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.

First Year Seminars are limited to around 18 students per section, the First-Year Seminar includes significant reading, writing, discussion, and presentation and is affiliated with the College Writing Program. Students in First-Year Seminars are introduced to the use of the library for research.

Students should select their top 5 First-Year Seminar courses in order of preference.

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.

Inside look at the First-Year Seminars

  • The program gives new college students the opportunity to think critically, write clearly, and contribute to thoughtful discussions.  Learn more.

Fall 2023 Available FYS Courses

FYS 018 Ten Ways to Know Nature

This class is a study of the different ways we interact with and thus know the natural environment. These ways include, among others, the scientific, technological, artistic, experience-based (hands-on), biographical, and religious; the forms of interaction follow from our lives as consumers, as eaters, and as thinkers, while we work, live, and play. The purpose of the course is to examine how those ways of interaction with nature influence how we know and then treat those environments.

FYS 020 Appalachia

The region of the Eastern U.S. known as Appalachia is defined by the geological characteristics of the Appalachian Mountains, but also can be characterized and described on the basis of the distinctive natural, historical, cultural, and economic characteristics of the region. It will be the goal of this course to develop the skills to recognize, understand, and evaluate and communicate the complex interrelationships among those factors that define and describe this region of the U.S. 

FYS 025 Futbol: the Beautiful Game

In addition to offering mass entertainment, soccer has been used as a government propaganda machine, is the pillar of multi-billion-dollar enterprises, and has led to wars and questionable social behaviors. Using an interdisciplinary approach, we will explore how soccer is more than just a game. Drawing on readings from sociology, economics, and politics, we will look at soccer as a sport, a form of entertainment, a tool for oppressive regimes, a form of collective identity, and a major force for social change.

FYS 026 Plagues: Past & Present

From the Black Death to AIDS, epidemics have resulted in profound social and cultural change. Through an analysis of societies’ response to selected historical outbreaks, students will learn about epidemic diseases and the social transformations they caused. This seminar examines the ways in which different societies in different eras have responded in times of crisis. The class will also analyze contemporary pandemic preparedness policy and responses to recent health threats.

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.  

FYS 041 Crazy In Love

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 much scientific accounts of love, as well as our most famous love-stories, mesh with the actual experience of it.

FYS 049 Global Food

Foods are material substances that are deeply linked to human sustenance, to sociability, status and sensibility, as well as the sway of the senses-whether sparking desire or disgust. In this sense food intrinsically crosses borders and boundaries in at least two ways: first, food challenges us to adopt interdisciplinary approaches to material goods, considering them from different perspectives and adopting different lenses. Second, foods have always been mobile across the globe, shifting in form and meaning as they move between different settings; in this sense, by tracing the circulation of foods in time and space, we can explore a world of emergent sociocultural relations, seeing links between spheres of production, transport and consumption.

FYS 054 Indigenous and Settler Sites of Memory

The United States was created from land wrested from Indigenous inhabitants.  How do people living in a society with such a foundation address the violence of conquest?  How is this story told – or rewritten – on the land?  How have settlers represented the Native past and present?  In this course, we explore these questions using the local area as our focal point.  In exploring Indigenous geographies and settler sites of memory — museum exhibits, burial grounds, historical markers, and place names–we will ask which pasts have been remembered publicly and analyze commemorative practices. Students will engage in ethnographic research and develop a digital database of important Native and settler sites of memory as we explore the local landscape.

FYS 063 Jewish Humor

This course examines Jewish humor within the context of theories of humor and the comedic and as a window to Jewish culture. It explores examples of Jewish humor past and present in literature, film, television, skits, stand-up comics, cartoons, and jokes. It considers questions such as: What makes us laugh? What is distinctively Jewish about Jewish humor? How does American Jewish humor differ from older European Jewish humor and contemporary Israeli humor? Do you need to be Jewish to “get” it? How is Jewish humor like and unlike other ethnic, religious, or minority humor? How do stereotypes and self-deprecation figure in the humorous? How did humor function as a coping and survival mechanism in the Holocaust?

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.

FYS 068 Mobilizing Science

Scientific research plays a critical role in the way societies overcome challenges and respond to crises. How do societies mobilize scientific activity in the face of such challenges? Who foots the bill? Who decides the priorities? The reading and writing assignments in this seminar will explore the complex interplay between different social forces that mobilize science toward specific ends and examine the moral and ethical quandaries scientists often face when deciding how and whether to participate in the resulting research effort. 

FYS 069 Popular Culture and Political Resistance in the Middle East

The phrase “resistance is life” echoed throughout the Middle East in various contexts, in support of the Kurdish People’s Protecting Units resisting ISIS at Kobane (Syria) in 2014. Popular culture has the capacity to take a resistance effort articulated on paper or in a speech and splash it onto a creative canvas that, then, spreads throughout communities. This course will look at popular culture in the Middle East as a means of propagating political resistance.

FYS 075 Technological Citizenship 

What is the social impact of new technologies? Who in society benefits and who is harmed by the rapid development of modern science and technology? How is scientific knowledge created, and how does the public engage with science and technology? This first year seminar examines the rights and responsibilities of technological citizenship by fostering inquiry into how technology is developed and distributed, and how technology and society interact with each other. Drawing on readings from science, engineering, and the social sciences, students will reflect on technology’s role in their lives and its relationship to human values.

FYS 077 The Dog Course

“Man’s best friend?” Nature’s most successful parasite? Exploring 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.

FYS 078 Monsters & Monstrosities

Embark on a journey to explore the rich and diverse world of Non-Western monsters, from ancient folklore to modern media. These complex beings reveal hidden truths and evoke fear and excitement. Using anthropology, literature, and cultural studies, analyze their multifaceted representations across
cultures. Examine the roles of monsters as symbolic figures and expressions of societal fears. Enhance your analytical and interpretive skills while developing cultural awareness through engaging discussions and critical readings.

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? This First Year Seminar examines these and related questions from an historical, sociological, psychological and philosophical perspective.

FYS 087 Sustainable Cities: Urban Infrastructure and Equity

Civil infrastructure (also known as “the built environment”) undergirds every aspect of our lives. However, the relationship between people and infrastructure is bi-directional- we shape our infrastructure and our infrastructure shapes us. Sometimes it is destructive (for example in urban renewal) and sometimes it is more synergistic. This course helps students develop a framework for understanding these relationships and prepares them to engage in public discourse around civil infrastructure.

FYS 088 Communicating with the Dead

People from many times and places communicate with the dead through seances, prayer, spirit channeling, ghost hunting, ancestor veneration, and in many other ways. In this seminar, students examine various academic and popular sources to understand why the living often maintain active relationships and colloquies with ancestors, saints, ghosts, and other deceased people. Ultimately, this phenomenon can tell us much about the needs and desires of the living in diverse cultural and historical contexts.

FYS 094 Bread

This class is an investigation of bread. Our investigation will lead us to understand bread through the filters of science and technology, politics, art, poetry, and religion; through our own experience making and eating bread; though the methods of production and distribution of bread in local, national, and global markets. The course will unpack our relationship with bread and the many ways it informs our cultural and political worldview. As a First Year Seminar, this course aims “to introduce students to intellectual inquiry by engaging them as thinkers, speakers, and writers.”

FYS 108 Silence

What is silence? It’s more than keeping your mouth shut. This course will explore the concept of silence and its various dimensions. Silence can be defined as an absence of sound, a meditative state, an absence of communication and a means of communication, among other things. This course will examine silence from a multi-disciplinary perspective, drawing on philosophy, religion psychology, anthropology and cultural studies. The course will also provide students with the opportunity to experience silence through various practices and exercises.

FYS 113 War and Peace

This course explores the origins of war from an interdisciplinary perspective. With a primary focus on large-scale interstate wars, this course will survey a wide-range of reading materials about the causes and consequences of war. We will investigate the role of multiple domestic actors, economic interests, nationalism, diversionary tactics, and great power rivalry. We will also utilize a variety of films, documentaries, and war games and discuss nuclear proliferation, ethnic and regional conflicts.

FYS 138 Theater and Social Justice

For thousands of years, the theater 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.

FYS 141 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 society just? Are there practical ways to make it more just? This course considers the importance of understanding data and applying mathematics to ask these questions and to explore meaningful answers. Using mathematics that everybody is taught, we’ll try to make sense out of conflicting opinions, so as to discover the importance of quantitative literacy for all citizens in a democracy. 

FYS 143 Coffee

Coffee has a ubiquitous and somewhat unique role in our society. While some tend to think of it merely as a vehicle for caffeine, it is also the basis on which cafe culture originated and exists, a highly-traded commodity crop with huge economic impacts and worldwide sourcing, and a finely-calibrated culinary subfield that draws on myriad engineering and chemical approaches to generate wildly different sensory experiences. The sheer level of integration of coffee into every aspect of our lives makes it a highly suitable interdisciplinary topic to consider and explore. This course aims to train students in information literacy via the investigation of coffee from several scholarly angles: a social approach, where students ask themselves (and others) the values and importance of the ritualistic nature of coffee and how it fits into their everyday lives; a scientific approach, where different flavor and texture experiences are explored; an engineering approach, where aspects of a coffee extraction are modulated to yield vastly different results; and finally, a humanist approach, which ties together what they have observed over the semester, and asks them to express their ideas of what defines a positive coffee experience.  

FYS 144 Making Sex: Histories of Sexualities

Sexuality is often thought as ahistorical—something fixed and natural that does not change through time and place. Yet, just like any other human activity, sexuality is a social, and therefore historical, phenomenon that is shaped by culture, politics, and society rather than simply biologically based. Using a historical approach, this course explores how different societies have constructed sexuality, how they have regulated sexual behavior, and how people have responded to this regulation.

FYS 150 A Plastic World 

Plastic: Greatest technological advance of the 20th century or ecological scourge? Plastics, or polymer, are so pervasive in our everyday lives that their use and disposal often are taken for granted. As a result, their environmental impact is scrutinized heavily. In this course, we will discuss the science, history, pop culture, and social impact of this controversial material. Most importantly, we will think critically about the future of plastics in the context of environmental concerns. 

FYS 153 Designer Genes: The Science and Ethics of Genome Editing

Scientists have developed tools to directly manipulate DNA, but should we use them? In this course, we will examine the history of attempts at genetic modification leading up to the technologies available today. We will work along the way to separate fact from fiction in the public discourse on this topic and explore the broad range of considerations beyond just the science going into decisions about where to draw the line on allowable genetic modifications.

FYS 156 Narratives of Mental Illness

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, Tourettes syndrome, depression, eating disorders-this seminar introduces students to a wide range of texts (memoirs and first-person narratives, films, painting, and medical and philosophical treatises) that focus on the experience of living with mental illness. Particular attention is 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.”

FYS 158 Nonviolence: Theory and Practice

This course explores both the theoretical development of nonviolence and the practice of nonviolence as a means for waging and resolving conflict. Using the examples of Mohandas Gandhi and India’s independence movement, the 1989 revolutions in Eastern Europe, the power of music in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, as well as the personal testimonies of individuals and various groups pursuing nonviolent change in the Lehigh Valley, this course explores the principles of nonviolence in action. 

FYS 162 Music in European Society

The course does not assume knowledge of music on the students’ part; nor does it require that they master notation or become conversant with musical analysis. Rather, the course examines developments in European history that have left their traces in the music. It relates music to developments in European culture and explains the distinctive characteristics of the music of a period in relation to those larger developments that underlie its cultural productivity.

FYS 164 Adaptation (in the Humanities)

This course is dedicated to the study of adaptations (literary, film, musical, and plastic) and intertextual memory in the Spanish-speaking world. By the end of the course, students will be able to analyze and criticize a variety of texts and adaptations from multiple cultural perspectives and backgrounds and employ a series of concepts, terms, and ideas to the universal human practice of adaptation

FYS 168 Playing and Being Played

This course engages with Table-Top Role-Playing Games, employing critical and semiotic analysis, to evaluate varied systems of play, analyze their visual cultures, and understand them as vehicles for narrative world building, character development, and collaborative storytelling. Writing assignments and exercises will focus on expressions of social constructs within the framework of these games, as well as how participants “unpack” and “deconstruct” the visual and rhetorical elements of the worlds, characters, and stories they produce.

FYS 169 The 1960s:  The Causes and Effects of 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, the poetry, music and visual arts of the Sixties, students will explore the underlying causes for change during the nation’s most tumultuous decades. In addition to the causes, students will determine for themselves the influences that the 1960s have had on the present day. 

FYS 177 The Year 1912-13 in Music, Art, and Literature

The year 1912-13 witnessed the creation of several remarkable works of art: musical compositions like Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring and Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire; visual art by Chagall, Matisse, and others; literature by Conrad, Kafka, and others. We will explore the connections between art and pre-WWI society; make meaningful comparisons between art of different disciplines; and explore the influence this had on later works.

FYS 179 Leveraging Social Entrepreneurship 

Market-based social entrepreneurship as an approach to addressing poverty, unfreedoms and the lack of localized agency among the poor in economic development has seen a rise in prominence. This is often attributed to the failures of national governments, multi-lateral agencies, and conventional philanthropy to respond dynamically to the challenges posed by changing global and technology landscapes. These failures also reflect a reliance on an outmoded development paradigm that is both inattentive and unresponsive to the modern needs of income poor people to be primary owners of their development experiences, a possibility made more realistic because of globalization and technological change. In essence, as first noted by Adam Smith and reported in Amarta Sen, freedom of exchange and transaction is in itself part and parcel of the basic liberties that people have to celebrate, and as Sen himself points out, “the freedom to participate in economic interchange has a basic role in social living.”  

FYS 180 From Fred Rogers to Taylor Swift: the Influence of America’s Public Theologians

“Breathe in, breathe through, breathe deep, breathe out.” ~ Taylor Swift. “You are loved just the way you are.” ~ Fred Rogers. Public figures like Taylor Swift and Mister Rogers, are people who help to embody, identify, and evaluate how theological traditions often influence public narratives. While such figures typically are not professional theologians, they can be understood as “public theologians,” i.e., celebrities, media personalities, activists, and artists whose work engages significantly with a wide variety of spiritual, religious, and ethical themes. Students in this course will consider how public theology and the work of public theologians shape culture and policy in the United States. Students will analyze and critique how public theologians call upon communal resources, insights and values to contribute to the welfare of society.

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 FYS asks the question: what is Russia today? Taking into account conservative and liberal currents, we will study mass media, contemporary literature and cinema, and activism under Putin with an eye to challenging our assumptions about Russian culture, identity, and history. 

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.