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 2013

FYSE 1170 - Dealing with Atrocities  with Rebecca Bennette 


Occurrences of atrocities affecting large numbers of people show no sign of ending. How do these atrocities start and why? How do societies rebuild afterwards, and how might this rebuilding conflict with the healing process of individuals? How can the often competing goals of justice and reconciliation be balanced? What do subsequent generations in society owe to victims of large-scale atrocities? To explore these and other issues, a few main cases will be examined in depth – such as events in European colonialism and the Holocaust – as well as students choosing additional examples for comparison and further research. 3 hr. sem.


FYSE 1184 - The Journey Within with Maria Hatjigeorgiou

The Journey Within: The Spiritual Pursuit in Literary and Mystical Traditions

A fundamental teaching of the world’s religious traditions is that the source of love, the fulfillment of life, and the treasure of heaven are found within. With texts from antiquity to the present as our guides, we shall explore themes such as the concept of the soul, the discovery of a deeper self, the spiritual awakening, and the nature of the mystical experience. We shall consider questions related to religious and psychological experience such as: Where does the self reside? Why is it important to “know thyself”? What is the state of consciousness described as enlightenment? How does one rise above the sorrows and struggles of the world? Finally, we shall try to understand how turning within does not mean fleeing from the world, but engaging in the world around us in a more profound and meaningful way. Readings will include works from the Upanishads, Plato, Marcus Aurelius, St. Teresa of Avila, Tolstoy, Emily Dickinson, Herman Hesse, and J.D. Salinger. 3 hrs. sem.

FYSE 1206 - French Films/American Remakes  with Brigitte Humbert

FYSE 1255 - Collapse of Complex Societies with James Fitzsimmons

Facing the Apocalypse: How Complex Societies Fade and Collapse
In this seminar we will examine how and why historically complex societies have failed. We will explore the roles of population pressure, environmental degradation, warfare, and other factors in the collapse of such ancient urban societies as the Classic Maya, Chaco, and the Roman Empire. Likewise, we will explore how societies seemingly well-adapted to their geographic environments, such as the Vikings in Greenland, ultimately succumbed to extinction. Reviewing academic and popular explanations for societal collapse worldwide, we will ultimately engage the modern era and investigate the fragility of contemporary societies.

FYSE 1304 - Solvitur Ambulando  with Christopher Shaw

Solvitur Ambulando
/Solvitur ambulando/: “It Is Solved by Walking.” The phrase is Latin, but it goes back to Diogenes and expresses the practical and embodied elements of problem solving and the creative process. We will look at the literature and lore of walking throughout history, myth, philosophy and literature, and take three walks of our own, alone, and with partners. Reading will include Wordsworth, Stevenson, Thoreau, Rebecca Solnit, Chatwin, Dr. Johnson, Montaigne, Basho, Hirsch, William James, Gary Snyder, and David Abram.

FYSE 1335 - Cold War Culture with Holly Allen

Cold War Culture
“Without the Cold War, what’s the point of being American?” So asks Rabbit Angstrom, the main character in John Updike’s 1990 novel, Rabbit at Rest. In this course, we will examine the Cold War’s impact on American culture throughout the period 1945-1991, with a focus on art, literature, television, film, consumer culture, and politics. Texts will include Luce, The American Century; Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking; Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle; and Plath, The Bell Jar. Films will include The Thing from Another World!/, /Dr. Strangelove, and Terminator. 3 hrs. sem

FYSE 1384 - Reading the Book of Job  with Robert Schine

Reading the Book of Job
Why do the innocent suffer? Why do we want to believe that the world is “fair” and “ordered”? The Book of Job asked these questions millennia ago. Framed by a prose tale about the “patience of Job,” with a happy ending, the core of the book is a debate in poetry, between an impatient Job and his “friends”, with no satisfactory ending at all. We will study the book itself and its retellings and interpretations through novels, poetry, drama, philosophy and art, including works by Kafka, Camus, William Blake, Shakespeare, Voltaire, Kant, and Robert Frost. 3 hrs. sem.

FYSE 1399 - The Ramayana  with Cynthia Packert

The Ramayana: Rama’s Journey through the Arts
The Ramayana ("Journey of Rama”) is an ancient, yet still powerfully relevant, Hindu epic that narrates the story of Prince Rama, a divinely human avatar (descent) of the cosmic deity Vishnu. Although Rama’s ultimate destiny is to triumph over evil, his victory is fraught with moral dilemmas about fate, loyalty, duty, self-sacrifice, gender relationships, and the conflict between good and evil. We will explore and analyze the myriad ways this gorgeous story has inspired artistic responses from India to Southeast Asia and well beyond, in a variety of different media: poetry, dance, theater, sculpture, painting, graphic arts, television, and film. 3 hrs. sem.