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First-Year Seminars

First-Year Seminars

First-Year Seminars provide students with an intellectual orientation to college learning. They seek to foster intellectual excitement and intellectual engagement with the world; an appreciation of interdisciplinary study; a recognition of learning as a process of assessing and interpreting, not merely accumulating, facts and data; effective communication of arguments with supporting evidence and judgments with reasonable defense; an awareness of the social dimensions and implications of ideas and their applications. 

Certain fundamental intellectual skills are central to First-Year Seminars: reading (an active and engaged approach to texts, broadly defined); writing (a central priority understood broadly as an aid to thinking and practiced in a variety of forms through varied assignments); and speaking (a skill encompassing not only presentations and other formal formats but also informal class discussions that develop capacities to engage in meaningful and intelligent dialogue).

First-Year Seminars are:

  • Four-credit hour, academic courses
  • Required of and limited to first-year students (transfer and nontraditional students with more than 28 credit hours are exempt)
  • Offered fall semester only
  • Small (15-18 students) in order to foster group discussions and engaged learning
  • Led by professors who have selected and researched the special topics for these courses
  • Often interdisciplinary, so that students may explore topics from more than one perspective

Emerging from these core goals and commitments are specific learning outcomes. Each First-Year Seminar is designed to help students improve their ability to: 

  1. Summarize and explain the main ideas of a written text, speech, doctrine, principle or belief. 
  2. Analyze and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of an argument. 
  3. Compare and judge the strengths and weaknesses of two or more sources that address the same topic or argument. 
  4. Develop, focus and organize ideas around a central topic. 
  5. Create, revise and present ideas in both written and spoken forms, and support ideas/claims with appropriate evidence. 
  6. Identify a research question and locate, summarize and evaluate sources to develop a greater understanding or some formal product or performance. 
  7. Make connections between theory and practice, ideas and applications.

Fall 2014 Courses

The New South
Regine Jackson

The term "New South" has many meanings. For some, it represents an attempt to imagine an economic revival after the Civil War. More recently, it has been used to refer to areas of the Southeast that have become more diverse and cosmopolitan over the last several decades. This course focuses on how the image of the New South is created through various texts and discourses as well as how certain spaces have been remade by the people who inhabit them. By concentrating on questions of race and place, we will examine how individuals relate to the spaces they see around them. The goal is to develop a critical understanding of the region, its histories and its global transformation in the post-Civil Rights Movement era as well as to appreciate the meaning of spatial forms created by others. Atlanta, the capital of New South, will be a particular focus.


"Panem et Circenses: The Hunger Games and Roman Spectacle"
Megan Drinkwater

In this seminar, we will read Suzanne Collins' dystopian trilogy and the films based on it as a case study for how classical history and literature can inform our understanding of leadership, contemporary media and the world in which we live. Students will examine the connection Collins makes explicit between her imaginary Panem and Ancient Rome’s panem et circenses (Juvenal, Satire 10.81), “bread and circuses,” as a means of social control from a variety of perspectives. Our particular focus will be on leadership, especially how governments control their citizenry, how citizens resist or overthrow oppressive regimes and what it is like for an average citizen to have leadership thrust upon her.


How Do I Look?: Visual Politics, Personal Identity, Feminist Practices
Katherine Smith
Trip: New York

This seminar, as its title suggests, aims to work (at least) two ways. It implies both agency and objectification, and it requires a consideration of the ways we negotiate, communicate and create identity in visual terms. In this seminar, we will examine our practices of looking as we analyze the ways that contemporary artists use visual images for personal expression and cultural resistance, considering both how we can read their images and how we can (and do) construct our own.

We will examine Womanhouse, a project created by the Feminist Art Program at Cal Arts in the early 1970s, from the perspectives of identity formation and feminist leadership, and we will also study works from Agnes Scott College’s permanent collection to see how later artists, from the 1980s and 1990s, extended identity politics to disparate artistic practices to represent various ethnic, gender and sexual identities.


The Search for Other Worlds
Chris DePree

In the past 15 years, humans have progressed from the first detection of a planet orbiting another star to our current tabulation of over 1,000 such objects. But the idea of other worlds is an old one. When did the questions begin? What techniques have been used to make these discoveries? What prospects do these worlds hold for the presence of other life in the universe? Through lectures and discussion of contemporary science fiction novels and movies, students will explore the search for life in the universe. Classes will also involve use of the Bradley Observatory Delafield Planetarium. Films, novels and popular science writing will represent the starting points for discussions of topics related to the search for life in the universe.


Dramatic Leadership
David Thompson
Trip: New York

As a study of the depiction of leadership in drama and theatre, this seminar will examine plays and performances from both the United States and abroad, covering a variety of cultures and time periods. What prepares a leader to lead? What qualities do we associate with leaders? Is the line between good and bad leadership always obvious? How are leaders envisioned by authors, artists and audiences? From Oedipus Rex to Frost/Nixon, we will examine a sampling of dramatic situations and theatrical approaches. We will look at a range of leaders—princes to presidents, kings to kingpins, tyrants to titans.


Life, Death, and Immortality
Lara Denis

In this course, we will grapple with some of the great existential questions: What is the meaning of life? Is death bad for the one who dies? Is immortality desirable? We will engage with the arguments of contemporary and ancient philosophers—and explore relevant ideas from poets, scientists, religious thinkers and others—as you develop your own answers to these questions. Perspectives on life, death and immortality from Eastern as well as Western traditions will be considered.


Good Chemistry, Bad Chemistry:  Dealing with Environmental Disasters
Leon Venable

Through a series of case studies we will examine several catastrophic events, often with widespread and potentially global, environmental implications. In each non-fiction scenario we will look at the solution to the problem, imperfect in most cases. The course is less about learning technical content, although some is essential to understanding the problems, than about learning how to propose scientifically reasonable questions to address the problem. How does a resource-poor country such as Bangladesh handle the widespread arsenic contamination of its drinking water? How did a country behind the Iron Curtain respond to the Chernobyl nuclear disaster? What was the response of the industrial sector of Japan to the Minimata mercury disaster? How did the teratogen thalidomide make it into the market place in Europe? The goal for the semester is to generate a framework for proposing a solution to a fictitious, but potentially real, natural nuclear disaster.


Writing About Music: Rock, Rap, Country and In-Between
Tracey Laird

It has been said more than once that “music expresses the inexpressible.” So how do you write about it? We will explore music writing from liner notes to music reviews, from critical essays to scholarly analysis of sounds coming from northern Georgia to South Korea. We will examine a wide repertoire of writing styles, develop a vocabulary for describing musical sounds and become articulate about the social contexts and cultural significance of those sounds.


Fashion Matters: the Meaning(s) of Couture from Marie Antoinette to Michelle Obama
Julia Knowlton
Trip: Paris

Why and how does fashion matter? How do questions of form and function influence our basic human need to clothe our nakedness? In this seminar, students will learn how fashion has reflected cultural norms and has challenged the limits of personal identity in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Convention vs. personal liberation will be elucidated through the study of specific fashion elements (such as the corset) and particular icons of style (such as Michelle Obama). Assignments will include readings in literature, film and cultural studies as well as those designed to improve the student's abilities in visual literacy. 


Investigating the American Dreamscape
Toby Emert
Trip: New York (tentative)

Drawing on the themes addressed in a number of contemporary literary texts, including August Wilson's Fences, Tony Kushner's Angels in America, Wendy Wasserstein's The Heidi Chronicles, Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and Bruce Norris’ Clybourne Park, we will examine portrayals of the "American dreamscape." Class discussions will focus on how playwrights, poets, lyricists and visual artists have conceptualized and critiqued the idea of an uniquely American identity, especially how America perceives itself in relation to the world at large. We will also read essays by several cultural critics and virtually visit several fine art museums, viewing the work of artists who seek to represent some aspect of the "American dream" through various media. We will write about the intersections of ideas from artists and critics, analyzing, evaluating, synthesizing and personalizing.


Mindfulness 101
Elizabeth Hackett

To be mindful is to be fully present—present to oneself, to one’s surroundings and to what one is doing. Contemporary scientific research is confirming what practitioners of mindfulness have claimed for millennia: cultivating the habits of mindfulness helps people to de-stress, to focus, to know themselves more fully and to be more empathetic. This class will be an interdisciplinary introduction to mindfulness theory and practice. We will study such things as: the historical roots of mindfulness in various religious traditions (e.g., meditation in Buddhism and centering prayer in Catholicism); contemporary secular manifestations of mindfulness practice (e.g., Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction and yoga classes); the neurological effects of meditation; and the role of mindfulness in effective, ethical leadership. Along the way, we will engage in a variety of practices designed to cultivate mindfulness, such as focused breathing, walking meditation and close listening.


What to do about Disagreement
Harald Thorsrud

When you disagree about important issues with someone you consider intelligent and sincere what should you do? In this course we will consider whether and how our views about facts and values might express more than personal preferences. In particular we will examine disagreements about: 1) whether science reveals the way the physical world really is or not, and 2) whether morality is relative (to cultures or individuals) or not. Then we will consider disagreements regarding: 3) the science, politics, economics and ethics of food. 

One of the goals of this course is to develop some of the dispositions and skills necessary for effective and ethical leadership, namely, the exercise of good judgment, the presentation of convincing reasons to support those judgments and respect for rational disagreement that is consistent with retaining ones convictions. 


Economics Goes to an International Film Festival
David Williams

Economics is about the choices that people, firms, organizations and governments make in the real world. Indeed, economics is everywhere. In the world of film, “reel” life is, not surprisingly, often reflective of “real” life.

In this seminar, we will view, discuss and write about a variety of films through the lens of an economist. Films in this seminar include Charlie Chaplin’s 1936 classic Modern Times, one of Spike Lee’s best films Do The Right Thing, the 2003 German tragicomedy Good Bye Lenin and a beautiful (and one of my favorites) 1999 Chinese film Not One Less. Chosen films will cover economic topics such as the hardships brought on by the Great Depression, social issues and entrepreneurship, the transition from a socialist economic system to a capitalist system in East Germany and the economic gap between urban and rural Chinese populations during a period of rapid economic growth.


Buddhist Journeys: Temple, Text, Image
Anne Beidler

This seminar will explore the notion of the personal journey or pilgrimage as it intersects with the religious tradition of Buddhism and its manifestations in Asia and beyond. Anthropologist Victor Turner has described pilgrimage as “the center out there,” a place far away from home, which nevertheless becomes intensely familiar. The life of the Buddha, by contrast, disassembles that familiarity in order to escape the attachment to this world. In studying selected images of temples, statues, paintings and writings that reflect Buddhism in ancient times and in the contemporary era, we will trace the influence of Buddhist thought within the creative process.