FYS Course Listing

Beyond Grimm: German Culture through Children's Literature

Instructor: Cathy Altmeyer

Section Number: FYS-199-01

Literature provides a valuable bridge to the culture of its age, but children's stories are often overlooked in classic analysis. Yet, the stories we teach our children, along with their deep messages and values, not only shape the minds and future, but also reveal hidden truths about the author, the time in which the story was written and the setting of the story. Together, we will step into the complex German past to trace how literature both reveals and creates culture. We will examine the chilling lessons in Nazi-era stories, discuss prejudice and immigration policy through a chapter book, and discover how the division of Germany and its reunification is revealed to children who never experienced either event. No previous knowledge of German is required; all translations will be provided.  Students will have an option to sign up for a travel course in January 2020 to visit Germany as a continuation of the topic.


Instructor: Ronald Bayline

Section Number: FYS-199-02

Scientific history is filled with stories of individuals who overcame significant challenges to accomplish groundbreaking advances. In this course, we will examine the cultural context of scientific discoveries, focusing on individuals who addressed challenging scientific issues, as well as cultural and societal barriers that stood in their way. Through biographies of scientists such as Ernest Everett Just, a pioneering African-American cell biologist in the early 20th century, Rita Levi-Montalcini, an Italian Jewish Nobel Prize winning neuroscientist who survived World War II in Italy, and Ben Barres, a modern transgender neuroscientist, we will explore how their personal struggles against societal norms shaped and influenced their lives and careers. We will then focus on the barriers that exist today for many in the sciences and discuss strategies to overcome these barriers, both as individuals and as a scientific community.

Origins of Good Ideas

Instructor: Cory Christenson

Section Number: FYS-199-03

You are constantly surrounded by an amazing number of technological innovations, and they all have fascinating stories. In this course, we will learn about some of the major scientific discoveries of the modern era, such as gene editing, computers, light, and the internet. We will explore the paths these innovations took from original inspiration to final invention, to find out how these good ideas emerged. Through movies, museums, and reading popular histories, we will learn about the lucky accidents, eccentric inventors, and vast web of connections between science, art, literature, and foreign cultures, that makes progress possible.

What is Beautiful?

Instructor: David Clark

Section Number: FYS-199-04

Dostoyevsky once famously claimed that “Beauty will save the world,” but what sort of salvation did he have in mind? When has beauty saved anyone from anything? For that matter, can we even agree on the substance of beauty? To what degree is beauty subjective? When we find something beautiful, how should we respond to it? How might beauty influence us? How might we share it with others?

In this course, students will read, view, and listen to beautiful things. We will discuss both where our notions of beauty come from and how we can develop and articulate our sense of aesthetics. We will argue over the nature and use of beauty and we will debate its role in intellectual and moral pursuits. Ultimately, we’ll strive to understand our own complicated relationships with beauty, what demands it makes on us, and what saving pleasures it offers our eyes, our minds, our souls.

Princesses and Villains: Gender, Race, and Culture in Disney Animation

Instructor: Danielle Ficco

Section Number: FYS-199-05

Students will explore constructions of gender, race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality in the animated films and theme parks of Disney. By examining the content of Disney animation created within particular historical and cultural contexts, students will expand their understanding of the stereotypes produced in the “Happiest Place on Earth.” Students will explore recent scholarship on representations of diversity in Disney parks and animation, and highlight the social impact and cultural significance of this entertainment giant.

Hieroglyphs, Runes, and Twitter

Instructor: Guido Halder

Section Number: FYS-199-06

In this course we will journey through time on our endeavor of the history of the written word - one of mankinds most important technologies ever invented. We will address major types of writing systems (such as hieroglyphs, runes, etc.) and through the engagement with a variety of methods examine writing systems used by a wide range of cultures throughout tim. We will get hands-on experience with original texts (with the help of glossaries and alphabet charts) by reading excerpts from texts such as the Egyptian Book of the Dead and Rune inscriptions. We will further explore reasons for writing such as cave paintings (writing in the broadest sense), the transition from oral to written histories in some cultures, the changes to writing with the dawn of the printing press, the collecting of fairy tales, the advent of the digital age to today's constant exposure to writing through Facebook, Twitter and the like.

Trauma and Memory

Instructor: David Kieran

Section Number: FYS-199-07

Why do individuals and groups remember events that might seem better forgotten –instances of extreme violence and brutality, moments of great suffering and loss, moments in which individuals and groups suffer as victims or perpetrate brutality? These troubling moments might seem better repressed or avoided, and yet as individuals and members of groups, we actively seek to remember them – we pay for therapy sessions to work through childhood traumas, write memoirs and novels, and build memorials and museums. In this course, we will explore why and how individuals and groups confront and make sense of the troubling aspects of their past by examining the remembrance of traumatic events in memoir, fiction, film, memorials, and other media. Among the topics we might consider are slavery and other forms of racial violence, Indian removal, the Holocaust, the United States' war in Vietnam, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and public violence ranging from mass shootings to terrorist attacks.

Experimental Philosophy

Instructor: Hanna Kim

Section Number: FYS-199-08

Philosophers have often been content to "think from the armchair"—proposing thought experiments and other hypothetical scenarios (e.g., Would it be permissible to let a runaway trolley kill one vs five people?) and then making claims that either support or refute various philosophical theories. Experimental philosophy is a new movement that supplements this traditional "armchair" methodology with the methods of cognitive science, using systematic experiments to uncover how people actually think about a range of issues in traditional philosophy. This course explores this new movement in "experimental philosophy" with a particular eye to seeing how it might (or might not) shed light on perennial problems in ethics, philosophy of action, and aesthetics. Topics will include: moral judgment, free will and moral responsibility, and the subjectivity vs objectivity of aesthetic judgement.

The Music of Life: Mind, Body, Emotions, and Healing

Instructor: Alice Lee

Section Number: FYS-199-09

How does music capture our mind, our imaginations, and our emotions?  How can music make sense to brains that evolved to detect approaching predators or to follow prey?  How does music switch off stress, bring vivid memories to life, prevent illness, and strengthen our immune systems?  How do discoveries from genetics, neuroscience, psychology, music theory, paleontology, and philosophy link these ideas to help us understand how music speaks to us in ways that words cannot?  In this course, we will examine 1) the science behind music as we are guided through music experiences: sound, tone, melody, harmony, rhythm, composition, performance, listening, understanding, and finally…ecstasy and 2) the relationship of music to science, poetry,  history, biology, literature and its healing effects on the body.  We will also be engaging in a number of music explorations throughout the course – concerts and recitals both on and off campus, demonstrations, discussions with musicians and composers, and a group lesson. A few of these explorations will occur outside of scheduled class time on evenings or on weekends.  Keen interests in science and music, and a willingness to stretch your mind, participate fully in discussions, and engage enthusiastically in musical explorations are essential.  Some previous musical experience may be helpful, but is not required.  Music may never be the same to you again.

Latinidad: Exploring Latinness through Visual and Popular Cultures

Instructor: H.J. Manzari

Section Number: FYS-199-10

This interdisciplinary freshman seminar will introduce you to the emergent field of Latino studies, paying special attention to the cultural productions of U.S. Latinos in film, theater, music and fictionThis course is organized so that the books and films tell a story reflecting the immigrant and diasporic experiences of various Hispanic groups in the U.S.  As we study these cultural artifacts, we will look at how they are characterized by a sense of displacement and a search for the self, as well as a need to recreate a community away from home.

It's Not Rocket Science

Instructor: Rebecca McDonald

Section Number: FYS-199-11

Science is a way of knowing about the world. Scientific logic allows us to spot if politicians are using faulty logic to advance their agenda. The scientific method propels industry innovation in everything from cell phones to cosmetics. Science education stops junk science from infiltrating the courtroom. Scientific discoveries inform and sometimes change our worldview. Science matters to politics, business, criminal justice, and human history (just to name a few). And you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to get it.


Instructor: Kathleen McEvoy

Section Number: FYS-199-12

Lore, more commonly known as folklore, is the collection of stories and legends from a particular culture or area of the world. Lore gives insight into a culture’s totems and taboos, as well as what it values, abhors, fears, or desires. Humanity’s earliest stories are steeped in lore, and the creation of lore continues even into the twenty-first century. Students will explore the myriad aspects and appearances of lore, analyzing lore that exists and even creating their own.

Sound Museum: the Art-Music Connection

Instructor: Anoosua Mukherjee

Section Number: FYS-199-13

This course is intended for students who are interested in the parallels between modern music and visual art. In this class, we will focus our attention on the ways in which listening and seeing are comparable, the relationship that exists between sound culture and visual art in the twentieth century, and the complex interplay between the disciplines of musicology and art history. We will explore the challenges that modern composers and visual artists face and we will analyze the conceptual, stylistic, and geographical shifts that have taken place. As viewers and critics, we will also address questions about the modalities of making and appreciating music and visual art. How do we attribute meaning to the works that we experience? And how is this process affected by the space in which we encounter these works, namely the gallery and the concert hall?

We will begin our journey at the critical moment of transition from Romanticism to Modernism with an investigation of primitivism in painting and music at the turn of the twentieth century. From there, we will proceed chronologically and thematically, taking care to address those pivotal moments such as the rise of feminism, the maturation of popular aesthetics and the evolution of cultural politics. We will examine the work of notable composers, artists, and thinkers such as Paul Gauguin, Erik Satie, Aaron Copland, Takashi Murakami, Clement Greenberg and the members of the New York School. The course will conclude with a study of postmodernism and a discussion as to the future of modernism.

Just Math: The Mathematics of Social Justice and Equity

Instructor: Robert Muth

Section Number: FYS-199-14

Has standardized testing in public education enhanced or undermined equity and school quality? Can we recognize when boundaries of electoral districts have been drawn in a racially discriminatory manner? Do ‘big data’ algorithms used in business and governance provide unbiased automation of societal tasks, or do they merely automate the biases of their creators? We will tackle these questions and more, as we investigate the role of mathematics in questions of social justice and equity. Using some familiar mathematical ideas, together with some new ideas developed along the way, we will take a quantitative approach to analyzing topics such as public education, income inequality, and incarceration. While we build an appreciation for mathematics as a powerful analytical tool, we will also study the ways that mathematics and data have been used to further injustice, as ’weapons of math destruction’, as mathematician Cathy O’Neil calls them. The goal of the course is to build quantitative literacy, a deeper understanding of important social issues, and to (hopefully) foment a collective desire to create positive change in our community.

From Medieval Potions to Modern Notions: A Glance at Alchemy

Instructor: Deb Polvani

Section Number: FYS-199-15

"I've never wanted to be a witch, but an alchemist, now that's a different matter. To invent this wizard world, I've learned a ridiculous amount about alchemy. Perhaps much of it I'll never use in the books, but I have to know in detail what magic can and cannot do in order to set the parameters and establish the stories' internal logic." – J.K. Rowling, "Face to Face with J K Rowling: Casting a Spell Over Young Minds," The Herald, 7 December 1998.
Did alchemy play any role in the shaping of modern day chemistry? The Dark Ages, so named because of the supposed lack of intellectual development in Europe for a time period after the collapse of the Roman Empire, is in fact the beginning of an interesting time for chemistry. The alchemists were the predecessors to modern day chemists, and alchemy was the chemistry of the Middle Ages. Were alchemists true scientists or charlatans? What did they do for a living? Was turning lead into gold a chemical goal with lucrative incentive or was it symbolic of a life transformation? Were there any philosophical notions in the preparation of an alchemist’s potions? We will attempt to answer these questions and draw parallels to some modern day controversial topics in science. We will search for our answers from a variety of sources and subjects including history, philosophy, science and the scientific method, art, and literature.

The Economics of America's Civil Rights Movement

Instructor: Ethan Schmick

Section Number: FYS-199-16

Why did America’s civil rights movement take place almost 100 years after the Fourteenth Amendment declared that “No State shall…deny to any person…the equal protection of the laws”? Did economic motivations drive the movement? What economic and social impacts did the movement have on black and white Americans? This course analyzes these questions and more by exploring the causes and consequences of the civil rights movement through an economic lens. Students will also explore various interpretations of the movement through history, biography, graphic novels, and film.

Think about What You See!: Remembering the Holocaust

Instructor: Michael Shaughnessy

Section Number: FYS-199-17

In the face the face of rising anti-semitism, the Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh, and the lack of knowledge about the Holocaust in general, the question arises as to how our society and other societies remember the Holocaust. This seminar will investigate the Holocaust from historical, representational, and contemporary perspectives. The course utilizes a variety of texts including films, autobiographies, site visits, and scholarly articles. Additionally, we will look at how the Holocaust is memorialized and taught in schools with the goal of determining possible way so improving education about the Holocaust and preventing violent acts against marginalized populations.

Comedy and the Body Politic

Instructor: Richard Barber

Section Number: FYS-199-18

Do not let the title fool you: comedy is serious business! In this course, we will explore how the humor and irreverence of comedy can illuminate how we understand the lived experiences of others. Initially delving into theatrical models of comedy from ancient Greece and Shakespeare, we will also reflect on more contemporary practices such as musical theatre, performance art, and stand-up comedy. Since live performance puts a necessary focus on the human body, we will explore how comedy can inform our understanding of race, gender, and identity. This course is great for students with an interest in theatre, history, and the politics of representation in contemporary America.

Leading Change

Instructor: Eva Chatterjee-Sutton

Section Number: FYS-199-19

Local, national and global communities are suffering from similar issues on varied scales – poverty, hunger, educational disparities and issues of access, and plaguing environmental issues. The lack of engagement of citizens in combating these issues is compounding their negative impact. Over time people have overwhelmingly become disconnected with their responsibility to the community in which they live. It has become increasingly incumbent on capable individuals to take on the challenge of developing change through leadership and organization. In order to have a positive impact we need to know how to assess organizations/needs/projects and design systematic and sustainable change.  In this seminar, we will engage in an on-going study and assessment of community organizations with the goal of understanding effective organizational structures and practice. In addition to organizational assessment, students will develop a leadership skill set designed to design and promote change via community action and engagement.