April 20, 2012

First Year Seminar Course Descriptions

First-Year Seminars are a critical part of the Common Course of Study, a co-requisite for other courses taken by students in their first semester, and a prerequisite for subsequent courses.

Students should understand that in case of a schedule conflict between a First-Year Seminar and a required major degree course, the major course will take precedence, and an alternate seminar option will be assigned.


If you are just now selecting your FYS courses please select from the chart below. The FYS courses on the chart below are the courses that currenlty have open seats. As always if you have any questions please feel free to contact Dean Morris.

Current FYS List as of 7/20/17

FYS-012. Photography and Race in America

We will consider the connections between photography and race through photographic case studies. From 19th century photographs of slaves to recent images of police brutality against people of color, students will learn how to examine each image from multiple vantage points. “Reading” photographs will make students aware of the nature of photography: its subjective, historical, and theoretical implications and how those affect our lives. Assignments include analytic essays, film screenings, field trips, and photographic exercises. –Professor Skvirsky

FYS-013. Deviance

What does it mean to be a deviant? Or to deviate from some standard? In disciplines such as drawing, physics, and poetry, deviation emerges in avant-garde circles that often challenge the status quo of a given tradition (abstract expressionism, quantum physics, projective verse poetry). But “deviation” also has larger ideological concerns as deviants are seen as threats to a supposedly stable social structure. From queer subcultures to ancient philosophies of atomism to the BlackLivesMatter phenomena, this course explores how cultures of deviance are often political strategies of resistance to the way bodies are normalized and regulated. – Professor Fernandes

FYS-015. The Endurance of Race

This seminar explores how race and ethnicity is mediated through film and media by analyzing the tangle between the construction of race and visual technology. Beginning with early image-making and the birth of cinema, we will examine how ways of seeing, the rise of mass media in modern consumer society, and the relationship between visual culture and power are deeply intertwined to influence and perpetuate racialized difference. We will study a range of media such as early ethnographic films and Hollywood cinema, and will look at how counter cinema and global activism have helped to draw attention to these images in important ways. – Professor Sikand

FYS-028. Money: The Root of All Evil?

While the most recent financial crisis has heightened awareness of what can happen when the financial systems runs amok, this crisis was just one of several that plagued the markets at various times within the last two centuries. This course focuses on the financial history of currency and the capital markets through a critical examination of their functioning and impact from their beginnings to the present day. – Professor Bukics

FYS-031. What is a Miracle?

This seminar explores miracles and the miraculous in religious traditions from around the world. Students learn about the role miracles play in religious narratives and explore how miracles contribute to conceptions of God and human power. Modern challenges to the reality of miracles are considered. Additionally, the category of “miracle” is analyzed and evaluated from various angles including philosophy, anthropology, and popular culture. – Professor Hendrickson

FYS-035. Technology and Society The Semiconductor Era

Semiconductor devices (transistors and integrated circuits) are the heart of modern electronic technology.  They allow the construction of larger electronic products and systems that have brought transformative changes to the ways we live, work, communicate, and play.  In this seminar we develop a qualitative non-technical understanding of how these devices are designed, manufactured, and applied to build larger systems.  We then discuss the impact of these systems on society in the past, present, and future. – Professor Nestor

 FYS-036. Trials of the Century

This interdisciplinary seminar will examine the “Trials of the Century” that have captivated the general public’s attention because of the highly controversial issues they raised, the publicity they received, and the decisions that resulted. By examining these great trials, using political, historical and legal academic lenses, we will refine our critical analytical skills and better understand both our legal and political systems, and the resulting changes in law and society. – Professor Murphy 

FYS-039. Music and Gender

Can we hear gender difference in music? Why are there no “great” women composers? What power does a performance wield? To examine these questions, we will explore issues of sexual aesthetics, power, class, cha(lle)nging the roles, and gender as/and performance. In an active classroom environment and discussion based course, you will challenge, lead, explore and develop your own point of view while you discover your own contribution to the arts through valid argument. – Professor Kelly

FYS-041. Crazy in Love: Romantic Love in the Western World 

This seminar explores how even the most intimate and seemingly personal forms of experience are shaped by culture and history. We’ll consider how our ideas about love have evolved over time, from the development of medieval chivalry to the rise of modern psychiatry. Along the way, we’ll assess how scientific accounts of love, as well as our most famous love-stories, mesh with the actual experience of it. – Professor Wadiak

FYS-043. Charisma

Charisma, meaning “gift of grace,” denotes a deeply personal, yet anti-institutional type of authority, shared by certain cult leaders and revolutionaries, religious visionaries and political prophets, antinomians and avant-garde artists. There is also the charisma of place and thing, from sacred shrines and objects, to famous art works and national monuments. The course will explore the meaning of charisma, with case studies in enthusiastic religion, political revolution, and antinomian avant-garde art movements. – Professor Schneiderman

FYS-044. Multiculturalism in the Medieval Mediterranean World

The idea of “multiculturalism” is often associated with modernity. The reality is, however, that multiculturalism was a part of the everyday lives of people living from Cordoba to Naples to Jerusalem to Constantinople in the medieval period. Reading both secondary and primary sources (translated from Arabic, Armenian, French, Greek, Persian, Spanish and Turkish), this course will engage with the different ways in which diversities (ethnic, linguistic, racial and religious) were experienced and understood in the medieval Mediterranean. – Professor Gosgharian 

FYS-048. Baseball

This seminar will examine baseball from a variety of viewpoints: its history, the importance of statistics, the economics of the sport, and its impact on civil rights. Baseball statistics have undergone a renaissance in the past 20 years, and the “Moneyball” approach to scouting has revolutionized the way players are evaluated. We’ll read and write about baseball, and learn something about its place in American life over the past 100 years. – Professor Gordon

FYS-055. Leaving Downtown: Race, Ethnicity, and the Creation of the Suburbs

Where did residents go when their multi-racial, multi-ethnic neighborhood (“Syrian Town”) in downtown Easton, PA was demolished in the 1960s? And why did so many residents join the rapidly growing suburbs surrounding the city? Through interviews with the very people who made this shift, field trips, and interdisciplinary research, students will answer this and related questions while exploring the unforeseen consequences of the suburban revolution. – Professor Smith

FYS-059. Feed the World

Food: its effective development and distribution comprise a global, grand challenge. Though many in the world go hungry, others consume modified and artificial foods in unhealthy abundance. We will develop interdisciplinary methods of addressing these complex challenges: combining thoughtful analyses of societal issues with a design process used to develop new technologies. Students will learn about, and work in teams to develop possible solutions that include political, economic, biological, chemical, and engineering approaches. – Professor Stewart-Gambino & Professor Rossmann

FYS-064. Global Justice

While few people would deny that we have special, and sometimes quite demanding, obligations to help our friends, family, or even our fellow citizens, it is controversial whether we have these same kinds of obligations to complete strangers. The guiding question of this course will be What, if anything, do we owe such people? Three main topics will provide the focus of discussion: international economic inequality, climate change, and war. – Professor Jezzi

FYS-065. The Uses and Abuses of Science in Science Fiction

In their novels, science fiction writers incorporate many ideas from cutting-edge science, some imaginative and insightful, others blatantly at odds with established scientific principles. Students will critically examine applications of science in the novels of Robert L. Forward and Arthur C. Clarke, among others. Readings from the novels will be interspersed with readings from books such as The Physics of Star Trek, by Lawrence Krauss, which explain the relevant science in terms accessible to non-scientists. – Professor Hoffman

FYS-077. The Dog Course

“Man’s best friend?” Nature’s most successful parasite?  Employing a range of perspectives–literary, philosophical, archaeological, biological and technological–we will examine specific constructions of the dog at various moments in human history.  We will consider issues of evolution, domestication, the morality and technology of breeding, and the psychological comforts of anthropomorphic representation.  Because field trips and other required activities will involve contact with dogs, this course is not recommended for those who may be afraid of dogs or have health issues that could be made worse by interacting with dogs. – Professor Falbo

FYS 080. Creature: Animals in Contemporary Culture

Why are animals and “animality” becoming more frequent themes in recent literature, performance, and visual art? How is this trend to be understood in relation to global climate change, habitat loss, extinction, ecological ethics, and “pet” economies in contemporary culture? This course begins with a broad introduction to the ways animals have been theorized within our own (Western) intellectual tradition, engages major critical questions within animal philosophy in recent decades, and then applies these rubrics to contemporary texts, performances, and artworks that ask us to think about animals in provocative ways. Professor Rohman 

FYS-086. Propaganda

What is propaganda? What are some of the most common propaganda techniques? How, if at all, does propaganda differ from other forms of persuasion? Is the use of propaganda to influence opinion always ethically suspect? How is it suspect? Is it possible that propaganda could be used to communicate accurate information, or must propaganda always be misleading? In this First Year Seminar we will examine these, and related, questions from an historical, sociological, psychological and philosophical perspective. – Professor Shieber 

FYS-106. Mate Choices: From People to Peacocks

Sexual reproduction is a driving factor in the animal world, but how do the principles of mate choice apply to humans? In this course, students will investigate the underlying biology of mate choice in non-human animals, and assess if these principles can be applied to humans as well. Students will then examine this topic from additional perspectives, including how social factors and laws affect both short and long term mate choice decisions in humans. – Professor Butler  

FYS 109. Understanding Design 

This seminar requires students to develop their observational skills in order to study and evaluate the design of a range of product types. Through observational drawing, journaling, readings, discussion, and focused writing, students will explore and reflect on the elements of good design. – Professor Roth

FYS-114. The Values of Cinema

Learn how to look at works of cinematic art in an informed and reflective way. We will emphasize the importance, to properly understanding and evaluating a movie, of considering all of its cinematic features, including genre, relationship to other works, screenplay, camera work, music, etc., and of becoming informed on whatever is relevant to the content conveyed—all features that a casual viewer might miss. The seminar includes film screenings outside of regular class time. – Professor Giovannelli

FYS-116. Manipulation of Appearances

Social commentators lament an apparent new rise in dishonesty, the inauthentic” and “spin” in contemporary American society. Such critics are late to the party-individuals and institutions have manipulated appearances for their own ends for centuries. In this seminar we will ask: How do people manipulate appearances successfully? What are some consequences of rampant deception in everyday life? To explore those questions we will study theories of deception and impression management and analyze examples like deceptive advertising political spin and lying in social and work relationships.” – Professor Shulman

FYS-118. Fear

Fear is a pervasive aspect of society. Since the events of 9/11, issues surrounding fear, terror, and personal and national security have become nightly news as well as the foundation for a new national policy. TV shows with fear-based plot features have proliferated. This seminar takes an interdisciplinary approach to the understanding of fear as a primary emotion and as an influence in society. Through discussion, reading, writing, presentation, and other assignments, students examine fear critically from scientific and sociological perspectives. – Professor Reynolds 

FYS-120. Theater & Visual Culture

Our first books are picture books, but as we learn to read, the images disappear and our education focuses on reading and writing WORDS. Yet thousands of images surround us each day – in advertising, media, and theater – yet we are rarely taught how to read, analyze, or acknowledge as intellectual property the non-verbal modes of communication. This course will introduce students to techniques for analyzing visual images, focusing on: static images (such as print advertising), “sequential art” (such as graphic novels) and the “languages”of the stage (such as collaborative performance). We will discuss how we receive and respond to images, and how those images function artistically, ethically, and culturally. – Professor Westfall

FYS-125. Love and War in Indian Thought 

This course focuses on a close reading of one of the classic texts of the Indian tradition, the Bhagavad-gītā, placing it within its contemporary context (that of India, ca., 200 C.E), but also attending to its effects on modern thought. Along with the original text, this course draws on a wealth of Indian and non-Indian materials—from artistic representations to elements of popular culture—in exploring the Gītāin terms of both text and context. – Professor Tull

FYS-131. Order and Justice in the World Community

This seminar takes a comparative approach to explore how different societies deal with internal conflicts resulting from religious, linguistic, racial, or other divisions. By identifying several prominent conflicts and analyzing ways to solve them-through power sharing (e.g. Belgium), federalism (e.g. Canada), minority recognition (e.g. Spain), etc.-we explore the goals of solutions, particularly in terms of justice and order. – Professor Peleg

FYS-132. Pursuits of Happiness

What is happiness? How should we pursue it? Are we misguided in our expectations of happiness?   Conversations about happiness extend beyond the fields of philosophy and religion, as psychologists, economists, and neuroscientists grapple with defining and measuring this often elusive state of being.  We will enter this age-old conversation and examine happiness from a multidisciplinary perspective.  Throughout the course, we will engage with a wide range of texts, exploring both the internal and external conditions that may shape happiness for the individual and society. – Professor Paddock

FYS- 133. Human Flight: Magic and Madness

Do you dream of flying or does that terrify you? Is flying just the fastest way to travel or something more? This seminar studies the innovators whose vision and relentlessness enabled human flight. Students are invited to scrutinize their own perceptions of flight, as well as the influence of culture, media, and world events on those perceptions. Economic, environmental, and social impacts are considered to ascertain the role of human flight in a sustainable future. – Professor Wallace 

FYS 136. Learning Science 

Learning is central to our lives as students, professors, and citizens. This seminar will focus on the science of learning and how it is applied by individuals and institutions. Sources drawn from psychology, sociology, and other social sciences will inform our discussion of how you can improve your own academic performance and how institutions of higher education can support those goals. – Professor Talarico 

FYS-138. Theater and Social Justice

For thousands of years, the theatre has both entertained and provided a forum in which social issues can be explored. This seminar will investigate, through readings and performances, how theater provides an immediate and strong voice to debate social and political problems. Students will have opportunities, through writing, discussion and theatrical performance, to explore social and political issues and the ways in which dramatic works can inspire social change. – Professor Lodge

FYS-141. The Mathematics of Social Justice

Alexander Hamilton said, “The first duty of society is justice.” Today there is vociferous argument about the prevalence of justice. To what degree is our society just? Are there practical ways to make it more just? This course applies basic mathematics to controversial issues like elections and income distribution in an attempt to look at them objectively. Using mathematics that everybody is taught, we’ll try to make sense out of conflicting opinions on these issues, so discovering the practical importance of a solid foundation in mathematics for everyone. – Professor Root   

FYS 148. Melding Mind and Machine 

From gaming to restoring motor activity, Brain-Computer Interface (BCI) has provided man with an alternate means to control an external device. Invasive and Non-invasive BCI devices use detected brain activity to control assistive devices, such as a robotic arm, wheelchair, or game controller. In this course we will explore the ethical considerations surrounding the research and development of BCI technology as we continue to blur the lines between man and machine. – Professor Gabel 

FYS-154. Nanotechnology and Modern Society

This seminar will develop the language and introductory scientific basis of nanotechnology, which will provide the technological foundation for discussions of ethical and societal issues related to various uses of nanotechnology. Such discussions are necessary if we as a society are to better address such issues that have already arisen and others that will no doubt arise in the future. – Professor Ferri

FYS-169. The 1960s and Social Change

The Civil Rights Movement, the Antiwar Movement, the Space Race, and, of course, Sex, Drugs and Rock ’n’ Roll… Through an examination of written and oral histories, documentary film, and the poetry, music and visual arts of the Sixties, students will explore the underlying causes for change during one of the nation’s most tumultuous decades. In addition to the causes, students will determine for themselves the lasting influences that the 1960s have had on the present day. – Professor Newman     

FYS-173. ¡Latin@s!

Popular media from the news to film is filled with references to Latinos and Latinas, but what do we really know about them? This course explores the Latinization of the United States, highlighting the social, demographic and cultural forces that have shaped Latino/a experiences in recent decades. Specific course content includes social scientific studies of Latino/a immigration and community formation, and representations of and by Latinos/as in novels, essays, TV and movies. – Professor Donnell

FYS 178. Mental Illness 

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, eating disorders. . . . This seminar introduces students to a wide range of texts (memoirs and first-person narratives, films, paintings, and medical and philosophical treatises) that focus on the experience of living with mental illness. Particular attention will be paid to the style and form of textual representations of psychological disorders, as well as to the cultural and philosophical questions such texts raise about the very category of “mental illness.” – Professor Cefalu


FYS-192. Face the Fetus: Perspectives on the Abortion Controversies

Is abortion moral? Should it be legal? Is the availability of abortion required for the exercise of liberty and the achievement of equality? How are debates about these questions mobilized in the political arena? This course will examine philosophical, legal, and political perspectives on the abortion controversy. – Professor Silverstein

FYS-195. Russia Today

“A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” is how Winston Churchill famously described Russia. Decades later, after the Cold War and amidst the resurgence of Russia’s influence on the world stage, this seminar asks the question: what is Russia today? Taking into account conservative and liberal movements, we will study mass media, contemporary literature and cinema, and activism under Putin with an eye to challenging our assumptions about Russian culture, politics, and history. – Professor Ceballos 

FYS-196. Exploring Chinese Culture 

What does it mean to be Chinese? What are some central aspects of Chinese culture? How do the traditional values and beliefs continue to shape contemporary China? Through a combination of lectures, discussions, and cultural events, this seminar will provide the students with a grasp of significant cultural achievements in China and the critical vocabulary that is essential to discuss and analyze Chinese culture and related issues in an intelligent and informed manner. – Professor Luo

FYS-197. Deconstructing “Africa”

The African continent has been subject to a wide range of perspectives from the Greco-Roman period to the present, many of which have misrepresented the diversity, sophistication, and contributions of African people and communities to world history. This course introduces students to African life in the past and present beyond existing stereotypes. Taking an Afro-centric view, it examines African agency through history, philosophy, fiction, art, and film to explain why the 21st century will ultimately be known as the African Century. – Professor Lee