in factions, during the revolutions and constitutional congresses they study, in an attempt to reenact (and react to) the historical moment. Enrollment limited to 15. M. Imber.
FYS 343. Growing-up Latina: Performing Identity in Narratives of Female Development.
This seminar explores the function of fiction writing as a space from which to define and perform identity. Students read fictional narratives of female development in light of theoretical essays on Latino/a identity by authors such as Paula Moya, Coco Fusco, and Gloria Anzaldua. Special attention is paid to the role that markers of identity such as ethnicity, language, class, gender, race, and sexuality play in shaping different performances and definitions of the self in distinct contextual settings. Enrollment limited to 15. F. López.
FYS 344. History's Laboratory: The Balkans.
The complex and tumultuous history of the Balkans is akin to a historical laboratory where empire, ideology and religion, migration, and national identity are constantly shaping and reshaping the region. The fault lines of numerous cultures and civilizations run through the wooded mountains the Ottoman Turks called "Balkan." In this course students examine the perplexing and at times painful narrative of the region from the arrival of the Ottomans in the 15th century to the formation of Europe's newest independent countries at the end of the 20th century. Film and literary texts supplement the historical texts and documents. Enrollment limited to 15. D. Browne.
FYS 345. Myth and Modernity.
What is the purpose of human life and how do we attain it? Why do modern societies, like ancient ones, use myths to answer these questions? Students examine myths about the uneasy balance between family and society, the consequences of war on soldiers and community, and the indomitable force of passion whether sexual desire or madness, from ancient Greece and Rome and then consider their modern versions. Readings may include tragedies of Euripides and Seneca such as Medea, Hippolytus, Phaedra, Heracles Furens, and Trojan Women, as well as their modern renditions in films and plays. Enrollment limited to 15. L. Maurizio.
FYS 346. Desire, Devotion, Suffering.
Despite the fame of its other-worldly 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. S. Sengupta.
FYS 347. Passion and Sustenance: on Crafting a Life.
If "work" is the opposite of "play," is adulthood tantamount to misery? How do we build a future that ignites our passion and sustains us in the long haul? This course explores concepts of work, vocation, community, and sustainability, and it invites us to integrate those in imagining a future. Students read complex and engaging texts, from William Morris to Barbara Kingsolver, and undertake research, skill-building, and program-planning that can have concrete effects on their lives and those of others. Enrollment limited to 15. A. Bartel.
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, non-fiction, and film on both sides of the cataclysms. Each student chooses a fourth country or culture for individual exploration. Enrollment limited to 15. W. Hiss.