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' first academic advisers at Middlebury.

First-Year Seminars Affiliated with Brainerd:
Fall 2015

FYSE 1269 First Language Acquisition
A normally-developing child can acquire any human language in the right environment, yet it is much more difficult for adults to achieve native proficiency in a second language. Why? In this course we will explore questions such as: How does first language acquisition happen? Is it effortless? Are humans “hardwired” with language? Is it true that after the “Critical Period,” i.e., the onset of puberty, humans have lost this capacity? We will also explore social and cultural constraints on language acquisition, and learn basic techniques for collecting and analyzing data in language acquisition research. 3 hrs. sem. (H. Du)

FYSE 1272 Literature and Philosophy of Friendship
In this seminar we will explore major works of literature and philosophy from earlier centuries on the ideal of friendship. What are the traditional obligations of “true” friendship? Are they different from those of the Facebook age? Is friendship like love? Is true friendship between the sexes possible? Does racial difference affect friendship? Is homoeroticism or homophobia part of friendship? Readings include Plato, Aristotle, Plutarch, Cicero, Shakespeare, Montaigne, Bacon, Kant, Emerson, and Thoreau as well as selected texts in non-European traditions. Special emphasis will be placed on grammar, rhetorical style, public speaking, and multimedia presentation. 3 hrs. sem. (T. Billings)

FYSE 1295 Visions of Mortality
In this seminar we will examine the nature, meaning, and implications of our mortality. We will begin by examining historical and contemporary philosophical views on death and by considering questions such as: Can an understanding of death tell us anything about what makes life good? How should the fact of our mortality influence the lives we lead? We will then address contemporary biomedical issues regarding death, considering questions such as: How does technology influence our conception of death? What attitude ought we to embrace regarding increasing advances in life-extending medical treatments? Readings will likely include works by Tolstoy, Lucretius, Nagel, Camus, and Callahan. 3 hrs. sem. (L. Besser)

FYSE 1437 Language, Culture, and the Individual
How does language shape our experience of the world? What does pronunciation reveal about cultural identity? What can we learn about language from the way small children speak? How do communicative strategies vary across languages? Why do languages change over time? Through the lens of linguistics, we will explore the structure and usage of language in daily life. We will discuss speech and text samples from conversations, novels, advertisements, anime, children’s shows, and more. Languages discussed will include English and Japanese, but no background in any foreign language is necessary, as translations and transliterations will be provided. 3 hrs. sem. (S. Abe)

FYSE 1444 Writing Immigrant Lives
In this seminar we will study, analyze, and write immigrant stories and histories from Latin America and the colonial and post-colonial Caribbean. How do we write the history of a family member, living or deceased? How is history different from biography? We will analyze diverse written, oral, and visual texts about transnational experiences including works by Julia Alvarez, Derek Walcott, Tânia Cypriano, Edwidge Danticat, Richard Rodriguez, Ruben Blades, and others. Ultimately, with the aid of primary sources, oral history, genealogy, law enforcement records, as well as other, less conventional resources, we will reconstruct and write the transnational lives of immigrants in our families and communities. 3 hrs. sem. (D. Davis)

FYSE 1452 1906 SF Earthquake and Fire
On April 18, 1906, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake rocked San Francisco. Although the trembling lasted only about 60 seconds, its aftershocks – including a devastating fire that leveled much of the city – were felt for significantly longer. Using scholarly readings as well as a mix of primary sources such as photographs, maps, letters, and memoirs, students in this seminar will examine the 1906 earthquake and fire from an historical perspective. We will use this episode of urban disaster and reconstruction as a lens to understand the built and natural environment, Progressive politics, and race relations in America at the beginning of the 20th century. 3 hrs. sem. (J. Mao)

FYSE 1453 Karma
Why do things happen to us as they do? For many throughout Asia, the answer is or has been karma, the ancient Indian notion that over multiple lifetimes individuals reap the effects of past actions. We will examine this powerful idea of moral causality in depth, considering strikingly varied versions in classical Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism, and the wealth of practices believed to improve future lives (and ultimately lead to liberation). We will also investigate the diverse and surprising consequences of karma in some Asian societies—including the justification of social hierarchy, the mistreatment of some groups, and the emergence of vegetarianism—as well as the role of karma in literature and film, especially in East Asia. 3 hrs. sem. (E. Morrison)

FYSE 1456 Reading Jared Diamond
Jared Diamond is a best-selling author on topics of world prehistory and environmental conservation. In this seminar we will read and discuss Diamond’s work alongside that of his critics. By taking parallel case studies from New Guinea, Mesoamerica, and Greenland (for example), students will learn critical thinking and analysis skills while also undertaking a survey of world cultures. The core questions facing the class are “why has the world turned out this way, and not some other?” and “what are the causes and consequences of environmental degradation?” 3 hrs. sem. (M. Sheridan)

FYSE 1457 Sherlock Holmes Across Media
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle first created Sherlock Holmes in 1886. Since then, the consulting detective has continued to solve mysteries in literature, radio, film, television, and digital media. Indeed, Sherlock Holmes inspired what many think of as the earliest media fandom. Why has Sherlock Holmes continued to be such a fascinating figure for almost a century and a half? How have Holmes and his sidekick Watson (or Sherlock and John) transformed in their different iterations across media, culture, and history? And what does it mean for contemporary television series Elementary and Sherlock to reimagine Sherlock Holmes for the digital age? 3 hrs. sem. (L. Stein)

FYSE 1463 Scholars Communicate Meaning
Students will explore the texture of the text, learn to identify an issue, research, then organize their findings in oral and written presentations of that work using 21st century means and technologies. Drawing from a palette of creative works such as Pale Fire, S./, /Mission Impossible III, Star Trek IV, Sandrine’s Case, The Woman in White, and TED talks, you will find patterns and meaning in a random, hyperlinked world of associations and interconnections, and then organize and articulate them to an audience. 3 hrs. sem. (T. Beyer)