List of First-Year Seminars 2012-2013


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. Taught by Professor Gene Clough.

FYS 135. Women in Art. Beginning in the 1970s in response to the feminist movement, the investigation of women’s roles in the production of visual culture has expanded the traditional parameters of art history. Now a leading method of analysis, this approach provides exciting insights into fields ranging from Egyptian sculpture to contemporary photography. This seminar discusses women as subjects, makers, and patrons. Topics include Egyptian royal imagery, women as Renaissance subjects and painters, Venus in Renaissance marriage paintings, women as Impressionist painters and subject matter, artists and models in the twentieth century, and women in the New York art world since World War II. Taught by Professor Rebecca Corrie.

FYS 152. Religion and Civil Rights. Traditionally, the civil rights movement has been viewed as a political and social reform movement initiated to secure the citizenship rights of African Americans. This seminar supplements this view by exploring how religion shaped the vision and experience of civil rights activists. Topics include such dimensions of the movement as the centrality of the black church, the prominence of religious leaders, the use of theological language, the ritualization of protest, and the prevalence of sacred music. Taught by Professor Marcus Bruce.

FYS 190. The Changing Climate of Planet Earth. The climate of Earth is constantly changing over vast spatial and temporal scales, from short-term and local to long-term and global. The geological records for the mid-latitudes of North America, for instance, illustrate periods alternately dominated by tropical reefs, lush coal forests, glaciers, and expansive arid deserts. This seminar investigates the evidence, possible causes, and impacts of climate change through studies of climate records ranging from glacial stratigraphy, tree rings, written historical accounts, and recent instrumental data. A special focus is directed toward understanding the possible effects of a human-induced global warming and its potential environmental, societal, and political impacts. Taught by Professor Michael Retelle.

FYS 203. Family Values: Tales of Childhood and Kinship Cross 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. Taught by Professor Kirk Read.

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? For example, how did some immigrant groups, like Jews and the Irish, “become white” in the twentieth-century United States? Taught by Professor Charles Carnegie.

FYS 249. Global Economy and Nation-State. What is the global economy? What are nation states? And what is the relationship between the global economy and the nation state? This course will first examine the historical formation of nation states and then reflect on their performance and integrity since the end of the Cold War, keeping in mind the rise of neoliberalism, globalization, and regional trade blocs such as the European Union and the North American Free Trade Agreement. Special attention goes to issues of sovereignty and democracy, the role of international financial institutions, and the way nation states are likely to evolve in the coming decades. Taught by Professor Francesco Duina.

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 Professor 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 Physics 108 and is designed for students who had a strong background in high school physics. Not open to students who have received credit for Physics 108. Taught by Professor Hong Lin.

FYS 288. Luck and the Moral Life. Our lives are deeply subject to luck. Many human needs are subject to fate yet are necessary not only to a good life, but to a morally virtuous life as well. This course explores the relationship between luck and morality, beginning with the metaphysical problem of free will. Then, turning to Aristotle’s virtue ethics, students examine the role friendship plays in the moral life and the way it protects us from bad luck. Finally, they look at Kant’s attempt to make morality “safe” from luck alongside Euripides’ Hecuba, which dramatically highlights the issue of whether virtue can ever be immune from misfortune. Taught by Professor Susan Stark.

FYS 297. The Idea of Europe. What is Europe? Is it the cradle of all that is civilized and cultured, or the blood-soaked ground of empires, genocidal despots, and revolutions? In the twenty-first century, we are witnessing the most peaceful attempt ever at creating a unified economic, political, legal, and social entity that is European. But is a European cultural identity necessary for the success of a unified Europe, and can one be created? Or is an imagined European community as illusory as Tito’s ill-fated attempt to create a multiethnic, multi-religious, multi-linguistic Yugoslav community? In the seminar, students examine, critique, and propose alternatives to many of the received ideas about what it means to be European. Taught by Professor Dennis Browne.

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 Professor Patricia Buck.

FYS 320. Trials of Conscience. Why would a citizen risk her life to criticize laws that she thinks are immoral? Why do governments sometimes insist on show trials whose guilty verdicts are foreordained for such individuals? In this course, students examine trials from the classical and medieval periods including Socrates, Rabirius, Perpetua, St. Joan, Thomas More, Galileo and examine the following questions: What role does litigation play in both generating and containing a critique of society? What rhetorical strategies do the actors in our trials deploy to shape their identities in opposition to their communities? Why do these strategies fail to convince the jury but eventually persuade subsequent generations? Taught by Professor Margaret Imber.

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. Taught by Professor Gerald Bigelow.

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. Taught by Professor Arlene MacLeod.

FYS 354. Environment as Story. Clearly written, compelling explanations of environmental problems are key to our development as responsible citizens and educators, whether we read such work or write it ourselves. Using nonfiction examples about toxic contaminants, climate change, the persistence of plastics, and diminution of biodiversity and ecosystem health, students examine how several environmental writers craft their work to engage and inform diverse audiences. Students consider the creative potential of weaving scientific fact with human experience, and practice several approaches to learning and writing about environmental concerns. Taught by Professor Sharon Kinsman.

FYS 361. Making Music Together. What feelings do people derive from singing “Happy Birthday” together or playing in a band? How are those different from what they feel when humming to themselves on a mountain trail? What kinds of social skills do they need and do they learn when they make music together? How do members of an ensemble perform different musical tasks, yet make their music speak with a single voice? Students observe the workings of musical ensembles as members or as outsiders and examine fictional and scientific accounts of ensemble performance. Experience in musical performance is not required. Taught by Professor James Parakilas.

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 384. Seeing the World through Mathematics. Is there a difference between “natural math” and “abstract math” or between “street math” and “school math”? What is mathematics, after all? Students consider some of the complex mathematical tasks that creatures carry out in their daily lives, often without even realizing they are “doing math.” Such tasks include the ways in which desert ants and lobsters navigate their environments, honeybees dance to indicate food locations, and humans perform elaborate mental arithmetic. Students learn about some of the fascinating new areas of research by mathematicians in an effort to understand how we learn math. Taught by Professor Pallavi Jayawant.

FYS 385. Power and Authority in Latin America through Film. From Pre-Columbian times to the present, Latin America’s leaders have ruled in diverse ways. Monarchs, caudillos, sultans, totalitarian leaders, the military, a hegemonic party, and even drug lords have governed the region. How is it possible for an individual or small group of leaders to dominate an entire country without democratic consent? What mechanisms of political control do authoritarian leaders employ? How do they gain legitimacy? Students explore these questions through film, readings, writing assignments, and discussion. A final project explores the ways in which a political actor in students’ local environment exercises power and authority over them. Taught by Professor Clarisa Pérez-Armendáriz.

FYS 386. Chinese Traditions, Great and Small. Chinese civilization has flowered in rich diversity. What is the basis of Chinese philosophy and religion? How does it manifest in Chinese medicine, science and technology, architecture, and cuisine? How do Chinese communicate through music, calligraphy, painting, and poetry? What comes to mind when we think of Chinese fiction and traditional theater? This course offers an introduction to the ongoing humanistic traditions of China. Students reflect both on how the approach to a culture influences the answers we find and on how the questions we decide to ask shape our perceptions. Discussions focus on primary works translated into English and an analysis of original artifacts. Taught by Professor Xing Fan.

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. 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 Professor Susan Langdon.

FYS 398. The Chemistry of Color. The course explores the chemical basis of color. Topics include the electronic and geometric structure of atoms and molecules and how light and matter interact. The accompanying lab provides students with an opportunity to synthesize and isolate colored materials and compounds. Not open to students who have received credit for Chemistry 107A or Chemistry/Environmental Studies 107B. Not open to students who have received credit for CH/ES 107B or Chemistry 107A. Taught by Professor Rachel Austin.

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 Professor Misty Beck.

FYS 408. Identity: Self and Community. Arrival at Bates marks a new phase in the development of a student’s identity as an adult and community member. This course explores the lenses through which we experience the world and understand ourselves and each other. Students investigate frameworks for understanding our own identities, then look at the ways in which our personal identities intersect with and influence our relationships with others. Finally, they consider how we connect with each other and live in community in ways that promote well-being. Students explore these concepts through multidisciplinary perspectives and weekly two-hour community-based learning activities in downtown Lewiston. Taught by Professor Sherry Russell.

FYS 410. Genetically Modified Organisms. Humans have been altering the genetics of domesticated organisms ever since the advent of agriculture and animal husbandry. Breeding programs, haphazard at first and now more systematic, have given us bigger fruit, hybrid “miracle” seeds, placid cows, dogs with specialized hunting or herding skills, hens that lay an egg a day, all increasing our food supply or benefiting us in other ways. With the tools of modern bioengineering, it is now possible to dramatically modify species in ways not imagined with traditional breeding, for example, inserting a gene for disease resistance from bacteria into corn. In this course, students review the methods that enable scientists to insert individually selected genes into organisms. They also evaluate this technology’s associated field applications, commercial markets, public acceptance, future potential, and questions about possible public health or environmental risks. Taught by Professor Robert Thomas.

FYS 412. Constructing the Normal: Introduction to Disability Studies. In constructing the normal, we tend to think of a set of ideals and ideas that are not reachable. This course explores how those ideas and ideals are made manifest in the way we conceptualize the human body. Students examine a variety of readings including life writing, criticism, exposes, and theory. Several questions guide the course. First, how does disability trouble the normal ideal? Second, how might disability be a useful analytic for examining other aspects of life? Third, how does writing about disability force us to reckon with the core language that structures our society? Taught by Professor Therí Pickens.

FYS 413. Language and Politics. From Jonathan Swift to John Steinbeck to Jon Stewart, this workshop-based writing seminar examines the language of politics and the politics of language, paying close attention to the ways the words of politicians, pundits, journalists, and essayists can shape (and/or subvert) environmental, racial, social, health, and economic issues. Taught by Professor Jessica Anthony.

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 Professor Denis Sweet.

FYS 415. Banned Books. Almost from the moment writing was invented, individuals, groups, and governments have used censorship of the written word to attempt to control what others think, do, or feel. This course examines several works of literature that have been banned, challenged, or censored, exploring why someone attempted to silence them, and connecting those discoveries to the books’ historical contexts. What are the qualities of a book that attract censorship? How do those who censor books attempt to justify their actions? How can we, as readers, thinkers, and writers, respond to such acts of control and constraint? Taught by Professor Matteo Pangallo.

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 Professor Lauren Vedal.

FYS 417. Religious Intolerance in the Contemporary United States. This course examines the extent and impact of anti-Muslim, anti-Jewish, anti-Christian, and other forms of anti-religious bias in the United States, including bias against atheists. How do we respond to claims that the United States is a Christian nation? How are religious and racial bias intertwined? Does the First Amendment to the Constitution protect religious minorities? Do both the political right and left engage in anti-religious bias? What defines a belief as a religion? What risks to the country exist if anti-religious bias continues unchallenged? Students also explore their own and their family’s experiences with anti-religious bias. Taught by Professor Stephen Wessler.

FYS 418. Drawing as Thinking. How do you 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 clothed figure is used to gather information for figure invention. Taught by Professor Gary Rattigan.

FYS 419. Tobacco in History and Culture. This interdisciplinary seminar examines the role tobacco has played in shaping global political economies, cultures, and health. Students pay particular attention to how gender, race, class, and nationalism influence and have been influenced by tobacco. From the use of slave labor in seventeenth-century Chesapeake Bay colony, to wooden Indians flanking the entrance of tobacco shops, to feminist slogans invoked to sell cigarettes, tobacco has functioned as a signifier and shaper of social norms and divides. Topics include labor and tobacco production, ethics of corporate power, the visual culture of tobacco, health and human rights, smoking and stigma, the global epidemiology of tobacco related illness, and tobacco regulation. Taught by Professor Melinda Plastas.