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 2014

FYSE 1081      Martha Woodruff                    Greek Phil., Tragedy, & Comedy               

Greek Phil., Tragedy, & Comedy

"The Ancient Quarrel": Greek Philosophy, Tragedy, and Comedy*
In Plato's day there was a “quarrel” between philosophy and poetry, a rivalry for the ethical education of citizens. How do the tragedies of Aeschylus and Sophocles communicate ethical dilemmas? Does Aristophanes in The Clouds suggest a serious critique within his comic satire of Socrates? Why does Plato banish the poets from his ideal city in The Republic, but develop his own philosophical poetry? Why does Aristotle in the Poetics emphasize the catharsis of the tragic emotions? Finally, we will consider Nietzsche's interpretation in The Birth of Tragedy: Socratic rationalism deals the fatal blow to tragedy, yet Plato transforms Socrates into a tragic figure. 3 hrs. sem.

FYSE 1134      Allison Stanger                                    Empires                                                


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. 3 hrs. sem.

FYSE 1175      Peter Schumer                          The Game of Go                                  

The Game of Go

The Game of Go
Go is an ancient board game which originated in East Asia and is now played and studied by over 30 million people worldwide. The game is intellectually demanding and rigorous as well as highly creative and intuitive. In this seminar we will study the fundamentals of play, record and critique our games, and learn the history of Go and some of its outstanding practitioners. Additionally, we will gain some appreciation of Asian arts and cultures through our readings and writing projects. There will be plenty of game practice, analysis, some film and anime discussion, and a class tournament. 3 hrs. sem.

FYSE 1203      Robert Cohen                          Beast in the Jungle                         

Beast in the Jungle

The Beast in the Jungle
In this course we will explore some literary texts in which the practice of exploration itself yields a complex confrontation with, and often breakdown of, identity and will. The westerner’s longing to separate him or herself from home and make contact with a foreign “other” arises from the high purposes that set imperial adventures in motion in the first place. Readings will include Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Forster’s Passage to India, Waugh’s Handful of Dust, Bowles’ Sheltering Sky, Stone’s Dog Soldiers, Duras’ The Lover, Greene’s A Burnt-Out Case. 3 hrs. sem.

FYSE 1238      Randall Ganiban                                  The Trojan War                

The Trojan War

The Trojan War
The myth of the Trojan War exerted a defining influence on Greek and Roman culture, and has played a central role in the Western tradition ever since. In this seminar we will examine the historicity of the Trojan War and how ancient writers used it to explore themes such as the nature of heroism, the workings of the gods, and the relationship between the individual and society. We will also consider how our modern ideals about heroic action compare with those of ancient times. Readings will include selections from Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Vergil, and Ovid. 3 hrs. sem.

FYSE 1244      Patricia Manley                                    The Geology of National Parks                 

The Geology of National Parks

Geology of National Parks
The collision of continents, the passage of glaciers, and time itself have sculpted our country, creating landscapes that have captivated humankind's attention for generations. This seminar will develop the sequence of events that have led to the formation of many such natural wonders found in our national parks. The seminar will proceed through lectures focused on basic geology and plate tectonic theory; textbook readings about specific parks; in-class and homework exercises that develop familiarity with important geologic materials and methods; and weekly video "excursions" to the parks. 3 hrs. sem.

FYSE 1266      Stephen Donadio                     Literary Narratives                                

Literary Narratives

Literary Narratives
Beginning with a sequence of related tales from the Arabian Nights, we will focus sharply on a series of works composed of multiple and sometimes radically divergent narratives. We will explore ways in which authors working in a variety of traditions succeed in creating unified literary experiences that exceed their individual parts, paying particular attention to matters of sequencing, pacing, juxtaposition, and repetition, as well as shifts in narrative pattern, perspective, and tone. Among the authors we will consider are Poe, Flaubert, Dostoevsky, Sherwood Anderson, Hemingway, and Nathanael West. Especially recommended for students contemplating a major in Literary Studies. 3 hrs. sem.

FYSE 1309      Don Wyatt                               True Believer                                         

True Believer

The True Believer
When he published The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, social thinker Eric Hoffer sought to explain exactly what inspires people to commit themselves passionately to causes defined by their unyielding belief. Like Hoffer, we will examine not only what has motivated individuals over time to join extremist social, political, and religious movements, but also the psychologies of those who have led them throughout history. We will try to determine precisely who the true believer is, and whether true belief is generally of greater benefit or harm to the believer and to broader society.