Course Description, Texts, Plenary Sessions, & Faculty for First Year Seminar, 2014

First-Year Seminar Initiative

Ideas That Have Shaped The World

Why do ideas matter? What is the relationship between the individual and community? How can we define human nature? What is Justice? Are there universal moral principles? Or are our actions considered moral according to the moment and place in which we find ourselves? Explore these and other fundamental issues of humanistic inquiry through a series of compelling and influential texts. As a new initiative in Dickinson’s First-Year Seminar Program, faculty members from different disciplines and departments will join with students to read and discuss the work of authors as diverse as Homer, Plato, Augustine, Shakespeare, Labe, Nietzsche, Jefferson, Marx, DuBois, Duras, and Achebe.  The seminar reading list is focussed around the question, “How do the ideas of these authors – all from different cultures and eras -- resonate across time and help us to understand our present experience within a global community?” Furthermore, studying carefully the work of outstanding thinkers, readers, and writers is one of the best ways to learn to read, think, and write well yourself. Because all sections of the course will read the texts simultaneously, conversations will extend beyond the classroom. The seminar also features six plenary lectures by guest speakers and Dickinson faculty on themes and issues central to the readings that students and faculty in all course sections will attend together. As of the fall semester, 2015, 23 faculty from 16 different departments will have taught this course.


Most texts will be read in parts, some will be read in their entirety.

  • Homer, Iliad
  • Thucydides, Peloponesian War
  • Plato, Republic
  • Augustine, City of God
  • Dante, Divine Comedy
  • Shakespeare, The Tempest
  • Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy and Discourse on Method
  • Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols
  • Marx, Early Essays and Communist Manifesto
  • Jefferson, Declaration of Independence
  • DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk
  • Marguerite Duras, The Lover
  • Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart

Plenary Sessions

  • From Myth to History (Homer, Thucydides)
  • Pagans and Christians (Plato, Augustine)
  • The Divine in the World (Dante)
  • The Modern Self (Shakespeare, Descartes)
  • Rebellion and Revolution (Nietzsche, Marx, Jefferson, DuBois)
  • New Histories (Achebe, Duras)

2015 First-Year Seminar Faculty

What Students from the Ideas Seminars have said:

  • "Fantastic and engaging discussions."
  • "Very good learning experience.  Reading materials were well chosen and available on time.  All of them are worth reading.  We discussed a lot in class, which broadened my horizon.  Excellent course."
  • "If you are interested in 'ideas' and willing to read and think critically, take it"!
  • "I'm glad I had the ability to read some things I probably wouldn't have read otherwise."
  • "The course covered a wide and detailed range of information encompassing the evolution of human thought from everywhere, including philosophy, the sciences, mathematics, political theory, and economics...the course as a whole was strongly based in texts and textual analysis...Personally, this was a benefit."
  • "A great professor. In class, the professor's understanding of materials and explanation of them were intellectually fascinating."
  • "It's probably the best FYS."
  • "I appreciated the plenary sessions as it allowed us to hear the views and arguments made by other professors."
  • "This seminar is very applicable to the entire college academic experience. It introduced us to texts that my classmates and I visit and examine through different lenses in other courses."