First Year Seminars

                                                            2011- 2012 First Year Seminars

Joe Allegretti   If Life’s for Living, What’s Living For

How should I live? What’s a good life, a meaningful life, a life well-spent? In the words of the great British rock group, the Kinks: All life we work but work is a bore/If life’s for living, what’s living for? There are many ways to explore this question—we could read philosophy, religion, or great novels; we could study art or listen to music; we could interview people or send out questionnaires. But our approach will be to read essays by the famous—people like Seneca, Emerson, Thoreau, and Orwell—and the not so famous. The writers in our course treat a number of themes, such as love and hate, nature and science, work and leisure, illness and death, justice and peace; and they do so from a variety of cultures and perspectives. As we read these essays, we’ll realize, with a shock of recognition, that when an essayist is at her most personal, when she reveals something unique about herself, she’s actually saying something about each of us as well. We’ll also examine the craft of essay writing and practice writing our own essays. And, maybe, if we’re really lucky, we’ll figure out the meaning of life….


Ray Boisvert   The Need to Feed: Food, Values, Culture

"We need to feed.” So speak zombies in horror movies.  In reality the whole biosphere needs to feed.  For humans this raises a host of questions: What counts as food?  Is food a  sacrament?  A temptation?  Body fuel?  Who gets to share our table? How is our identity tied up with particular foods? Who goes hungry? Why?  Where does food come from?  This seminar will explore themes like these via classic works in literature, philosophy, religion, and art.  Homer, Plato, Henry Fielding and Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) will be our main guides.


Peter Ellard   Science and Religion: Conflict, Compromise and Convergence

The course will explore the history of and contemporary relationship between religion and science. We will spend a great deal of time thinking about issues which lay at the “boundaries” of religion and science -- the origins and nature of the universe, of life, and of human consciousness.  We will explore implications for how we act in the world – social justice & earth justice – and how we define what it means to be human and what it is that we call home. It will examine the issues of cosmology, quantum physics and evolutionary biology with the aim of discerning the extent of the impact on religious discourse when it is informed by science. We will also explore this within Chinese and Indian culture/religion and compare this to the Western experience with a specific eye toward the relationship between how we think and how we act toward nature and each other.


Tom Swan  Happiness

What is happiness? How important is it? Do people know what makes them happy? What is the best way to lead a happy life? In this seminar, we will explore ancient ideas and recent research about these questions and consider how ideas of happiness are rooted in differing views of reality, human nature, and society. Participants in the seminar will consider how they might plan their educations and conduct their lives to seek their happiness and the happiness of others.


Paul C. Santilli   Philosophy and Monsters

How does a philosopher think about monsters? Who is the monster? The figure of the monster is the one who does not fit into the normal social order or into scientific categories. We learn about monsters from ancient myths, medieval religions, renaissance science, gothic novels, and contemporary movies. But the monstrous being is not just a fictional character.  Human beings have always and still do look upon fellow human beings as repulsive and horrific. And yet Christ, St. Francis, and the greatest moral thinkers in our heritage command us to love even the monster, as a fellow human with dignity and preciousness. This is the demand of social justice, to respect and to care for those who sometimes stir in us feelings of horror. Would it be good for us to rid the world of monsters? Scientists teach us that mutation, random variation, and hybridization deviate from normal life forms and give rise to new types of plants and animals. Nature in all its diversity needs monsters and we will look at nature in that vein. As a philosopher, I also want to share with you what some philosophers have written about monsters and, as a movie guy, I’ll be sure to throw in a few horror film scenes. So, what are your ideas?


Chris Farnan    The Alien

We will explore the concept of aliens (Racial, biological, legal, sexual, political, extra-Earth, etc.) in communities.  “The X-Files” will help us frame two distinct means communities use to understand and/or divide themselves from aliens.  The first means, the Transcendentalist intuitive method regularly employed by Fox Mulder on “The X-Files,” demonstrates the desire to erode the social boundaries and categories which both define and require aliens.  The second means, the Enlightenment skeptic method practiced by Dana Scully on “The X-Files,” reveals the need to reject or to define, to categorize and to rationalize the alien.


Robert Rivas     Native Americans

Our images of Native Americans have been fashioned through a variety of sources.  Who are the original people who inhabited the Americas and what are their heritage stories?  How have they contributed to the heritage of the U.S. and other countries?  What role did the Franciscans play in shaping tribal relationships with European peoples?  What U.S. Social policies and treaties serve as a historical record of our contacts with Native peoples?  How is nature the basis for Native American spirituality and worldviews, lifestyle, economy and health?  What are the differences among tribes that highlight the diversity among Native Americans?  How have they sought social and restorative justice in relation to colonization, marginalization, and U.S. policies and practices aimed at them?  This seminar explores some of the variable and common cultural elements of Native Americans such as language, values, social structures, spiritual practices and customs.  Learners will also explore the rich heritage of art, literature, poetry, music, dance, and crafts contributed by Native peoples.  Wherever possible, learners will use primary sources from Native Americans to support their studies. 

 

Jim Nolan       Local History – National and/or Worldwide Impact

This course will explore a small number of local events that proved to have national and worldwide impact. Events such as the construction of the Erie Canal, the battle of Saratoga, the creation of the first company research and development center, the setting aside of large tracks of undeveloped wilderness as forever wild land for public enjoyment, and the creation of the first all-women labor union will be examined through readings, music, film, and on-site visits. Their impact on our heritage, the natural world, society, and diversity will be emphasized. Students will be asked to research local events close to their home geographical regions and explore their impact beyond these regions.

 

Timoth Lederman     Local History – National and/or Worldwide Impact

This course will explore a small number of local events that proved to have national and worldwide impact. Events such as the construction of the Erie Canal, the battle of Saratoga, the creation of the first company research and development center, the setting aside of large tracks of undeveloped wilderness as forever wild land for public enjoyment, and the creation of the first all-women labor union will be examined through readings, music, film, and on-site visits. Their impact on our heritage, the natural world, society, and diversity will be emphasized. Students will be asked to research local events close to their home geographical regions and explore their impact beyond these regions.


Lizzie Redkey     Leadership

What is leadership?  Is it running a country?  Raising a child?  Working well within a team?  Housebreaking a puppy?  Teaching?  Starting a business?  It is, of course, all of these things and more.  Indeed, it is a process we each participate in every single day.  In this course we will look at what leadership is, how different people lead, how we ourselves lead (in many different situations), how we can lead better, why it is important to lead even when we are not sure we want to, and what key principles help us lead while remaining true to our own core values. We will do all of this in the context of a rigorous seminar that will hone our intellectual abilities through discussion, writing, reading and presentations.  Come prepared to work hard, and you will reap life-long rewards.

 

Britt Haas    Women

Their voices, their value, their vision.  Both men and women are invited to take this course, which will critically analyze what writers, activists, thinkers, and artists have to say about Heritage, the Natural World, Social Justice, and Diversity in order to understand if and how women’s perspectives about these ideas differ from men’s.  Looking across time and across geographical boundaries, we will look at how women are valued (or not) in each of these four topic areas, paying particular attention to the roles women play, the policies they advocate and/or are the targets of, and the images of women presented through literature, music, art, media, etc. in order to gain a better understanding of the complex, gendered world in which we live.   


Pete Murray    Democracy

The course would explore the historical origins of our democracy here in the United States, ask what our responsibilities are as a democratic citizen, and explore the distinctive moral challenges we face in a pluralistic society.


Joe Fitzgerald    Public Policy and its Impact

This course will address the impact of the “Age of Enlightenment” on the development of Western civilization, the organization of “western” governments, and the subsequent development of laws and major public policy actions that arose from this era to the late 1800s. It will address the effect of public policy actions (or their lack) on the environment, science, and medicine. It will also address modern implementation efforts (successes and failures) of diversity public policy and how public policy can support or hamper the goals of a socially just society.


Brenda Nicholas      America: Then, Now, and Next

Our nation is facing new challenges in our blossoming age of globalization, and it is important that the future leaders of our nation (our students) begin to think about these new challenges as they prepare for their future. The objective of the course would examine some key issues (cultural, political, and social) that have impacted and shaped America’s past, and how these decisions have brought us to our current environment, and where our nation might be heading next.


Holly M. Cheverton     It’s Not Just Child’s Play:  Childhood Social Development

This course will take students through the process that we call “Childhood.”   The focus will be on a variety of influences that make us functioning members of society.  Some of the areas that will be covered will include the Nature/Nurture debate, gender socialization, the importance of play, the definition of childhood throughout history and across cultures and societal influences in a child’s development.  Humans are taught both intentionally and unintentionally, to be the social and emotional adults that we ultimately become.  It is how we learn the norms and mores or our cultures.  In addition, the manner in which we are socialized, in part, determines our views on most social situations that we come across in life.  Our early experiences impact our views on education, religion, friends, parenting, politics and career choice.  They also influence our values, truths and our understanding of life’s rules.


Liz Conway    The American Dream

This course will  look at the origins of America, both as a promised land and a stolen land and it will  study immigration, exploration, and displacement while examining documents like the Declaration of Independence, and try to determine how "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" relate to the various versions of the American Dream that would follow. We will collectively try to determine what versions of the American Dream exist, such as the white-picket house or fame and fortune. Additionally, we will study America's agricultural history, environmental policy, National Parks, and endangered species and we will try to connect these to perhaps to the collective American Dream for a prosperous nation, rather than the individual American Dream. We will focus on diversity of the family, as family seems part of that American Dream and we would consider the different types of family that exist in our country: single parents, gay parents, interracial marriages, polygamy, adoptions, families with multiple religions, etc. We would look at matters of social injustice that stand in the way of one's dream, such as income inequality, hate crime, immigrant rights, etc.

John P. Harden    Got Facebook? Technology and Social Change

This proposal for the first year seminar explores the relationship between technology and social change. This seminar seeks to examine the role that technology plays in the context of social movements and social interaction. From the private and personal to the national and global, technology and social change have become intertwined. From the release of texts messages of celebrities to the release of documents by wikileaks,the difficulties and possibilities posed by technology will be analyzed and explored. (**This course has a service requirement).

 

Lois Daly     Popular Culture and the Meaning of Life ( Honors students only)

Human beings seek a satisfactory response to the question of the meaning of life.  In addition, we also express those responses in cultural forms, especially in what is referred to as popular culture.  In this seminar we will study several of the most common answers concerning the meaning of life, such as love, happiness, success and service, and then explore their expression in popular culture including movies, music, social networking, video games, tattoos, TV, street art, etc.  Students will be required to investigate several different examples of popular culture throughout the year and to analyze the way they shape and are shaped by individual and communal quests for meaning.