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 2013
Voices Along the Way
This seminar designed for international students is an introduction to contemporary American culture via literature and film. Our exploration of the American landscape and mindscape will begin with three topics: a sense of place, family relationships, and the American educational scene. We will conclude with a fourth topic, 'creating an identity," within which we will explore our own potential contributions to a global community. We will respond to each of these topics by writing essays, creating web pages and digital stories, and designing multi-media presentations. We will read stories and essays by John Updike, Amy Tan, Gloria Naylor, Theodore Sizer, James Baldwin, Raymond Carver, William Faulkner, and Jamaica Kincaid; we will consider films including Dances with Wolves, The Godfather, Stand and Deliver, and Dead Poets’ Society; and we will research and compare our own and each other’s cultures as a basis for determining what we consider to be “American.”

Sounds and Sweet Airs: Shakespeare and Music
Shakespeare's plays are the stories we tell ourselves to explain to ourselves who we are. We have told them over and over, and they have proven to be infinitely adaptable to our needs. Composers, too, have been drawn to them from the beginning, adding their music to the music of Shakespeare's language. In this seminar we will study a number of plays, among them Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, and A Midsummer Night's Dream, and the operas, ballets, film scores, and symphonic works they have inspired from the 17th century to the present.

Why do empires rise and fall? Are "democracy" and "empire" always a contradiction in terms? Can imperialism be a good thing? For whom? Drawing on classical and contemporary sources, we will explore the origins and fates of empires from Ancient Greece to the present. We will start by reflecting on why Eurasia dominated the world prior to the twentieth century, rather than the other way around. We will then explore the similarities and differences in both the principles and practices of particular empires, as well as how those characteristics evolved over time. Special attention will be given to Rome, Britain, Austria-Hungary, the Ottomans, Russia/Soviet Union, and the United States. An overarching aim of this seminar is to view the global power of the 21st century United States in proper perspective.
 Making Babies in a Brave New World
In this seminar we will examine the fundamentals of human reproduction and modern reproductive intervention strategies. As rapid discoveries in medical technologies have allowed us to push the limits of the human body, questions remain as to whether we should pursue, permit, or regulate such advances. We will explore scientific, societal, ethical, and individual issues surrounding the control of fertility and infertility, fetal life, birth, and the neonatal period. Through critical review of the literature, writing, and informed dialogues, students will gain an understanding of key topics in reproductive medicine.
 Literature and Philosophy of Friendship
In this seminar, we will explore major works of literature and philosophy from earlier centuries on the topic of friendship to see how they support or challenge our own notions of what defines a “true” friend. What are the obligations of friendship? Is it like love or antithetical to it? How is friendship between the sexes different from same-sex friendships? Can an enemy be a friend? Can only humans be friends? What does our choice of friends say about us? Readings include Aristotle, Seneca, Plutarch, Augustine, Aquinas, Shakespeare, Montaigne, Bacon, Kant, and Emerson, as well as selected texts in non-European traditions.
 Ancient Rome on the Stage and Screen
In this seminar we will investigate the long history of Roman drama, from the ancient world to Shakespeare’s plays and contemporary films. As we explore the representation and reception of ancient Rome, we will address the following questions: What is the relationship between drama and history? To what political purposes can drama and film be used? How does the representation of characters change over time? How are women portrayed? Why does Rome continue to influence the modern world? Texts will include Octavia and the Satyricon; Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra; films will include Quo Vadis? and I, Claudius.
 Literature on Trial: Banned Books, Dangerous Books, Dirty Books
Some of the best-known works of literature—from Animal Farm to Madame Bovary to The Satanic Verses—have been banned, removed from library shelves, forbidden in schools, or otherwise condemned at the state or national level. The reasons for such censorship vary as widely as the troublesome texts themselves: works are outlawed for obscenity, religious blasphemy, political dissent, or other conflicts with the reigning socio-political system. In this course we will read a range of works banned by various countries; in addition, we will read reports of the legal and political debate which accompanied the censorship of these works.
 Bad Kids
Young people are a regular source of panic for adults. Families, schools, medicine, and psychology communicate what it means to be a "normal" young person; reformatories, courts, prisons, and other institutions convey the consequences for rule breaking. The social control of young people depends on the categories created to differentiate them from adults. In this course we will: examine the labels of child, juvenile delinquent, at-risk youth, hyper-criminal, adolescent, teenager, and emerging adult to understand the ideas of normalcy embedded in these socially constructed categories; consider how class, race, and gender intersect with the mechanisms of control exerted over young people who deviate from the norm; and explore social movements and youth cultures that attempt to resist adult pressures to be good boys and docile girls and redefine the experiences of young people.
 Environmental Literature and Justice
In this seminar we will embark on an exploration of environmental issues in American literary narratives. We will look at the environmental movement in the U.S. and read, analyze, discuss, and write about texts such as: Carson’s landmark work of 20th century environmental consciousness-raising, Silent Spring; Steinbeck’s novel about Dust Bowl migrants, The Grapes of Wrath; Silko’s protest against uranium mining and nuclear testing on indigenous lands in Ceremony; and Callenbach’s vision of an ecologically sustainable world in Ecotopia. By considering these and several other texts, we will also investigate environmental issues through the lens of the environmental justice movement and take a closer look at today’s environmental inequalities, encompassing race, class, and gender.