First-Year Seminar (FP 0003)

Fall 2021

First-Year Seminar fulfills the Seminar in Composition requirement and includes Academic Foundations.  Due to this, additional meetings and activities will occur outside of scheduled class times.  Academic Foundations is designed especially for first-term students as an introduction to the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. Through class work and out-of-class activities, students will gain knowledge of the educational opportunities at the University, the cultural events on and off campus, and an understanding of what it means to be a liberal arts student.

Class Number Day(s) Time Topic
32457 Monday and Wednesday 11:00 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. Writing the Spiritual
11243 Monday and Wednesday 1:00 - 2:15 p.m. Who's Watching Who?
21524 Monday and Wednesday 3:00 - 4:15 p.m.  Capitalism: Do You Buy It?
11243 Tuesday and Thursday 11:00 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. Doctoring the Story
29992 Tuesday and Thursday 1:00 - 2:15 p.m. Rereading Popular Culture
29993 Tuesday and Thursday 2:30 - 3:45 pm Writing the Body
17790 Tuesday and Thursday 4:00 - 5:15 p.m. Fitness, Nutrition, & Wellness
11242 Tuesday 6:00 - 8:30 p.m. On a Quest
11244 Wednesday 6:00 - 8:30 p.m. Rock & Roll as Literature
11390 Thursday 6:00 - 8:30 p.m. Idle Hands: Devil's Workshop?


Writing the Spiritual

In this course, we will examine how the spiritual life—an inner dimension of life that has to do with our relationship with our own selves and/or the divine—is represented in writing while exploring the following inquiries: How do authors write about spiritual experiences/beliefs/questions/doubts that others cannot see? How do they push beyond religious rhetoric to convey their inner lives in language that others can understand? How can you write clearly and creatively about your own faith or skepticism? To investigate these questions and more, we will read critical and personal essays from writers of various religions and write a series of experimental, yet disciplined essays designed to embody spirituality. Writing the Spiritual also includes an introduction to mindfulness meditation, so students should also be prepared to sit for brief periods in silence. This course welcomes students who want to use writing to explore their own inner lives and learn about the inner lives of others.


Who's Watching Who?

From Elizabethan “watchers” to the contemporary NSA, surveillance has been integral to the power dynamic of emerging and established nation states.  It serves as the means for solidifying existing power structures in a state or can lead to the overthrow of powerful governments in revolutionary movements.  It captures our imagination as we entertain real or imagined narratives of intrigue and deceit.  In Who’s Watching Who? we will explore the dynamics of surveillance in nation states to learn about power negotiations between watchers and the watched.  We will read excerpts from works like Stephen Alford’s The Watchers:  A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth, Yasha Levine’s Surveillance Valley and contemporary news articles that document surveillance strategies and their implications on issues ranging from terrorism to Covid-19 pandemic control through contact tracing.  We will watch Black Mirror episodes like Arkangel, read Ciaran Carson poems like Intelligence and read play scripts like Mark Bartlett’s Wild.   We will consider built environments like Bentham’s Panopticon to explore how design and technological tools facilitate historic and contemporary, simple and sophisticated modes of surveillance.  As we read, watch and write we will collectively document and analyze various modes of surveillance as we also interrogate the stories that we tell about it. 


Capitalism: Do You Buy It?

We make choices about what to do with our money every day. Businesses invest millions of dollars every year to gain our money and trust, via advertising and marketing campaigns.  The profits we help generate are then used to make decisions that affect our lives, communities, and planet. How can we be more aware of our role in this process? In this class we will investigate the rhetoric of corporate capitalism through readings, documentaries, and exploration of the ads we see and hear daily. We will also study how activists work to expose and critique the rhetoric of corporate capitalism. Together we will investigate the marketing messages we receive and our responses to them, in order to discover: Why do we buy what we buy?


Doctoring the Story

In “Doctoring the Story” we use the figure of the medical doctor in graphic memoir, fiction, and archival documents to explore themes of transition, medical ethics, individuality, and community. How has the archetype of the troubled doctor been used to explore ethical dilemmas and ambiguity in literature and popular culture? How have physicians themselves told and “doctored” their own stories using creative and journalistic modes of composition? How does the abundance of doctor narratives in popular culture inform how we talk about community and public health at the intersections of gender, sexuality, race, class, and (dis)ability? We will practice interdisciplinary and creative essay writing in response to these questions.


Rereading Popular Culture

This seminar uses contemporary popular culture as its subject matter.  We are all immersed in popular culture, both experiencing it and authoring it.  Through an examination of the history and contexts of popular culture in the United States, we’ll discover how it has been formed into this all-pervasive construct.   We will explore film, television, video games, fashion, food, and other cultural phenomena that tell us a great deal about who we are individually and as a society.  We will also examine the extraordinary impact the digital age is having on our world, even as the Internet and the myriad devices we access it with continue to evolve at a rapid pace.  Through a series of reading and writing assignments, as well as out-of-class explorations, we will develop new lenses and ways of seeing the dynamic world we live in with the aim of becoming more curious, critical, and active participants in culture.


Writing the Body

The story of the body—in art, literature, religion, philosophy—has been notoriously fraught. Whereas the ancients regarded the human form as something to be celebrated, Biblical accounts of creation depict embodiment as the primary source of sin and shame, ever threatening to disrupt the mind and corrupt the soul. In Writing the Body, we'll study the work of writers who use the body to look squarely at the culture and the self—to raise questions, to process trauma, illness, and joy, to explore identity and grief, to celebrate. In the company of personal essayists and poets, students will write both analytically and autobiographically, exploring Ross Gay’s notion that “The body is an instrument of thought.” 


Fitness, Nutrition, & Wellness

Gyms filled with rows of sweaty bodies pedaling on orange bikes at the commands of a headset-clad trainer. Apps that help us quiet our minds and connect with the present moment. Labels that detail the nutrients of every yogurt and frozen pizza we buy, and memoirs recounting the writer's journey to qualify for the Olympics. Regardless of our own relationships to the body and mind, we live in a culture preoccupied with health. But how do we reconcile the benefits of attending to our wellness with the obsessions and confusions that this attention so easily morphs into? In this First-Year Seminar, we'll explore how writers - including students in the course - can engage with our culture of health by addressing issues related to fitness, nutrition, and wellness. Through an intensive series of writing and reading assignments, we'll consider questions such as: How can we write critically and creatively about health and wellness without falling into the traps of cliché and weak thinking? How does our writing on exercise and diet both reveal and influence our assumptions about the body and mind, about culture, and about the individual? How do different modes of "taking care of ourselves" intertwine with expectations of gender, class, and identity, and how can we use writing to investigate these relationships?


On a Quest

Important quests.  Important questions.  What does it mean to go on a quest? What does it mean to question?  From representations of quests in early myths to contemporary TV and films, quests and the questions they raise are seen as a way humans discover, learn, and find out about themselves and the world around them.  In this seminar we’ll read old and modern stories, look at examples from TV and film, including science fiction, and consider what quest narratives in these media are telling us about what was important in their times and in ours.  You’ll write essays which draw on what is read and watched, the questions they raise and consider, and how you think quests are relevant to you and in our contemporary world.  This seminar will be a kind of quest itself, setting goals and asking important questions, and perhaps finding important answers through reading, watching, discussing, and writing.


Rock & Roll as Literature

This course examines the unruly history of Rock & Roll, from its most influential period (1950s-1980s) to its place in today’s musical landscape. We’ll read Rock’s critics and compilers (essays, articles, interviews), watch its most notable documented moments (films), and, yes, listen to and discuss the music. We’ll look at how and why that music intersects with the cultural issues that defined and propelled us into the future and consider the music’s relationship to politics, art, fashion, etc. You’ll be invited to bring your musical interests and research to our weekly discussions and participate in elevating our collective understanding of cultural history and practice.


Idle Hands: Devil’s Workshop?

Most of you are in college with the goal of getting “good” jobs. We all must rise and work, and we expect to work eight hours a day, if not more. But why? The answer isn’t as simple as “That’s the way it is.” Why do we Americans work as hard as we do? What makes a wage “fair”? What makes a job meaningful or menial? Are people right to look down at layabouts? In this first-year seminar, we will discuss your experiences and the roots of your beliefs, and we will dig deeper into the politics and culture of work by reading essays, oral histories, and short stories. You, too, will write essays that argue, explore, and narrate. In your own oral history project, you will interview family members, friends, and strangers about what work means to them.