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 Atwater:
|FYSE 1291 The Art of the Personal Essay
"One writes out of one thing only -- one's own experience. Everything depends on how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give. This is the only real concern of the artist, to recreate out of the disorder of life that order which is art." Launching ourselves from James Baldwin’s assertion, in this seminar will examine the artfulness of the personal essay by reading and critiquing examples from the genre’s beginnings in Michel de Montaigne’s Essais (“attempts”) in the 1580s, through such major modern American essayists as E.B. White, Joan Didion, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Stephen Jay Gould, to the contemporary scene of Dave Eggers, David Sederis, and emerging graphic essayists . What is essential to the genre? What has changed and continues to change? We will also attempt to force the last drops from our own personal experience.
|FYSE 1363 Humans, Computers, and Souls
In this seminar we will contrast two philosophies of human nature, known as physicalism and integrative dualism. The physicalist view, represented by noted figures such as philosopher Daniel Dennett and biologist Richard Dawkins, understands humans as complex biochemical computers whose minds are reducible to physical brains. A competing view, referred to by philosopher Charles Taliafero as “integrative dualism”, sees humans as both spiritual and physical beings. We will touch on philosophy of computation, philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, and philosophy of soul, with readings from Dennett, Dawkins, Taliafero, and also Raymond Kurzweil, C.S.Lewis, and others.
|FYSE 1367 Confederates in Our Attic: Remembering the Civil War
“The Civil War is our felt history—history lived in the national imagination,” wrote Robert Penn. Certainly, the Civil War occupies a prominent place in our national memory and has served to both unite and divide Americans for the past 150 years. In this seminar we will examine the cultural, social, and intellectual terrain of myth, manners, and historical memory of the American South. We will focus particularly on the ways in which Americans have chosen to remember their civil war through literature, (Gurganus’ The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All, Frazier’s Cold Mountain), film (Gone with the Wind, Glory, Ken Burns’ Civil War, Sherman’s March, C. S. A./), and other visual arts (including works by Kara Walker, and civil war photography from Brady to the present). We will also consider institutions, places, and objects associated with historical memory (Gettysburg, Richmond’s Monument Avenue, Stone Mountain, disputes over displays of the Confederate flag) with an eye toward exploring the war’s presence in the collective imagination of the nation.
|FYSE 1371 Virginia Woolf in Context
In this seminar we will focus on the novels, essays, and short stories of Virginia Woolf, considering them in the light of her social, political, and artistic contexts and commitments. We will explore in particular the tension in her work between Victorian values and aesthetics and the progressive goals of the modernist movement. Our readings will take us from the early novels (Voyage Out, Night and Day) to the later experimental works (To the Lighthouse, Orlando, The Waves). Some of the topics central to the seminar will be Woolf’s engagement with modernism and its key figures (such as James Joyce); her treatment of gender and sexuality in her essays and elsewhere; and her struggles with mental illness. We will intersperse our reading of Woolf’s prose with consideration of some film versions of her work, and we will conclude the seminar with a reading of Michael Cunningham’s 1998 creative homage to Mrs. Dalloway: The Hours.
|FYSE 1377 he Revolution Devours her Children: Violence and Terror in the Soviet Union
The Soviet Union holds the distinction of being one of the most violent regimes in history. The regime promised its citizens peace and abundance, but the main way it found to establish this worldly utopia was to purify society through violence. Long before Stalin, state-initiated terror was used to cleanse the hearts and minds of the general public. In this seminar we will examine how terror played an integral role in the revolutionary project, how the show trials, secret police, and the gulag developed. Our sources will include secret archival documents, private diaries, court testimonies, fiction, films, and historical scholarship.
FYSE 1378 American Environmentalism in the 1970s
|FYSE 1381 Physics for Educated Citizens
Climate change, dirty bombs, meteor impacts, energy sources, radiation, spy satellites, night-vision goggles, computer chips: All can be understood with physics. Education is another name for feeding your curiosity within structured guidelines, and curiosity will be central to this seminar. Our resources will be a textbook, Physics for Future Presidents, and non-technical articles, many of which you will seek out on your own. Our aim will be to develop a working knowledge of physics as it applies to important topics, and to effectively communicate that knowledge through discussions, oral presentations, and formal writing. No prior physics is required.
|FYSE 1383 “The Muslim” — Politics and Perceptions in the West*
Do Muslims pose special challenges for Western societies? Are Muslims particularly prone to violence? Are “their” values compatible with “ours?” In this seminar we will explore constructions of “the Muslim” in Western societies by discussing the following topics: the history of Muslim migration to the West; portrayals of Muslims by Western writers and media; Muslims voices about their place in Western societies; the extent of anti-Muslim sentiments throughout the West; and contemporary political conflicts such as those surrounding the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh in the Netherlands, the Danish cartoon controversy, and the banning of veils in France.