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:

February 2014

FYSE 1362 - Sophocles and Athens

*Sophocles and Athens* What can we learn from Sophocles, the tragic playwright whose life spans the Athenian 5th century BCE? Why do his tragedies—composed against the background of Athens’ incredible achievements, its radical democracy, but also its ever more aggressive foreign policy—reflect so poignantly on the human condition? In this seminar we will trace Sophocles’ effort to probe the mysteries of the soul, both of the individual and of the community, and to confront the riddle of human existence. In addition to studying his seven surviving plays in their historical context, we will also consider their profound impact on later thought and art, including opera and film. 3 hrs. sem. (Professor Pavlos Sfyroeras)

FYSE 1198 - Darwinian Medicine

*Darwinian Medicine* Is it better to fight a fever or let it run its course? Why do pregnant women get morning sickness? In this course, we will look at modern humans and their health from the perspective of evolutionary biology. Students will be introduced to the basics of evolution by natural selection and will learn to interpret morphological, biochemical and behavioral aspects of humans and their pathogens in this context (such as how and why the level of virulence of a disease changes when human habits change). Readings will include /Why We Get Sick/, /Evolving Health/, and numerous papers from the primary literature. 3 hrs. sem./disc. (Professor Helen Young) 

FYSE 1211 - Godel, Escher, Bach

*Gödel, Escher, Bach* At the turn of the 20th century, mathematics took an introspective turn when its practitioners attempted to organize reasoning itself into an axiomatic system of theorems and definitions. The results were provocative and ended in a kind of paradox when logician Kurt Gödel proved that all formalized logical systems would necessarily contain some unprovable truths. Reading Douglas Hofstadter's /Gödel, Escher, Bach/, we will discover the connections among seemingly disparate fields of mathematics, visual arts, and music. Our journey will pass through the philosophical worlds of Lewis Carroll, Artificial Intelligence, non-Euclidean geometry, Zen Buddhism, and crash head-on into questions about the nature of human consciousness and creativity. 3 hrs. sem. (Professor Steve Abbott)

FYSE 1260 - Holocaust Landscapes

*Holocaust Landscapes* The Holocaust was a profoundly geographical event that caused mass displacement and migration, destroyed or fundamentally changed communities, and created new places to control, exploit, or kill millions of people. In this seminar we will focus on material and mental landscapes – the places and spaces – of the Holocaust, particularly as victims experienced these landscapes, and how such landscapes have been selectively re-imagined as sites of memory. History, geography, autobiography, and visual sources will provide material for class discussion, research, and writing. 3 hrs. sem. (Professor Anne Knowles)

FYSE 1399 - The Ramayana

*/The Ramayana/: A Tale of Love, Valor, and Duty* 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. Rama’s ultimate destiny is to triumph over evil, but his victory is fraught with moral dilemmas about fate, loyalty, duty, gender relationships, the definition of an ideal man and ideal woman, and the conflict between good and evil. Close readings, analysis, and discussions of the epic will be augmented with imagery drawn from different media, both historical and contemporary. Connections will be made to contemporary politics and social issues. 3 hrs. sem. (Professor Cynthia Packert)

FYSE 1406 - Food Battles

 *Food Battles: A Critical Look at Food in Our Lives* The development of high yield agricultural practices have allowed people to migrate en masse to cities with the opportunity for different lifestyles. It also meant the birth of “big business food” and some highly unethical practices. In response, the government established the FDA; but does it truly help the health of the nation? In this course we will examine commercial food from field to table, giving special attention to controversies such as genetically modified food, use of pesticides, food additives (including sugar and salt), and animal welfare issues. We will discuss the FDA’s role in safeguarding the public and whether the food industry is anything more than a profit-making business. 3 hrs. sem. (Professor Roger Sandwick)

FYSE 1407 - Gender & the Making of Space

*Gender and the Making of Space* In this seminar we will investigate the complex relationship between gender and architecture, examining how the design of the built environment (buildings, urban spaces, etc.) can reinforce or undermine ideas about the respective roles of women and men in society, from the creation of masculine and feminine spaces to the gendered nature of the architectural profession. By looking at both visual evidence and textual sources, we will also uncover how the social construction of gender roles and gendered spaces are—and continue to be—inflected by race, class, and sexuality. (Professor Erin Sassin)

Fall 2013

FYSE 1041 Economics of Social Issues

In this course we will examine current social problems from the perspective of an economist. We will use the tools of economics as a framework for understanding important social issues such as poverty, discrimination, access to health care, crime and drugs, immigration, welfare reform, affordable housing, quality and affordability of childcare, solvency of social security, gun control, divorce, and the environment. 3 hrs. sem.(Jessica Holmes)

FYSE 1108 Chemical and Biological Warfare

The Geneva Protocol of 1925 called for a halt to chemical and biological warfare. Since that time, creation of new technologies and advances in the fields of chemistry, molecular biology, and biochemistry have created the threat for even greater devastation. In this seminar we will examine the development and use of these agents, with attention to their chemical, biochemical, and biological mechanisms. Discussion and readings will focus on specific agents such as anthrax, plague, "super" viruses, and chemical nerve poisons. Texts and readings by Camus, Alibek, Miller, Tucker, and others will trace the creation and use of these weapons from WWI to the present. International efforts to prevent deployment and medical strategies to protect military and civilian personnel will also be considered. (Bob Cluss)

FYSE 1158 Passages from India

In this seminar, we will focus on the literature, politics, and culture of 20th century India. We will discuss writing by Raja Rao, Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Ismat Chughtai, Mahashweta Devi, Arundhati Roy, Salman Rushdie, and others. Drawing on both popular and documentary films, we will explore this literature in the contexts of colonialism, nationalism, class and caste politics, gender, the state, regionalism, religion, notions of development, and globalization. 3 hrs. sem. (Yumna Siddiqi)

FYSE 1212 Mathematics for All   What kinds of mathematical knowledge are necessary for full participation in contemporary democratic society? How well, and how fairly, do our schools educate students in quantitative skills and reasoning? By what measures might we judge success? We will learn about different approaches to mathematics education in light of these questions. Readings will include selections from /Mathematics for Democracy: The Case for Quantitative Literacy/ (L.A. Steen, Editor), as well as recent articles by education researchers. To connect theory and actual practice, students in this class will conduct a service-learning project in a local school. All are welcome, regardless of mathematical background. 3 hrs. sem. (Priscilla Bremser)     

FYSE 1311 Fellini and the Art of Cinema   In this seminar we will examine some of the films of the great Italian director Federico Fellini (/The White Sheik/, /I vitelloni/, /La strada/, /The Nights of Cabiria/, /Il bidone/, /La dolce vita/, /8 ½/, /Amarcord/). We will analyze these films in relation to contemporary Italian society and discuss how the philosophical and ethical questions they present relate to our own reality today. Special attention will be paid to uncovering the artistic underpinnings of Fellini’s cinema through formal analysis of the films. (Tom Van Order)  

FYSE 1396 Digital Media Literacy   From Wikipedia to texting, Facebook to PowerPoint, digital media have dramatically changed how we read, write, and communicate in the 21st century. In this course, we will explore what it means to be “literate” today, considering how we read, research, write, create, and present ideas and information, and how these changes impact our society. We will focus on educational practices, with outreach into local schools to explore how we should teach literacy for the next generation, and prepare students for a 21st century liberal arts education. 3 hrs. sem/lab (Jason Mittell)   

FYSE 1405 Language and Social Justice   In this seminar we will explore questions: What is the relationship between language and power? How does linguistic prejudice contribute to social inequality? Is language a human right, and if so, what are the implications? We will engage with scholarly, journalistic, and artistic works, including writings by Julia Alvarez, James Baldwin, Deborah Cameron, Lisa Delpit, William Labov, Rosina Lippi-Green, Thomas Ricento, Richard Rodriguez, Amy Tan, and many others. Students will develop a range of reading, writing, and oral presentation skills, and will receive frequent feedback on their work throughout the semester. 3 hrs. sem. (Shawna Shapiro) 

FYSE 1409 Circus Maximus   In this seminar we will examine entertainment in ancient Rome, specifically the city's festivals, circuses, and games, including theatrical performances, burlesque, acrobatics, athletics, chariot races, wild-beast fights, and gladiatorial contests. We will explore the infrastructure of entertainment, both the 'infamous performers' associated with sport and spectacle—namely, prostitutes, gladiators, and actors—as well as Rome's most famous venues: the Colosseum and the Circus Maximus. Lastly, we will investigate the emergence of parallel forms of entertainment in the modern world, most notably the American circus in the 19th and 20th centuries, and more recent circuses, such as Bread & Puppet and Cirque du Soleil. (Jessica Evans)