First-Year Seminar

Seminar Summaries


Office of the Dean of the Faculty

Office of the Dean of the Faculty

2022 Seminar Summaries (fall 2022)

Tuning the Hemispheres: Music and the Brain
Making and listening to music alters the structure of the human brain. Let me say that again, making and listening to music alters the structure of the human brain! Keeping this amazing statement in mind, our seminar will examine connections between the discipline of music and other fields of study through the lens of the mind and brain. We will consider the human musical brain in broad contexts and in specific case studies, and in so doing seek to understand the underlying motivations behind, and functions of, making and listening to music.

From Poetry Into Song
What do Hank Williams, Katy Perry, and Wolfgang Mozart have in common? Have you read or written a poem that you thought would make great song lyrics? Throughout history, song writers have set poetry to music that explores the human condition. Some songs are written specifically for concert settings and are known as Art Songs, while others may be passed down through oral tradition, and still others that fall into a contemporary popular style. We will explore the connections between poetry and music in a variety of styles, from an historical context and through a wide range of composers from Folk to Country, and Pop/Contemporary to Classical Art Songs.

Taking a Walk in a Painting: Velazquez’s Las Meninas
“A princess, a nun, a dwarf, a dog, and an artist walk into a room.” It could be the beginning of a joke, but these are only some of the strange characters in Diego Velázquez’s famous painting, Las Meninas (1656), considered by many the world’s greatest artwork. There is eternally something enigmatic about the painting: What mysterious codes are concealed in the painting’s complicated composition and mathematics? What desires are you possibly harboring, that a semester-long journey will reveal?

Healing Women
This course is a feminist, interdisciplinary exploration of modes of healing employed by women (and others) in different religious and cultural traditions and socio-historical contexts. We will focus on how specific cultural and religious traditions conceptualize gender and gender roles, as well as health and illness. Some of the questions we will investigate are: Who has power and authority to heal? What kinds of powers are accessed? What methods are used to heal trauma? How is individual healing connected to communal transformation? What role does story-telling play in healing? What are the connections between healing and activism?

How Diseases Have Shaped Humanity
Disease impacts everyone’s life. Disease can take the form of something that is communicable, such as SARS-CoV-2, or non-communicable, probably the best known example being cancer. This seminar will begin by exploring the prominent communicable diseases that have had a major influence on human history. Students will then research a noncommunicable disease of their choosing, submit a written report about the disease and educate their peers via a presentation. Discussions of both the communicable and non-communicable diseases will touch on pathology; however, our goal is to understand the social, economic and political implications of disease.

Art as Activism: Past, Present, Tomorrow
Art can challenge our perceptions, reveal uncomfortable truths, and stir us to action. Art matters not only because of its aesthetic appeal, but because it can move viewers and empower communities. This course starts from the premise that the purpose of art from the 18th century to the current day has often been to act as a catalyst for self and social awareness. The class will study how art from the past and present challenges political oppression, cultural marginalization, and social inequity. We will explore the transformational capacity of art to protest injustice and imagine a better world.

Healing Cultures and the Modern World
In the course of the last five centuries, biomedicine gained a predominant space in modern societies as a system to preserve, recover, and provide health. Traditional medicines, however, were not displaced. They rather helped sustain the cultural identity of different communities around the world. The synchronic development of these healing cultures with biomedicine generated new bodily, disease, and therapeutic experiences sometimes integral with, sometimes complementary to, and sometimes in tension with each other. Together we will explore a few of them, including Ayurveda and homeopathy; therapies such as medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and moxabustion; and practitioners, including curanderos.

“A Pirate’s Life for Me”: Pirates, Piracy, and Southwestern University
This seminar will use our own swashbuckling university mascot as a lens through which to study history, literature, art, pop culture, politics and society, economics and business, technology, the environment, and more. We will explore the existence and changing definitions of piracy across time and space, from its ancient roots through the Caribbean Golden Age, to modern activity at sea and online. From Henry Morgan to Long John Silver, Captain Hook, Jack Sparrow, and Napster, who or what makes a pirate, why do they capture our imaginations, and what does it mean to be one in present-day Georgetown, TX?

Understanding Race and Racism
This seminar introduces students to college level critical thinking, reading, and writing through looking at what “race” is from several perspectives: the historical development of the idea of race, scientific racism and the current science of human biological diversity, the contemporary forms of institutional racism and racism as a lived experience both in the US and around the world, and the movements for BlacK life and racial justice that have resurged recently. The course encourages students to bring a critical academic lens to both the world around them (eg. current events/news) and to their own everyday lives.

A Place Called School
Teaching is a cultural activity and often follows a common “instructional script.” We will reflect on our own experiences as students to understand the US public school model by exploring the historical, psychological, and socio-political forces that shape it. The class will then study non-traditional school models such as Montessori, Waldorf, forest, micro, play-based, International Baccalaureate, democratic, expeditionary, and religious-affiliated schools. Students in the class will collaboratively plan and present a play/performance-based science activity to children in a local elementary school.

The Secret Lives of Metaphor
This seminar examines metaphor through a variety of lenses and texts. Although metaphors are typically thought of as decorative bits in poetry or artful prose, scholars from many 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. We will look at and test arguments about metaphor taken from a range of disciplines by applying them to everything from poetry to medical diagnoses.

Walking as Movement: Politics, Pilgrimage, Protest
This course explores walking as a form of political action, protest, and contemplative practice. We will study the history of walking, examine its significance in various cultures, explore its religious and spiritual importance, and analyze how power structures, ideologies, identities, ability and access shape where we can walk, how we can walk, and how we are perceived when we walk. Walking in this course will be framed in ways that are inclusive of race, gender, class, and ability. In this course, walking works as both a metaphor and literal practice that can take different forms for people of different abilities.

Food, Health & the Environment
Many Americans are preoccupied with healthy eating, yet are plagued by food-related health problems. Concurrently, the industrial agriculture we rely on for most of our food production is undermining our precious environment, which in turn further hurts people’s health. In this course, students actively research how unhealthy ingredients found in processed foods affect human health. They also study how industrial agriculture wreaks havoc on ecosystems, and what solutions or alternatives exist.

Running For Your Life!
Modern humans evolved as endurance runners yet physical inactivity accounts for 1 in 10 deaths globally, a rate comparable to that of heart disease. This is due to a mismatch between our prehistoric bodies designed for activity and a modern world that values leisure. Therefore, it is somewhat paradoxical that, while modern humans were designed to run, the number of physically inactive people continues to increase. This seminar will explore this paradox from three perspectives; 1) humans as animals that need physical activity to survive; 2) factors that contribute to the pandemic of physical inactivity; and 3) solutions to this problem.

Fixing Broken Minds?
The prevalence of mental illness increases with each generation. Its negative effects range from staggering economic costs to unparalleled emotional suffering and lost lives – and these effects have been compounded by the global pandemic. Mental health professionals across a wide variety of disciplines devote their careers to battling mental illness through scientific understanding and treatment. In Fixing Broken Minds, we will explore this battle through open-minded inquiry via readings, discussion, and debate. We will contemplate the meaning of mental illness and grapple with the weight of a profession that holds lives in its hands.

Finding Your Roots: Family History
Most of us know very little about who we are or where we come from. This seminar is an introduction to finding you, by starting your family tree, finding lost records, and hearing stories. Family history is exhilarating and rewarding, but it has its dangers and risks. It may not be for the faint-hearted! We will face and overcome setbacks, and tackle special issues for minorities, immigrants, and adoptees. We will learn to respect DNA tests. You are likely to discover forgotten or unknown secrets about you and your family. Who knows what lurks in old records and in your own DNA?

Culture Shock: Understanding our Multicultural World
In this course, we will explore our multicultural world by defining what culture means and how cultural biases influence our decisions. You will also have the opportunity to make connections between the US and other countries, and you will begin to understand external perspectives on global issues. Together, we will question our place in this world, become better global citizens, and start to make a difference in the world in which we live.

Secret History
How do you know what you know and what does it mean you do? What if much of what you “know” is wrong…your life shaped by moments that barely left a trace in History where people struggled to realize private dreams and desires in public counter-hegemonic space(s) and sought to gain control over the material and ideological conditions of their everyday lives. Iykyk. Arabian Assassins, pirate enclaves, the Paris Commune, Dada, tri-racial isolate drop-out communities, Situationists, and “punks”? “Real” (hi)story found in Ginsberg’s “Howl,” 16th C Anabaptists, the Velvet Underground, silent French film serials, Delta blues singers, PE, K-Pop…

Disney Villains and the Concept of Difference
What is difference? How is the U.S. built around difference? What is the role of media in how we understand difference? These are some of the questions that we will consider in this course on Disney villains, the evil antagonists who must be defeated so that good can win. We will also work to understand the relationship between these villains and larger social and cultural systems.

Talkin’ Trash
How much trash do humans produce? Where does it all go? The purpose of this seminar is to help us all think critically about the issues of our mounting refuse, — from the food we eat, insatiable demands for plastic and shiny new gadgets, pets, athletics, and communal gatherings. We will explore practical, ethical, environmental, economic, and social implications of resource scarcity, waste, and stewardship. Let’s go beyond the usual 3R’s - Reading, wRiting, and ‘Rithmetic – to Reduce, Re-use, and Recycle. Let’s talk trash!

September 11, Terrorism, and Response
The shocking event of 9/11 merits attention. Why was the U.S. the target of those attacks? What explains the rise of Al Qaeda, its affiliates like ISIS, and Islamic militancy? How has terrorism in general evolved, particularly with the rise of white nationalist terrorism in the U.S.? How should the US respond to terrorism, whether it originates in another country or from within our own? These are the big questions this seminar will address.

Autobiography in the Age of the Selfie
We live a hyper, self-focused age of constant physical reflection. Gen Zers will take an estimated 25,000 selfies in their lifetime. In this seminar we will take a Paideia approach to thinking about autobiography/memoir as a genre against the backdrop of time, truth, and identity. Students will gain a sophisticated understanding of the multiple ways in which a life story can be told while considering their own agency. Students will write and create their own memoir while exploring how to tell that narrative as well as acquiring the necessary skills for writing and performing research at a university level.

Cancer, Covid, and Health: Fact and Fiction
Does an apple a day keep the doctor away? What is fact and fiction when it comes to human health and medicine? In today’s world, it has become increasingly difficult to discern what is true and what is false about how diseases work and how to effectively prevent or treat them. This seminar will focus on the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) and cancer as examples of two major infectious and non-communicable diseases. In addition to learning about the underlying mechanisms, we will also explore the environmental, social, economic, cultural, and other factors that impact individual and community health outcomes. Together, we will further separate what is fact from fiction when it comes to human health and medicine.