First-Year Seminar

Seminar Summaries

The following is Fall 2017 information.
Fall 2018 information will be available on February 1, 2018.


Office of the Dean of the Faculty



Office of the Dean of the Faculty

2017 Seminar Summaries by Residence Hall 

Confucius Says:  The Moral Life Examined

What is the best way to live a moral life? How can one best benefit humanity and oneself? How should one make moral choices? How should a state be organized to promote the well-being of its citizens? These questions were addressed by Confucius and other Chinese philosophers thousands of years ago and were recorded in texts that are some of the most powerful and influential texts in human history. This course will present an overview of early Chinese thought by reading works of key early Chinese thinkers such as Confucius, Mencius, Zhuangzi, Laozi, Xunzi, and more. We will consider how these philosophers’ answer to questions about morality, human relationships, ritual, and the dao shaped East Asian cultural traditions in the past and remain relevant models for human living today.

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 examine various philosophical, theological, scientific, 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 seminar solicits applications from local organizations and selects a finalist to receive a significant grant.

Getting Schooled: The Promise and Problems of College in America

Americans have long agreed that a college education is key to a good future. But a growing number of critics argue that college is over-rated, too expensive, too exclusive, and teaches the wrong things. What really is the purpose of college? Is it worth the cost, and why is it so expensive? Who should go, and how do we make access fair? And what should students learn there? In this seminar, we will explore histories, documentaries, debates, data, manifestos, and personal stories. In the process, students will develop essential skills as readers, writers, thinkers, researchers, and participants in public conversations.

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.

Robots in Fact and Fiction

Technological changes can have social, artistic, economic and political implications. This seminar examines how robots are currently being used in the sciences, in art, in the military and in business. We will also examine how robots are represented in literature, on television and in the movies. Are these fictional robots realistic representations of existing robots or a projection of our hopes and fears?

Tuning the Hemispheres: Music and the Brain

Why do we make and listen to music and what is happening in our brain when we experience it? Are we evolutionarily adapted for music? Can music make us smarter? What role does music play in the creation of our identities, and how have our interactions with it changed over time? This seminar 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 Spotify, YouTube, and the iPhone, our musical experiences continue to evolve.

Unsilencing the Past: Stories from the Borderlands

Whose histories are told? Whose are forgotten or erased, and why? In this seminar we will unsilence the past—that is, explore and even uncover histories that are not typically represented in mainstream historical narratives or your high school history classes. Our focus is the lives of individuals in the U.S.-Mexico Border region. Using archives such as those from Southwestern’s Latina History Project, students will explore topics including immigration, curanderismo (Mexican folk healing), social movements, spiritual activism, and Chicana feminism, seeking to uncover some lesser-known stories of the past in order to more fully understand social life in the present.

Ancient Skywatchers: The Astronomy of Lost Civilizations

Ancient peoples created enigmatic structures that defy simple explanations. For our ancestors, the sky acted as metaphor: it meant something. There was power in the sky. But, for most modern people, the sky above us remains obscure and unreadable. The interdisciplinary study of ArcheoAstronomy has begun to unravel the power these structures conferred on those that built them, changing the way we understand our world and our history. In this seminar we will explore specific cultures and astronomical traditions, investigate techniques for making field observations, and look carefully at the development of tools to predict religious celebrations and even wars.

CULTURE SHOCK!  Understanding Our Multicultural World

Interested in other cultures? Interested in traveling the world one day? In this seminar, you 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 real difference in the world in which we live.

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.

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 we have seen or read about.  We start with that curiosity and then explore 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, and how public memory is created.  We will discuss popular travel destinations, notable places of public memory, as well as destinations in our hometowns, Southwestern University, and the greater Georgetown area.


As science increasingly informs our understanding of health and disease, so do patients’ needs to find relief from common maladies and complex diseases grow. In a medical world dominated by science, technology, MDs, hospitals and insurance companies, alternative medical practitioners have their schedules and consulting offices full. Patients fill to the top yoga studies, chiropractor benches and acupuncture tables; they also invest substantial amounts of money in natural products and information about alternative medicine. This seminar explores medicine as a contested place between scientists, doctors, and patients. Using alternative medical approaches such as moxabustion, mesmerism, homeopathy, acupuncture and Ayurveda medicine, we survey the role that culture plays in setting the limits between medicine and pseudo-medicine.

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 focus on 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.

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.

Virtual Worlds and Avatars: The Philosophy of Video Games

Video games are a wildly popular form of entertainment in modern culture, inhabiting both a wide and continually growing set of genres and diverse demographics.  As a phenomenon, it begs a number of questions, such as the ontological status of objects and events in games, the nature of game rules, the player-avatar relationship, the relation of game and traditional narrative forms, the moral evaluation of in-game actions, particularly as opportunities for moral experimentation, and the societal role of games.  This seminar will examine games across the most popular genres, with particular focus on the nature of game worlds and identities.

Wheels and Deals: A Survey of Television Game Shows

What is a game show? 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 The Voice a game show?”  In addition, we will study optimal strategies of various game shows to determine the best way to win big bucks.  Students will even get a chance to create their very own game shows.

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.

International Climate Fiction: Can Reading Save the Planet?

The literary genre of Climate Fiction, Cli-Fi, is emerging in the space between art, science and political decision-making. We already know that extinction video games or films like Avatar reach and move people differently than scientific data.  In this seminar we explore how connecting climate science and human choice, art and culture can play significant roles in bringing the future into our present. How can Cli-Fi make readers feel and think now and promote future-oriented actions? How does international climate fiction connect us across cultures and invite us to see, to care, and to act?

Political Ethics: An Oxymoron?

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

One of the earliest inventions of interactive illustration (movable books) was a thirteenth century tool used in astrological calculations called a volvelle. The volvelle may have been the first “app” as it was used as an interface for manipulating data. There are many types of creative apparatus used in moveable books that combine graphic art, engineering and storytelling to create spectacular pieces of interactive literature. These apparatus are the foundation for a myriad of life changing products and tools. We will explore paper engineering techniques used in creating pop-up books and through research, better understand their importance and impact on society – past and present.

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” and will conclude with an examination of the broader implications for maintaining an active lifestyle.

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, video games, 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.

The Secret Lives of Metaphor

Metaphors are about making connections. They assert relationships and offer insights that may not have been perceived or may not even have existed before. Metaphors—roughly equating or blending two different terms or ideas (“My love is a rose!” for instance)—enable us to link things, construct categories or groups, contextualize events, and frame courses of action. Some have argued that metaphors are one of our principal means for creating and advancing knowledge. And metaphors get at the heart of what a Southwestern liberal arts education is all about: Connect, Create, Think. In studying what metaphors are and how they work, this seminar helps students get at the heart of their Southwestern education and learning in general.