First-Year Seminars are designed to stimulate intellectual curiosity, introduce academic expectations and engage you independent of future major or minor choices. The seminar topics vary each year, as do the professors who teach them, so the classroom discussions are always fresh and interesting.
Each Seminar is constructed around a different interest, like flight, consumerism or rock and roll music, and Seminar classes are small – usually about 15 students – which helps students feel more comfortable in a new environment and allows the students and faculty members to develop close working relationships.
Below, you'll find a list of the First-Year Seminars being offered during the fall semester. This year's Seminars cover a wide-range of topics and disciplines, and we're sure you'll find several that interest you. After you've looked over the list and identified the courses that you find appealing, log in to the Orientation website and complete the Academic Direction Task no later than June 6.
Please note: We provide the listing below as a resource for students and families, not as a complete listing. As courses fill up with students, they will be removed from the Academic Direction form, but they may still appear on this page. The Academic Direction task is the most up-to-date source of currently available courses.
Trust and Betrayal
Professor Karen Frost-Arnold
Trust between people makes life worth living, and yet trusting others makes us vulnerable to betrayal. This seminar explores the nature of trust and betrayal, as well as related questions of power, morality, and knowledge: How do I know whom to trust? What makes someone trustworthy? How does prejudice influence whom we trust and distrust? By examining situations in which trust was betrayed by doctors who experimented on humans, corporations who manipulated science to make a profit, and business professionals whose conflicts-of-interest undermined the national economy, students will study the role of social institutions and personal morality. We will also study a variety of vexing questions that we find in our daily lives and in television and film... What is a trusting romantic relationship? Does it make sense to trust a vampire or a gangster? Am I trustworthy?
Stealing Art, Saving Art
Professor Michael Tinkler
What motivates people to collect art? What motivates people to steal art? What motivates rare individuals to fake art? In this FSEM, students look at the seamy underside and the high-minded public face of cultural property, and the art world, from NAZI looters to museum directors. Among the topics considered: the transition from the Indiana Jones era of archaeology to scientific excavation; Goering's art looting and contemporary art restitution processes' the role of art museums in the restoration, conservation, and exhibition of art; and the complicated business of art fraud and forgery. This course is taught as a learning community.
You Are Here: Geneva 101
Professors Anna Creadick, Nick Ruth, Kevin Dunn
Welcome to Geneva, N.Y., your place of residence for the next four years; the first four years of your adult life. This course sets up your Geneva home as a laboratory in which to seek to understand the complex interaction of forces that produce a "place." We will consider the richness of place from four different angles: demographics, natural environment, built environment, and human activity. Each approach will reveal something different, yet each will overlap with and influence the others. We will read a wide range of texts, walk streets and land, consider work and play, and talk to people who live in and look at Geneva. In the end, we will examine how we come to know and understand any location, while coming to know this place, Geneva, in a personal and profound way.
Professor Renee Monson
I will use the concept of class as the organizing framework or prism through which we will explore social structure, culture, social institutions, and social inequality. My intent is to ensure that from here on out, whenever you want to get to know a new place or a new set of people, you will ask: "What is the class structure here, and how has it changed in the last thirty years? How does class shape the culture and the social rules that govern behavior here? How does class affect people's everyday lives here- their friendships, their work, their family life? How does class shape what is possible for the future of this place?
Face to Face Interrogating Race
Professor James McCorkle
This course examines the parallel structures of segregation in the U.S. and apartheid in South Africa. The basic premise is that through the lens of another culture and history, we can come to examine our own. The causes and effects of segregation and apartheid on race relations are the central focus. How race affects gender, class, and social spaces is explored throughout the readings. Taught from the perspectives of professors from South Africa and the United States, the course provides unique insights into the histories of these two countries.
Facets of Islam
Professor Susanne McNally
Islam is important. All Muslims are not religious or political extremists, yet the most immediately threatening challenges to Western modernity are emerging from radical Muslim groups. Furthermore, Muslim countries control most of the fuel on which our current lifestyle is based. For these reasons alone, Americans need to understand the Muslim world far better than we presently do. But the defensive dictum to “know your enemy” is only the most shallow reason for studying Islam, which is the fastest growing religion in the world today. Why is that? Students explore with critical but open minds the appeal of this religious tradition and way of life. “Facets of Islam” first constructs a basic but coherent narrative of Islam in history. Then students sample the splendors of Islamic civilization in architecture, science, gardens, and poetry. Students confront honestly some problematic and troubling issues which divide the Muslim worldview from our own. Finally, students remind themselves of the diversity of the Muslim world today in music, food, and festival.
Tales of the Village Idiot
Professor David Galloway
In this course, students survey the wealth of Russian folk tales, epic songs, legends, riddles and other elements of the oral tradition as well as the later literature these genres inspired. Students examine characters such as the Firebird, Baba-Yaga the witch, Koshchei the Deathless and llya Muromets, and read many types of folktales, including magical, animal and "idiot" tales. Materials include art and music arising from the Russian folk tradition. Students also consider the role of folklore in contemporary American life, and the ways in which some genres continue to produce new examples of folklore.
Philos Through Lit, Drama & Film
Professor Carol Oberbrunner
How do we gain knowledge? Is the truth relative to the individual? What makes me me? Am I free to make my own choices? How should I live? Is the natural world the whole of reality? These and other perennial philosophical questions about knowledge, meaning, reality, persons, morality, and society are central themes in literature, drama, and film. Short philosophical readings will provide contexts for discussions of ways of knowing, the distinction between appearance and reality, problems of human freedom and responsibility, the nature of persons and machines, the problem of understanding evil, and the possibility of moral truth.
Rock Music & American Masculinities
Dean Rocco Capraro
Elvis, Dylan, the Beatles, the Stones, Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Bruce Springsteen. They were some of the central figures in the history of rock music in America and England from the 1950's to the 1980's. But what kind of men were they? This seminar offers an interdisciplinary look at the lives of these men of rock through the lens of men's studies: i.e., through the history and theory of men's identity and experience. In their study of the biographies of the men who made the soundtrack of mid-20th century Anglo-American popular culture, students will develop an appreciation for the role of gender, race, class, sexuality, and nation in shaping men's lives. This course is taught as a learning community.
Consuming the World
Professors Kristen Brubaker, Thomas Drennen, Robin Lewis, Tarah Rowse
We are all consumers. We buy things. We use things up. We throw things away. Often we do all of this without considering the life cycle of these "things." Think about all the t-shirts you own. Do you know what materials make up your t-shirts? Moreover, do you know what was required to get these t-shirts to you in the first place? While these questions may seem to have simple answers, the reality is that each of the "things” we consume has a complex secret life of its own, one worthy of further consideration. This course will explore the complex relationship between sustainability and consumption, paying specific attention to the myriad ways in which individual consumption practices shape global outcomes.
Artists Making Art: Craft Tradition
Professor Benjamin Ristow
What does an artist (or artisan) mean when they use the term "craft"? One way to answer this question is to say that craft represents the "method" or 'technique" for creating an art object. This object of creation may be a tangible artifact with a physical form such as piece of red figure pottery from classical Greece or a quilt stitched by a woman in the Gee's Bend Collective. Some artists, however, that use the term craft to describe their work created art from less tangible material such as a jazz improvisation or a performance art piece. This course examines the historical and artistic tradition(s) of craft through the writing, performances, conversations, and other stuff that artists use to do and understand their work. We also discuss how craft has been taught in workshops, commodified in the marketplace, and defined in relation to modernity, and more recently, in digital space. Along with highlighting the technical and pedagogical features of craft, the course investigates the ways that craft embodies knowledge through the process of art making.
Monsters in America
Professor Laura Free
From the Witches of Salem, to the Alien Invaders of Area 51, to the Vampires of Sunnydale, and the Walking Dead of Atlanta, Americans throughout their history have embodied their deepest cultural and social fears as horrifying, other-worldly creatures. Gender theorist Judith Halberstam argues that monsters are "meaning machines," metaphors through which a community defines itself. In other words, what we fear can tell us much about who we are. This class examines American history by exploring the dominant monster myths of the past four centuries, using the idea of the horrific as unique window into America's past. This course is taught as a learning community.
The Hand Made Tale
Professor John Vaughn
This course is designed to engage students in both hands-on and intellectual investigations of the world around them. The students will be designing/making/building/coding/researching a variety of objects while reading about the context from which these objects arise. The objects created will include airplanes, mobile robots, solar ovens, novel board games, geometric constructions, paper arts, and clocks. These creations will be demonstrated in various public venues for the campus community to enjoy. These projects are supported by a variety of readings and writing intensive assignments to deepen an understanding of the history and significance of hand-made items which spring from the creativity of the mind. Students will each pursue an individual reading and writing project matching the overall theme of the course.
Making of the Samurai
Professor Lisa Yoshikawa
Sword fighting. Harakiri. Loyalty. Honor. These are some of the popular images of samurai and bushido that we have today. However, much of what we associate today with these terms originated only a few centuries ago. In this course, we will explore the history, image, and the concept of the samurai and bushido in the Japanese past and present. Students will learn when the warriorsemerged as significant actors in Japanese society, and how their roles and the perceptions of their roles evolved. We will focus especiallyon how the warriorsadapted to the relative peace of the Tokugawa period (1600-1868) and how the image created as a result was further amplified and manipulated by ideologues under the great Japanese Empire (1868-1945), especially during the Asia-Pacific War. The fall of the Japanese Empire in 1945 did not occasion the demise of the ideal of bushido as attested by works of such authors as Mishima Yukio and continuing popularity of samurai films in Japan. This course is taught as a learning community.
The History of Everything
Professor Grant Holly
Did you know that it was not until 300,000 years after the "big bang" that light occurred, or that in the year 2000, the tenth largest economic entity in the world was Microsoft (Australia was thirteenth, to put things in prospective)? David Christian's Maps of Time is an example of a recent form of historiography called "big history," because it attempts to locate human beings from the perspective of much larger contexts than the traditional historical periods. Christian's book begins nanoseconds after the 'big bang," describes the development of the universe, the formation of our planet, the origins and evolution of life, including human life, and continues to trace human history through the origins of agriculture, the development of cities, states, and civilizations, the development of world religions, etc., up to globalization and the modern world, and then it peeks into future. What this course will do is to give us the opportunity to orient and seek to understand ourselves in relation to a variety of contexts from the cosmic to the global to the national and the local, contexts which, as Christian's book shows us, no matter how vast, or distant, or alien they may seem, create the patterns that play an intimate role in shaping our lives.
Professor Richard Salter '86
What does it mean for us to go home? As we change our ideas of home change, and so too do the circumstances from which we return. By Thanksgiving break, every first year student will face directly the question of "home." Half of HWS will students face it after studying abroad. And in a time of multiple wars, it is a question that the current generation will wrestle with for the rest of its lives. We will start our exploration with the classic tale of return, The Odyssey. We will follow Homer with "re-takes" on the Odyssey by Nikos Kazantzakis (in The Odyssey: a Modern Sequel), Derek Walcott (in Omeros), and a "retelling" of the Odyssey from Penelope's perspective in The Penelopiad. The course will end with a policy discussion regarding Veterans in the USA based on Jonathan Shay's Odysseus In America, a psychoanalytic exploration of what it meant for Vietnam Veterans to return home after the war.
Thinking and Creating
Professor Donna Davenport
This is a seminar about intelligence, creativity, and all the students in the class - how you think and create. While we study the theory of multiple intelligences, intelligence testing, theories of creativity, and learning in the arts, the course will explore each student's thinking patterns, problem-solving styles, and innate capacity for creativity. This seminar was first taught in 1993 and has evolved over time, influenced by each class of first-year students. This year the seminar is designed to focus on thinking and creating in relation to American education, both higher education and K-12. Classroom experiences will be directed toward the development of non-conformist thinking and acceptance of self and others.
Education, Justice & Happiness
Professors Steven Lee and Rodman King
Worried about injustice and misery in a society that had executed his great teacher, Socrates, for "corrupting the youth," Plato devoted one of the greatest books ever written to the question of how people can live in a way that leads to social justice and personal happiness. His concerns inspired him to investigate many topics that remain important today: education, the equality of the sexes, democracy and tyranny, psychological health, class divisions, censorship and the nature of art, and the nature of knowledge and reality. Plato's Republic remains one of the most interesting works about education, justice, and happiness. In this seminar, we read the Republic, cover to cover, along with modern works, and discuss the parallels between these important topics as they arose in ancient Athens and as they arise in the 21st century and in our own experience.
Paris, Je T'Aime
Professor Catherine Gallouet
This course will examine contemporary French life in the light of American points of view about France today. We will study Paris as the perceived historical and cultural "center" of the French world. French life will be studied through its multiple productions, (the life of the city, cinema, literature and cuisine). We will pay particular attention on how Americans have related to the city and its culture, and by extension to French culture, by examining the experience of American expatriated in France, and how their representations may construct stereotypes of the "city of lights" and of France. This course is taught as a learning community.
Under the Spell
Professor Maureen Flynn
This seminar explores the aesthetic appreciation of the natural environment as the source of inspiration for some of the world's greatest artistic and technological achievements. After listening to the "call of the wild" in primitive as well as modern societies like our own, we come to understand how intensely the human imagination has followed the course of the stars and the rush of leaves, rivers, and birds, in carving out its religions, its habitations, its medicines and its emotional dispositions. Your entry into this world begins with a dip into Seneca Lake, followed by several other sensory adventures, including a trip to the Farm Sanctuary and the Watkins Glen Gorge. Each event will be accompanied by a writing assignment. The course will prepare you to research and write a scientific paper, an historical paper, a letter of correspondence, a piece of fiction, and poetry. In addition, you will be engaged in drawing the natural world around you, in caring for a plant, and in theatrically enacting a scene of biomimicry.
Olympics: People, Places, Pas & Power
Professor Christine de Denus
The summer and winter Olympiads are fascinating examples of athleticism and teamwork made successful by individuals from every corner of the globe. So, what appeals to you about the Olympics? Is it the athletes? marketing? culture and rituals/history? politics? architecture? science?/ economics? sustainability? volunteerism? This seminar will examine what it takes to make each Olympiad a success and take a deeper look at the many disciplines and fields behind the Olympic games.
Professor Ronald Gerrard
For the majority of Americans who live in cities and suburbs, rural America is "hidden country," usually out of sight and out of mind. This course explores rural America by examining one of its most distinctive cultural products, country music. In particular, it examines similarities and differences between rural people and the varied images of them which country music portrays. Country music is said to express traditional family values, for example, but is notorious for songs about drinking and cheating. It is created by plain simple folk, who just happen to wear brightly colored rhinestone suits. It is deeply religious, but also historically deeply violent. How can such contradictory images be understood? Where do they come from and what purposes do they serve? With a closer look, neither country music nor country people are as simple as they first appear. The music itself is a blend of European, African-American, and urban influences, not the 'pure' product of rural white southerners that many suppose. Beneath the 'simple values' it expresses lie complex realities of rural poverty, social divisions of class, race and region, and mutual misunderstanding between city and country folk. The course will examine these issues, exploring how country music reflects but also distorts rural life. Disentangling myth from reality, stereotype from substance, is the key to a deeper appreciation of both country music and country people.
Law & Order in Ancient Athens
Professor James Capreedy
What did the law protect? How did the Athenians administer justice? How did the courts operate and what were the penalties? In this course we will read court speeches from ancient Athens and examine the ways in which rhetoric and law converged, and justice was administered. We will study how the Athenians defined, developed, and exercised law within their own cultural beliefs and how the Athenian legal system compares to modern western law including its differences, similarities and uniting principles. Law as an idea , then, is as central to this course as the practices and procedures of the ancient Athenian court system.
Parched: Past, Present, Future of Water
Professor Tara Curtin
Water is a necessity of life. It is nature's ultimate paradox: the softest natural 'element' in both classical and eastern thought and yet one capable of overcoming all the others. Water is an agent of purification, healing, nourishment, and mechanical power. It is also an agent of destruction and devastation. Water is the most plentiful natural resource on Earth and yet a resource that increasingly proves unobtainable when humans seek and need it most. In the midst of global climate change, environmental crises for water resources and the political debates over water, we have come to the realization of our complete dependence on water.Students will examine and draw conclusions about the nature of humankind's encounter with water using maps, biographies, autobiographies, poems, movies, novels, and scholarly articles. Through lectures, class discussion, debates, short essays, blogging, and research papers, this course will provide students with the tools to explore how the environment naturally produces safe, clean drinking water; how humans obtain and use these water resources; water quality and water pollution; water treatment processes; energy generation; and how we can sustain our water resources in perpetuity. This course is taught as a learning community.
Einstein, Relativity and Time
Professor Donald Spector
Einstein’s theory of relativity is one of the triumphs of human thought, changing our understanding of our universe. The implications of relativity, which arose from a simple consideration of light, reached far and wide, from understanding the origins of the universe, to re-thinking philosophical issues, to influences across the arts. In this course, we will explore relativity, its concepts and its mathematics. This will lead us into related areas from exotica like black holes and time travel, to a better understanding of light in science and the arts, and to the social and historical context from which relativity emerged. This course is taught as a learning community.
Professor Eric Klaus
What does hell look like? What does a fantasy realm of water nymphs have in common with a nightmarish 25th -century dystopian civilization? What can these fictional spaces teach us about culture and what happens when cultures collide? We will consider these and other questions as we read and map the spaces found in landmark works of Western fiction. After a general discussion of culture as a fluid web of interpretations, we will read seminal texts and create digital maps of these fictional worlds in order to examine the relationships between cultural manifestations and ideals and their representations in fiction. Finally, we will assume a fictional persona and "travel" to one of these worlds to document our impressions, experiences, and confusions in travelogues that trace the process of cross-cultural encounters and identity formation.
Professor Khuram Hussain
Why are people willing to march, protest and risk their lives and livelihood for schools they can believe in? There is no public institution that inspires, enrages and connects to American ideals about "public good" more than schools. But what is "good"? In this seminar we ask, what's worth fighting for in school... and why? We will interrogate the conflicts that rage over what the purpose of schools should be and who should decide.Public protests,creative peoples' movements and even military intervention have been waged with the aim of directing the destiny of public education. Through discussions, formal debates,group projects,lectures,films and readings we will trace dynamic interests that vie to influence schools and direct education policy. We will pay particular attention to the voices and ideas of educators, policy makers, grassroots leaders and community activists over the past fifty years.This seminar will help students identify, contextualize and articulate the multiple dimensions of major policy debates in American education. Students will learn how to approach topics such as charter schools, standardized testing and school choice as critical consumers of information and consider various political, cultural and historical perspectives.
Am I crazy? Madness in History, Culture & Science
Professor Stephen Cope
Mad geniuses, crazy athletes, weird artists, political and religious fanatics, horror films, ghost stories, the confessions of loners, losers, and outcasts-all have to do with the distinction between that which is strange and that which is familiar, those who are similar to us and those who are different, those who are normal and those who are abnormal-in short, those who are "crazy" and those who are "sane." In this seminar, our aim will be to come to terms with what this curious and mercurial thing called "madness" is , as well as what it means-ethically and politically--to decide that someone is mad and someone else is not. Among other things,we will look at 1) how the definitions of madness and sanity have changed radically over the course of recorded history;2)how these definitions often overlap with broader social and cultural definitions of normalcy, morality, health, fitness,and criminality, 3)how the discourse of madness often intersects with social and cultural attitudes towards gender, race, class, ethnicity, and sexuality. By reading texts from numerous disciplines (psychology, philosophy, medicine, science, history, fiction, drama,anthropology,sociology)as well as viewing a number of films and conducting our own preliminary research, we will explore varying definitions of "madness" from a broad cultural and historical perspective, paying particular attention not only to the ways in which madness has been defined, but how different cultures and societies at different historical moments have celebrated, pathologized, or sought to "cure" the insane. This course is taught as a learning community.
Narratives on Disability
Professor Helen McCabe
This course will introduce students to the lives of individuals with disabilities through personal narratives, written by individuals with disabilities as well as by family members. While the main readings for the course will be these personal accounts (mainly books), we will also consider the issues about disability in society raised in the books through supplemental readings. Issues to be examined include educational opportunity and inclusion, social participation and challenges, and family perspectives and issues.
The Avian Persuasion
Professor Caroline Manring
If you've ever wished you could fly, join the club. If you've ever wondered why you wished you could fly, take this course. Humans have always been drawn to birds. We'll ask why as we try to understand human relationships with birds from the perspectives of writers, musicians, scientists, and back yard bird-watchers, among other types of thinkers by getting in their shoes. In doing so, can we discover and develop individual relationships with birds that will enhance our connection to the natural world? Can such a heightened awareness change our ways of being, and help change the fate of a planet? Activities include: outdoor birding, scientific and literary readings, film viewings, field trips, a falconry presentation with live birds, guest speakers, critical and creative writing, discussion, individual field observation time, and personalized, species-specific final projects. Viewings come from films such as Winged Migration, March of the Penguins and The Life of Birds; book-based readings include excerpts from Song of the Dodo, Wesley the Owl, Sibley's Birding Basics, The Goshawk, Winter World, The Birde's Conservation Handbook, Mind of the Raven, and Providence of a Sparrow, as well as articles and literary works. The course will emphasize active synthesis of firsthand experience and outside/secondary sources. Each student will need a field guide to the birds of North America (Sibley or Peterson recommended) a field notebook, and binoculars (8x recommended).
You'll notice that some of our Seminars are also part of a Learning Community, a distinctive living and learning environment that enhances the connections between courses and extracurricular events.
Learn more about Learning Communities.