Following are brief summaries of the 2013 First-Year Seminars.
BORN TO RUN…NO REALLY! YOU WERE BORN TO RUN
Running can be difficult and painful but paradoxically, may be the reason humans became bipedal. In today’s society our ability to move using our legs seems to have become impaired, yet we are built to run. The Tarahumara — a tribe of Native Americans in Mexico — run as much as 60 miles/day while hunting. Where did the disconnect from our most identifiable trait occur? This seminar will consider this conundrum from three perspectives, the evolution of bipedality, “Evolutionary Medicine” with specific attention paid to medical and health implications of physical activity, and the cultural roots of running (and other sports).
CREATIVE WRITING: THE SHORT-SHORT STORY FORM AS SOCIAL COMMENTARY
This creative writing seminar will introduce students to the form called the “Short-Short,” a story of 250 to 500 words. Although sometimes dismissed as too brief for serious storytelling, a carefully constructed short-short can develop characters, plots, settings, themes, and more, all in a single page. In addition, the short-short is also capable of making powerful social statements with great precision. Writing at this micro-level enables students to address technical, structural, and mechanical issues that are sometimes difficult to identify in longer works. Thus, mastering the short-short can provide a writer with skills necessary for attempting standard-length stories and novels.
FROM STONE TABLETS TO YOUTUBE: HOW DID TEXTS SHINE DIFFERENTLY BEFORE DIGITAL SCREENS ILLUMINATED THEM?
Today’s entering first-years were children when the internet was normal, and take such things as texting and eBooks for granted. The purpose of the course is to examine the ways in which forms of text shape ways of understanding the world. We will examine four major groups of text—papyrus, codex, print and digital with particular attention to the three transitions between them. In each case, we will discuss how the world was understood in one format, and how a change in format coincided with a fundamentally different way of seeing the world and our relationship to it.
OH, THE PLACES YOU’LL GO! TRAVEL, TOURISM, AND PUBLIC MEMORY
Travel can be wonderfully exciting, incredibly uncomfortable, and everything in between. Many of us are fascinated with the idea of visiting the places and things we have seen and read about. We will start with that curiosity and then explore a number of different perspectives on travel and tourism and the role it has in shaping public memory. By examining texts associated with travel, we will discover how the travel experience is framed by communication. We will discuss popular travel destinations and places of public memory, as well as destinations in our hometowns, Southwestern, and the greater Georgetown area.
POLITICAL ETHICS: A CONTRADICTION IN TERMS?
This seminar explores the ethical issues posed by the practice of politics in the American system. Should a “good” politician act differently than a “good” person? Do ethical imperatives differ in the public as opposed to the private realm? Is there a difference between useful deception and simple lying? Should a public official ever willfully disobey the law? Should leaders ever use citizens as a means to an otherwise worthy end? Are there some things worth dying for? Killing for? Can a politician be both ethical and powerful?
POP-UP BOOKS: MANIPULATING LIFE THROUGH DISCOVERY AND INGENUITY
Volvelles or wheel charts are devices invented centuries ago to better understand science, medicine and art. Volvelles have moving parts which are constructed of paper and are considered to be a type of an early analog computer. The volvelle is just one type of paper engineering used today in pop-up books. By captivating the reader with interactive spectacle and wonder, the author/illustrator uses two dimensional cut-outs which rotate, slide, lift and move to enrich communication. In addition to spectacle, the type of pop-up selected heightens the experience of the reader. Questions of choice and consequence will be the foundation of this seminar.
ROBOTS IN FACT AND FICTION
What do you think of when you hear the word “robot”? Do you think of a machine that assembles cars, performs surgery on people or a Terminator? We will examine how robots are currently used in a number of different fields and what changes have occurred because of them. We will also explore how robots have been portrayed in literature and on television. Since many of these fictional robots exhibit abilities far beyond those of robots today, we will consider what these characters represent - a simple story telling device or a projection of our hopes/fears – and what this portends for our future.
SEPTEMBER 11, TERRORISM, AND RESPONSE
The shocking event of September 11 merits attention beyond what the media have covered. Why was the U.S. the target of those terrible attacks? Who is Osama bin Laden, and what are the goals, strategies and tactics, and resources of Al Qaeda? What explains the rise of Islamic militancy in the Middle East? Why and how has terrorism become internationalized? How should the U.S. respond to terrorism? These are the major questions we will discuss in this seminar.
TAKING A WALK IN A PAINTING: VELAZQUEZ’ LAS MENINAS
Velasquez’ famous painting Las Meninas (1656)–considered by many “the world’s greatest painting”–has become the battlefield for modern investigators, geometricians, metaphysicians, artist-photographers, semioticians, political and social historians, and lovers of painting. Now, pretend you could shrink yourself and walk into Velasquez’ painting: What would you see there? What would it smell like? What could you feel? What would you ask of the people in the artwork? What exactly does this famous key monument have to offer a person today? What does Velasquez’ Las Meninas actually show?
THE SCIENCE AND ART OF PLAY
Children in all cultures engage in play, using “make-believe” as a tool to explore and mediate their world. The concept of play varies in different cultures and is connected to a culture’s understanding of childhood and whether children are expected to engage in or are protected from adult work. This seminar will investigate play from several perspectives, including the role of play in development and learning, cultural views of play, adult play, and shifts in the role of play in contemporary society. We will explore this topic through readings, observations, and our own play and enactments.
THE SCIENCE AND CULTURE OF CHOCOLATE: DOES CHOCOLATE HAVE A DARK SIDE?
Statistics suggest that nine out of ten people love chocolate…and the tenth one lies. In America, we grew up on the cloyingly sweet and undeniably desirable flavors of Hershey. We drooled over the prospect of visiting Willy Wonka in his chocolate factory. Yet, even Willy Wonka shows a dark side and suggests that chocolate embodies much more than a simple sweet treat. This seminar will challenge students assumptions of chocolate through an examination of its global reach and connection with the liberal arts and sciences.
A Guide to the Genome: Personal Genetics in the 21st Century
Genes are central to each of us: they help determine our physical features, our health, and perhaps even aspects of our personality and intelligence. Advances in technology now create the ability to examine in detail our DNA and provide information about our genetic predisposition to a large number of traits and disorders. Genetics also plays an increasingly important role in many areas of our society, including agriculture, health care, law enforcement, and industry. This First Year Seminar will explore new findings in genetics and what they mean for each of us, including the ethical and social implications of these advances.
Developing intercultural intelligence is essential for today’s global workforce. With this goal in mind, we will explore models for how to connect across cultural divides, including national, ethnic, gender, political, and environmental cultures. We will explore and practice with a basic “text,” the city of Berlin. Berlin has no equal for leaving its imprint on the cultural, social, and political history of the 20th and 21st centuries. Probing the complex meanings of Berlin, especially those produced in the USA, we examine literature, music, political speeches, espionage thrillers, love stories, architecture, memorials, and Wall graffiti – texts of and about Berlin that reflect the city’s multifold metamorphoses, as birthplace of modernity, capital of the Third Reich, divided city of the Cold War, stage for reunification, and now as Germany’s new multicultural capital. You might discover what it means today to say, as John F. Kennedy did in 1963, “Ich bin ein Berliner!”
Bob Dylan’s America(s)
Bob Dylan has been a significant musical, literary, and cultural presence in America since 1962, when he moved from Minnesota to New York City. Over those fifty plus years he has produced more than 50 plus albums, over a thousand songs, a few books, many paintings, and much of the language that ends up everywhere from television programs to legal decisions. His many reinventions—of both himself and his music—are fascinating in their own right as well as telling about the times they reflect and shape. This course will look at both Dylan and America from 1962 to 2013 through musical, literary, cinematic, and socio-economic lenses.
Doctor Who as Social Commentary
Mixed in with the fanciful bow ties, sonic screwdrivers, and magical blue police box of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Doctor Who are complex critiques of contemporary social issues. In this course, we will delve beneath the icons to critically analyze the television show’s social and political commentary on environmental destruction, intergroup and race relations, the human-alien dichotomy, the social consequences of medical technology, gender roles and feminism, obesity, and the in/appropriate use of violence. No prior familiarity with Doctor Who is required.
Doing Good—and Doing It Well: The Philosophy and Practice of Philanthropy
This course serves both as a meditation on giving, and a pragmatic introduction to philanthropic work in the Georgetown community. We will examine various philosophical, theological, and historical approaches to charity in an attempt to answer the following questions: What is the purpose of philanthropy? What/whose needs does it fill? How should we understand the relationship between donors and recipients? How may we judge the effectiveness of philanthropic projects? What are the boundaries of philanthropic action? In addition to our theoretical explorations, the class will solicit grant applications from local organizations and select a finalist to receive a significant grant.
Funky City: New Orleans from Creoles to Katrina
This seminar explores the cultures and histories of a city that is quintessentially American yet unlike any other place in the U.S. The seminar examines the histories of Creole cultures in New Orleans from a variety of perspectives from colonial times onward, focusing on music, masking, and racial dynamics. The events surrounding Hurricane Katrina provide an overall frame of reference for the course. We explore these events and processes through books, articles, and films. Students will learn both what makes New Orleans unique and also what makes its history central to the larger history of the United States.
Gender Myths: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Myths are foundational stories that can explain why the world is the way it is, provide a blueprint for ethical (and unethical) behavior, and offer cognitive tools for negotiating extraordinary circumstances. This class will explore a range of myths from around the world that convey what it means to be a human being in particular cultures through the lenses of gender and sexuality. Some of the guiding questions will be: How many genders are there? How do the concepts of “masculine” and “feminine” vary in different cultures? How do verbal and visual narratives reflect, shape, and respond to cultural evolution?
Global Powers – The Rise and Fall of Empires: Great Britain, the U.S., and China
The sun never set on the vast, powerful British Empire. But now its glory days are long over. Will this be the fate of the U.S.? Did Britain and the U.S. possess something special or unique that brought about their dominance, or could another great power like China (The Middle Kingdom) be the next to rise? Our seminar will examine the nature of these empires, while also comparing how different historians have approached their rise and fall. We will explore this as a field of history while also gaining some perspective with which to examine the present global world order.
How Many God is Too Many?: Multi-Religious Identity in Native American Communities
What would it mean to follow more than one organized religion? Where might conflicts arise? What does that even look like!? The reality for contemporary Native Americans is that many are living a multi-religious life, either blending multiple traditions or practicing two wholly different traditions at the same time. Through an examination of literature, art, music and primary writings, this seminar will look at multi-religious identity and practice in the historical and contemporary, and try to understand how, for some people, it is possible to practice and live religious life beyond the scope of a single tradition.
Just Food/Food Justice
Do you have a ‘foodie’ fascination with delectable dishes? For many of us, thoughts of food evoke pleasurable sensations and memories. You may be eagerly anticipating your next meal even now; but, for some the next meal is a source of concern. More than one in five American children live in a household with food insecurity, which means they lack consistent access to nutritious and adequate amounts of food for a healthy life. In this seminar, we will explore food justice issues and movements and participate in local efforts to nourish those at risk for hunger and malnutrition.
Race and Racism in the “Post-Racial” World
In this seminar, we will review the myth of biological race, learn the biology of human differences, and explore racism and the systems of privilege and oppression it generates. We will pay close attention to how racial privilege and oppression manifest themselves in the 21st century, a time some claim is post-racial. While the seminar will focus primarily on the U.S., we will also consider how race and racism are structured in other parts of the world. The seminar will include a critical examination of how racial privilege and oppression operate in our everyday lives.
What images come to mind when you hear someone say “road trip”? Where did those images come from? What do they mean? How is “hitting the open road” different from and similar to being “stuck in traffic,” going to work? By studying representations of road trips, highway landscapes, traffic, car culture, and “the road” in road movies such as Thelma & Louise, road novels such as Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, and in the popular culture of roadside America, this course explores how cars, the road, and mobility are central to American cultural ideas about identity, freedom, belonging, and citizenship.
SEcret Life of Metaphor
Although metaphors are typically thought of as decorative elements in poetry or artful prose, scholars
across a range of disciplines argue that metaphors are fundamental to how we understand the world
around us. Metaphor—roughly equating or blending two different terms or ideas (e.g., my love is a rose)
—enables us to make connections among things, construct categories or groups, contextualize events,
and frame courses of action. The seminar will look at arguments about metaphor taken from a range of
disciplines. We will consider and test those arguments by putting pressure on them in class discussion
and writing, and by applying them to everything from poetry to political speeches that make key use of
Sex Talk: An FYS with Benefits
From an early age, we’re bombarded with negative messages about sex and are socialized to be ashamed to talk about it. The taboo surrounding sex is unfortunate because the benefits of increased knowledge and communication about sex are many and the costs of not having these discussions can be dire. Although sexuality is a difficult issue to discuss, it is crucial that we do so in order to promote sexual health and responsible behavior. This seminar will start the dialogue by considering the interplay between human sexuality and science, gender, religion, politics, the media, race, culture, and romantic relationships.
Are you “trash aware?” Do you know how much trash an average American generates? and where does
it all go? Is there big money in garbage? We will explore some practical, ethical, and social implications
of resource scarcity, waste and wastefulness, stewardship, and creative re-purposing of materials.
Let’s go beyond the usual 3R’s: Reading, wRiting, and ‘Rithmetic — and meld them into the other 3R’s:
Reduce, Re-use, and Recycle.
The Films of Alfred Hitchcock
The goal of this course will be an introduction to film studies as a discipline through the movies of noted auteur, Alfred Hitchcock. By studying the dominant themes of Hitchcock’s work, the historical context under which his films were written and produced, and the “semiotics” of film structure that embed ideas about gender, race, class, and sexuality within gothic, romantic and comic modes of representation, this course will teach students fundamental aspects of film appreciation, interpretation, and criticism. Films discussed may include The Thirty-Nine Steps (1935), The Lady Vanishes (1938), Suspicion (1941), Lifeboat (1944), Rope (1948), Rear Window (1954), Vertigo (1958), The Birds (1963), and Marnie (1964).
Tuning the Hemispheres: Music and the Brain
What happens in our brain when we listen to music? What parts of the brain are activated? Have humans been adapted for music? Can music make you smarter? What role does music play in the creation of our personal identities? How have our interactions with music changed over time? This course will examine the psychological and physiological effects that music has on the human brain, and consider it in broad contexts and specific case studies. We will consider how, in the age of the Shazam, Pandora and the iPhone we communicate with one-another at an interpersonal level through music.
Understanding France through its Food Culture
In 2010, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) officially classified the “French Gastronomic Meal” as one of humanity’s most important Intangible Cultural Heritages. Why have other cultures long considered the French authorities in the culinary World? Why is France synonymous with luxury and gourmet? Why do the French view their cuisine as a national treasure? What is the relationship of food to culture in a place where food is a privileged cultural medium? To answer these questions, this seminar will explore the gastronomical geography, history, and culture of France. In doing so, we will examine some of France’s most iconic foods; study restaurants and chefs; scrutinize attitudes about planning, cooking, and eating meals; look at food rituals; and much more… and, of course, we will cook and enjoy French food.
Visions and Virgins: Art Mediating Miracles
By looking at miraculous images and the accumulated layers of historical and mythological lore that give them meaning, this course reveals that miracles are much more than what meets the eye. They are critical to the social fabric of communities, both large and small. We will analyze the intersections of art and mystic vision as we look at Byzantine icons, Renaissance paintings, and the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico. In examining how art mediates divine experience, we will seek to understand its power upon the human psyche, and the social roles of miracles and visionaries in different cultures.
“Waiting for Superman:” Educational Reform in America
When John Adams set forth his Thoughts on Government in 1776, he asserted that “Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially of the lower class of people, are so extremely wise and useful, that, to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.” Critics of American public education would argue, however, that the goal of providing equal access to a quality education is a dream unfulfilled, a point that is illustrated in the documentary film “Waiting for Superman.” This seminar will seek to provide students with an opportunity to examine and analyze a number of reform efforts related to equal educational opportunity in America.
Welcome to the Occupation
For a brief time, the Occupy Wall Street movement brought national attention to themes once central to the political left but marginalized in our “neoliberal” era: social inequality, participatory democracy, alternatives to capitalism. Flaring up quickly, the movement seemed to suffer a slow fade out, its concerns vanishing again from the public sphere. What (if anything) happened? What precisely were the concerns and visions that this movement attempted to raise? Do they have any relevance to our times? This seminar looks at the history and theory of this political moment in order to ask, as well, what might come next.
Wheels and Deals: A Survey of Television Game Shows
What is a game show? What is the $64,000 Question? Who is Monty Hall? Would you like the final answers to these and many other questions? Then come on down as we explore the fascinating world of television game shows. We will begin by studying the history of game shows. Then, we will attempt to define the genre by asking questions such as, “Is American Idol a game show?” In addition, we will study optimal strategies of various game shows to determine the best way to win big bucks.
“Where Dreams Come True”: A Cultural Analysis of the World of Disney
How do Disney movies manufacture fantasy, and what do they say about American life? This seminar explores storytelling in Disney films while also examining the politics of race, class, and gender that underlie these narratives. As a class, we will watch several Disney films while reading corresponding folk tales, literary reimaginings, and critical analyses. Our films include Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Cinderella, Pocahontas, and Tangled.