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' academic advisers for their first three semesters at Middlebury.

First-Year Seminars Affiliated with Ross

Fall 2015

FYSE1025A-F15      William Peterson                   


A prominent statistician once wrote, “Statistics exists only at the interfaces of chance and empirical data. But it exists at every such interface.” Are most cancers attributable to bad luck, as Forbes recently suggested? Do fluctuations in US News college rankings reflect educational quality? Is texting while driving riskier than drunk driving? You can't follow the news, choose a college, or even get behind the wheel without encountering statistical claims. Which should you trust? Our readings will include your favorite newspaper, Stephen J. Gould's essays on excellence and variability, and Edward Tufte's critique of data graphics in the popular press.. 3 hrs. sem.

FYSE1317A-F15      Steven Viner                         

The Philosophy of Human Rights

What are human rights? What duties, if any, flow from them, and who is morally obligated to bear those duties? In this course, we will investigate the philosophical origins and development of the concept of human rights. We will critically analyze both historical and contemporary moral perspectives on the existence and nature of human rights. What does it mean to say that one possesses a human right? In addition to examining the existence and nature of human rights, we will take a closer look at the issue of human rights related to world poverty and humanitarian intervention. 3 hrs. sem.

FYSE1332A-F15      Nadia Horning                      

Reading Africa

What do we know about Africa? In this seminar we will explore this vast continent through novels written about it. African and non-African writers will help us discover the continent’s geographies, histories, cultures, and politics. We will study particular phenomena affecting Africans over the centuries including colonialism, dictatorial rule, humanitarianism, the women’s rights movement, and racism. With the help of films and student presentations, we will focus on Algeria, Nigeria, Ghana, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe. 3 hrs. sem.

FYSE1441A-F15   Christal Brown George Hardwig  

The “good” Body

In this seminar we will examine the roles bodies play in defining our public and private identities. What indications of beliefs, access, and cultural values do our bodies provide? What counts as a “good” body? Who has one (or doesn’t), and why? The many different answers to these and related questions impact every body in our Middlebury community and beyond. Topics will include aesthetic and ideological issues relating to the body; course work includes physically based workshops, oral presentations, written analyses and creative responses. 3 hrs. sem.

FYSE1445A-F15        Cheryl Faraone                             

The Theatrical Literature of Social Change

In this seminar we will begin with the question: how can art, specifically theatrical art, impact the world around us? We will explore a variety of contemporary works for the theatre that examine the possibilities of change (political, cultural, environmental). The seminar will also contain experiential components—students will be required to devise and perform various scenarios designed to impact a specifically targeted issue, and lead a discussion subsequent to each presentation. Authors to be read include American writers Anna Deveare Smith, Eve Ensler, and the Tectonic Project and British writers Caryl Churchill, David Hare, Robin Soans, Lucy Kirkwood, and others. 3 hrs. sem.

FYSE1450A-F15     Barbara Hofer                         

Psychology and Emerging Technology

Technology and new media, such as smart phones and social media, are changing how we think, relate, connect, and learn. We will read cultural accounts of the recent changes in our society as well as examine what recent psychological literature tells us about the pros and cons of our wired world. We will review related research on such topics as attention, relationships, video games, the psychological effects of social media, brain and mind, learning and education, and relationships. The seminar will involve critical analysis and understanding of research in a new field, examined in the contexts of our own lives and experiences. 3 hrs. sem.

FYSE1455A-F15      Robert Schine                  

Teachers and Students, Ancient to Modern

Hillel used to say, “The shy one cannot learn, and the impatient one cannot teach.” Confucius said: “If I lift up one corner and the student can't come back with the other three, I won't do it again." Cultures ancient and modern have reflected on the responsibilities of teachers and students, grappling with what constitutes an effective teacher or a successful student. What are the virtues—and perils—of discipleship? Of charisma? Should a teacher be gentle or forceful? Strict or lenient? Are teachers creators or conduits of tradition? In this seminar we will explore these questions in a range of historical periods and places, using film, literature, religious, and philosophical texts. Texts will include the Bible, Analects, and writings by Plato, Rousseau, and Helen Keller; films will include Dead Poet’s Society. 3 hrs. sem.

FYSE1462A-F15    Julien Weber                            

Animal Encounters in Literature

Animals have haunted literary texts ever since Aesop’s fables. What different roles do they play? In this seminar we will explore the complexity of representing animals in literature by studying novels and short stories that imagine wildlife, revisit the myth of animal metamporphosis, or use animals as symbols for other purposes. We will discuss what specific social, political, and linguistic issues these literary texts address and in some cases, how they complicate our understanding of the human/animal divide. Texts include: Balzac, Passion in the Desert, Kafka, The Metamorphosis, and Darrieussecq’s dystopian novel Pig Tales. 3 hrs. sem.

FYSE1465A-F15   Jessica Evan               

Feasts and Festivals of the Ancient World

In this seminar we will examine Greek and Roman feasts and religious festivals through an exploration of mythology, ritual, and sacrifice. While ancient myths revealed tensions between the human world and the natural and divine orders, festivals commemorating the myths offered opportunities to enact and resolve these tensions ritually. As feasts figured prominently in festivals, we will also seek to understand how food and drink, and the contexts in which they were consumed, served as markers of ethnicity, social class, and gender. Lastly, we will investigate the meaning of prohibitions against certain foods, including beans, raw flesh, and human meat. 3 hrs. sem.