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First Year Seminars Associated With Wonnacott Commons - 2019

FYSE 1549 – Monsters in Japan
From Godzilla to Totoro: Monsters in Japanese Culture
In this course we will examine a series of Japanese monsters (foxes, badgers, demons, vengeful spirits, and others), which populate Japanese myths, tales, folklore, art, and popular culture, in order to understand how the fear of the Other leads to marginalization and demonization and how monsters are created to contain undesirable figures. We will also explore the literary expressions of cultural anxieties generated by lack of understanding or misunderstanding of phenomena, such as the powers of nature and the afterlife, as well as the existential terrors resulting from trauma and war. (Otilia Milutin)

FYSE 1558 – Fighting For Justice
How do people overcome injustice? In this course, we will study historic justice movements, including abolition and the fight against Jim Crow. We will then analyze two contemporary movements: the fights against mass incarceration and against climate change. After comparing and contrasting these fights with past movements and with each other, we will study ideas for accelerating the pursuit of justice in our time. Our reading will include the work of Frederick Douglass, Ella Baker, Bryan Stevenson, Michelle Alexander, Van Jones, and Mary Robinson. During our final two weeks, students will present their ideas for overcoming current forms of injustice. (Jon Isham)


FYSE 1483 – Magic of Numbers
Number theory—the study of patterns, symmetries, properties, and the power of numbers—has caught the popular imagination. Youngsters and adults have toyed with numbers, looked for patterns, and played games with numbers throughout millennia. A characteristic of number theory is that many of its problems are very easy to state. In fact, many of these problems can be understood by high school mathematics students. The beauty of these problems is that modern mathematics flows from their study. Students will experiment with numbers to discover patterns, make conjectures and prove (or disprove) these conjectures. (David Dorman)


FYSE 1328 – Elements of Murder
In this seminar we will use history, fiction, and science to explore the dark and deadly associations of some chemical elements. Mercury, arsenic, antimony, lead, and thallium are notorious as causes of accidental death and as instruments of murder. Readings will include The Elements of Murder, by John Emsley; Beethoven's Hair: An Extraordinary Historical Odyssey and a Scientific Mystery Solved by Russell Martin; The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie, and Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers. Students will lead discussions of these readings and of films based on the fictional works. We will also spend some time in the lab using forensic techniques to identify and measure toxic elements. (James Larrabee)


FYSE 1548 – Imaging: People and Techniques
“Look! See what I have discovered!” gasped Antony van Leeuwenhoek, a seventeenth-century pioneer in microscopy, upon seeing cells and other biological structures for the first time. Experience the joy (and frustration) of discovery as we explore the historical development of various biomedical imaging techniques. Students will learn how images are formed through hands-on activities and field trips, with an emphasis on understanding essential physics concepts and communicating the science to a broad audience. Readings will focus on the lives of researchers, including Nobel Prize winners as well as those unrecognized for their work. (Michael Durst)


FYSE 1543 – Leonardo da Vinci
Famed for paintings such as The Last Supper and Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci was a dedicated observer and a prolific journal writer. His notebooks reflect an insatiable appetite for learning, and a mind equally engaged by engineering and sculpture, hydraulics and oil paint, religious faith and human nature. By reading Leonardo’s writing and by examining his commissions—both complete and unfinished—we will explore how this single artist came to define our understanding of a “Renaissance man.” More recent scholarship will spark robust discussions of how best to understand the “afterlife” of an artist and his work and whether the moniker of Renaissance man is, in fact, apt. (Katy Smith Abbot)


FYSE 1550 – Chinatown, SF, US
This seminar explores the history of San Francisco’s Chinatown from the Gold Rush through the Cold War. As the oldest diasporic enclave of Chinese in the United States, Chinatown has been both a physical site where immigrants of color have built a community and a continually contested symbolic space. Through primary and secondary texts, our examination will engage specifically with Chinatown as a place forged by domestic and international trends, one that illuminates the development of a globalized America. In their final research projects, students will apply these thematic analyses to ethnic communities across the country. (Joyce Mao)


FYSE 1455 – Teachers and Students
Teachers and Students, Ancient to Modern
Hillel used to say, “The shy one cannot learn, and the impatient one cannot teach.” Confucius said: “If I lift up one corner and the student can't come back with the other three, I won't do it again." Cultures ancient and modern have reflected on the responsibilities of teachers and students, grappling with what constitutes an effective teacher or a successful student. What are the virtues—and perils—of discipleship? Of charisma? Should a teacher be gentle or forceful? Strict or lenient? Are teachers creators or conduits of tradition? In this seminar we will explore these questions in a range of historical periods and places, using film, literature, religious, and philosophical texts. Texts will include the Bible, Analects, and writings by Plato, Rousseau, and Helen Keller; films will include Dead Poet’s Society. (Robert Schine)

Resource Guide

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Mailing Address:
Wonnacott Commons Middlebury College
14 Old Chapel Road
Middlebury, VT  05753

Physical location:
Battell South Room 123
MariAnn Osborne, Commons Coordinator
Tel: (802) 443-3350
Fax: (802) 443-3359