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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.
Courses for fall 2014 will be posted by mid-April. In the interim, please review last year's courses below. 

Fall 2013 Courses

Our Atlanta
James Diedrick
FYS 190-A
MWF 9:30-10:20 

Atlanta—the city and the metropolitan area—is home to the faculty and staff of Agnes Scott College. It is also a new home away from home for the incoming class of 2017, including the students who will join this seminar. Intimately bound up in America’s history, and increasingly important as a global hub, Atlanta is also “ours” in a figurative sense, an epicenter of the highly charged class, race and gender tremors that continue to challenge us in the 21st century. This course will explore the complex history and dynamic present of a city some call “The Center of the New South,” inviting each member of the seminar (including the professor) to become course experts on some aspect of Atlanta, past or present. We will begin by experiencing the energy and rich variety of Atlanta culture, from Hip hop to the High Museum, through field trips and group projects. Using the city as our source, we will also learn to conduct college-level research, share discoveries with others, write in a variety of genres, and publish in a variety of venues (blogs, wikis). In addition to online sources (videos, music, digital archives), we will read four books to better understand our city: E.L. Doctorow’s Civil War novel The March; a collection of journalism by one of Atlanta’s most famous novelists (Margaret Mitchell: Reporter); Strength to Love, selected sermons by Martin Luther King Jr.; and Gary M Pomerantz’s Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn: A Saga of Race and Family. 

Vampires, Monsters and Robots: Images of the Non-Human from the 19th to the 21st Century
Gundolf Graml
FYS 190-B
MWF 9:30-10:20

Undead, non-human, or artificial bodies confront us on an almost daily basis via contemporary TV and film. Vampires threaten to extinguish entire villages, robots run amok and turn against their human engineers, and clones infiltrate and destroy communities. While the more exaggerated versions of these stories remain confined to the realm of entertainment media, similar topics appear in more subtle ways in mainstream media, where issues like cloning and reproductive medicine are routinely connected to images of monstrosity and a declining humanity. 

In this seminar we will read and discuss cultural texts that trace the fears and discourses surrounding non-human figures from 19-century stories and legends to 20th- and 21st-century novels and films. By analyzing and comparing texts from different genres and historical periods, as well as from different national and ethnic communities, we will try to understand how images of the non-human at times expressed fears about the unknown and, at other times, legitimized verbal and physical discrimination and violence against various “outsiders”: women, immigrants, racial others, mentally and physically impaired, AIDS patients, etc. 

Literary works will include E.T.A. Hoffmann’s novella The Sandman, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis. We will watch  and interpret films such as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, Paul Wegener’s The Golem, F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, and Ridley Scott’s The Bladerunner.


Smart Women Think
Carrie Brown
FYS 190-C
T/TH 10:00-11:15 

Do you believe we humans are rational, logical beings who see the world as it really is? Would you be surprised to learn that most of the time, this is not true? In this course, we will draw from psychological science to learn the many ways we are not as smart as we think we are. Together, we will explore why we often have no clue why we act the way we do, choose the things we choose, and think the thoughts we think. This course will encourage you to think about your thinking -- i.e., metacognition. By cultivating your ability to engage in metacognition, you will start to see yourself in a new light and avoid the pitfalls of faulty thinking.

Aesthetic Investigations of the American Dreamscape
Toby Emert
FYS 190-D
T/TH 10:00-11:15 

This course investigates the broad question, “What does it mean to dream in ‘American’?”  Drawing on the themes addressed in a number of contemporary plays, including August Wilson’s Fences, Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, Moises Kaufman’s The Laramie Project, Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles, 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 a uniquely American identity. We will also read essays by a number of 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.

Cloning, Transgenes and Warfare: Biotechnology in Today’s Society
Doug Fantz
FYS 190-E
T/TH 10-11:15

The seminar will introduce students to ethical questions in society originating from application of chemical and biological advances. Topics of discussion will include: reproductive genetics, chemical and biological warfare, the pharmacology of behavior, transgenic organisms, and genomic profiling.

On Friendship: Before and After Social Media
Edmund Goode
FYS 190-F
T/TH 10-11:15

What makes a friend different from a family member? Why are sex and romance so often portrayed as more powerful than friendship in modern society? And how have friendships changed in the age of Twitter, Foursquare, and Instagram, when the average Facebook user has over 140 friends? In this course, we will explore the value and challenges of friendship from a range of perspectives, from ancient philosophers to modern-day feminists, from those who have loved friends to those who have betrayed them. We will examine essays, poetry, letters, short stories, and memoirs, as well as music and film. We will use social media as part of class exercises, survey cross-cultural ideas of friendship, and reflect deeply on our own experiences as friends, frenemies, bffs, and more. 

My Big Fat Seminar: A Biocultural Survey of Obesity
Rachel Hall-Clifford
FYS 190-G
T/TH 10:00-11:15 

The obesity epidemic is a global phenomenon, and for the first time in human history more humans are obese than undernourished. This course will introduce basic principles of nutritional anthropology and social epidemiology through engagement with current research on relevant biological processes and the distribution of obesity across populations. United States food culture, economic history, and agricultural policy will be explored to gain an understanding of the genesis of the obesity epidemic. Cross-cultural perspectives on obesity, health, and body image will be explored and compared to American norms and ideals.

“I Want my Mommy!”: Motherhood and Womanhood in the Italian Renaissance
Yael Manes
FYS 190-H
T/TH 10:00-11:15 

What does it mean to be a mother? What expectations, fears, desires, and beliefs does this term entail? What is the relation between idealized perceptions of motherhood and motherhood as it is performed in everyday life? These are some of the questions that people explored during the Italian Renaissance. In this course, we will inquire into the meanings behind these questions by understanding the historical context in which they were being asked. We will examine Renaissance perceptions of motherhood, family, and gender by considering a wide variety of Renaissance texts and cultural products, such as theatrical plays, medical treatises, household-management books, personal diaries, religious texts, sculptures, and paintings. We will also examine how Renaissance women were expected to function as mothers and consider the various ways in which wives and mothers engaged the patriarchal ideology that surrounded them.

The Bible and Human Rights in Atlanta
Tina Pippin
FYS 190-I
T/TH 10:00-11:15 

This course investigates the historical, social, political, and economic context of the Atlanta area with special emphasis on religious communities (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and theological responses in community organizing, the history of the civil rights movement, human rights education, and gender justice. We will read theoretical works in religious and biblical studies and human rights history with a focus on the city of Atlanta. This course is experience-based (theory-practice learning), and many class sessions will be on-site at various locations in Atlanta.

All About Women on the Verge: Representations of Women in the Films of Pedro Almodóvar
Michael Schlig
FYS 190-J
T 10:00-12:00
TH 10:00-11:15

Pedro Almodóvar, Spain’s best known film maker, has stood the test of time and come to personify the emergence of a revitalized Spanish culture in the wake of thirty-six years of military dictatorship. In fact, many attribute the international prominence of contemporary Spanish cinema to the popularity of films such as “All About My Mother” and “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” beyond the borders of his native country. But while few question the significance of his artistic vision, his works have often aroused strong criticism, in spite of his own claims that he “loves women,” for the questionable treatment of female characters. In addition to viewing the works of Almodóvar and other filmmakers, we will read and discuss the different kinds of texts that have been written about his films (i.e., scholarly journal articles, newspaper reviews and popular opinion) as well as consider more general notions regarding the interpretation of film and the portrayal of women in the arts.

How Do I Look?:  Thinking through Visual Politics and Personal Identity
Katherine Smith
FYS 190-K
T/TH 10:00-11:15

This seminar, as its title suggests, aims to work (at least) two ways. It implies both agency and objectification, and it begs an awareness of the visual environment—its construction and your interpretation—and its relationship to your own manifestations of individual identity. In this seminar, we will examine our practices of looking as we analyze the ways that contemporary artists create 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.

Women and Rock Music
Jason Solomon
FYS 190-L
T/TH 10:00-11:15

Is rock music inherently masculine? While rock has been a male-dominated practice since its inception, the ever-present female voice has persisted within, contributed to, and helped define the style.This course explores the impact that women musicians have had on various musical styles broadly classified as rock music. Following a general orientation around gender studies, this course examines the evolving nature and role of the female voice in rock music and also considers sociopolitical issues that impact women in the field of popular music. We will read articles by rock historians, critics, and musicologists; we will also present and write about the struggles, influence, and reception of women musicians. Throughout the course we will learn musical concepts and terminology in order to analyze and describe the features of important rock songs.

Cryptology and Cryptography: the Mathematics of Making and Breaking Secret Codes
Alan Koch
FYS 190-M
MWF 9:30-10:20

How did Julius Caesar communicate with his generals? How did three British code breakers draw the Americans into World War I? How did America, Britain, and Poland crack Nazi Germany’s “unbreakable” Enigma code? How can today’s financial institutions exchange information without working out a secret code ahead of time? How are online web transactions done in a secure manner? How can a code be designed so that anyone can encode a message but only the recipient can decode it?  How can a message carry a “digital signature” to authenticate its origin? This course will address the mathematics behind both aspects of cryptology: making and breaking secret codes. We will approach the topic through a historical perspective, starting with the Caesar cipher and progressing through affine ciphers, Vigenère squares, and Rivest-Adelman-Shamir “public key” codes, and more.  We will explore vulnerabilities in these ciphers and determine how they can possibly be broken.

Broadway and Beyond
David Thompson
FYS 190-N
T/TH 10-11:15 a.m.
This seminar features an examination of recent significant theatrical productions and the actors, directors, designers and playwrights who bring them to life. Using dramatic texts as a starting point, members of the class will discuss award-winning plays and investigate the nature of the awards themselves. Topics will include trends in theatrical practice, the continued importance of Broadway, and impact of Broadway on theatre outside New York. Students will also view video clips of Broadway musicals, artist interviews and screen adaptations of stage material.

College Lit
Dustin Stewart
FYS 190-O
T/TH 10-11:15 a.m.
What is college for? This is a question about values and objectives. In our first-year seminar we'll read some philosophical defenses of the liberal arts, both classic and contemporary. But our main focus will be on fictional writings that address a different concern: What is college like? This second question is about experiences and perspectives. To consider some answers, we'll read twentieth- and twenty-first-century novels by such writers as Don DeLillo, Donna Tartt, Jeffrey Eugenides, and Zadie Smith. We'll also watch a film or two together. One of our goals will be to think closely about how representations help shape realities. So we'll draw connections between what novels are supposed to do and what college is supposed to do. Both of them promise us narratives of development, after all. But who's developing, and how? The stories we'll examine show college life in all its variety -- its messiness and frustrations along with its glories -- and they portray college life from different points of view. In doing so, these imaginative works extend the process of education by prompting us to look at it in fresh ways. Students will have the flexibility to explore their own questions about college life and literature through individualized research projects.