Spring 2021 First-Year Seminars

These First Year Seminars (FYS) will be offered in spring 2021. The purpose of the FYS, regardless of topic, is to help you make the transition to college by deepening your critical reading, writing, and research skills. Your FYS is the foundation upon which you will build the habits of mind that will enable you to participate in the community of inquiry. As you read through your choices, challenge yourself to step outside your comfort zone and explore an intriguing theme or exciting new questions.

1. Genesis to Metropolis: The City in Western Civilization

This course explores concepts of urban centers and their alternatives—rural areas, suburbia—and attitudes towards them and the people who live in them. It will analyze the image of the city from a variety of perspectives (e.g. an artifact of human civilization, a metaphor, a symbol, a mental image) to address how the concept of the city grips Western thought. In particular, the course considers how and why people shape cities and how cities shape people.

Professor: Phil Earenfight, Art & Art History
Time: M,TH 1:30

2. Is American Progress a Myth?

The history of the United States is often taught – and learned – as though the country evolved over time to become among the most just, fair and equitable nations in the world. But what if the US hasn’t progressed in many ways? What if history does not perpetually lead to improvement? In this class, we’ll start with analyzing how the idea of American progress finds expression in a range of historical and contemporary materials – in paintings, cartoons, speeches, and even in a rug that President Barack Obama had woven for his oval office. We’ll read a number of primary sources written by significant figures like Martin Luther King, Jr., Angela Davis, Mother Jones and others. Then we’ll dive into secondary sources – essays written by historians and other scholars – in order to compare historical and present-day conditions as they relate to a number of issues in order to see what, if any, progress has been made. These include economic issues like wages, wealth inequalities and union membership; the civil rights of LGBTQ and Black Americans; and health outcomes and disparities. These secondary sources will include excerpts from the 1619 Project; historical accounts of red-lining, unionizing, and health outcomes; and journalists’ reporting on contemporary segregation and wealth gaps. We’ll finish the class by considering whether or not the idea that the US history is marked by progress, by things getting better for most people, is a myth or a reality or something in between. If it is a myth, what or who does it serve?

Professor: Say Burgin, History
Time: T,TH 10:30

3. The Internet: From Twitter to Zoom

In this course, we will examine how online platforms and the Internet have affected the way we structure our lives—socially, aesthetically, and politically—in the twenty-first century. Specific topics to be covered include the viability of journalism in the digital era, the cultural significance of user-generated content, and the aesthetics of media streaming. In the process of exploring these issues, we will also examine the materiality of both software code and the Internet. How does code work as a language or form of thinking? And how does the Internet get from wherever it originates to our laptops and mobile phones? We will address these questions by analyzing web sites, mobile apps, and a variety of cultural texts (both televisual and literary), while also reviewing recent pieces by scholars of media, communication, technology and law.

Professor: Greg Steirer, English
Time: M,TH 1:30

4. Engaging Denialism:  Critical Thinking and Reading in a Post-Truth Era

Denialism—the phenomenon of denying the validity of scientific, empirical evidence on the basis of an ideological position—has come to characterize a large segment of political discourse in the US.  Although the origins of contemporary denialism can be traced to efforts since the 1950’s by large tobacco companies to obscure the health effects of smoking, denialism has since come to take a major role in the political debates over climate change, and more recently, the public health response to COVID-19.  In this seminar, we will examine some of the reasons why these “post-truth” arguments have come to dominate the public discourse:  the rise of political polarization, a changing media landscape, and cognitive biases in human psychology.  We will also learn and practice strategies for recognizing post-truth arguments and propaganda in public discourse and consider what effective ways to respond to denialism could look like. 

Professor: John Katunich, Writing Program
Time: M,TH 3:00

5. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Migrants in History, Media, and Popular Culture

The history of the modern world is marked but population movement, but reception of people on the move have ranged from open arms to outright rejection. Current debates about migration and refugees crises in North America, Europe, and the Mediterranean are part of a broader historical phenomenon. Perspectives about migrants have changed over time in connection with cultural, economic, and political developments, but there is also a recurrent repertoire of topics and stereotypes which have proven flexible and adaptable. Since the end of World War II, the figure of refugee took shape in countries around the world as a special type of migrant worthy of protection. Displacement and the creation of refugee populations, however, is much older phenomenon, and as a historical construction needs to be understood in context. Why are some migrants worthy of protection while others can be rejected? How have ideas, values, and policies changed over time? This seminar will examine current experiences about the reception of migrants and the changing images of particular migrant groups in broader historical context. We will analyze migration in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Europe in comparison, looking at connections, parallel developments, similarities, and differences. Discussions and writing projects will engage with historical and contemporary sources. Students will contribute to a blog with commentaries about global perceptions of migrants in historical and contemporary perspectives.

Professor: Marcelo J. Borges, History
Time: T, TH 10:30

6. Black Magic: The Contributions and Influence of Artists of the Harlem Renaissance

“There’s someone waiting there who makes it seem like Heaven up in Harlem.” Duke Ellington, Aaron Douglas, “Fats” Waller, Katherine Dunham, Langston Hughes, Ethel Waters, and Paul Robeson--some of the most original artists in American jazz, popular song, dance, and literature were born of the Harlem Renaissance.  In this course, we will examine these prominent figures, their works, and their lasting effects on our American landscape.  Beginning with the Great Migration and the birth of the New Negro, the readings and experiential projects will reflect upon the significance of the movement as it relates to the African American cultural identity and the broader American experience.  So, hop the A Train to go to luscious, delicious, fine Sugar Hill!

Professor: James Martin, Music
Time: M,F 11:30