First-Year Seminar

Seminar Summaries


Office of the Dean of the Faculty



Office of the Dean of the Faculty

2021 Seminar Summaries (fall 2021)

Tuning the Hemispheres: Music and the Brain
Making and listening to music alters the structure of the human brain. This seminar will examine connections between the discipline of music and others such as anatomy-physiology, anthropology, art, biology, chemistry, dance, education, health studies, history, physics, psychology, sociology, and theatre through the lens of mind-brain studies. We will consider the human musical brain in broad contexts and in specific case studies, and in so doing seek to understand the predominant motivations behind and the functions of making and listening to music.

Roadside America
Asphalt and neon. Road trips and freedom. Car crashes and traffic-stop killings. These are all icons of Roadside America, a real-and-imagined place filled with drivers, cars, and roads, and surrounded by landscapes and buildings as well as cultural narratives and ideologies. It is a distinctive kind of social space where drivers use the same public resources for divergent purposes, forming a microcosm for understanding the tensions that are central to identity and culture in the contemporary United States—between mobility and control, roots and routes, home and elsewhere, freedom and cooperation, belonging and exclusion, self and society. What does it mean to live with and within this world, and what does it mean to study it?

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. We will explore the connections between poetry and music in a variety of styles, from an historical context and by a wide range of composers from Folk, to Country and Pop to Classical Art Songs.

Does Chocolate Have a Dark Side? Science and Culture of Chocolate
Nearly everyone loves some kind of chocolate. Chocolate’s use reaches back centuries, yet emerges routinely in our social lives, our environmental concerns, our health applications and our aesthetic experiences. This seminar uses chocolate as a context for finding connections among multiple disciplines including biology, chemistry, history, psychology, art, business and anthropology among others. Additionally, the seminar challenges assumptions of students about what “chocolate” really means. Students learn to critically evaluate the sources of chocolate and discuss texts that shed light on past applications and controversies surrounding chocolate.

Race, Violence, and the State
Why has the United States witnessed so much state sanctioned racialized violence? What are the connections between the racialized violence of the past and present? How is the state complicit in these processes? What does recent research teach us about how to minimize such violence? This seminar will engage these questions by taking an interdisciplinary approach borrowing materials from the fields of rhetoric, history, psychology, sociology, and law. By the end of the seminar, students will be able to make critical connections between what happened during the previous two centuries, what’s happening now, and a possible reimagined future.

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 Velazquez’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 seminar is a feminist, interdisciplinary exploration of religious modes of healing employed by women in different religious traditions in various parts of the world. 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: What kinds of powers are accessed to perform healing rituals? How are healing arts transmitted? Why are women seen as important healers in particular cultures? What is the role of medical science in religious healing? What methods are used to heal trauma?

Art and Activism
How do artists and designers instigate change and draw attention to injustice? From graphic posters to public performances, Art and Activism explores the merging of art, politics, and protest. In this seminar, students will delve into creative and artistic forms of activism and discover the signs and symbols that have become indicators of movements within popular culture.

Alternative Medicines?: Healing Cultures and the Modern World
This seminar examines healing cultures from different regions of the world through the perspective of multiple disciplines. As scientific medicine slowly became part of modern societies during the last five centuries, traditional knowledges consolidated the cultural identity of different communities around the world. The synchronic development of these healing cultures generated new healing experiences sometimes integral with, sometimes complementary to, and sometimes in tension with each other. Together we will explore some healing systems, including Ayurveda and homeopathy; therapies such as medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and moxibustion; practitioners, including curanderos and mesmerists; and the ways societies perceive, value, and regulate them.

Going to the Dogs
Humans and dogs have lived together for 30,000 years. We shaped each other in interesting, significant ways. One could argue that we would not be here without each other. Examining this interspecies relationship is a wonderful entry point for thinking about an interdisciplinary, liberal arts education. To know how two species figured out life together, in ways beneficial to both, opens a window into the myriad ways of knowing central to a liberal education. This course examines history, science, religion, environment, comparative psychology, art, media, and more. It also involves real dogs, another species to whom we are intimately connected.

Seeing the Water: Understanding the 21st Century
The last century was a period of rapid, large-scale change, and not only in terms of technology. This seminar will look at several central developments of the 20th century that we tend to ignore, but that, together, have created the world we now inhabit: the birth and growth of marketing and consumerism, public relations and propaganda. Each of these are deeply connected to another central dynamic: group identity and its racialized history.

“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 seminar encourages students to bring a critical academic lens to both the world around them (eg. current events/news) and to their own everyday lives.

Walking as Movement: Politics, Pilgrimage, Protest
This seminar 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 seminar will be framed in ways that are inclusive of race, gender, class, and ability. In this seminar, walking works as both a metaphor and literal practice that can take different forms for people of different abilities. We can walk with wheels and we walk through our worlds in many different ways.

Reimagining the Scientist
Quick! Name a scientist. Who did you name? The purpose of this seminar is to help us all think more broadly about who we might name as scientists. We will examine some of the barriers that many face when entering the scientific community, why these barriers exist, and ways to overcome them. Along the way, we will seek to understand our own scientific identities and explore ways to improve diversity, inclusion, belonging, and equity in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

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, 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 continues to increase with each generation. Its negative impact ranges from staggering economic costs to unparalleled emotional suffering and lost lives. In the face of this we have the field of mental health — a loosely defined field made up of numerous disciplines all attempting to battle mental illness predominantly by treating it at the individual level. This seminar 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.

Roots and Branches: Finding Your Family History
This seminar is an adventure of discovery, looking for new information on your oldest relationships. This is an introduction to learning how to do family history, including beginning to organize your family tree, find lost records, and gather family stories. As a class we will face and overcome research setbacks, and face some of the tough issues such as special research challenges for ethnicities, immigrants, adoptees and the power of DNA research. Your privacy will be secure, but this seminar will be a challenging trek into unknown territory, which will also give you formidable research skills.

Sharing Holy Land
Our seminar will be a study and discussion about sacred space within the context of Israel and Palestine. We will begin with the perspective of ordinary people, through three films, then through an overview of recent history. We will discuss how people share sacred space, both in our own world and in the Middle East. Finally, students will study a particular site of their own choice, and discuss who shares it, how they do so, and why. The overall theme is to begin with the idea that people should coexist (as the bumper sticker says) and ask, how?

The Social Networks: The Role of Connected Networks in Society
We are all part of different networks: networks of family members and friends, sports leagues, online networks, and so much more. As a class, we will consider how networks have been used to propel innovations in science, art, and languages. We will examine how “connected-ness” has grown and also been restricted through changes in technology, policy, and the pandemic. Finally, we will examine the advantages and potential challenges in a more connected world.

Secret History
How do you “know” what you “know” and what does it mean you do? What if everything you “know” is wrong…your life profoundly 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. So what matters are Arabian Assassins, Mediterranean pirate enclaves, the Paris Commune, Dada, tri-racial isolate drop-out communities, Situationists, and “punks”? “Real” (hi)story found in Ginsberg’s “Howl,” 16th century Anabaptists, the Velvet Underground, silent French movie serials, Delta blues singers, Chance the Rapper or Lizzo…

Wake Up! The Science, History and Culture of Coffee
In this seminar, we will explore all things related to coffee, from the cultivation of the bean to how the product ends up in our cups. In efforts to understand the caffeinated culture in which we live, our readings, classroom discussions, and writing activities will cross all disciplines. We will explore the molecular structure of caffeine to the impact of the coffee industry on our environment; travel throughout time from its discovery in the 9th century to the rise of a multi-billion dollar industry in the 21st; and contemplate the relationship between coffee, religion, and our sense of place.

Autobiography in the Age of the Selfie
We live a hyper, self-focused age of constant physical reflection. Technology and social media have accelerated and expanded visual projections of the self. Millennials will take an estimated 25,000 selfies in their lifetime. Autobiography is an ancient and well-established genre with Thucydides’ account of his own service as an Athenian general in 424 BC often identified as the earliest representation of the form. Our seminar will begin and conclude with selfies and in between, we will examine how stories of the self are told as well as how the self is identified in the fine arts, science, and mathematics.

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? We will examine this question and more by using two example human diseases, cancer and the corona virus disease 19 (Covid-19). In today’s world, it has become increasingly difficult to discern what is true, and what is false, about how diseases work and how we effectively prevent or heal them. Together, we will explore the biological, environmental, social, economic, cultural, and other factors that impact individual and community health outcomes.