First Year Seminar Descriptions
Section A01: The Art of Writing about Art
“Looking is not as simple as it looks,” said the painter Ad Reinhardt. Can writing help us to look, and eventually see, more intensely? We’ll explore writing as a way to think about the visual arts. We’ll look at a variety of efforts to do so, from Renaissance biographers to modern poets. We’ll consider how these authors’ goals and anticipated audiences shaped the forms of their writings. Today, a museum curator will write about a work of art very differently than a New York Times reviewer might describe it for her readers. If works of art are primarily visual, then how and why do these written texts have such a powerful effect on shaping their meanings? Although this is primarily an art history course, we also explore the discipline’s connections to other ways of thinking and writing: art criticism, art journalism, philosophy, and experimental prose. Assignments will encourage you to translate what you see into words, across several different genres of art writing. In order to emphasize direct observation from original works of art, we’ll make use of Wheaton’s own art collection and gallery exhibitions.
Section A02: Gift or Loot: Who Controls Cultural Property?
What do a bust of Nefertiti, the Parthenon Marbles, and the tattooed head of a Maori chief have in common? They have all been the focus of contested claims over cultural property, specifically for repatriation. Repatriation occurs when a nation (or people) demands the return of objects currently found in another country, often in a museum. While some countries, including Ethiopia, Italy, and Peru, have been successful in repatriating objects from Great Britain and the United States, many others have not. In this course, we explore the question: who controls cultural property? We consider different cultural and historical understandings of property and ownership and examine the roles individuals, nations, and the international community play in creating – and resolving – disputes over cultural property. Through examples drawn from Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America, and Oceania, we study attempts to exercise control over artwork, ethnographic objects, human remains, and structures. We also explore the beliefs, economics, ethics, morals, and laws that underpin such attempts and consider reasons for their failure or success.
Section A03: Design and Creativity
In Creativity and Its Cultivation, Erich Fromm notes that, “Conditions for creativity are to be puzzled, to concentrate, to accept conflict and tension, to be born every day, to feel a sense of self.” This course will explore the creative process through two- dimensional design basics: line, shape, texture, value, color and composition. Students will use a variety of materials and strategies to solve visual problems. Hands-on exploration with materials such as pencil, charcoal, ink, paint and collage are supported by research, class discussion and written analysis. We will broaden our understanding of design through examples of important contemporary artists, architects and material designers of many things. This course will expand your capacity for creative thinking and provide a foundation for further study in art.
Section A04: Shake and Bake: Earthquakes, Volcanoes, and other Natural Disasters: The Science and the Impacts
Over several days in early April 1815, the Indonesian volcano Tambora erupted, throwing forth over 50 km3 of lava and an ash plume 50 km into the air. 100,000 people died either directly or indirectly. Aerosols from the eruption caused a two-year drop in global temperature and led to the “year with no summer” in 1816, when New England crops failed, and snow fell in June. It was the largest recorded eruption in the last 10,000 years. 150 year later, on March 27 1964, the second largest earthquake recorded shook Anchorage Alaska for nearly 5 minutes. The magnitude 9.2 quake ruptured 1000 km of earth; swaying the Space Needle in Seattle, sloshing rivers and lakes in Texas and Louisiana, and ringing the Earth like a bell. These are but two examples of the large and dynamic forces that shape the Earth and those who live on it. Through readings, exercises, and film we will examine the science behind earthquakes and volcanoes, tsunamis and landslides, hurricanes and floods. Beyond that, we will examine how both current and historical natural disasters have impacted society and in some cases changed the course of human history.
Section A05: Hedonism II to H2 Worker: U.S. – Caribbean Connections
The last few decades are often characterized as a time of intense economic globalization. National economies are increasingly linked by merchandise trade, cross-border investments, and the exchange of people and ideas. In this seminar, we examine how such interactions between the United States and English Speaking Caribbean countries affect these economies and their peoples. We use texts and films from anthropology, history, sociology, economics and beyond to explore themes ranging from all-inclusive Caribbean resorts (like Hedonism II), to how globalization shapes “home cooking,” to U.S. guest workers (including West Indian H2 workers), and the transnational stardom of Barbadian singer, Rihanna, and Jamaican sprinter, Usain Bolt.
Section A06: Wheaton: Past, Present, and Future
Everyone experiences college in his or her own way. But at the same time, the institution goes on for decades, building its history. How do we examine, and can we reconcile, the different “Wheatons” that have existed over the years? And how does Wheaton fit into a larger history of American colleges? This FYS will let us delve into the history of our own institution—why it was started, who attended over time, who taught, and how they experienced the college—all as a way of getting you started on your own personal version of Wheaton. We will build the seminar around a final project conducting oral history interviews with long-serving Wheaton faculty, learning skills and creating an archive to be used by future students of the college.
Section A07: “Am I Living Out My Parents’ Dreams?”
This seminar will explore the relationship between early life experiences, education and the goals we set for ourselves. We will look at the role of early life experiences to answer the following questions: How powerful are the interaction with one’s parents in shaping who we are as adolescents or adults? Do stereotypes about culture, religion, race or gender limit our goals? Do we put too much pressure on young children to join in competitive sport(s), academic preschool or do we pressure high school students to make vocational choice or go to college right after high school? What is the impact of peers in middle and high school and does teasing or bullying play a role in a person’s ability to make good choices. Other topics will include mentors and the impact they have had on experiences that have changed the course of a student’s life/or books, poems or movies that have influenced them.
Section A08: Fan Communities and Creations
Fans of movies, TV shows, bands, novels, comics, and video games often get a bad rap. We’re nerds. We’re too invested in things that aren’t even real. We spend too much time and energy obsessing about our favorite X, Y or Z… Actually, though, fans exhibit many qualities and habits that are important to academic success: they are active ‘readers’ of texts; they are adept at studying complex social and cultural phenomena; they know how to find (i.e., research) things on the Internet; they form communities around shared interests; and, they often create original art, fiction, games, objects, or vids based on their fandom. Our FYS will approach fandom in much the same way fans approach the objects of their devotion: in a spirit of critically engaged ‘serious play’. Along the way, we will study a number of important aspects of online culture such as collective intelligence communities, crowd-sourcing/crowd-funding, big data/data visualization, user-generated content, mash-ups, remixes, and digital copyright, and social media and cultural citizenship. Assignments will be project-based, and will emphasize a range of information fluency and digital literacy skills. Class field trip to the Rhode Island Comic Con on November 3 or 4.
Section A09: The Seventh Art: Innovations of French Cinema from the Lumières Brothers to the Present
What is implied by the expression “the seventh art”? How have French directors resisted or appropriated the dominant Hollywood formula for filmmaking? How have they challenged social, political and sexual norms? In what ways have French directors influenced world cinema? In this seminar we study films from the silent period to Poetic Realism, Surrealism, the New Wave and beyond. Our goals: to learn how to “read” films, to understand how they were made, what they say about French culture, and how they influenced world cinema. We will also look at American remakes of French films and how they are adapted. Directors include Carné, Renoir, Cocteau, Truffaut, Godard, Rohmer, Buñuel, Varda, Denis, Beineix, Haneke, Audiard. (Films are subtitled in English)
Section A10: Black in Berlin
In Berlin, you can walk down a street named after Jesse Owens, the black American athlete whose four gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics famously upset Nazi theories of white superiority. But this is only one example of the many ways the city honors African-American history and culture. This course will compare the troubled histories of the U.S. and Germany regarding race and identity by exploring their similarities, differences, and complex relationships. We will begin by considering Berlin as a place of openness and opportunity for African Americans: it was here that W.E.B. Du Bois analyzed race as a social phenomenon, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s father added his middle name in honor of the German reformer. Next we will look at the deadly racial catastrophes of colonial violence and the Holocaust. Then we will turn to the changing social and economic climates of both countries, including Afro-German culture, the ecstatic German welcome of Barack Obama in 2008, and the hopes for a new post-racial era. We will finish the course with topics currently connecting the two countries, such as the use of Nazi flags in the U.S.
Section A11: Lights, Camera, Action! Modern East Asia on Screen
From Fu Manchu to Godzilla to Gangnam Style, cultural productions on or in East Asia have generated more than sensational frenzies around the world. These visual representations integrate and construct the evolving notions and implications of race, class, gender, identity, science, and nation-building in modern East Asia. How do popular cultural productions fit, reflect, or challenge the social political currents of their time? How do the changing on-screen constructions of China, Japan, and Korea compare and contrast? How do we make sense of the attraction of East Asian popular culture? Primarily through the lenses of film, anime, and music video, this course examines the intersections of cultural representations and history to gain a better understanding of modern East Asia.
Section A12: Father of Europe, King of Beasts: Charlemagne and the Early Middle Ages
Frankish king Charles the Great (r. 768–814 CE) loomed large in his lifetime—and not just because, at more than six feet tall, he literally towered over his people. As king, he vastly expanded his kingdom, ignited a great cultural renaissance, encouraged a tremendous building program, and was crowned Roman emperor by the pope. He also happened to build an animal park in northern Germany to which he brought myriad animals including peacocks and an elephant! After his death, Charlemagne became a Christian saint (despite his four wives and many concubines), and he remains to this day a symbol of European unity (in spite of his violent conversion of pagans). In this class, we will explore this complicated historical figure and his world. In studying Charlemagne, we will also hone our abilities to analyze historical texts and write historical essays.
Section A13: The Shape of Space
What is the shape of our universe? This is a question considered by both mathematicians and astronomers. Though there is consensus on the answer based on mathematical analysis of astronomical observations, we do not know for sure. To understand how to approach this question, we consider the perspective of an ant on a surface. How would an ant know whether it lived on a sphere, a donut-surface, a plane or some other unknown surface? We will consider the mathematical options for the shape of space and also study how astronomers gather evidence to support their hypothesis. We will explore spaces through the creation of mathematical objects, drawing and writing.
Section A14: Moral problems and moral reasoning
This course considers a range of contemporary moral problems drawn from the following challenges facing us today: global poverty, immigration, climate change, business ethics, biotechnology. We will consider a variety of and opposing viewpoints. Students will learn to identify and critically evaluate arguments. Texts will include, philosophical articles, case studies, and news stories. Student discussion of the issues is central.
Section A15: How Things Work
Why don’t you fall off an upside-down roller coaster? What is the difference between a flashlight and laser? How does your computer work? How does any digital electronics work? How is nuclear energy generated? This course will take you inside amazing technologies that you experience in your everyday life. You will examine roller coasters, lasers, computers, digital electronics, and more, and will gain practical knowledge of the physics that explains how they work. There is no pre-requisite for this course, but you need to have an active curiosity about the world around you and how things work.
Section A16: Red States, Blue States, and the Silver Screen
Politics has always been an important topic in Hollywood. From the silent era through the present, filmmakers, producers, writers, and actors have left imprints of their opinions about the U.S. government on film. In this course we will attempt to define political film, searching for political messages in films and analyzing the choices made by the collaborating artists responsible for a film’s ultimate form. Each week we will watch films covering wide-ranging topics such as corruption, race, gender, the role of the mass media, inequality, the environment, and many other subjects. Along the way, students will develop their own views about contemporary political controversies and learn about how their government makes difficult choices in the policymaking process.
Section A17: On Democracy
Democracy is a condition of the truly human life. It is, we are told, the best political system that human beings have ever tried. Why should we believe in these statements? What is democracy, we might ask. What are the theoretical and ethical justifications for a democratic way of life? Can we expect the emergence and endurance of democracy against any social background? What is the relationship between democracy and economic prosperity? Seeking answers to this set of questions, we will inquire into the nature of ideals such as tolerance and freedom of expression and study concepts like citizenship, totalitarianism and revolution. This intellectual journey will better prepare us for critical examination of our collective life. After all, as Socrates states, “the unexamined life is not worth living!”
Section A18: Fibs, Fads, or Facts: Creating 3 lbs of Fabulous
Does dark chocolate really improve brain function by lowering blood pressure, decreasing depression, enhancing memory, and abating inflammation? Do you need to eat 17 bars of pure cocoa a day for 20 years to reap these benefits? This seminar will harness science to understand the best practices for brain optimization. We will separate the fibs, from the fads, and highlight the facts for diet (dark chocolate, caffeine, superfoods, fish oil) exercise (high-intensity interval training, aerobic), meditation and sleep. Let’s calibrate your brain, keep it humming along smoothly, and get the most of your 3 lbs!
Section A19: Psychology in the Media
Portrayals of psychological distress and psychotherapy are widespread in television and film. Yet, have you ever questioned the accuracy or the implications of these depictions? For example, how do depictions of mental health providers on television influence the public perception of clinical psychologists, and the way in which individuals seek psychological care? In this seminar, we will explore and evaluate the ways in which psychological distress and psychologists are potentially (mis)represented in the popular media, as well as the ethics and implications of media portrayals of psychological distress and psychotherapy. We will also explore the field of Media Psychology, and garner an understanding of the media’s power of persuasion. Students will gain exposure to the discipline of psychology, with an emphasis on social psychology and clinical psychology. Students will be asked to demonstrate their learning by actively participating in class discussions, completing a media project, writing a paper on their findings, and presenting the findings to the class.
Section A20: Sacred Plants
Our work during the semester will involve a multi-disciplinary, integrative approach to the study of human beings and their cultural relationships with plants, especially the plants deemed special or powerful. Anthropological and religious studies provide insights into indigenous and shamanic use of plants, such as the Huichol Indian visionary and healing use of peyote. In South America the Amazonian shamans sing to the plants, including ayahuasca, believed to facilitate an encounter with Mother Ayahuasca herself, the spirit of all plants. This course attempts to take learning beyond the classroom including experiential learning as well as a contemplative studies component. Each student will try to keep a houseplant of their choice flourishing in their dorm room during the semester, and reflect on the experience. We may plant some trees. We may invent our own harvest ritual celebration with the residents of “Farm House.’ We may have the chance to engage in service learning at a nearby zen center. In preparation for the seminar students are asked to read the first chapter of Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire, “The Apple” and view the 1949 bio-fiction animation short, “Johnny Appleseed.”
Section A21: From Hell to Hogwarts
The trip to hell and back is one of the founding myths of Western culture. It dates back at least to The Epic of Gilgamesh and continues strong to this day. Looking at three-thousand-year-old narratives—and more recent stories—can help us address some fundamental questions about culture. How do traditions work? What role does translation play in tradition? How are old stories from Babylon and Greece retooled and reused for new purposes today? What is the nature of creativity? How are cultural and historical concerns represented in artistic texts? In other words, what does Homer have to do with Harry Potter? Readings will include works by Homer, Virgil, Dante, TS Eliot and JK Rowling.
Section A22: Mobsters, Terrorists, and CEO’s: Organizational Crime
The goal of this course is to give the student a broad, sociological orientation to understanding the phenomenon of criminal organizations and of criminals in organizations. Specific attention will be paid to the origins, history, culture, organizational structure, and goals of various types of criminal organizations and of criminals in organizations including La Cosa Nostra, the Yakuza, business corporations, terrorist cells, street gangs, outlaw motorcycle gangs, and the like. The types of crimes these organizations are involved in and the efforts of law enforcement in fighting OC groups, will also be analyzed.
Section A23: Global Poverty
“Extreme poverty” still remains one of the greatest global and humanitarian challenges in the 21st century. More than a billion people in the world live each day without food, water, shelter, clothing, sanitation, healthcare, and education. Why are they pushed into such dire physical and social predicaments? Does poverty simply mean lacking money or material resources? How do factors such as geography, class, caste, gender, race, ethnicity, and nationality affect poverty? We will adopt a ‘global approach’ to examine how power and inequality play out within and across national borders.
Section A24: Theatre and Social Change
Theatre is a mirror for society to see and experience itself. Watching a well-made play forces us to think, sometimes makes us weep, and reveals 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 as a tool to help communities talk about difficult issues regarding race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, class, religion, and politics. We will study contemporary playwrights who explore controversial issues within their plays and explore how to engage our wider community in dialogue and in deepening our collective ability to listen, to see, and to understand one another. We will build a collaborative community amongst ourselves, share our work with the larger Wheaton community, discover our unique social and political voice, and create unique ways for the Wheaton community to discuss difficult issues in a new way.
Section A25: “I Like It but I Don’t Know Why” or How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty and Truth
In Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty and Truth noted film critic A.O. Scott suggests that the art of critical thinking not only enhances our relationship with the world but improves our lives. Why do we like what we like? What forms our taste? By deeply engaging with all manner of art and performance students will further develop their own aesthetic, articulate their thoughts with greater clarity and confidently defend what they love. Over the course of the semester we will attend various performances, visit museums, watch films, read books and listen to music. Course material ranges from the polarizing to the popular, from ballet to professional wrestling, the telenovela to improv comedy. We will discuss, debate and disagree. Arguing can be fun! The semester culminates with individual research projects diving deep into a favorite genre/work as well as a strongly disliked form. Students will improve their analytical, writing and public speaking skills and better understand academic research.
Section A26: Rituals of Dinner
Margaret Visser suggests in her book The Rituals of Dinner that table manners originated to curb our instincts to use our knives on our fellow diners rather than on our dinner. The rituals of dinner have become the symbolic means for representing, performing, and mediating conflicts – within cultures, between different cultures, and between humans and other than human beings in the natural world. We will analyze not only texts from the Bible and Plato’s Symposium which profoundly shaped Western ideas and practices of meals, but also food movies that represent more contemporary and multicultural perspectives on food and meals. We will make and perform food and rituals outside of class. The meal rituals we study, perform, and design are to integrate “book knowledge” and experiential knowledge. Rituals get us to know things not only in our minds, but also in our limbs and sense organs.
Section A27: Love, Birth and Dead in English Renaissance Literature
Queen Elizabeth I created a courtier culture in which poets sought her patronage in exchange for the honor they gave her in their works. English folk of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries could see a public hanging once a week and were mindful of death’s nearness through eruptions of the plague that closed the theatres sporadically throughout these decades. We’ll read some of the greatest poetry and plays written in English and research some of the conventions of love, death, and birth from cultural and literary sources.