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 2019: FYSB BC1105
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1105 001/01105 T Th 11:40am - 12:55pm
Ll018 Milstein Center
Karen Lewis 3 15/16

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 2019: FYSB BC1107
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1107 001/01998 T Th 11:40am - 12:55pm
119 Milstein Center
Cecelia Lie-Spahn 3 15/16

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 2019: FYSB BC1113
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1113 001/08542 T Th 4:10pm - 5:25pm
119 Milstein Center
Alexander Pittman 3 15/16

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.

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.

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 2019: FYSB BC1189
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1189 001/08318 M W 10:10am - 11:25am
Room TBA
John Pagano 3 16/16

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 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 2019: FYSB BC1199
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1199 001/08733 M W 1:10pm - 2:25pm
111 Milstein Center
Andrew Lynn 3 16/16

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 2019: 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 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 BC1278 Economic Life and Human Character. 3 points.

In a society governed by markets and economic competition, which human traits flourish and which decay? Through an examination of four novels and some classic writings in social theory we seek to understand how modern capitalism builds on an unchanging set of human needs and aspirations, yet reshapes both their expression and the relative importance they possess in individual lives and across social groups.Our readings comprise Dickens, Oliver Twist, Gissing, The Odd Women, William Dean Howells, A Hazard of New Fortunes, Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 and Communist Manifesto, Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Wharton, The House of Mirth. The seminar’s practical goal is to develop your communication, presentation, and expository writing skills.

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.

Spring 2019: FYSB BC1286
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1286 001/01223 M W 1:10pm - 2:25pm
119 Milstein Center
Sonia Pereira 3 16/16
Fall 2019: FYSB BC1286
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1286 001/08328 T Th 11:40am - 12:55pm
Room TBA
Sonia Pereira 3 16/16

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.

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.”

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?

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 2019: FYSB BC1336
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1336 001/02863 T Th 10:10am - 11:25am
119 Milstein Center
Wendy Schor-Haim 3 15/16
Fall 2019: FYSB BC1336
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1336 001/08330 T Th 11:40am - 12:55pm
Room TBA
Wendy Schor-Haim 3 16/16

FYSB BC1337 Feminism & Politics of Anger. 3 points.

Of late, much attention has been given to the political role of feminist anger. However, not all feminist anger is received or interpreted in the same way; not all women have had the same freedom to express or represent anger. This course asks us to think critically about expressions and perceptions of anger. How do race, sexuality, gender identity, class, and ethnicity shape who is perceived as “angry” and whose anger is taken seriously? What other affects circulate and interact with anger: from rage and irritation to wonder and joy? We’ll begin with the figure of the “feminist killjoy,” as theorized by Sara Ahmed and will consider texts by authors including Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, June Jordan, Susan Stryker, and Nella Larsen, alongside manifestos, comics, film, visual art, and zines.

FYSB BC1338 Inventing Childhood. 3 points.

What defines a child? What do children know? How much autonomy can children have: for example, should a two-year old represent herself in court? (This just happened.) Before the nineteenth century, children occupied the status of legal property, owned by their fathers. How, when, and why did we start thinking of children as people in their own right and how did children’s literature participate in that change? In our seminar, we’ll consider these questions and their implications through an interdisciplinary exploration with a particular focus on the literature of childhood. We’ll dip into philosophy, psychology, and law in order to examine some of the classics, such as Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland. We will also make time to consider contemporary issues in our country, such as the migrant children crisis. Authors may include John Locke, the Brothers Grimm, Lewis Carroll, Harriet Jacobs, Freud, and Hillary Rodham.

FYSB BC1339 Buried Past: Object & History. 3 points.

This course takes an object-centered approach to explore the meaning of gender, power, and identity of women in Bronze Age China, whose names are unsurprisingly omitted and lives are unfortunately stereotyped through the patriarchal prism of the written history. Thanks to modern archaeology, we have been afforded the opportunity to see the complexity and richness of the material and ritual life of ancient women long hidden underground. We focus on such a woman named Fu Hao and rediscovery her extraordinary life as a queen, a mother, a high priestess, and a royal military commander of the Late Shang Dynasty (ca. 1300-1045 B.C.E.). Through examining the life histories of the objects buried in her tomb and their interactions with Fu Hao, in life and in death, we delineate and analyze the ways that gender roles, political power, and cultural identity were and are still entangled in women’s life.  

FYSB BC1400 Walking and Looking. 3 points.

Walking and looking are among the most "natural" of human activities. But what really goes on--physiologically, culturally, socially--when we engage in them? And what can we learn if we examine the two practices together, as fundamental parts of how humans explore their world? This course will study how the interacting behaviors of walking and looking have been represented in word and image, from the Bible to Impressionist painters to Hollywood films. Our base texts will be Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit (2000) and On Looking: A Walker's Guide to the Art of Observation by Alexandra Horowitz (2013). 

Spring 2019: FYSB BC1400
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1400 001/01228 T Th 8:40am - 9:55am
113 Milstein Center
William Sharpe 3 16/16

FYSB BC1421 Crossing Borders: Americas. 3 points.

This course cuts across the borders between North, South and Central America and the Caribbean, in a search for the ways in which literature illuminates different aspects of American identity. We see the Americas as active historical and aesthetic agents, acting and interacting with each other. We might even say that modernity, in the sense of freedom from tradition, first developed in the Americas; as a result, the literatures of the Americas are characterized by diversity and innovation from their beginning. We will devote particular attention to the roots of Modernism in North and South America at the end of the 19thcentury, and the development of modernism, post-modernism and post-colonialism in the 20thand early 21stcenturies through the study of key novels, short stories, and poetry from North and South America and the Caribbean. By looking at these works in their historical, political and aesthetic contexts, we can grapple with the multiple formations of American identities. Though class discussions are in English, students are encouraged, to the greatest extent possible, to read the works in the original language. Latinx students are particularly welcome.

FYSB BC1422 Art, AIDS, Activism. 3 points.

This seminar explores the varied ways artists responded to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 90s. As government indifference persisted and deaths soared, artists became radicalized and contemporary art became a vehicle for activism. We will follow different tactics in artwork responding to AIDS including the use of gay desire as a weapon and emblem of the fight for visibility. The work we will view, think about, discuss, and write about is political, often angry, and always tinged with loss. Because AIDS affected marginalized communities, whose histories are still being told, we will examine a range of artists and materials that includes but also moves beyond the gay white male perspective. We will spend time with videos by Juanita Mohammad, visual art by Kia LaBeija, Feliz Gonzalez-Torres, and David Wojnarowicz, plays by Reza Abdoh and Tony Kushner, and the writings of Audre Lorde, Essex Hemphill, and Sarah Schulman. The final project will be an academic/creative hybrid: students will develop and pitch their own activist artwork.

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

Fall 2019: FYSB BC1460
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1460 001/08329 M W 10:10am - 11:25am
Room TBA
Lisa Son 3 16/16

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.

Fall 2019: FYSB BC1465
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1465 001/08319 M W 11:40am - 12:55pm
Room TBA
Ellen Morris 3 16/16

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 2019: FYSB BC1466
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1466 001/07388 M W 10:10am - 11:25am
113 Milstein 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.

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 BC1474 Think Like A Scientist: From Plato to Hawking. 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.

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 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 2019: FYSB BC1572
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1572 001/01543 T Th 4:10pm - 5:25pm
111 Milstein Center
Timea Szell 3 16/16

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.

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.

Spring 2019: FYSB BC1598
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1598 001/01232 T Th 10:10am - 11:25am
113 Milstein Center
Ralph Ghoche 3 16/16

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.

Fall 2019: FYSB BC1599
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1599 001/08333 T Th 4:10pm - 5:25pm
Room TBA
Margaret Vandenburg 3 16/16

FYSB BC1707 Confession. 3 points.

Not offered during 2019-20 academic year.

This seminar explores the notion of "confession" in many manifestations (autobiography, memoir, sacrament/ritual, political/judicial performance, public spectacle/confessional culture) and from a variety of disciplinary perspectives (history, literature, psychoanalysis, theology, cultural studies).  Readings include: Augustine, Confessions; Foucault, History of Sexuality,vol. 1; Ginzberg, The Cheese and the Worms; Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground; Miranda v. Arizona; Gillian Slovo, Red Dust; Jackson, The Politics of Storytelling; Bauer, The Art of the Public Grovel; Cole, The Torture Memos; Asad, Genealogies of Religion; "The Lives of Others" (film; 2006, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarch).

Spring 2019: FYSB BC1707
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1707 001/01233 M W 10:10am - 11:25am
119 Milstein Center
Elizabeth Castelli 3 16/16

FYSB BC1709 Drama, Theatre, and Art. 3 points.

The seminar will explore multiple ways of perceiving the world through drama, theatre, and art. Beginning with classical mythology and Shakespeare, we will focus on 18th - 21st century works that foreground aesthetics and meta-theatricality, individual agency and social change. We will investigate fluid categories such as realism, impressionism, and modernism. Plays by Ruhl, Shakespeare, Wertenbaker/Farquhar, Marber/Pinero, Wilder, Kennedy, and Reza; novel by Woolf; opera by Gluck; film by Kurosawa; musical by Sondheim. Productions, adaptations, films, and museums will provide cross-disciplinary contexts.

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.

Spring 2019: FYSB BC1713
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1713 001/01234 T Th 11:40am - 12:55pm
113 Milstein Center
Sandra Goldmark 3 16/16

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 BC1718 The Woman in the Mirror. 3 points.

This seminar will examine women’s creative self-representation through writing—diaries, letters, poetry, essays, memoirs—the visual arts, and film. We will think about the possibilities each form elicits and excludes, and discuss such issues as self-assertion and self-exposure, creative ambition, social critique and social taboos, femininity and queer identity, the family and motherhood, desire, bodies, and shame. Theoretical writings on gender, female development, creativity, and the self will anchor our analysis of the works we study. Writers, artists, and filmmakers may include Virginia Woolf, Anne Carson, Maggie Nelson, Roxane Gay, Mary Karr, Maxine Hong Kingston, Sheila Heti, Sarah Manguso, Alison Bechdel, Louise Bourgeois, Adrian Piper, Paula Modersohn-Becker, Dee Rees, Greta Gerwig, Agnès Varda, others. 

FYSB BC1719 Short Stories: Big Moments. 3 points.

In this course, we'll read and analyze a range of short stories, most of  which will be stories of initiation: that is, stories in which the protagonist, often young, undergoes some kind of a significant rite of passage--an initiation through crisis or conflict into a new stage of life, into the adult world, or into new ways of thinking about, seeing, experiencing, or understanding the world. We'll focus mainly on American and British writers, but will also read a few stories by writers from Canada, South Africa, and New Zealand. We'll also consider the theme of initiation as it's expressed in at least one other medium--dance, theater, possibly film-- depending on what's on stage locally in the fall. Also, we'll focus a bit, at least initially--as a kind of introduction--on some of the formal properties of short stories. How do they differ from novels? When did the short story form begin to flourish in English? What earlier forms--such as the fable, the exemplum, the folktale--influenced the development of the short story form?

Fall 2019: FYSB BC1719
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1719 001/08326 T Th 10:10am - 11:25am
Room TBA
Aaron Schneider 3 16/16

FYSB BC1721 Fact, Fiction, & Truth. 3 points.

Truth is stranger than fiction,” wrote Mark Twain in 1897, “because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.” In our era of “reality TV” and “fake news,” Twain’s observation gains new relevance and meaning. In this course, we will investigate the complicated relationship between documentary evidence and artistic creativity in twentieth-century literature, theater, poetry, film, and visual art that purports to tell a (mostly) true story. When you tell the truth creatively, blending fact with fiction, is it still the truth? What do authors and artists gain from taking this risk? What do we lose?

Fall 2019: FYSB BC1721
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1721 001/08327 T Th 4:10pm - 5:25pm
Room TBA
Holly Myers 3 16/16

FYSB BC1722 Writing American Lives. 3 points.

This interdisciplinary course explores the problem of representing American experience, one’s own or someone else’s, in the context of a nation-state’s fraught history of self-fashioning. What motivates a person to tell his or her life story, or to investigate someone else’s, and how are these stories bound by both authors and readers to narratives of citizenship, belonging, and/or exclusion? What motivates a writer to share what she shares, and what motivates an audience to demand what it demands from her? What claims about the exemplary or excessive qualities of the life story are made, or are emulated, by the life story’s readers? In addition to critical consideration of biography and memoir in traditional media, your work in this class will include examinations of the fake memoir and the digital overshare; you will also be invited to curate a branded footprint of your own, using tools of new media.

Fall 2019: FYSB BC1722
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1722 001/08311 T Th 2:40pm - 3:55pm
Room TBA
Kristin Carter 3 16/16

FYSB BC1723 Intimate Partnerships. 3 points.

We shall investigate how the concept and practice of intimate partnership has developed from ancient days to the present, with readings from the Bible, classic fairy tales, a Victorian novel, love poetry, a YA novel about a teenage single mother, and a selection of contemporary short stories and novellas. How do these texts account for race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, and gender within the context of love and marriage? We will also explore marriage, commitment, and partnership in film and television.

Fall 2019: FYSB BC1723
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1723 001/08324 M W 1:10pm - 2:25pm
Room TBA
Margaret Ellsberg 3 16/16

FYSB BC1724 Postcolonial Comics. 3 points.

In postcolonial studies, we look at the history, politics, and culture of countries that were once colonized. In literature, this work is done through careful close-reading and paying attention to how the struggle for independence is represented in literary texts, both on an individual and collective level. In this course, we will push the boundaries of the discipline of postcolonial studies and use its methodologies to read about locations and peoples that weren’t formerly (or formally) colonized (for example, Ancient Greece, New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, 20thcentury Iran, and female Jewish immigrants in New York city circa 1910). We’ll also investigate why graphic novels present an appropriate medium for studying postcolonialisms. 

FYSB BC1725 Mystics: Medieval and Modern. 3 points.

This course will compare and contrast medieval and modern mysticism, or aspirations toward the sublime. Through careful examination of literature, art, and music, we will explore how peoples from distinct cultures and time periods engaged in various rhetorical strategies to express their union with God. We will discuss how mystics of all stripes, from Hildegard of Bingen, a twelfth-century German nun, and Rebecca Cox Jackson, a formerly enslaved person in antebellum Philadelphia, to Kazimir Malevich, the founder of Soviet Suprematism, enlisted the written word, bodily gesture, vocalized song, and painted form in their attempts to convey the transcendent. Museum visits are required.

FYSB BC1726 Girl Talk: Language & Femininity. 3 points.

Women are often described as talking differently than men do, of having a different relationship to language than men do. Is this true? If so, how? What are the implications? This seminar explores the relationship between language and femininity in works of literature, psychology, sociolinguistics, anthropology, feminist sociology and philosophy, literary theory, and popular media including film and music. In addition to investigating these questions across disciplines, we consider them in a wide variety of social contexts including 19th century American intellectual circles, Tanzanian beauty pageants, Chicana girl gangs, Bedouin nomadic women’s poetry, Japanese animation, and ancient Greek lyric. Topics include “good girls” and “bad girls,” talking about feelings, silencing and the right to be heard, language and femininity as labor, and the role of language in judgments of feminine beauty in pageants and drag balls.

FYSB BC1727 Periodic Tales of the Elements. 3 points.

What is the “cosmic history” of the atoms that compose our bodies and the world around us?  How do these elements come together to make us us during life’s fleeting journey? What becomes of our atoms after we die? In happy coincidence, 2019 is the 150th anniversary of Dimitri Mendeleev’s publication of an organized chart of the chemical elements, as well as the year of Walt Whitman’s 200th birthday. We will celebrate the Periodic Table with Mendeleev as one of humanity’s great intellectual achievements and sing elemental songs with Whitman on scales minute and enormous, instantaneous and eternal. Readings to include Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table, Oliver Sacks’s Uncle Tungsten, and a selection of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.

FYSB BC1728 Worlds of Science Fiction. 3 points.

Since its beginnings, science fiction has offered places to explore both our dreams and our nightmares. This course will investigate how science fiction writers and filmmakers imagine other worlds as a way of reflecting on our own. Ranging through science fiction past and present, we’ll examine how SF’s most enduring features—time travel, aliens, cyborgs, utopias and dystopias—have enabled writers to explore questions we face in the real world. How might SF help us better understand our relationship to technology, or to nature? What new perspectives can it offer on issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality? Course materials will include readings by such authors as Mary Shelley, H.G. Wells, Ursula Le Guin, Octavia Butler, and Ted Chiang, as well as a number of science fiction films, including Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Denis Villeneuve's Arrival.

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. Examples of games played in First-Year Seminar Reacting classes include: 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. 3 points.

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. Examples of games played in First-Year Seminar Reacting class include: 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.

Spring 2019: FYSB BC1601
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1601 003/01621 T Th 1:10pm - 2:25pm
119 Milstein Center
Kate Glasner 3 18/18
Fall 2019: FYSB BC1601
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
FYSB 1601 002/08313 T Th 2:40pm - 3:55pm
Room TBA
Patricia Stokes 3 16/16
FYSB 1601 003/00155 M W 2:40pm - 3:55pm
Room TBA
Laurie Postlewate 3 18/18
FYSB 1601 004/08315 T Th 4:10pm - 5:25pm
Room TBA
Jennifer Worth 3 18/18