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 serves as students' first academic advisers at Middlebury. 

First-Year Seminars Affiliated with Wonnacott:

Fall 2015


FYSE 1460A -- How Ideas Change the World

How can citizens put their ideas into action and achieve social change? For example, how did citizens in the United States prompt politicians to pass a health care law, or protestors in Tunisia force a transition to democracy? In this seminar we will study why policymakers respond to new policy ideas from citizens, intellectuals, and social movements. To answer these questions, we will examine case studies from around the world—including Iran, China, and the United States—involving questions of environmental policy, enfranchisement, and social welfare.  (Professor Jessica Teets)


FYSE 1107A -- Shaping the Future

Molecular biotechnology has provided extraordinary benefits to humankind, including the ability to cure disease, remove pollutants from the environment, and create crops that are resistant to disease. From these and other advances emerge a variety of social concerns. Should we use recombinant DNA technology to disclose our medical futures? Should we release genetically engineered organisms into the environment? Is it ethical to patent a living organism? Is it acceptable to clone animals? In this seminar we will explore these and other biotechnological advances and promote discussion and debate of the societal implications that derive from the genetic engineering revolution. (Professor Grace Spatafora)


FYSE 1372A -- The Quiet American’s Book of Laughter and Forgetting the Thing around your Neck: The Personal and the Political

If one of the ideas behind the famous 1960s statement “the personal is political” is to suggest that how we conduct ourselves in our private lives can affect structures of power in society at large, the reverse is also true. The political/social/cultural systems in which we live affect, if not determine, the kinds of relationships we have with other people. In this seminar we will explore some of these reciprocities in works of fiction and memoir by Milan Kundera, Chimamanda Adichie, Alexander Maksik, Philip Klay, and others, with occasional complementary readings in political theory and other types of analysis. Emphasis is on collaborative inquiry and various modes of response to the material. (Professor Kathryn Kramer)


FYSE 1280A -- Breaking the Code: The Enigma of Alan Turing

British mathematician Alan Turing broke the Nazis' prized Enigma cipher in World War II, created the foundations of computer science, and pioneered the fields of artificial intelligence (“Can Machines Think?”) and neural networks. Turing was arrested for homosexuality and forced to undergo hormone treatments. He died by cyanide poisoning at a relatively young age. His brilliant achievements and tragic death have been the subject of biographies, essays, plays, novels, and films, most recently the Academy Award winning The Imitation Game. We will explore the life and works of this remarkable individual in the context of the war and its aftermath. (Professor Michael Olinick)


FYSE 1459A -- Money, Morals, and Madmen in Global Politics

Non-state actors bring resources (money), new norms (morals), and revisionist aims (madmen) to global governance. In this seminar we will look at how private actors, including corporations, non-governmental organizations, and terrorist groups, have shaped development and conflict around the world. Throughout, we will reflect on how these groups represent societal interests and work to improve or undermine state sovereignty and global governance. (Professor Sarah Stroup)


FYSE 1439A -- Language and Ethnic Identity

Language is a central feature of human identity. In this seminar we will explore the multiple ways in which language is used in society to express, create, and perform these identities. We will analyze—from a sociolinguistic perspective—how variation in speakers’ linguistic resources (e.g., pronunciation, syntax, word choice, language choice) can serve as tools to shape, stereotype, or subvert national, regional, and other types of ethnic identities. We will draw examples from linguistic research, literature, film, television, political discourse, popular songs, the internet, and other media in the United States as well as in other societies. (Professor Brandon Baird)


FYSE 1458A -- Pyramid Schemes, Bubbles, and Crashes

In this seminar we will study the anthropology of exchange, then use it to analyze ethnographies of financial speculators, labor migrants, microcredit borrowers, and other agents and victims of global capitalism. We will focus on conflicting obligations to kin and to creditors, on how people in different cultures and social classes juggle these obligations, and how the growth of financial debt can turn social relationships into commodities. Studying debt and how it is leveraged in different societies and historical eras will show why capitalism is so vulnerable to speculative booms, swindles, and collapses. (Professor David Stoll)


FYSE 1443A -- Plagues, Past and Present

In this seminar we will consider how infectious diseases emerge, why they persist, how they can be eradicated, and why some diseases believed to be “under control” have returned. We will study pathogens and human biology with particular attention to how biological, behavioral, and social factors converge to support endemic and epidemic disease in people. Readings will include books, articles written for the layperson, and primary scientific literature that examine epidemic disease from the Middle Ages to the present, with predictions for the future. We will pay particular attention to the evolution of pathogens and new diseases within populations. (Professor Bob Cluss)

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

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MariAnn Osborne, Commons Coordinator
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