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 serves as students' first academic advisers at Middlebury. 

First-Year Seminars Affiliated with Wonnacott:

Fall 2014


FYSE 1062 - Econ/Culture Great Depression

*Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? Economy and Culture in the Great Depression* The Great Depression of the 1930s changed economics forever. It also brought forth a period of distinctly American, socially-engaged literature and visual art. New relationships were forged between the U.S. government and working people, the arts, and the market. In this seminar we study economics to understand the collapse of the American economy; we study painting, photography, music, drama, and oral history to understand the rapid social change taking place. As a group, students will develop a digital media project representing one or more aspects of the 1930s experience. 3 hrs. sem. (Professor Carolyn Craven)

FYSE 1099 - Cultural History of the Piano

*Piano, Piano: The Cultural History of the Piano* Why do so many people have a piano in their living room? In this seminar we will try to answer this question by exploring the cultural history of the piano. As we study the piano’s special place in our (musical) culture, we will learn about the technical as well as social aspects of this instrument’s developments over the past 300 years. We will hear virtuosos like Franz Liszt and Keith Jarrett, study milestones of the pianistic repertoire, and discuss representations of this instrument and its artists in literature, the arts, and film. 3 hrs. sem. (Professor Bettina Matthias)

FYSE 1210 - Global Japanese Culture

*Global Japanese Culture* In this seminar we will examine the construction of Japanese cultural identity as products, ideas and people move across the borders in and out of Japan. Social scientists have been particularly interested in the appropriation of non-Japanese practices and products in Japan, as well as, the great success of some of Japan’s cultural and consumer products from Toyotas to Pokemon in the global marketplace. We will examine the issues of cultural hybridity, identity, and globalization using text such as Millennial Monsters, Remade in Japan, and Japan after Japan. 3 hrs. sem. (Professor Linda White)

FYSE 1356 - Disability/Difference/Society

*Disability, Difference, and Society* In this seminar we explore the varied and evolving meanings of disability—as condition, lived experience, and analytical framework—and the contexts that shape these meanings. Dominant issues, including representation, education, employment, bioethics, institutions, community, and policies and rights, will serve as our touchstones for research, analysis, and learning. We will pay rigorous attention to the links between disability and other significant social categories, such as race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, gender, sexual orientation and identification, and age. While the United States is highlighted in this class, transnational and global components will figure significantly as well. Course materials and assignments offer different disciplinary approaches and writing styles, fostering both individual and collective work. Films, on line exhibits, music, advertising, popular media, and the material world reflect the wide range of sources on which this course draws. (Professor Susan Burch)

FYSE 1370 - Fiction Northern New England

*Fictions of Northern New England* In this seminar we will read recent works of fiction set in northern New England. Our goals will be to develop critical thinking, reading, writing, and speaking skills while becoming more familiar with the region where you are attending college. Our focus will be the cultural, social, and economic circumstances that shape character and setting. Readings will include /Where the Rivers flow North/, by Howard Frank Mosher; /In the Fall/, by Jeffrey Lent; /The Cider House Rules/, by John Irving; /Olive Kitteredge/, by Elizabeth Strout; /Affliction/, by Russell Banks; /Empire Falls/, by Richard Russo; /The Beans of Egypt, Maine/, by Carolyn Chute. 3 hrs. sem. (Professor Dan Brayton)

FYSE 1413 - Lyme Disease

*Lyme Disease* Lyme disease is fascinating from medical, public health, and ecological perspectives. In this seminar we will explore the disease in an interdisciplinary fashion. We will look at the history of—and controversy around—its diagnosis, treatment, and control. Because Lyme has a tick vector and animal reservoirs, we will consider how the local environment affects it. Connections to other zoonotic diseases (SARS, West Nile, EEE) will be made. Readings will come from /Bull's Eye: Unraveling the Medical Mystery of Lyme Disease/ by Eldow, /Lyme Disease: The Ecology of a Complex System/ by Ostfeld, and primary sources. 3 hrs. sem. (Professor David Allen)

FYSE 1420 - Impressionism

*The Impressionists: Painters of Modern Life* Monet, Renoir, Degas, Cassatt: these familiar names evoke works of art beloved by museum-goers around the world. However, in their own times, these artists were considered radical creators of shocking canvases that threatened the French art establishment. In this seminar we will examine how and why Impressionism emerged as the first important style of modern art by following its evolution from a style that was reviled by the critics to its eventual acceptance. To provide a framework, we will examine works by important writers including Baudelaire and Zola, as well as the political and social situation in France. 3 hrs. sem. (Professor Kirsten Hoving)

FYSE 1423 - The Story of Geometry

*The Story of Geometry* The field of geometry is thousands of years old and over time has undergone a number of revolutionary changes. In this seminar we will study geometry through a historical lens. Beginning with the axiomatic geometry of Euclid, we will trace the development of the subject, learning how the realization in the mid-19th century that one of Euclid’s axioms could be dropped led to the exciting discovery of hyperbolic and spherical geometries. We will learn how these geometries relate to the modern notions of manifolds and curvature, concluding with a discussion of Perelman’s breakthrough proof of the century-old Poincaré Conjecture. 3 hrs. sem. (Professor Emily Proctor)

FYSE 1424 - Science & Democracy

*Science and Democracy* The scientific method has been heralded as inherently democratic, based as it is on observation rather than authority. Yet the relationship between science and democracy is much more complex, with scientists carrying authority based on their specialized knowledge. In this seminar we will explore the challenges of integrating science and democracy, investigating how science can be used to serve democratic goals and where there are tensions. We will consider such questions as whether or not the commercialization of science makes it difficult to serve the needs of a diverse society well, whether or not it is important to have diverse representation within scientific communities in order to produce objective knowledge, and what the appropriate role of scientific experts might be in developing sound public policy on topics such as climate change, health policy, medical research, and food safety. 3 hrs. sem. (Professor Heidi Grasswick)


Student Resource Guide

Check out the Student Resource Guide—an easy-to-use guide that will provide you with a snapshot of student life at Middlebury. 


Mailing Address:
Wonnacott Commons Middlebury College
14 Old Chapel Road
Middlebury, VT  05753

Physical location:
Battell South room 123
MariAnn Osborne, Commons Coordinator
Tel: (802) 443-3350
Fax: (802) 443-3359