First Year Programs

Archive of Past FYS Courses

Rhetoric, Totalitarianism and The Hunger GamesLinda GrettonUsing Suzanne Collins’ bestselling trilogy to explore themes of power and resistance in a totalitarian state, this course analyzes how tyrants and their opponents each use persuasion, literary tropes, and symbolism to communicate their beliefs. We employ Aristotle’s Rhetoric and selected writings by Kenneth Burke, Michel Foucault, Gloria Anzaldua and others to introduce notions of cultural borders and Otherness. Expect to develop a broader understanding of how language has been used throughout history as a tool to incite, inspire and instill fear, and appreciate how study of rhetoric continues to be essential for freethinkers today.
Race, Freedom and America's Constitutional CultureDean SmithUsing the story of race in America, this course examines the theory of Popular Constitutionalism, or the idea that citizens working outside the courts shape constitutional law and consider how social movements and political mobilizations give rise to new meanings for and expression of constitutional values. Key moments in the struggle for freedom, civil rights and equality created important junctures in the history of constitutional law and show that a wide range of social actors drive change by participating in America’s unique and dynamic constitutional culture. In the long view of history, it’s not the judges, but the people, who decide what their Constitution means.
How Obesity is Viewed in the U.STony KemerlyThis course examines how we are often unknowingly “surrounded by perfection” as a result of the media’s influence on perspectives of “the perfect body.” We will explore the pervasive influence of the media and its ability to affect our sociological, cultural, and psychological outlook towards the obese, which has led to an obesity-obsessed culture. Discussion, assignments, and readings investigate the complex picture of obesity, science, and the popular media in creating moral agendas, ideological assumptions, and a confused body of knowledge.
Love & Hate in CyberspaceSadie Leder-ElderThis course examines the influence of technology on romantic relationships, specifically how romantic life has been shaped by electronic and/or computer-mediated methods (e.g., e-mail, Facebook, texting). Drawing on theory and research in social and personality psychology, we compare the dynamics which operate in electronically-mediated social relationships and interactions with those that occur when partners are face-to-face. Topics include interpersonal attraction, communication processes, impression formation, and relationship maintenance, as well as negative behaviors like cyber-stalking and cyber-bullying.
Visions of Youth in ChinaJudy DanleyStudents will explore the ideas and struggles youth in China today have been experiencing as they try to identify themselves as a new generation in comparison with the old generation, as China has been going through tremendous economic and social changes after the Open Door policy has been carried out. The course will involve an analysis of some historical events, such as the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, their effects on modern China, as well as the events in modern China, such as the Open Door Policy, the One Child Policy, etc. Literary readings, Chinese films, documentaries, class discussions, presentations, research papers etc. are to be involved in this course. Big question such as “Should China stop or continue its one-child policy”? and “How did Tiananmen Square Event change China’s imagine to the rest of the world? ” will be explored. Four credit hours.
A Missing LinkAllison WalkerWonder why we surround ourselves with stories? We devour a favorite book, our hearts pound watching a scary movie, and we delight in the telling of a good yarn. Our earliest memories revolve around make believe; we create/consume narratives our entire lives. Some say we are “wired” for it, but why? How do stories help us survive? This course examines Literary Darwinism, a theory built upon the concept STEAM (Arts within the framework of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Exploring evolutionary history through the juxtaposition of ancestral heritage and modern dystopic narratives, we’ll build intellectual STEAM, solidifying our place as the storytelling animal and proving why we can’t live without stories.
Living with LuckClinton CorcoranWhat is luck? Can you control whether you have good or bad luck? Is it possible to remove the influence of luck from a person’s life? This course examines the concept of luck: philosophically — how it shapes the human experience, including our understanding of right and wrong, fair and unfair; mathematically — the tools probability theory offers to analyze the role of luck in human affairs; and practically — how luck influences human activities like sports, investing, and business, and how we can use our understanding of luck to be more successful in these, and other, activities.
Science Fiction & PhilosophyMatthew BrophyStimulating understanding and wonder of various philosophical questions, this course investigates fundamental philosophical questions in a colorful way. For instance, venerable Cartesian questions regarding the nature of reality will be explored through the lens of Matrix. Descartes question, “How can we know we’re not dreaming?” will be considered through the recent film Inception. The problem of Other Minds will be illustrated through talking through advanced “Chatterbots” that mimic the Turing Test, while also illustrating Searle’s Chinese Room Argument.
Theories of ComedyClinton CorcoranWhat makes something funny? Is there a serious purpose to comedy? Do the plots of comedies and the structure of jokes share a similar form? This course sets out to answer these questions by exploring both ancient and contemporary theories of comedy. It is designed to have students apply comic theories to classic and contemporary dramas (Aristophanes, Plato, Shakespeare, The Marx Brothers, Colbert, and so on) and to examine the nature of jokes
Speaking of SexAngela Bauer and Sean LarsenThis course traces the influence of scientific, medical and religious texts on society’s binary views of sex and gender. Paying special attention to modern reification of sexuality and gender in a rigidly-fixed binary of male and female, we’ll consider how biologists and Christian intellectuals have spoken about gender and sexuality in various ways through history. The possibility that sex and gender exist on a continuum (ranging from masculine to feminine), and how that might change contemporary language, description, and approaches to non-typical gender and sexual expression, will be examined through student-centered analysis and discussion of primary scientific, medical and religious texts.
China under Mao ZedongPeng DengFocusing on the transformation of Chinese society and culture during the Maoist era, this course surveys the broad social, political and cultural trends between 1949 and 1976, tracing the experiences of individual Chinese citizens during a radical revolution. Combining history and literature, the course aims to shed light on such matters as human feelings and perceptions that are often missing in a traditional history class and is intended to lead students to appreciate the long shadow of the Maoist Revolution on Chinese society and culture today.
The Military History of Middle EarthFrederick SchneidJ.R.R. Tolkien created a world with mythical creatures, languages and histories that paralleled his experience and perceptions of contemporary conflicts and combined with his love of Anglo-Saxon, Old English and Norse legends. This course explores how Tolkien’s experiences in a world war, and living through a second, affected the themes, fictional states, characters’ actions during the wars of the First, Second and Third Ages of Middle Earth. Furthermore, we will examine how Tolkien used the histories and myths of a post-Roman / pre-medieval Europe to develop a complex world and the epic wars fought.
Tyrants, Democrats, DictatorsSamuel WhittHow do political leaders come to power, exercise their will, and establish their historical legacies across different types of societies? This course uses academic research, biographies, and film portrayals of how leaders make difficult decisions, as well as a hands-on simulation of political leadership in response to major crises, to analyze various patterns and techniques of social control and effective leadership. We will address questions such as why good leaders frequently make irrational decisions, why many authoritarians and tyrants are beloved by their citizens, and why heads of democracies in certain situations are more likely than other leaders to start wars.
Fields of DreamsAlixandra YanusThis course considers the history, politics, and economics of stadium construction, especially with reference to the sport of baseball. It examines the evolution of the modern ballpark, considers controversies over public financing of private fields of dreams, and evaluates case studies of several modern facilities. In so doing, the course answers the question, “If you build it, will they come?”
Books that Changed the ClassroomThomas AlbrittonThere are books that have changed the world of education and how things happen in classrooms. Some of them started (or extended from) movements or new schools of thought; others provided insights into student success and/or failure; still, others provided teachers with increasingly effective instructional strategies. None of them left the world of classroom schooling quite the way it had been before that book’s publication. Each became a working point of reference for any future (and ongoing) discussion of education. This course will examine each of these works as a chronicle of the ever-evolving idea of “Education.”
The Music of the Civil Rights MovementDanny FryeThis course uncovers the history, use, and adaptations of popular songs essential to the Civil Rights Movement and discusses the role music played in the lives of those involved in the movement. We’ll gain a greater understanding and appreciation for the relationship that existed between the music and the movement and ways this music developed into current popular genres through historical readings, active listening, a six-part video series, in-class singing and discussions, and final presentations.
Financial Crises: This Time is NOT Different!Peter SummersIn 2008, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s rocked the world economy. This episode was the latest in a string of similar world crises that have occurred for centuries. This course focuses on four types of financial crises and why they are usually “contagious” in various ways; examines why they are more severe than other periods of economic weakness and result in long, painful recoveries; and considers why, prior to many crisis episodes, people were mistakenly convinced that “this time is different.” Finally, we’ll see what lessons have been learned (or not) that could be helpful in avoiding future crises.
The American MusicalMatthew EmersonOne of America’s original art forms, the musical blends acting, singing, and dancing into political and social commentary. This course explores seven of the most influential musicals of the 20th and 21st centuries for their impact on race relations in America, what it meant to be an American in that time, and what these pieces of art say about our society today.
What Not to Wear on Project Runway: Clothing Iconology Through the AgesGay HensleyThis course analyzes clothing styles and images throughout history and helps us to identify the political, economic, religious, and social influences that impacted the development of each look. We’ll learn to see clothing as more than an aesthetic statement: clothing is a clear reflection of society during a particular time. Expect to explore, research, and study fashion icons throughout history, as well as attempt to predict future clothing looks based on the direction society is headed.
The Dark Side: Toxic Personalities in the WorkplaceTjai NielsenThis course will engage students in a lively discussion of various personality and individual difference variables that may be toxic for organizations. Specific topics and related areas include aggression, Machiavellianism, narcissism, personalized power, socio-emotional conflict, political skill, and unethical leadership. These issues will be discussed with respect to individual-, group-, and organizational-level outcomes.There are two primary goals for this course: (1) to expose students to higher-level academic thought; (2) to allow students to consider the role that personality traits, and, more specifically, maladaptive traits, play in individual-, group-, and organizational-level outcomes.
You Chose to do WHAT? Game Theory & Strategic Thinking in ActionAdam Graham-SquireGame theory is the study of strategic decision making, with applications to a variety of fields such as economics, political science, biology and psychology. Technically, game theory is the use of logic and mathematical models to understand the best strategies for each player in competitive situations. In this course we will investigate the origins, basic methods and applications of game theory, as well as investigate the role that game theory plays in our society at large. Though some theory will be involved, much of the learning will be discovered through playing games and discussing the results.
Material GirlsKaren ManessIn the late 1960s the feminist art movement emerged as women artists investigated differences in their practices and that of male artists. Many disregarded the traditionally-accepted art techniques of male-dominated academic practices and opted for materials and forums that better represented their female identities. This course will investigate the significance of techniques, theories, and materials of women artists and develop analytical approaches necessary in critiquing and comprehending the unique properties inherent to these art practices. We will also examine how and why different materials were incorporated into various types of art including, but not limited to, installation, sculpture, performance, video, collage, and quilting.
Blood, Defiance, and Reckless Disregard: Eight Artists Who Changed the WorldScott RaynorAs historian Simon Schama commented “…the power of the greatest art is the power to shake us into revelation and rip us from our default mode of seeing. After an encounter with that force, we do not look at a face, a color, a sky, a body, in quite the same way again.” Can great works of art rewire our senses and cause us to apprehend the world differently? This course looks at eight artists in attempt to answer this question, digging into the formal attributes of their works and gaining an appreciation of the historical / cultural contexts of their lives in order to comprehend the effect art has upon us.
Paparazzi and Propaganda: Spinning the American ImageBenita VanWinkleAmerican Photojournalism was born from two desires: to break news and to sway public opinion. Photographers go to great lengths and risks to obtain images that are shocking and riveting, even to the extent of invading privacy. Governments and organizations use photography to create propaganda and to influence citizens on major issues. These two forms of photography inform and influence us still today. This course will take a deeper look at the history of these photographic genres and how images influence us. We will use photography to explore and generate discussions and develop theories about how we can influence the future with our own images.
Save the Monkeys? The Anthropology & Ethics of Primate ConservationMark TeafordPeople have always been fascinated with their closest living relatives. However, our interactions with them have not always been amicable. In 2008, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that nearly half of the world’s primates were threatened, mainly by habitat loss and hunting. We’ve posed grave difficulties for our closest living relatives. This course will examine human/nonhuman primate interactions through the lenses of history, ecology, anthropology, and ethics – to see what we’ve done, and what we might do, to try and save some endangered species – and to see what obstacles might lay in our way.
Final Girl: American Horror & GenderMatt FianderIn “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film,” Carol J Clover coined the term “The Final Girl” in reference to the lone female character left at the end of a horror film who confronts and bests the killer, surviving to tell the story herself. She is a vision of female defiance against a particularly violent male power. However, she and other elements in horror represent a more complex exploration of gender within the genre. This class examines classic horror and slasher films and considers what they reveal in their depiction of gender and how this reflects societal concerns and complexities around gender roles, sexuality, femininity and masculinity.
Search for Intelligent LifeDavid PitonzoThis course will study the accepted scientific views of Origins, how the Universe, including life itself, came to be. We will determine the likelihood of finding another planet with intelligent life in our galaxy by exploring the factors in the famous Drake Equation. Along the way, we will look at current missions that are helping us answer some of our questions, like the Mars rovers studying the Martian terrain, the Kepler Mission looking for Earth-like planets around other stars, and the SETI Institute, which explores the prevalence of life in the Universe. Finally, we will investigate claims that Earth has been visited by alien life already.
The Beatles & The British Poetic TraditionMatt SchneiderHow have the Beatles, the most successful musical act in history, managed to maintain their hold on the public imagination since they burst onto the scene in the 1960s? What is the source of their power to captivate three generations of fans? This course examines the Beatles epiphenomenon in its historic context and as the product of more than two centuries of Anglo-American literary, musical, and cultural exchange. Tracing the Beatles’ achievement back to the Romantic revolution of the 1790s, this course weaves literary criticism and cultural history together to demonstrate that the secret of the Beatles’ success and appeal lies in their having deep roots in the English poetic tradition.


Dr. Matthew Brophy
Chair of First-Year-Seminars
(336) 841-9656