First-Year Seminars

All entering Middlebury students take a First-Year Seminar during their first semester on campus. These seminars are writing intensive courses, limited to 15 students each, and they are taught by regular, full-time faculty members who also serve as students' academic advisers for their first three semesters at Middlebury.

First-Year Seminars Affiliated with Ross - Fall 2019

FYSE 1167 - Shakespeare's Characters
Shakespeare’s reputation owes much to his characters; yet well-known as they are, they remain mysterious. What did they mean in Shakespeare’s time? How do they still succeed as characters? What explains idiotic Bottom’s charisma? What does Henry V’s flirtation with Princess Katherine or Othello’s jealousy about Desdemona reveal about Elizabethan—and our own—understandings of gender and race? Such questions will help us develop skills in speaking, writing, and critical inquiry. Texts will include at most three plays from among the following: /A Midsummer Night’s Dream/, /Much Ado About Nothing/, /Merchant of Venice/, /Henry V/, /Measure for Measure/, /Hamlet/, /Othello/, /Lear/, as well as contextual readings. We will also study a film of one of the plays. (James Berg)

FYSE 1330 - Economic Development-Ground Up
Each year $100 billion is spent worldwide in aid to developing countries to help raise the world's "bottom billion.” In this course we examine problems of economic development and their potential solutions, starting from the individual experience of poverty. Employing a microeconomic framework, but also drawing on other social sciences, we will assess how some of that $100 billion is used, examining current development programs and policies (such as health, education, microfinance, labor migration, and community-based development). Students will write policy memos and short research papers and participate in classroom debates. (John A. Maluccio)

FYSE 1431 - Food, Identity, and Power
Food sustains not only bodies, but national, ethnic, and social identities as well.  Notions of order and transgression, nature and culture, have long affected what people eat and how they do it.  Using interdisciplinary approaches, we will examine the practices and politics of food and eating in a range of regions.  How does eating, this most basic and universal of human practices, both reflect difference and create it?  How are food systems, symbolic and “real," linked to national and international politics?  Finally, how are contemporary food practices influenced by “modernization” and “globalization”? Students will examine these questions through analytical papers and individual projects. (Ellen D. Oxfeld)

FYSE 1167 - Shakespeare's Characters
History, Culture and Decolonization* Modern European imperial states devoted considerable time and effort to creating the norms and forms of European life in their colonies. This involved establishing European schools, languages, literature, music, dress, and art as superior to the indigenous cultures of the colonies. During the era of decolonization many thinkers from the colonies began to argue that political emancipation would also require a cultural emancipation. To decolonize the state one had to decolonize one’s state of mind. How could this be achieved? Who “owns” culture? These and other questions will be pursued through the writings of Gandhi, Césaire, Fanon, Memmi, Thiong’o, and others. (Amit Prajash)

FYSE 1544 - How Democracies Die
Is democracy in a global crisis? Why do people from the Americas to Asia support autocratic leaders? Is there a trade-off between rights and popular will? In this course we will discuss these questions and explore how and why democracies die. We will study and compare global trends as well as individual cases to unpack the economic, social, and political sources of democratic decline. Our sources will include global democracy and freedom indices, cross-country surveys, Y. Mounk’s /The People vs Democracy/, S. Levitsky and D. Zibblatt’s /How Democracies Die/, and a selection of recently published articles on the topic. (Sebnem Gumuscu)

FYSE 1547 - Water Rights and Resources
Safe and clean drinking water and sanitation are now recognized by the United Nations as human rights. However, water is a "fugitive" resource with dangerous variability in its quantity and quality over space and time. How does society manage the spatial-temporal variability of the water cycle, and how does the cycle in turn shape society? We will answer these questions through comparative geographic analysis of case studies in the northeast U.S. and east Africa, drawing on evidence from maps and geographic information systems, field trip observations, survey data, published research, and water law and policy. (Joseph R. Holler)

FYSE 1552 - Greek Tragedy & Politics
In this survey of selected dramas by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, we explore tragedy’s relation to political freedom and empire in fifth century B.C. Athens. The Athenian tragic poets used traditional Greek myths, especially Homer’s depiction of the Trojan War, paradoxically: to question the morality and wisdom of contemporary Athenian imperialism; to expose the conflict between the individual’s civic and familial obligations; to highlight the tension between men’s presumptive self-government and their belief in the active power of gods. We ask how the tragedians managed to raise publicly, in the solemn religious setting of Athens’ dramatic festivals, the kind of questions for which the people of Athens later put the philosopher Socrates to death on charges of corruption and impiety. The course culminates in a reading of Aristotle's study of tragedy, the /Poetics/. (Marc S. Witkin)

FYSE 1553 - Science is a Verb
Science plays a vital role in the modern world but can seem abstract or distant. How do we best study? What kind of exercise is best for our health? What effect does social media have on our happiness? How do we find existing evidence we can trust, and how do we test hypotheses in our own lives? In this course we will (a) develop the science literacy skills necessary to find and apply scientific findings to learn about ourselves, others, and the world, and (b) set up and run our own micro-experiments to address how these questions apply to us. (Martin O. Seehuus)