First-Year Seminar

Seminar Summaries


Office of the Dean of the Faculty



Office of the Dean of the Faculty

2018 Seminar Summaries
(Check back in February for the 2019 Seminar Summaries)

Indelible Ink: The Art, History and Culture of Tattoo

What is a tattoo?  Why do humans undergo this procedure of permanent marking?  What are the implications of being marked in this way? From its spiritual and tribal birth to its subversive and often exploitative past to its mainstream acceptance today, body illustration has always been a form of expression and a primitive way of decorating the body. By investigating the origins of tattoo, students will develop a greater understanding of the multitudes of diverse reasons humans have for marking their skin and the cultural and societal implications these marks have made on their lives.  Students will explore the symbolic significance of cultural and tribal tattooing by examining and defining the differences between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange and then design and create their own temporary tattoos with these ideas in mind.

Biography of a Song

What do Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday, and Leonard Cohen have in common? Each is associated with a popular song that is known to millions of people, reflected a particular moment in American cultural history, and has been the focus of lively scholarly and popular discussions. Respectively, their versions of “White Christmas,” “Strange Fruit” and “Hallelujah” will be our ways into exploring, discussing, and researching the roles–both joyful and vexed–of popular music in America. Students will listen and read across a broad spectrum of approaches as well as conduct a research project on a song of their choice.

 “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, the media, law, business, and the environment. We will explore the existence and changing definitions of piracy across time and space, from its ancient roots to its Caribbean golden age, to modern piracy on the high seas and online. From Henry Morgan to Long John Silver, Captain Hook, Jack Sparrow, and Napster, who or what constitutes a pirate, why do they capture our imaginations so, and what does it mean to be one in present-day Georgetown, Texas?

Understanding Race and Racism

This seminar first explores the historical development of the ideas and institutions of race and racism. We then review the myth of biological race and learn the biology of human difference. The latter weeks of the seminar examine how race and racism, and the systems of privilege and oppression they generate, manifest themselves today. While the seminar focuses primarily on the U.S., and looks closely at current events tied to race and racism in the U.S., it also considers how race and racism are structured in other parts of the world.

The Science and Art of Play: Social and Cognitive Development through Make-Believe and Performance

Children in all cultures and societies engage in imaginary play; however, the concept of play varies among different cultures. This seminar investigates imaginary play and performance from multiple perspectives, including the role of play in children’s development, cultural views of play, play in animals, and the role of performance in learning and understanding school subjects.  Students will report on research about play and write and perform (for students at a local elementary school) a children’s theater scene exploring science concepts.  This seminar integrates the fields of education, psychology, theatre, and the natural sciences.

Food, Health, and French Culture

Many Americans are obsessed with healthy eating, but are plagued by food-related health problems. In contrast, the French consume a decadent diet, yet enjoy a low rate of obesity and heart disease. To get to the bottom of these contradictions, this seminar examines the history and philosophy of French food culture. Concurrently, students actively research how unhealthy ingredients found in processed food affect human health. They also compare and contrast concepts and trends of their own everyday life with those of the French cultural model.

Running For Your Life!

For some people running is something to enjoy while others avoid it at all cost.  However, recent anthropological evidence suggests that endurance running appears to be a defining evolutionary characteristic of human development.   This seminar will explore the social, cultural and physiological role of physical activity in our society to see whether humans were “born to run.”  The seminar will conclude with an examination of the broader implications of maintaining an active lifestyle. 

The Transportive Experience of Wearing a Mask

The wearing of a mask is most often thought of as a celebratory event such as a masquerade party or linked to a spiritual ritual. Others may wear a mask for reasons such as protection, embellishment, and disguise. Facial makeup, tattoos, scarification, and piercings are all forms of a mask, yet most do not classify these choices as masks. Masks, broadly defined, may be desirable or undesirable depending on cultural norms and fashion. Does the wearing of a mask help identify who we are, or does a mask hide who we are? This seminar will explore the cultural, sociological, and historical connections of the mask.

The Consumerist:  Breaking Bad or Breaking Good

From the moment we enter this world, until we leave this world, we use materials found in our surroundings to make products known as consumer goods.  In this seminar, we will explore the science and politics of three areas of consumer goods: petroleum products, pharmaceuticals and electronic devices.  For example, what materials comprise these products and what decisions were made to bring these products to market for our use?  We will explore how these three general classes of consumer goods affect us, and others, in production, use and disposal during the product’s life cycle.

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? In this seminar, 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.

Crossing Lines: Nations, Races, Borders in a “Global” World

Today, we live in a “global market” while walls are built between nations; many say they no longer “see color” while segregation in cities and schools often surpasses levels prior to the 1960s; our ideals celebrate diversity while our practices suggest a deep suspicion of border crossers and those with different ethnic identities, cultures, or religions.  What new forms are nations, nationalisms, races, racisms, borders, and their policing taking on?  Are old forms returning?  This seminar will seek to help orient us amidst this confusion and to open new conceptions of struggles for equality and civil rights.

Taking a Walk In a Painting: Velazquez’s Las Meninas

There is an increasing use of visualization at every level in our daily contemporary life.  Traditional literacy, based on the printed text, is being displaced by a culture of the screen (movies, computers, iPods, iPads, videogames, music videos, etc.)  We are confronted on a daily basis with a kaleidoscope of rapidly changing images.  But what would happen if we could reverse this trend and give ourselves the time to stop and look at a single image for ten weeks?  What could we learn by “looking” at a painting for such a long time? Velasquez’s famous painting Las Meninas (1656)–considered by many “the world’s greatest painting”–will be the focus of our seminar.

What Are You Saying?: Exploring Language and Communication

Is there a right way and a wrong way to say something? Do men and women speak differently? How and why does language change over time? How does the way you speak reveal who you are? In this seminar, we will explore all things linguistic, starting with the basic question of what exactly language is, and on to issues of language and identity, language and thought, language and society, language and the media, and so on. This seminar will take us on a thought-provoking journey exploring one of the most unique and fascinating aspects of human knowledge and behavior: language.

Medicine: New is Old - Ancient Greek Practice and Modern Medicine

Ever wondered why people can be in a good or bad “humor”? why we call a common illness “influenza” (it means “flowing in” - what’s up with that?)? What does “hysteria” really mean? Is “holistic healing” such a new practice? Where do most biological terms originate? (Guess what, Greek!) Much in modern medicine can be traced back to ancient Greece. We will look at how ancient Greek medicine continues to influence medicine today. Knowing some of the origins of modern medicine may give you an added boost in your general education natural science classes and in a science major.

Fixing the Broken Mind

The prevalence of mental illness continues to increase with each generation. The negative impact of these disorders 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 predominately 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.

I Am the Scribe: The Invention of Writing and Books

All speaking humans tell stories, and always have.  Some of these stories have fallen into books.  This seminar compares different ways songs and stories were written down, to consider why they were written, why they were written differently (or not), and then to try our hand at imitating how they wrote.  Along with the study of the content of early manuscripts and books, we will try to make manuscripts by hand, possibly even make our own book printed on a letter press. We want to learn how it feels for an I to write to some other You.

Sharing Holy Land

This 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 two films, then through a very brief 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. Students will engage in relevant, thoughtful discussion; learn to write about contested views; and explore their own views and connection to sacred places.

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 was Osama bin Laden, and what were the goals, strategies, and tactics of Al Qaeda?  How did ISIS arise?  Has ISIS been defeated?  Why and how has terrorism become internationalized? How should the U.S. respond to terrorism?  These are the major questions that we will discuss in this seminar.

Roll Over Beethoven

Beethoven. What sorts of images does that name conjure up for you? A wild-haired musical genius?  A series of movies about the antics of an enormous, unruly dog? Symphonic rapture? Elitist and boring classical music concerts?  Schroeder at the piano? The Beatles? Chuck Berry? The Soulja Boyz? This seminar will seek to answer the fundamental questions of how and why it is that the name of a musician born nearly 250 years ago, and across an ocean, still resonates in our society? And in so doing, examine the issues of authorship and authenticity, interpretation and appropriation, and the notion of musical “masterpieces”.

Does Chocolate Have a “Dark” Side: Science and Culture of Chocolate

Nearly everyone loves some kind of chocolate but no one thinks enough about where chocolate comes from or how it gets to the stores’ shelves.  Chocolate’s versatility 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 to make connections between the sciences, social sciences, humanities and the fine arts. This seminar challenges assumptions of students about what “chocolate” really means.  Students will critically evaluate sources of chocolate and discuss texts that shed light on past applications and controversies surrounding this delightful resource.

Doing Good and Doing It Well: The Philosophy and Practice of Philanthropy

This seminar serves both as a meditation on giving and a pragmatic introduction to philanthropic work in the Georgetown community. We examine various philosophical, theological, scientific, and historical approaches 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 solicits grant applications from local organizations and selects a finalist to receive a significant grant.

Visions and Virgins: Art Mediating Miracles

By examining miraculous images and the accumulation of historical and mythological lore that give them meaning, this seminar reveals that miracles are much more than what meets the eye. They are integral to the social fabric of communities, both large and small, and they have been the source of great political upheavals throughout history. We will analyze the intersections of miraculous images and visions through the optic sciences, philosophies of being, psychology of human cognition, the advances of artistic illusionism, and spiritual mysticism. By examining how art has mediated divine experiences throughout history, we will seek to understand the power of miracles on the human psyche and the social roles of visionaries across cultures. We will apply this knowledge to non-miraculous images that nonetheless provoke passionate displays of affection and controversial meanings.

Inside Out – Our Bodies on the Inside and Outside to the World

Our body is always with us and is part of the story of who we are. What are we on the inside and how did we get that way? First, we’ll uncover how our bodies are the legacy of ancient fish, reptiles and primates - the ancestors you never knew. Then moving from the inside out, we’ll explore and experience a number of topics: where art and music connect with our bodies, with fashion and imagery; the role of our bodies in power differentials among peoples; the association of gender and the body; and spirituality and the human body.

Ancient Oaks, Old Ghosts, & Texas Limestone: Exploring the Pirate Sense of Place

This course explores the various ways that the Southwestern experience forges student identity and connects first year pirates to the world around them. Students will explore the campus ecosystem, investigate their identity as residents of Texas, and examine the many ways their everyday campus life connects politically, economically, and culturally to the earth, its people, and its processes. The final project for this course allows students to select their favorite place on campus and write the story of its complicated, contested, and sometimes mysterious origins. Please be advised: there will be several nearby field trips and on-campus hikes that will require a great deal of walking and/or physical activity.

Unsilencing the Past: Chicana Feminisms in the Borderlands

Whose histories are told? Which are forgotten or erased, and why? In this seminar, we will work to unsilence the past, focusing on the lives of individuals in the Texas-Mexican borderlands. Using materials from Southwestern’s Latina History Project, students will explore how and why Texas, specifically Austin and The University of Texas, became pivotal sites for the nationwide Chicana feminist movement. Through the stories of prominent Chicana activists of the Civil Rights Era, we will examine how women effectively critiqued and resisted gender, racial, and class injustices within education, electoral politics, religion, and literary/artistic productions in ways that resonate today.