First Year Seminar Descriptions

Fall 2019

Section A01:  Design Your Life
What do you want from life?  How do you want to live?  What do you need – in terms of knowledge, skills, resources, etc. – in order to live the kind of life that you choose?  This course is a hands-on exploration of big questions about who you are, what you want, and how you can effectively pursue your goals.  However, this is not just a “career preparation” course.  We’ll work on skills that will be useful in your professional development, but we’ll also consider deep questions of meaning and value that will help you to make sense of the important, but often ambiguous, choices that life presents.

Section A02:  Truth, Reconciliation and Forgiveness
Can there be reconciliation between the victim of repression and the oppressor? Can one learn to forgive once the active repression has ended? This course will examine the history of repression, the function of memory, and the desire for reconciliation across the globe. Slavery, genocide, the Holocaust, and South African Apartheid will serve as examples to investigate how groups can or cannot move beyond their oppression and hatred of the other toward building a stronger community, nation, and world. In addition to studying the devastation, the humiliation, the brutal torture, and the mass murder of others, we will examine if confession alone is enough to bridge the divide between oppressor and victim, or if some recompense is necessary to heal the wounds of genocide, slavery, racism, and colonialism. This course will examine the concept of forgiveness from a number of differing angles to determine its efficacy as a method of bridging the divide of national and personal conflicts.

Section A03:  Theatre and Social Change
Theatre provokes in the wide range of human emotion and has the power to reveal to us the complexity of what it means to be human.  This live experiment generates empathy, for ourselves and for others.  The class will investigate how theatre can be used to help communities talk about themes of sexual and relationship violence. Especially in this area of the #MeToo movement, how can plays help us to navigate conversations around sexual misconduct and empower all of us to create healthy relationships?  We will build a collaborative community amongst ourselves, share our work with the larger Wheaton community, discover our unique social justice and political voice, and create unique ways to discuss difficult issues in a new way, deepening our collective ability to listen, to see, and to understand one another.

Section A04:  No Place Like Home: The American House as Biography
In this seminar we will consider the intersection of American domestic architecture and personal identity, taking into account the ways that gender, class, race, sexuality, regional identity, and morality have shaped (and in some cases revolutionized) the places we call home.  From cabins built by enslaved men and women in the nineteenth century, to the space-age bachelor pads of the 1960s, our homes tell stories about who we are, who we were, and who we aspire to be.  Students will examine a range of theoretical writings on domestic architecture, develop “visual literacy” through the analysis of images and plans, and consider the ways biography has been interpreted (or re-interpreted) in historic house museums.

Section A05:  Addressing Inequality in the U.S.: An Integrated FYS
Is inequality a trap set by society? Can we do something about it? Should we? This innovative First-Year Seminar will explore these questions and consider possible solutions through the lens of four disciplines: art + design, literature, politics, and sociology. You will engage with four professors from these areas over the course of the semester, working collaboratively and individually toward a final project that will draw on interdisciplinary thinking to address urgent social problems. Topics will include housing inequality, poverty, racial discrimination, and the politics of public art. You will meet in small class groups led by your individual faculty advisor, but will come together with other professors and students in a joint investigation of these topics.

Section A06:  Critical Thinking in Times of Madness
Is critical thinking dangerous? Does it undermine authority? Which mental habits make someone a good critical thinker? Which mental habits make someone a bad critical thinker? What do people think critically about? In this First-Year Seminar, we will explore critical thinking both as a subject of inquiry and as a tool for investigating a wide range of topics, from free will to friendship, and from social equality to epistemic injustice. We’ll read texts written by ancient, modern, and contemporary authors, and we’ll consider how non-text based disciplines communicate their own forms of critical thinking.

Section A08:  Television in America
Does Netflix count as television? How does HBO get away with controversial content? Can the FCC censor what we watch? What is the FCC? This FYS will explore the history of TV in three phases:  the network era; the 1970s-80s in which cable television loosened networks’ hold on consumers; and the current “on-demand” moment that has further destabilized traditional ideas of audience and content delivery. We’ll also study how culture and identity (ex. issues of race, gender, sexuality, class, etc.) have impacted TV. Watching TV shows from I Love Lucy to Breaking Bad, and crafting projects from writing a TV line-up to tracking the history of network news, students will learn to critically engage (while still enjoying) a medium that has powerfully shaped American life.

Section A09:  Everyone’s a Critic: Thinking About Art, Pleasure, Beauty and Truth
In Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty and Truth New York Times film critic A.O. Scott suggests the art of critical thinking not only enhances our relationship with the world but improves our lives. Have you ever loved a movie that all your friends hated? Why do we like what we like? What forms our taste? By deeply engaging with all manner of art and performance you will further develop your own aesthetic, articulate your thoughts with greater clarity and confidently defend what you love. Over the course of the semester we will attend various performances, visit art installations, watch films, read books and listen to music. Course material ranges from the polarizing to the popular, from ballet to professional wrestling, The Office to Ovid, the telenovela to improv comedy. We will discuss, debate and disagree. Arguing can be fun! The semester culminates with an individual research project diving deep into your favorite genre/work.

Section A10:  Eyes to the Universe: A Full Spectrum View of Our World
Our quest to understand the nature of things, from microscopic atoms to stars and galaxies, relies heavily on the light we receive from these objects. Even the discovery of exotic objects such as black holes and dark matter, which by themselves do not emit any light, relies on light produced by objects near them. In this seminar we will explore properties of light in general, not just visible light but the whole spectrum ranging from radio waves to gamma-rays. In this hands-on, project-based course we will learn about how mirrors, lenses and cameras work, visit research laboratories, hear about cutting-edge developments from scientists, and use telescopes in our observatory to study the treasures of the night sky. Making use of Wheaton’s Makerspace facilities, we will design and build instruments and use them to explore nature.

Section A011:  Sing the Body Electric: Making and Consuming Music in the Digital Age
Are turntables an instrument? What does authorship entail in an age where sampled audio is ubiquitous? Whither the human when machine-learning algorithms can write songs? Are our utopian dreams and dystopian anxieties about new technologies unique to our era, or might they simply be variations on an older tune? This course examines how music is made and consumed across the globe in the age of the computer, spanning from the so-called “Third Industrial Revolution” in the 1950s into the present day. Our guiding thesis is that musical activity presents an exceptionally fertile ground for exploring broad questions about human thought, behavior, creativity, and expression in the face of technological advances. Although our evidentiary focus is music, our aims will be interdisciplinary and expansive, with intellectual sources drawn from anthropology, philosophy, science and technology studies, media theory, and psychology.

No musical background is required, though there is a substantial listening component to the course and students are required to engage seriously and at length with a wide range of musical examples. This is not a course about making music, although we will get hands-on with technologies when appropriate.

Section A12:  The Tales of Cupid and Psyche
Embedded in a second-century Latin novel about a man who turns into an ass is a long story about a woman who turns into a goddess. It is a folk tale and a hard story, of rape and murder and love and transformation, in turns ghastly and glorious. Frequently interpreted and frequently retold, it appears now as a philosophical myth of the nature and ascent of the soul, now as a psychological analysis of the development of the feminine; it can be a sociological document illustrating the realities of Roman marriage, or an erotic account of sex turning immature youths into mature adults. We will read and reread the story of Cupid and Psyche, in ancient and modern versions, in print and painting and film, and try to understand how its retellings and reinterpretations can include Beauty and the Beast and King Kong, and how we can draw a line from Plato to Disney.

Section A13:  Coming of Age in Latin American and Latino Fiction and Film
Contemporary Latin American and U.S. Latino artists often focus on childhood and adolescence in their fiction, memoirs, and films. What is at stake in these representations of children and teenagers? What compels artists and writers to tell stories again and again about the past of childhood?  And what does reimagining childhood have to do with thinking about the future of a community?  During this seminar we will analyze fictional, autobiographical, and cinematic narratives of childhood and adolescence from Latin America and the U.S. to see how such narratives not only describe personal pasts and identities, but also document traumatic collective histories, and work to create a cultural memory.

Section A14:  “Am I Living Out My Parent’s Dreams?”
This seminar will explore the relationship between early life experiences, education and the goals we set for ourselves as adolescents and adults. We will approach this topic from several directions. Developmentally, we will look at the role of early life experiences to answer the following questions:  How powerful are the interactions with one’s parents in shaping who we are and who we will become.  What role does school play in life and career choices?  What is the impact of the peers we interact with throughout our childhood and teenage years?  Have stereotypes about our culture, religion, race, gender or age limited our goals or performance.  What impact do MCAS, SAT, GRE’s or career tests such as the teacher test, bar exam, medical exams have on a person’s choice of college and careers?

We will discuss the “hurried child syndrome” which is the result of putting young children into competitive sports, academic preschools, forcing vocational choices on adolescents and pressuring high school students to go to college right after high school. We will also discuss peer relations in middle and high school and how teasing and bullying can impact a person’s ability to make good choices. Other topics will include discussing mentors you have had, experiences that changed the course of your life and/or books, poems or movies that touched you in a special way.

Section A15:  L’Amérique! The United States through French Eyes
Even before Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (1835), the United States were an object of fascination to Europeans. What the French have said, and continue to say, has a great deal to teach us about both parties of a complex relationship. Could Americans learn anything from French notions of democracy, liberty, equality, or happiness? Has Tocqueville’s dread “tyranny of the majority” finally arrived? We will consider, and respond to, both negative and positive representations of the U.S.A. in French nonfiction, poetry, cinema, popular music, and advertising.

Section A16:  Addressing Inequality in the U.S.: An Integrated FYS
Is inequality a trap set by society? Can we do something about it? Should we? This innovative First-Year Seminar will explore these questions and consider possible solutions through the lens of four disciplines: art + design, literature, politics, and sociology. You will engage with four professors from these areas over the course of the semester, working collaboratively and individually toward a final project that will draw on interdisciplinary thinking to address urgent social problems. Topics will include housing inequality, poverty, racial discrimination, and the politics of public art. You will meet in small class groups led by your individual faculty advisor, but will come together with other professors and students in a joint investigation of these topics.

Section A17:  Addressing Inequality in the U.S.: An Integrated FYS
Is inequality a trap set by society? Can we do something about it? Should we? This innovative First-Year Seminar will explore these questions and consider possible solutions through the lens of four disciplines: art + design, literature, politics, and sociology. You will engage with four professors from these areas over the course of the semester, working collaboratively and individually toward a final project that will draw on interdisciplinary thinking to address urgent social problems. Topics will include housing inequality, poverty, racial discrimination, and the politics of public art. You will meet in small class groups led by your individual faculty advisor, but will come together with other professors and students in a joint investigation of these topics.

Section A18:  Addressing Inequality in the U.S.: An Integrated FYS
Is inequality a trap set by society? Can we do something about it? Should we? This innovative First-Year Seminar will explore these questions and consider possible solutions through the lens of four disciplines: art + design, literature, politics, and sociology. You will engage with four professors from these areas over the course of the semester, working collaboratively and individually toward a final project that will draw on interdisciplinary thinking to address urgent social problems. Topics will include housing inequality, poverty, racial discrimination, and the politics of public art. You will meet in small class groups led by your individual faculty advisor, but will come together with other professors and students in a joint investigation of these topics.

Section A20:  Into the Wild: Nature as Place and Cultural Construct
Most Americans pursue “unfiltered experience.”  “A yearning for elsewhere, for a life beyond the one we’re leading,” suggests Jonathan Raban, “is universal [but] in the national mythology, it’s the quintessential American experience to arrive in a wild and inhospitable place, bend raw nature to one’s own advantage, and make it home.”  The “bending” might not be as important as the getting there, the getting out there as in Outward Bound, out into the woods, on the river, up into the mountains.  We are accustomed to seeing such an experience as “sublime,” a romantic vision discovered or re-discovered by romantic philosophers, novelists, filmmakers, and poets, so much so that going out into nature has become a commodity, a vacation package, complete with tour guides and slick pamphlets. This quest for a kind of transcendence associated with nature has existed since the very beginnings of the American experience and has recently been examined by Florence Williams in The Nature Fix, her exploration of neuroscientists’ grapplings with how we are affected by the natural world.

Section A21:  “The Night Shift:” Tales of the Supernatural
Even in our technological twenty-first century, we are still haunted by the supernatural. Armies of vampires, ghosts, and zombies continue to roam across our screens and book pages. What makes these stories so frightening, and so compelling? What cultural functions do they perform? Do they have literary status, or do works like The Shining or the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina represent a “lesser” or “popular” genre? This course asks students to closely consider these questions, critically examining both fiction and film, as well as the works of scholars who have theorized about the appeal and function of the supernatural tale.

Section A22:  Social Empowerment through the Performing Arts 
People around the world use music, dance, theatre and visual art traditions to inspire significant social change at local, national and international levels. Expressive forms have the power to illuminate controversial issues for consideration in profound and provocative ways, with the potential to unite rather than divide people of diverse backgrounds and life experience. We will examine the history of charity, consider the impact of colonialism and missionary outreach on philanthropy, and see how people are questioning conventional charitable paradigms. We will study collaborative projects within the arts where people from a variety of class, ethnic, and national affiliations can learn from and empower one another. Required assignments will include readings on cross-cultural engagement within the empowerment model, research on relevant traditions, and discussions to nurture sensitivity and understanding for work across critical, inherited perspectives. Students will participate in established outreach programs and envision and design an empowerment-based project. Reaching out to connect with and support people here and around the globe is the central premise to this course.

Section A24:  Digital Citizenship and Digital Identity
What does it mean to be a digital citizen? How do you know what’s real online? Why would you want to create – or curate – an online persona? This course provides opportunities for you to grapple with these and other big questions related to life in the digital age. Along the way, you’ll build digital competencies that will serve you in your college career and beyond. Topics include participating in online communities, critically evaluating online content, protecting yourself digitally, defining who you want to be online, and more.

Section A25:  Seeing / Thinking / Making
What role do artists play in examining contemporary social and political issues? How do we create through research? How does storytelling relate to curating? This course will consider ways of seeing, researching, making, and curating art. Working directly with the exhibitions at the Beard and Weil Galleries on campus, students will gain professional experience working with all aspects of putting together an exhibition of contemporary art. Beginning with researching artists and the cultural and historical relevance of their work, students will assist with creating site-specific art installations and will meet with contemporary artists as they visit campus. Along the way we will consider exhibition design and audience engagement. Students will examine the range of materials and methods used in contemporary art, from photography and artists books to social practice and performance. While this course uses research and writing as a way to gain a deeper understanding of art, it will also involve making. Students will have the opportunity to respond to the art we are studying with their own creative output.

Section A26:  Buildings Speak….How do we Listen?
Buildings speak. Singly or in aggregate. Spaces move us. Environments affect us.  What do they say? How do we listen? Recall your panoramic glimpses of college campuses while searching for the right place for you.  This seminar examines moments in history and in contemporary life when architecture has mystified and moved us, raised our awareness, challenged our views, questioned our beliefs, engendered controversy, and shaped our identities. Good built spaces hold our memories and inspire us. We will start with the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston for a discussion of gendered space. Next we turn to religious sites, like fire-torn Notre Dame in Paris, to look at the politics that surround rebuilding, as we critique proposed reconstructions to its toppled spire (yes, the zany ones, too). We will look at Gaudí’s famed Sagrada Família in Barcelona, still under construction after 100 years, and on to world-renowned Ghanaian-British architect, David Adjaye’s design for an interdenominational Cathedral in Ghana. Religious and memorial historical sites follow like the Pyramids at Giza and the Islamic Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.  We will end with the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, The Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, and the World Trade complex in NYC. “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.” Let’s see if Winston Churchill’s quote is true as we examine if and how monuments move us, and I mean kinetic architecture, too.

Section A27:  Plagues, Pandemics and Pestilence
We will look at the history of human diseases from small pox and the bubonic plague to Zika, Ebola, and the current measles outbreaks.  We will debate various treatments and perform experiments in the laboratory. Some topics we’ll cover include: Do we still need to be vaccinated?  How do we address the problem of antibiotic resistance? For these exciting discussions, no background in biology is required; all biological concepts needed to understand the material will be introduced in the course.