First-Year Seminar

332G Milbank Hall  
Department Assistant: Marsha Peruo


Every Barnard first-year student is required to take a First-Year Seminar during her first or second semester at Barnard. First-Year Seminars are designed to develop further the essential and prerequisite skills a student brings to Barnard in critical reading and analysis, writing, and effective speaking. First-Year Seminars are intellectually challenging interdisciplinary courses which explore important issues through significant texts ranging across genres and historical periods. Seminars also serve to initiate students into the intellectual community of the college.

Student Learning Outcomes

  1. Students in First-Year Seminars will develop their skills in critical reading and analysis, writing, and effective speaking.
  2. They will assess and use textual evidence in support of oral and written arguments.
  3. Students will explore important issues through significant texts ranging across genres, disciplines, and historical periods.

First-Year Seminars fall into two categories: Special Topics and Reacting to the Past. 

Special Topics seminars reflect the variety of faculty interests and expertise, and thus vary in topic from year to year. They offer students and faculty opportunities to explore topics of interest across disciplinary lines, genres, and historical periods. Use the "Courses" tab above to view the full Special Topics offerings; current semester offerings are indicated with schedule details.

In Reacting to the Past seminars, students participate in role-playing games that enable them to relive important intellectual debates in three separate historical moments. In The Threshold of Democracy: Athens in 403 B.C., studentsdraw on Plato’s Republic as well as excerpts from Thucydides, Xenophon, and other contemporary sources to debate the prospects for Athenian democracy in the wake of the Peloponnesian War. In Confucianism and the Succession Crisis of the Wanli Emperor , students study the Analects of Confucius and apply Confucian thought to issues of governance during the Ming dynasty. The final semester’s final game varies by section. Some sections explore seventeenth-century Massachusetts, drawing on the Bible, Calvin's Institutes, and colonial trial testimony to participate in The Trial of Anne Hutchinson. Other sections draw on texts by Marx, Freud, and Wollstonecraft to explore the contest between women's suffrage advocates and labor activists for the hearts and minds of "Bohemian" Greenwich Village in the spring of 1913.

This program is supervised by the First-Year Seminar Committee:

Directors: Pamela Cobrin (Senior Lecturer in English), Laurie Postlewate (Senior Lecturer in French)

First-Year Class Dean: Rebecca Grabiner

Director of First-Year Writing: Wendy Schor-Haim

Professors: Robert McCaughey (History), Kristina Milnor (Classics), Stephanie Pfirman (Environmental Science)

Associate Professors: Ronald Briggs (Spanish)

Assistant Professor of Professional Practice: Alice Reagan (Theatre)

Instruction in the First-Year Seminar Program is provided by the following regular members of the Barnard College faculty:

Professors: Elizabeth Bernstein (Sociology), André Burgstaller (Economics), Mark Carnes (History), Robert McCaughey (History), Kristina Milnor (Classics), Stephanie Pfirman (Environmental Science), Herb Sloan (History), Jonathan Rieder (Sociology), Herb Sloan (Professor Emeritus), Patricia Stokes (Psychology), Caroline Weber (French), Jennifer Worth (Reacting to the Past)

Associate Professors: Severin Fowles (Anthropology), Elizabeth Hutchinson (Art History), Brian Mailloux (Environmental Science), Lisa Son (Psychology), Claire Ullman (Political Science), 

Assistant Professors: Orlando Bentancor (Spanish), Michael Campbell (Chemistry), Ralph Ghoche (Architecture), Sandra Goldmark (Theatre), Bradley Gorski (Slavic), Ayten Gundogdu (Political Science), Daniel Kato (Political Science), Gale Kenny (Religion), Ellen Morris (Classics), Elliot Paul (Philosophy), Sonia Pereira (Economics), Alice Reagan (Theatre), Aaron Schneider (English), Michelle Smith (Political Science), Claire Ullman (Political Science), Manu Vimalassery (American Studies)

Lecturers and Other Faculty: Maureen Chun (English), Monica Cohen (English), Pamela Cobrin (English), Dennis Dalton, Margaret Ellsberg (English), Katie Glasner (Dance), Andrew Lynn (English), Linn Cary Mehta (English), Barbara Morris (English), John Pagano (English), Stefan Pedatella (English), Laurie Postlewate (French), Jennifer Rosenthal (English), Wendy Schor-Haim (English), Timea Szell (English), Margaret Vandenburg (English)

Courses of Instruction

Every Barnard first-year student is required to take a First-Year Seminar during her first or second semester at Barnard. Transfer students are not required to take First-Year Seminars.

Special Topics

FYSB BC1105 Language and Power. 3 points.

This course will address the relationship between language and power from a philosophical perspective.  We will investigate questions such as: How does language influence the way we think of gender, race, society, and politics?  What are the limits, if any, on free speech? In what ways, if any, can language be used to harm people?  Some topics we will discuss include hate speech, trigger warnings, slurs, dog whistles, propaganda, and silencing. Readings will include philosophical papers and recent op-eds.

Spring 2018: FYSB BC1105
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1105 001/01105 T Th 1:10pm - 2:25pm
306 Milbank Hall
Karen Lewis 3 16/16

FYSB BC1107 Race, Science, and Reproductive Justice. 3 points.

This course is about reproduction -- a biological and social process that is often the target of deep-seated ideas about nation, culture, conflict, and definitions of the “human." Looking at the relationships between reproduction, science, health, and identity formation, we will explore a variety of literary works, films, journalism, public health studies, and policy/legal texts, all of which differently narrate, debate, script, and theorize about reproduction. Questions we will explore include: what is reproduction -- scientifically, culturally, politically, and rhetorically? How do different historical and geopolitical contexts shape our understandings and management of reproduction, from ancient Egyptians who used pebbles as IUDs, to in-vitro fertilization and so-called “DIY” abortions, to population and development projects all over the world? How do long histories of reproductive violence shape modern definitions of reproductive health and justice, and what is the role of recent medical/technological/pharmaceutical developments in (re)configuring radically disparate reproductive experiences? Our conversations will both reveal and challenge the way we understand the reproductive body, the bodies it creates, and the contradictory meanings associated with these processes.

NOTE: Students in this FYS section will be required to participate in a 1-credit "writing lab" that will meet about six times over the course of the semester. The labs will focus on the writing, revision, and critical thinking goals specific to the major assignments in the course. All writing labs will be scheduled at the beginning of the Spring semester, and students will add the 1-credit lab to their course schedule at that time.

Spring 2018: FYSB BC1107
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1107 001/01998 T Th 11:40am - 12:55pm
102 Sulzberger Annex
Cecelia Lie 3 16/16

FYSB BC1113 Feminist Futures. 3 points.

This course develops intersectional approaches to the study of power by surveying forms of speculation in fiction, cinema, music, theater, visual culture, and political discourse. Topics include: feminist utopias and dystopias; afrofuturism and technological approaches to gender; and discourses of population control, reproduction, and predictive policing.

Spring 2018: FYSB BC1113
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1113 001/08542 T Th 5:40pm - 6:55pm
404 Barnard Hall
Alexander Pittman 3 16/16

FYSB BC1114 Hot Stuff. 3 points.

Long before humans walked the earth; before dinosaurs were wiped out; before any sign of sentient life on earth; volcanoes were a feature of our planet. With the power to help create life, as well as wreak devastation and destruction, volcanoes inspire awe and terror in equal measure. This seminar will explore the science behind volcanoes, their impact on the environment and societies, as well as our enduring fascination with them through the lenses of history, arts, mythology and religion. Where and why do volcanoes erupt? How do they affect nature, climate and society? How has our understanding of these amazing natural phenomena evolved over time? Why do people stay in close proximity to volcanoes, despite the dangers? Can we predict when the next catastrophic eruption will occur? Can we harness the power of volcanic activity as alternative energy source? These are some of the many questions that students will seek to answer and will serve as a starting point for our deeper investigation into the subject throughout the semester. Students will study historical texts, case studies, current data and methods of analysis, as well as depictions of volcanoes in art and film. Group discussion, independent study and individual and group presentations. Students will research case studies and present their finding to the class.

Spring 2018: FYSB BC1114
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1114 001/01024 M W 11:40am - 12:55pm
405 Barnard Hall
Sedelia Rodriguez 3 15/16

FYSB BC1138 Free Speech in the Age of Neoliberalism. 3 points.

Despite the fact that free speech is seen a fundamental right and venerated by individuals across the political spectrum, it nonetheless is continually at the heart of social and political debate in the United States. What speech and which speakers are protected and what limits and burdens can be placed on speech are topics of perennial debate. In the United States our concept of free speech rights stems from the language of the First Amendment which has not changed since it was drafted in 1789. Nevertheless, our understanding of the value and meaning or free speech has changed and continues to change depending on social, political, and economic contexts. This course will explore free speech rights and principles within the social contexts that have shaped them in three ways. First, we will explore the development of free speech doctrines and philosophies in U.S. law. Second, it will explore the challenges to and limits on free speech. Third, we will explore how the contemporary social and political era is shaping ideas about free speech and its protection.

Spring 2018: FYSB BC1138
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1138 001/01554 M W 2:40pm - 3:55pm
214 Milbank Hall
John Salyer 3 15/16

FYSB BC1168 Legacy of the Mediterranean I. 3 points.

This course investigates key intellectual moments in the rich literary history that originated in classical Greece and Rome and continues to inspire some of the world's greatest masterpieces. Close readings of works reveal how psychological and ideological paradigms, including the self and civilization, shift over time, while the historical trajectory of the course invites inquiry into the myth of progress at the heart on canonicity. Texts include Euripides, The Bacchae; the Homeric Hymn to Demeter; Homer, Odyssey; Vergil, Aeneid; Dante, Inferno; Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales; Margery Kempe, The Book of Margery Kempe; Shakespeare [selection depends on NYC theatre offerings]; Madame de Lafayette, La Princesse de Cleves.

FYSB BC1170 Legacy of the Mediterranean II. 3 points.

This course investigates key intellectual moments in the rich literary history that originated in classical Greece and Rome and continues to inspire some of the world's greatest masterpieces. Trips to museums and the opera situate the works in an interdisciplinary context available only in New York City. Works include Milton, Paradise Lost; Voltaire, Candide; Puccini, La Bohème [excursion to the Metropolitan Opera]; William Wordsworth (selected poetry); Mary Shelley, Frankenstein; Darwin, Marx, and Freud (selected essays); Joseph Conrad; Heart of Darkness; T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land; Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse; Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead.

Spring 2018: FYSB BC1170
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1170 003/02188 T Th 8:40am - 9:55am
403 Barnard Hall
Aaron Schneider 3 13/16

FYSB BC1189 Enchanted Imagination. 3 points.

 A survey of fantasy works that examines the transformative role of the Imagination in aesthetic and creative experience, challenges accepted boundaries between the imagined and the real, and celebrates Otherness and Magicality in a disenchanted world. Readings will be selected from fairy tales, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest; Romantic poetry by Blake, Coleridge, Keats, and Dickinson; Romantic art by Friedrich, Waterhouse, and Dore; Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Lewis Carroll's Alice books, Tennyson's Idylls of the King, Tolkien's Lord of the Rings; Magical Realist works by Borges, Garcia Marquez, and Allende; Sondheim & Lapine's Into the Woods, Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories.

Fall 2018: FYSB BC1189
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1189 001/04339 M W 10:10am - 11:25am
Room TBA
John Pagano 3 0/16

FYSB BC1196 Modernism in the City. 3 points.

In this course, we explore Modernism in literature, art, architecture, music and dance. How do these different disciplines express the explosive and jarring experiences of twentieth-century life? Primary sources will include the cubist paintings of Pablo Picasso, the poetry of T. S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, and Langston Hughes, Bebop and Boogie Woogie jazz, Igor Stravinsky’s classical music “The Rite of Spring,” International Style architecture, and Alvin Ailey’s dance. Our classwork will be enriched by excursions throughout New York City.

FYSB BC1198 People, Power, and Protest. 3 points.

This class investigates the interplay of collective identity, theories of change, and direct action in social movements. Through the study of primary sources such as letters, poetry, social theater, posters, pamphlets, and oral histories we will examine how personal narratives express identity, the radical imagination, and political strategy. In addition to these works, we will consider scholarship by movement strategists and social scientists to understand how concepts of power shape differences in strategies, tactics, and organizational forms. We will draw our examples from significant U.S. historical movements such as labor and civil rights, as well as from the more recent Occupy, Dreamers, and the Movement for Black Lives.

Spring 2018: FYSB BC1198
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1198 001/01346 M W 1:10pm - 2:25pm
102 Sulzberger Annex
Marnie Brady 3 16/16

FYSB BC1199 Losing Yourself: Absorption in Visual Media. 3 points.

How do we pay attention now: too well, or not well enough? This course aims to clarify the ongoing debate about both the value and the meaning of absorption in visual media. We will begin by comparing contemporary polemics on the decline of attention with writings by a generation of cultural critics writing in Germany in the 1920s and 30s, for whom distraction was both a symptom of and a response to an increasingly commodified culture. Next, we’ll draw on recent theorists to help us consider how three representative works (a painting, a sequence in a video game, and a chapter from a novel) shape the way we attend to them. When we imagine the way we pay attention now, we tend to think of ourselves as not reading, and of the book as a medium in decline. In the second half of the class, we’ll therefore turn our attention to the late eighteenth century, when it was widespread reading that seemed strange and new. Together, we’ll focus on two mixed forms from the period – the epistolary novel and the ballad collection – that helped make reading itself at once troublingly distracting and dangerously absorbing.

Spring 2018: FYSB BC1199
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1199 001/08733 T Th 11:40am - 12:55pm
407 Barnard Hall
Andrew Lynn 3 15/16

FYSB BC1200 Banned: Dangerous Art. 3 points.

In this course we will engage with various forms of artistic production (literary, cinematic, pictorial, musical) that have been banned or censored by religious authority, governmental institutions, or by public opinion. While discussing these primary texts we will investigate who gets to censor art, to what ends, and according to which criteria. Who is protected from tasteless, subversive, or obscene art? How do these categories change with time, and from culture to culture? 

Spring 2018: FYSB BC1200
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1200 001/01586 M W 10:10am - 11:25am
306 Milbank Hall
Karen Santos Da Silva 3 16/16

FYSB BC1216 Revolution: Locke to Luxemburg. 3 points.

Close reading of revolutionary and counterrevolutionary texts from the 18th through the 20th century.  Examination of revolutions as debates among competing points of views, with emphasis on the ways in which the language of revolution is challenged and transformed in the course of these debates.  Readings include: selections from Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War; selections from, Paine, Common Sense and Rights of Man; Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France; Wollstonecraft, Vindication of the Rights of Women; Conrad, The Secret Agent, Lenin, What Is to Be Done?; Luxemburg, "Leninism or Marxism?"; Kollontai, "Women and the Revolution."  Films include "Battleship Potemkin" (S. Eisenstein)  and "Rosa Luxemburg" (M. von Trotta).

Spring 2018: FYSB BC1216
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1216 001/05994 T Th 2:40pm - 3:55pm
405 Barnard Hall
Herbert Sloan 3 5/16

FYSB BC1228 Ethnicity and Social Transformation. 3 points.

Novels, memoirs, films and fieldwork based on the American experience of immigration during the twentieth centure. Readings will include works by Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, Christina Garcia, Julia Alvarez, Fae Ng, Gish Jen, Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, and Malcolm X.

FYSB BC1269 The Americas I. 3 points.

Transcends the traditional and arbitrary distinction that separates North and South American literatures. The Americas emerge not as a passive colonial object but as an active historical and aesthetic agent. Emanating from what might be called the geographical site of modernity, American literature is characterized by unprecedented diversity and innovation. In addition to classic American novels, short stories, and poetry, the multicultural curriculum features genres ranging from creation myths and slave narratives to Gothicism and magic realism. Texts include: Popul Vuh; Shakespeare, The Tempest; Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Anne Bradstreet, and Phillis Wheatley, selected poetry; Madre Marïa de San Josï, Vida; Charles Brockden Brown, Edgar Huntly; Toussaint L'Ouverture, selected letters; Leonora Sansay, Secret History; Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano; William Apess, A Sonof the Forest; Esteban Echeverrïa, "The Slaughterhouse"; Herman Melville, "Benito Cereno.

FYSB BC1270 Americas II. 3 points.

This course transcends traditional distinctions separating Caribbean, North, South, and Central American literatures.  Emanating from what might be called the geographical site of modernity, the Americas generate literary works of unprecedented innovation and diversity, including: José Martí, “Our America”; Machado de Assis, Dom Casmurro; Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes, Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, selected poetry; William Faulkner, "The Bear"; T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land; Pablo Neruda, The Heights of Macchu Picchu;  Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude; Don DeLillo, White Noise; Jhumpa Lahiri, selected stories.

Spring 2018: FYSB BC1270
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1270 002/06904 M W 1:10pm - 2:25pm
405 Barnard Hall
Linn Mehta 3 7/16

FYSB BC1278 Economic Life and Human Character. 3 points.

Governing authority can be defined as the relationship between ruler and ruled in which the framing of issues, the myths and narrative history of the state, and the reasoned elaboration of the government's decision are accepted by the citizens of subjects of the state.  The crisis of authority occurs when this relationship is disrupted.  In this seminar we will examine such crises in Ancient Greece, Renaissance Western Europe, Twentieth Century United State, and post-communist Eastern Europe, through the writings of such authors as Plate, Machiavelli, Milton, Mill, de Tocqueville, King, and Michnik.

FYSB BC1286 Culture, Ethics and Economics. 3 points.

What if humans were only capable of caring for their own interests? What kind of economic world could we expect to find? One in which the common good would be attained by market forces, or one in which many would be left behind? This course uses a diversity of sources to examine the interplay of culture, ethics and economics. The starting point is Adam Smith's work. Economists and policy makers have focused on one side of Adam Smith's work represented by self-regarding behavior and the supremacy of the invisible hand in market functioning. However, Adam Smith also pointed out that one of humans' central emotions is "sympathy", a natural tendency to care about the well-being of others. In light of the recent events as well as research this other side of Adam Smith's work appears now more relevant. We analyze evidence of cooperative versus self-regarding behaviors and its relationship with the economy, human evolution and cultural values in a variety of settings. Readings include works from Adam Smith, Milton Freedman, Charles Dickens, David Rockefeller and Chris Gardner.

FYSB BC1289 Violence and Justice. 3 points.

What is the relationship between violence and justice? Are these mutually exclusive terms or do they at times overlap? Is violent disobedience of law unjustifiable at all times? How about violence used by to draw attention to questions of injustice?  This first year seminar aims to inquire into these challenging questions by studying the theoretical debates on the relationship between violence, politics, and justice (e.g. Sorel, Fanon, Arendt, Zizek), analyzing different conceptions of civil disobedience (e.g. Plato, Thoreau, Marcuse, Rawls, Habermas), looking at examples of political struggles (e.g. civil rights movement, student protests of late 60s, labor movement, anti-colonial struggle, anti-globalization protests, suffragettes), and grappling with the question of how representations of violence affect our judgment about its legitimacy (e.g. Conrad's Secret Agent).

FYSB BC1291 Utopias. 3 points.

In his 1516 work Utopia, Englishman Thomas More created a name for a perfect society from Greek roots meaning either no-place or the good place (eutopia). More's vision of an ideal alternative world reflected his worries about social problems in England as well as the possibilities he imagined in America, which offered a real new world for most Europeans in the early 1500s. More was neither the first nor last person to imagine an alternate world, and this class will examine the ways writers, politicians, social critics, and revolutionaries have constructed eutopias (or good societies) as well as dystopias (bad societies) in fiction and in real life. We will ask how utopian fiction has developed as a distinctive genre, and we will also ask how utopian thought is a product of its particular time. What motivates writers and thinkers to come up with alternative models of society? What has made utopian fiction and science fiction so interesting to so many different kinds of writers? Additionally, what is the relationship between people who have written fictional visions of the future and those people who have tried to create real utopian societies? Can one person's eutopia become another's dystopia? Readings in the class will range from Plato's Republic through modern science fiction and studies of surbubia. Texts include More's Utopia, Columbus's journals, Shakespeare's The Tempest, the Communist Manifesto, Gilman's Herland, and Hopkins's Of One Blood. We will also examine attempts to create utopias, including several American experimental communes from the early 1800s, nationalist racial dystopias such as Nazi Germany, and master-planned communities in the modern United States.

FYSB BC1294 Art, Sex and American Culture. 3 points.

Sex is the ultimate forbidden public topic and yet from the New England Puritans' sermons to Bill Clinton's (in)famous affair, sex has often been publicly staged in dramatic, literary, religious, political, legal and social forums. In this seminar, we will explore how issues of sex and sexuality have insinuated themselves into the formation of American identity. We will examine texts from the seventeenth century to the present with a particular emphasis on the arts, politics and sex. Texts include Puritan sermons, Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, Tennessee Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Suzan-Lori Parks's Venus, photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe, literature from Margaret Sanger's birth control movement, and theoretical works by Michel Foucault, Laura Mulvey and Judith Butler.

Spring 2018: FYSB BC1294
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1294 001/06018 T Th 10:10am - 11:25am
404 Barnard Hall
Pamela Cobrin 3 16/16

FYSB BC1295 Imagining Equality Between the Sexes. 3 points.

What constitutes equality between the sexes? By studying visions of equality between the sexes offered in law, politics, international development, religion, literature,  psychology, anthropology, and the writings of activists, we will explore what such equality must or might look like. Focusing on western authors, we will consider issues such as rights, equality and difference, reproductive roles, violence, and language.  Texts will include  Elizabeth Cady Stanton, A Woman’s Bible; the U.N.’s “Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women”; Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time; Catherine MacKinnon, Only Words; and Rebecca Walker, “Becoming the Third Wave.”

Spring 2018: FYSB BC1295
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1295 001/02886 M W 1:10pm - 2:25pm
227 Milbank Hall
Claire Ullman 3 16/16

FYSB BC1296 The Hudson: America's River. 3 points.

Called "America's River," the Hudson not only runs right behind our campus, but right through American history. Throughout American history the Hudson River has been a complex social and cultural entity, simultaneously a commercial conduit, a historic place at the center of the American Revolution, an industrial resource, and a privileged site for aesthetic experiences and the as birthplace of modern environmentalism. In this course you will explore the Hudson in relationship to the varied historical communities which have made meaning with it, identifying its contributions to discourses of nation and nature, but also race, gender, art and science. Readings will include literary works by Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper as well as essays and poems on subjects from fairies to trees to architecture to railroad travel. Close analysis of works of architecture, landscape design, and the iconic paintings of the Hudson River School will be accompanied by an exploration of the various methods for "reading" these objects and paintings. Visits to Museum collections and to sites along the river will be an important part of the curriculum.

FYSB BC1298 The American Middle Class. 3 points.

The focus on the “middle class” in American politics is not new.  Indeed, the size and (seeming) success of the American middle class has long been treated as a mark of American exceptionalism. Why is the “middle class” so important in American politics? What does its much-reported decline mean? What, for that matter, is the middle class—a subdivision of American income? Personal rank? Status? If the middle class is such an important site of economic, social and political aspiration, why is it also so often a site for scathing criticism and cutting satire about the challenges of modern (suburban) life? What do we think about when we think about the middle class?

Spring 2018: FYSB BC1298
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1298 001/07445 M W 11:40am - 12:55pm
407 Barnard Hall
Michelle Smith 3 15/16

FYSB BC1330 Women and Culture I. 3 points.

This course investigates key intellectual moments in the rich literary history that originated in classical Greece and Rome and continues to inspire some the the world's greatest masterpieces. Close readings of works reveal how psychological and ideological paradigms, including the self and civilization, shift over time, while the historical trajectory of the course invites inquiry into the myth of progress at the heart of canonicity. Texts include: Aeschylus, Oresteia; Hymn to Demeter; Ovid, Metamorphoses; Sei Shonagon, The Pillow Book; Marie de France, Lais; Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales; Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, selected poetry; Shakespeare, As You Like It; Aphra Behn, Oroonoko; and Lady Hyegyong, The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong

FYSB BC1333 Women and Culture II. 3 points.

This course examines constraints on canonicity, especially as they pertain to the portrayal of women in literature and culture. The curriculum explores a diverse range of intellectual and experiential possibilities for women, and it challenges traditional dichotomies--culture/nature, logos/pathos, mind/body--that cast gender as an essential attribute rather than a cultural construction. Readings include Milton, Paradise Lost; The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong; Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman; Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights; Emily Dickinson, selected poetry; Sigmund Freud, selected essays; Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway; Gertrude Stein, Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights; Luisa Valenzuela, selected stories; Yvette Christiansë, Castaway.

FYSB BC1336 Witches. 3 points.

From ancient Greece to "Wicked," the figure of the witch has fascinated and frightened, compelled and repulsed. In this seminar, we'll analyze written and visual texts from Homer to The Brothers Grimm and beyond to develop a deeper understanding of the witch and the anxieties about gender and power that she represents.

Spring 2018: FYSB BC1336
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1336 001/02863 T Th 10:10am - 11:25am
405 Barnard Hall
Wendy Schor-Haim 3 16/16

FYSB BC1455 Literature and Justice. 3 points.

In this seminar, we will examine a series of texts from the Western literary tradition--along with a few seminal works of classic and contemporary cinema--to consider how and why they thematize characters' quests for justice. From the ties of kinship to the bonds of citizenship, from the articulation to the deconstruction of transcendental moral codes, from the traumatic demands of law to the (often equally traumatic) exigencies of revenge, we will explore the many intricacies of "justice" as both an ubiquitous literary topos and an abiding ethical issue. Authors studied will include Aeschylus, Sophocles, Shakespeare, Molière, the Marquis de Sade, Heinrich von Kleist, Franz Kafka, Jean Anouilh, Jean-Paul Sartre, W.H. Auden and Martin Amis. Secondary readings will be drawn primarily from philosophical and psychoanalytic sources, such as G.W.F. Hegel, Heinz Kohut, and Jacques Lacan. Along with filmed adaptations of our primary literary works, we will view and discuss the movies Claude Lanzmann's "Shoah" and Joel Schumacher's "Falling Down.

FYSB BC1457 The Beautiful Sea. 3 points.

Consideration of mostly American texts that--and writers who--share a central engagement with the sea, seafaring and coastal life. Particular attention to the sea as workplace and as escape. Texts include Homer, The Odyssey; the Book of Jonah; St. Brendan, Navigations; Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation; Mather, "Surprising Sea Deliverances"; Franklin, "Maritime Observations"; Dana, Two Years Before the Mast; Melville, Moby-Dick, or The Whale; Thoreau, Cape Cod; Twain, Life on the Mississippi; Chopin, The Awakening; Jewett, The Country of the Pointed Firs; Slocum, Sailing Alone Around the World; Beston, The Outermost House; Carson, Under the Sea Wind; Rich, "Diving into the Wreck"; Casey, Spartina.

FYSB BC1459 Narcissism: Self, Science, and Morality. 3 points.

When do people have what Jane Austen called proper pride, and when are they suffering from the difficult personality problems, the self-love gone wrong, that psychologists refer to as narcissism? What is the difference between healthy self-esteem and the kind of egoism and selfishness that people generally dislike and disapprove of? Is genuine altruism part of human nature? The narcissist appeared in ancient Greek mythology and political philosophy, and has since been depicted in poems, fiction, dramas, and operas, and in philosophical, scientific, psychoanalytic, and social scientific research. Narcissists are familiar targets of everyday moralizing, stock figures of misbehavior in sitcoms, archetypal bad choices for friend or spouse. In the abstract, they are disapproved of; in practice they are often admired, rising to the top of corporate and political hierarchies and winning love from the most desirable people around them.  How? Why? What creates such people? Texts will include Ovid, Echo and Narcissus; Plato, The Republic; Sigmund Freud, On Narcissism; Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene; Otto Kernberg, Factors in the Psychoanalytic Treatment of Narcissism; Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism; and George Eliot, Middlemarch.

FYSB BC1460 Memory. 3 points.

Memory is arguably the most important faculty that we possess. Not surprisingly, memory has been a ubiquitous topic in poetry, science, fiction, and in the media. Ironically, memory's value is perhaps best understood when it ceases to exist. Indeed, it isn't hard to imagine the devastation that comes with memory loss. In this course, we will survey various components of memory, including its role in writing and history, and its existence in various non-human populations. In addition, we will explore the fragility of memory, including distortions, unusual memories, and basic forgetting. Readings will include poems, theoretical essays, scientific articles, and fiction. Assignments will consist of essays, opinion pieces, and creative stories. Students will also participate in a final in-class debate.  Readings will include works from William Blake, James Joyce, Mary Elizabeth Coleridge, Emily Dickinson, Ben Jonson, Mary Carruthers, Francis Yates, Aristotle, William James, Elizabeth Loftus, Spinoza, Luria, J.L. Borges, S. Freud, Oliver Sacks, Truman Capote

FYSB BC1465 On Dreams and Nightmares. 3 points.

In the dead of night it is not uncommon for even the most socially staid of individuals to fly, to ride an elephant at breakneck speed, to visit with the dead, or to expose themselves in public. Ancient Egyptians struggled to understand how and why we dream, as have countless individuals in other times and cultures. Some thinkers, ancient and modern, have dismissed dreams as essentially meaningless byproducts of natural processes. Others have taken dreams seriously as a primary means of access to an ordinarily imperceivable world in which one can commune with spirits and deities and receive from them valuable information about future events or even one's own health. The implications of this belief have led to vigorous theological debates as to whose dreams may be trusted (and, alternatively, whose need to be actively suppressed). From Freud onward, many have felt that dreams offer the key not to other worlds but to the complicated realm of the psyche. Over the course of our semester we'll look at how scientists, philosophers, hypochondriacs, pious pagans and monotheists, opium addicts, psychologists, playwrights, novelists, artists, and film directors have understood dreams and been inspired by them. Authors whose works we'll read include Aristotle, Cicero, Chung Tzu, Freud, Carl Jung, Andre Breton, H.P. Lovecraft, Jorge Borges, Ursula Le Guin, Neil Gaimon, and many others. Special attention will likewise be paid to the phenomenon of lucid dreaming and to the immense influence this practice has had on the creative output of both writers and filmmakers.

Spring 2018: FYSB BC1465
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1465 001/01466 T Th 1:10pm - 2:25pm
227 Milbank Hall
Ellen Morris 3 15/16

FYSB BC1466 Sustainability. 3 points.

Sustainability is being hailed as the solution that is going to link activists, citizens, and corporations to solve the world’s environmental problems.  However, there are many ways to define the term and assess the longterm effects of so-called "sustainable" measures.  In this course, we will examine current and historical writings about human interactions with the environment in order to understand and identify our most profound environmental challenges and the most appropriate responses.  Responding critically to the ideas of the past, we will also ask how our views have changed over time and what it might take to tackle the current large scale environmental issues facing society.  Projects for the course include a critical essay, a political opinion piece, and a survey of environmental attitudes which is informed by the data studied and collected in class.

Spring 2018: FYSB BC1466
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1466 001/07388 M W 11:40am - 12:55pm
308 Diana Center
Brian Mailloux 3 13/16

FYSB BC1467 Activism and Social Change. 3 points.

Frederick Douglass famously stated, ‘if there is no struggle, there is no progress.’ This quote captures the essence of activism, which is the struggle between that which is and that which ought to be.  This course will trace the many ways in which activism has been defined over time, situating them within different historical social movements.  We will also explore contemporary debates about the re-conceptualization of activism in the age of social media and the internet.  Readings include texts from such canonical authors as Plato, Mary Wollstonecraft and Martin Luther King, as well as more contemporary works by Clay Shirky, Malcolm Gladwell and Alissa Quart.   Questions that this class will examine include: what are the different ways in which activism has been defined, practiced and justified?  To what degree do new forms of activism expand on or refute more traditional forms of activism? How do social movements define, shape and challenge activists?  What are some inherent problems within activist groups, and what are some of the challenges facing activists today?

FYSB BC1469 Liberation. 3 points.

Not offered during 2018-19 academic year.

Liberation can be defined as freedom from limits on thought or behavior. More specifically, it can be defined as setting someone (or oneself) free from imprisonment, slavery, or oppression. This seminar examines political, philosophical, aesthetic, and theological traditions and movements for liberation, with an emphasis on collective liberation.

FYSB BC1471 The Body Social. 3 points.

At once material and symbolic, our bodies exist at the intersection of multiple competing discourses (including biomedicine, law, and mass media, among others). In this discussion-based seminar, we will draw upon both sociological and interdisciplinary literatures to consider some of the ways in which the body is constituted by such discourses, and itself serves as the material basis for social and cultural life. Among the key questions we will consider are the following: What is “natural” about the body? How are distinctions made between normal and pathological bodies, and between psychic and somatic experiences?  How do historical and political-economic forces shape the perception and meaning of bodily existence? And finally: how do bodies that are multiply constituted by competing logics of gender, race, and class offer up resistance to these and other categorizations?

FYSB BC1473 Ethical Theories & Practice. 3 points.

This course has two purposes. First, it analyzes the subject of ethics mainly in the writings of major ethical theorists, and also through on line video programs, films, fiction and poetry. Second, we will apply these sources to an event called the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl (IEB). This involves the consideration of assigned "cases" that pose contemporary moral issues of our society. These cases are prepared by the IEB, an organization that operates under the auspices of the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics. The cases for 2017 are on line and discussed throughout the term in the context of six selected ethical theories: Virtue Ethics (starting with Plato and Aristotle); Kantian Ethics; Utilitarianism, Rawlsian Ethics, Feminist Care Ethics and Nonviolent Ethics. The requirements are 3 written essays, selected from these 6 theories, as covered in the course. No final exam. 

FYSB BC1474 How Do We Know What We Know?. 3 points.

This course will examine the “scientific worldview” throughout the history of the Western world. Key questions will include: how do science and philosophy intersect to influence our views of nature?; how does science help us to understand our place in the world and in the universe?; what happens when objective scientific inquiry clashes with political and societal interests?; how does popular opinion affect the way that science is conducted? In attempting to answer these questions, we will reflect on what it means to use what we have learned (from both science and history) to synthesize new viewpoints that can have a positive impact on our future.

Fall 2018: FYSB BC1474
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1474 001/09227 T Th 2:40pm - 3:55pm
Room TBA
Michael Campbell 3 0/16

FYSB BC1475 Texts of Protest in the Americas. 3 points.

This interdisciplinary course examines the rich tradition of progressive protest texts in the Americas. Using a broad definition of “texts of protest”, we focus on the cultural production and consumption of dissent as a site of social critique, using a wide variety of print and visual forms, such as essay, fiction, painting, and film. We examine the historical links between forms of protest, social change, and meanings of literature and visual art, and we explore how various expressions of dissent function as political, ideological, rhetorical, aesthetic, and performative texts within specific cultural contexts.

FYSB BC1546 Shapes and Shadows of Identity. 3 points.

A look at the elusive meaning of "black," "white," and other group identities in the United States and the forms--novel, literary essay, stand-up comedy, ethnography, performance, film, television, magazines, radio, memoir, sermon--through which such identities are depicted. Readings will include: Johnny Otis; Upside you Head; Upsky; Bomb the Suburbs; Nelson George, The Death of Rhythm and Blues; Mary Waters, Black Identities; James McBride, The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother; Ann Douglas, Mongrel Manhattan; selected sermons and speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.

FYSB BC1566 Exploring the Poles. 3 points.

Experience the Arctic and Antarctic from the perspective of the early polar explorers: Nansen, Scott and Amundsen, Shackelton. Study the effect of extreme environmental conditions on expedition planning and implementation. Consider the relative importance of luck and skill in ultimate outcomes. Read classic works and journal accounts, including Nansen's Farthest North, Lansing's Endurance. Explore the dynamics of expeditions and the role of varying environmental conditions through role play. Use a web-based exploration tool to follow varying polar conditions during the expeditions and discuss emerging issues. Course web site:

FYSB BC1572 Animals in Text and Society. 3 points.

Interdisciplinary examination of the intimate and fraught connections between animals and humans in literature, philosophy and culture. We will consider topics such as the historical constructions of species boundaries and of the multiple meanings and uses of animals in human life; animal and human identity; emotions evoked by animals; and conceptualizations of animals as colonized "others." Readings include Aesop, Edward Albee, Angela Carter, John Coetzee, Geoffrey Chaucer, Gustave Flaubert, Jean LeFontaine, Marie de France, Michael Pollan, Ovid, selections from Genesis (in the Hebrew Bible), and Virginia Woolf.

Spring 2018: FYSB BC1572
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1572 001/01543 T Th 4:10pm - 5:25pm
308 Diana Center
Timea Szell 3 16/16

FYSB BC1586 Global Literature: Thinking Latin America: How to Read about Globalization from the Margins. 3 points.

Not offered during 2018-19 academic year.

This course explores how Spanish America emerged as a laboratory of aesthetic, philosophical and political thought by questioning the ideological foundations of western global and technological expansion. In this course we will explore the writings of writers who examined the conditions of possibility of violence of Iberian imperial expansion from the sixteenth century to the present. It will provide a literary and historical genealogy of the modern and postmodern views on nature, ecology, animal and human bodies. We will be especially interested in the analysis of dichotomies that lay the foundations of the Iberian political and scientific views on nature as well as the modern technical administration of human life through interpretative analysis and close readings of texts. We will examine how dichotomies truth/falsity, civilization/barbarism, male/female, raw material/commodities, nature/technology, developed/underdeveloped countries, while taken for granted by the imperial project, were questioned from the periphery. The field of study will range from the 15th to the 20th century, as authors include Bartolomé de Las Casas, Ginés de Sepúlveda, José de Acosta, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Simón Bolivar, Doming Faustino Sarmiento, José Martí, Enrique Dusell, José Enrique Rodó, Domitila Barrios de Chungara, Rigoberta Menchú, Jorge Luis Borges.

FYSB BC1597 Taboo and Transgression. 3 points.

This seminar explores taboo and transgression within a range of mythic, scientific, anthropological, psychoanalytical, feminist, and literary work. Topics include the treatment of the corpse during the Paleolithic, the centrality of the incest taboo in kinship studies, and the equation of secular modernity with the successive breaking of taboos.

Spring 2018: FYSB BC1597
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1597 001/02018 T Th 2:40pm - 3:55pm
227 Milbank Hall
Severin Fowles 3 16/16

FYSB BC1598 Building Utopia. 3 points.

Building Utopia examines the rich tradition of utopian thinking in literature, social philosophy,architecture, and the visual arts. Here, utopia is explored in its modern form: as a call to transform the world through human planning and ingenuity. Aside from an important excursus on Thomas More’s pivotal novel Utopia (1516), the course centers on nineteenth- and twentieth-century thinkers whose often wild and idealistic imaginings profoundly affected the shape of the real world. We’ll read and explore the works of Charles Fourier, Edward Bellamy, the Italian Futurists, and Le Corbusier, among many others.  The purpose of the course is to better understand the role that the utopian imagination has played in the construction of power.

FYSB BC1599 Tipping Points. 3 points.

The printing press helped pave the way for the scientific revolution and the invention of human rights. What will transpire in the digital age of artificial intelligence and globalization? This seminar questions whether intellectual, economic, technological, and ethical tipping points transform what it means to be human. Authors include Locke, Jefferson, Shelley, Freud, Rushdie, Ishiguro, McLuhan, Lyotard, and Offill.

Spring 2018: FYSB BC1599
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1599 001/08546 T Th 4:10pm - 5:25pm
404 Barnard Hall
Margaret Vandenburg 3 16/16

FYSB BC1708 Creativity. 3 points.

Exploring a diverse array of sources from literature, psychology, and philosophy, we will consider questions such as: Can anything general be said about the structure of the creative process? What is the nature of the creative experience, and what significance does it have for finding happiness and meaning in life? Is there really a link between madness and creative genius? Can creativity be measured and explained? Can it be learned and taught? Through a varied series of assignments, students will be expected to think and write clearly, critically – and creatively! – about creativity. Authors include, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Kay Jamison, Plato, Walt Whitman.

FYSB BC1710 Classics Over Time. 3 points.

Artists constantly look to the past to find material to examine, criticize, take up as their own, and make new. We will spend time thinking deeply about five different groups of artists and the work they made in answer to a "classic." We will examine the source material as well as different permutations of the original. We will encounter playwrights, choreographers, filmmakers, visual artists, novelists and poets, and the critics who grappled with sometimes shocking new work woven from old threads. We will read the work of Euripides, Racine, Woolf, Shakespeare, and Auden, among other less well known writers. We will view performances and films by George Balanchine, Martha Graham, The Wooster Group, SITI Company, and Peter Greenaway. Along the way we will constantly ask how formal choices in art create meaning. We will work consistenly on our own viewing discipline, and hone our ability to articulate our thoughts about art in speech and writing. The final project will be an academic/creative hybrid; students will develop and pitch their own contemporary version of The Tempest.

FYSB BC1711 Madness. 3 points.

Why is madness such a pervasive theme in literature, art, film and social theory? Using texts from ancient Greece, nineteenth-century Russia, modern China and post-war America, this seminar explores how madness has been used to define social normalcy, determine gender relations, and investigate the nature of individualism, subjectivity and creativity.

FYSB BC1713 Things and Stuff. 3 points.

How do our material choices shape our cultural and individual narratives? How do the things we make, buy, use, keep, and discard tell stories, impact our environment, and help define who we are? Americans create over 125 million tons of landfill every year, and up to 60%-80% of global greenhouse gas emissions have been traced to household consumption (food, stuff, and transport). With this contemporary reality as our reference point, we will examine how designed and built objects contribute to the human story over time, and how our decisions about “things and stuff” might change our stories moving forward.

FYSB BC1714 Unburied/Undead: Memory, Trauma, and Cultural Imagination. 3 points.

The dead are venerated as loved ones, ancestors, and heritage. But they are also an inconvenient part of life. They have to be buried, memorialized, and incorporated into a broader cycle of life. This course explores how various cultural artifacts and practices negotiate relationships between the living and the dead, and how the dead sometimes willingly, sometimes unwillingly come back to intrude on the life of the living. Beginning with cultural practices of myth and burial this course explores the literature and culture of personal memory and historical trauma up to the present day, including group excursions to the 9/11 memorial, the African Burial Ground Memorial, and Green-Wood Cemetery.

FYSB BC1715 Arts of Adaptation: From Snow White to Sidney White. 3 points.

Can a ballet tell the same story as a Shakespeare tragedy? Do the violent fantasies of a fairytale shape romantic comedy? What does Bollywood have to do with Victorian England? Using as textual anchors Grimms’ Snow White, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, this course will explore poems, paintings, films, musicals, dance, illustration, advertisement and song to consider the accretion of meaning that results when stories cross, historical, cultural, and generic borders.

FYSB BC1716 Small Lives. 3 points.

How do we tell distinctive stories about ordinary lives? What can the details of ‘small lives’ tell us about their larger cultural, historical, and political moment? In this seminar we will analyze representations in literature, journalism, memoir, and documentary and fiction film of lives framed as unremarkable and common; politically and socio-economically marginalized; and geographically and culturally adrift. We will focus on the ways in which the nuances and forms of these representations often blur the lines between fiction and non-fiction; how the textures of these ‘small lives’ are captured in verbal and visual mediums; and how these often isolated lives resonate with the experiences of a greater collective. Works may include Flaubert’s Madame Bovary, Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping, W.G. Sebald’s The Emigrants, and Teju Cole’s Open City; films by Chantal Akerman, Chris Marker, and the Dardenne brothers; and non-fiction by Peter Handke, Lauren Hilgers, Elif Batuman, and Elizabeth Hardwick. 

Fall 2018: FYSB BC1716
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1716 001/04283 T Th 11:40am - 12:55pm
Room TBA
Maureen Chun 3 0/16

Reacting to the Past

In these seminars, students play complex historical role-playing games informed by classic texts. After an initial set-up phase, class sessions are run by students. These seminars are speaking- and writing-intensive, as students pursue their assigned roles' objectives by convincing classmates of their views. Each seminar will work with three of the following four games: 1) The Threshold of Democracy: Athens in 403 B.C. explores a pivotal moment following the defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian War, when democrats sought to restore democracy while critics, including the supporters of Socrates, proposed alternatives. The key text is Plato's Republic. 2) Confucianism and the Succession Crisis of the Wanli Emperor examines a dispute between Confucian purists and pragmatists within the Hanlin Academy, the highest echelon of the Ming bureaucracy, taking Analects of Confucius as the central text. 3) The Trial of Anne Hutchinson revisits a conflict that pitted Puritan dissenter Anne Hutchinson and her supporters against Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop and the orthodox ministers of New England. Students work with testimony from Hutchinson's trial as well as the Bible and other texts. 4) Greenwich Village, 1913: Suffrage, Labor and the New Woman investigates the struggle between radical labor activists and woman suffragists for the hearts and minds of "Bohemians," drawing on foundational works by Marx, Freud, Mary Wollstonecraft, and others.

FYSB BC1601 Reacting to the Past