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 2016


FYSE 1123A: Close Encounters with Middle East
In the west, few other cultures have evoked such strong emotions or have been so widely misunderstood as the cultures of the Middle East. In this seminar, we will explore alternative understandings of the region by examining various types of historical and contemporary narratives. Rather than focus exclusively on political events and trajectories, we will investigate social and cultural experiences of peoples in the Middle East which have emerged through the intersection of history, identity, modernity, gender relations, and popular expression. This approach allows students to become familiar with the region’s inhabitants and cultures, and to think beyond the static images commonly portrayed in today’s media. In this seminar we will draw on various sources including film, media, literature, music, among others, and will interpret their ongoing significance in today’s world. Prof. Febe Armanios


FYSE 1028A: Identity and Difference
How do we use categories of identity and difference? How does culture determine how we perceive and perform gender and ethnic identity: male/female, gay/straight, East/West, black/white? We will look at constructions of gender and sexual identity in various cultures and consider how they intersect with national and ethnic identity. Literature and film will be our primary focus. We will read Euripides’ Bacchae, Forster’s Passage to India, and Hwang’s Madame Butterfly and view films like Kiss of the Spiderwoman and Europa Europa that problematize sexual and gender identity. Prof. Kevin Moss


FYSE 1413A: Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is fascinating from medical, public health, and ecological perspectives. In this seminar we will explore the disease in an interdisciplinary fashion. We will look at the history of—and controversy around—its diagnosis, treatment, and control. Because Lyme has a tick vector and animal reservoirs, we will consider how the local environment affects it. Connections to other zoonotic diseases (SARS, West Nile, EEE) will be made. Readings will come from Bull's Eye: Unraveling the Medical Mystery of Lyme Disease by Eldow, Lyme Disease: The Ecology of a Complex System by Ostfeld, and primary sources. Prof. David Allen


FYSE 1482A: Marx and Marxism
Is Marxism still relevant in a world that has witnessed the collapse of most self-declared Marxist states? To address this question, we will explore the development of central Marxist concepts (including class struggle, alienation, revolution) both in Marx’s own words and in the writings and actions of those he inspired. Central to our inquiry will be consideration of the historical relationship between Marxist theory and practice (in a range of geographic and cultural contexts) and the adaptation of Marxist ideas for cultural and political critiques in the West. Prof. Rebecca Mitchell


FYSE 1481A: Graphic Novels:  How They Work and What They’re For
Graphic novels—sequential art, comics in the last ten years, extended works combining words and pictures have exploded in popularity and reach. In this course we will examine what the graphic novel can do that other media cannot. Using Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics and Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Arts as critical foundations, we will explore a variety of graphic texts, discovering the underlying grammar and structure of the form, and surveying the uses to which the form has been and can be put, from the disclosure of the intensely personal to the chronicling of major world events. Prof. Kevin Kite


FYSE 1345A: Art & Nature of Contemplation
What would it be like to attend to oneself, to others, and to the world with the concentration and insight of a Zen-inspired poet? How does a forest, a river, a neighborhood, or a city feel to an artist in open attentiveness to the immediate environment? This semnar invites students to experience contemplative knowing of self and surroundings through mindfulness meditation and through daily reflections in words, sketches or photographs. We will learn about the traditional origins of meditation and more recent uses of mindfulness for personal wellbeing. To give context to our own practice we will engage critically with essays, poems, art installations, and films that have arisen from contemplations of nature in ancient and modern times. Our study begins with Japanese poets Saigyo and Basho, the classic filmmaker Ozu, and the anime director Miyazaki. We then explore and compare meditative works by American and international writers and artists Annie Dillard, Andy Goldsworthy, and Maya Lin. We will conclude with the question of the relationship between mindfulness and social awareness in the works of Shigeru Ban. Prof. Carole Cavanaugh


FYSE 1393A: Introduction to Mindfulness
Basic sitting and walking meditation will be taught and practiced. We will use the breath to foster relaxed attention and to gain perspective on our restless minds. We will emphasize these techniques and learn how to use them in daily life and academic endeavors. We will read texts from the contemporary Tibetan and Zen Buddhist traditions, but the meditation will be employed in nonsectarian fashion applicable to any belief system. Truth should be verified by one’s experience. Students will write papers, give presentations, and keep journals. Prof. John Huddleston


FYSE 1133A: Faith and Reason
In this seminar we will explore perennial and contemporary questions in the philosophy of religion: Is there a God? Are objective proofs of God possible, or is religious belief founded on subjective feelings? What is faith? The modern period has been a time of unprecedented crisis for religion, and we will focus in particular on these challenges and responses to them. Is religion, as Freud thought, just wish-fulfillment? Is religious belief compatible with science? Can any religion claim to be the true religion in a pluralistic world? Authors read will include St. Augustine, St. Anselm, Kant, Kierkegaard, James, Freud, and contemporary philosophers. Prof. John Spackman

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

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