First-Year Initiatives (FYI) Seminars, Fall 2013
Preparation for FYI
NOTE: FYI pre-registration is now closed.
Here is what you need to know—and do—to prepare for the program:
Listed below are the 20 FYI Seminars.* Please read the course descriptions and then submit your top four choices using the online FYI Registration Form. The names of the seminar leaders are not included because we don’t want you to pick your seminar based on what you think your major field of interest at Beloit will be.
This first-semester seminar is the one course required of all first year students—it will be one of the four courses in which you will enroll during the fall semester. You will meet your seminar leader/advisor on Monday, Aug. 19; this class begins during New Student Days.
* Descriptions listed here are subject to minor changes.
13. The Healthy City
20. Grimm, Inc.
Any story, whether about fairies or about the history of a city, reveals a piece of the author’s identity. In this seminar, we will examine how our identities are constantly formed by the world around us, while the world, itself, is also being shaped by our very existence. Using Primo Levi’s The Periodic Table as our primary text, we will examine the ways in which history and biography execute a dance, turning and moving each other around, revealing invisible links and connections. We will explore Levi’s claim that his book is not “an autobiography, save in the partial and symbolic limits in which every piece of writing is autobiographical.” And seeing how Levi was able to take many unrelated tales from his past and his imagination to form a complete biography, you too will write several pieces of your biography, using your own unique perspective and through unexpected methods. Ultimately these will form the basis of your own brief periodic table, the elements of which will shed light on who you are, how you are seen, and your place in the world.
Time is one of the basic conditions of human existence, and yet it remains a kind of unsolved mystery. The philosopher Augustine confessed: “If no one asks me, I know what it is, but if I want to explain it to someone who asks, I don’t know.” Whatever it is, time has been studied in a rich variety of ways, from scientific investigations into the beginning of the universe to historical accounts of the development of clocks and calendars. While time has been standardized across the world, social norms regulating time vary from one culture to another, and each of us experiences the passage of time differently. To gain insight into these issues, we’ll read works by some of the philosophers, psychologists, physicists, anthropologists, historians, and writers who have explored the nature of time. We’ll also keep a journal of reflections on our personal experiences of time, analyzing things such as what makes time seem to fly or drag, how we divide our time, and what kinds of time we value most. In these ways we’ll engage time from a number of different perspectives, seeking a deeper understanding of temporality in human history and contemporary life.
What does it mean to be “normal”? What is a normal body? A normal mind? How do assumptions of normalcy affect people who don't typically fit that description? And what is the impact of these same assumptions on those who do? What happens, for example, when artists, urban planners, software engineers, fashion designers, architects, and college professors assume they will encounter only able bodies and ordered minds? And how does the world shift—for everyone—if they instead assume that those they encounter will have a vast diversity of embodiments and/or mental capacities? In this seminar, we will look at the world through a disability studies lens. Why is the term “disabled” necessary? Does disability have a history? What are the stories we tell about madness and mental illness? Who is labeled “creative” or “quirky”? Who ends up cast as “difficult,” “crazy,” or “dangerous”? How have meanings of disabled bodies and disordered minds shifted over time, location, and culture? Finally, how does a critical focus on dis/abled bodies and dis/ordered minds provide us with fresh perspectives on other issues of the day: immigration, health care reform, celebrity culture, gay marriage, and gun control?
What do you do when you get sick? Why? Almost daily, national publications stream headlines announcing that “x disease” has been cured with an innovative and novel treatment that works brilliantly in mice, but often this potential therapy does not result in a new human treatment. The development of treatments and cures has numerous steps that are confounded by scientific, psychological, logistical, economic, societal, and political barriers that vary greatly among different nations. This course will investigate how therapies, discovered in the laboratory or handed-down for generations, are developed and implemented for use in human diseases, such as concussions, obesity, diabetes, and STIs. It will also explore how individuals and societies make choices about their health.
We humans have long equated difference with conflict. In contemporary America’s pluralistic society, we recognize more differences than those between fire, water, earth, and air. But we have yet to re-conceive the relation among them. Chicana writer Gloria Anzaldúa, hybrid in heritage, feels the line dividing the U.S. and Mexico as a wound splitting her very self. Performance artist Kate Bornstein, born Albert, calls herself a “gender outlaw.” Even today, words like “You will be a Betwixt-and-Between” can be blithe only in a story about Peter Pan.
Years ago, though, African-American activist Audre Lorde called us not to tolerate difference but to engage it. She saw differences as the poles of a battery, the current between them generating “the power to seek new ways of being.” More recently, postcolonial theorist Homi Bhabha has urged a focus on “in-between” spaces: the transformative processes produced when differences negotiate. This course will work to re-conceive difference, investigating its creative potential for and among individuals, genders, races, classes, and cultures.
To leave a sure footing on solid ground for the skies has been interpreted by humans as impossible, demonic, divine, mathematical, terrifying, mechanical, and even boring. Early humans’ understanding of flying and levitation certainly developed as they encountered flying animals. We will begin our exploration by investigating the evolutionary solution to heavier-than-air flight used by insects, birds, and bats. We will evaluate the influence of levitation and flying on early mysticism and religion. Modern humans compensate for our flightless, evolutionary deficiency with machines. We will compare mechanical and biological flight mechanisms. Finally, we will contrast the modern cultural significance of venturing into the sky to that of previous societies.
We find conspiracy theories everywhere—from the belief that the U.S. government covered up a UFO crash in a New Mexico desert to questions about the validity of our President’s birth certificate. Yet where do such “alternative histories” come from, and why are some people so eager to embrace them? Is there something else at work besides mistrust of authority, prejudice, or dissatisfaction with the mundane? This seminar will tackle these larger questions through studying specific examples of the many “counter truths” found in the traditional narratives of Russian cultural history. From pretenders to the throne to political assassinations to resurrected royal children, Russian history itself has prepared fertile ground for the cultivation of conspiracy theories and alternative historical narratives. The Soviet period of the 20th century, with its suppression of information and state-run manipulation of the national narrative, further fueled this tendency on the part of the Russian public to seek and generate alternative truths to challenge that dominant narrative. In our study of some of the most persistent conspiracy theories in the Russian historical imagination, we will attempt to identify the underlying causes for their origins and the common threads that may tie them together.
Any adult should be allowed to sell any part of his or her body. In addition to setting a minimum wage, the federal government should also set a maximum wage. College students should pay no tuition up front but pay 5 percent of their annual income for 20 years following graduation. These are provocative proposals, but are they good ideas?
In this seminar, students will learn how to (1) generate creative ideas, (2) evaluate the validity of claims, and (3) make moral and ethical judgments. The underlying mental processes—for creating, evaluating, and judging—are very different, but all three skill sets can be learned. Indeed, they are necessary for those who aim to be productive citizens in the 21st century.
This seminar will appeal most to students who like to read and write, can tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty, enjoy spirited discussion and debate, and recognize the value of multiple perspectives and compromise.
Does everyday life have a history? This course will focus on the history of everyday experiences. In the first part of the course, students will examine the everyday experiences of people in a particular period–the American Civil War era. Civil War records in local archives will provide the materials for practicing the historian’s craft, in order to make connections between local and national histories. The course asks how the war affected individual lives on and beyond the battlefield. Why did soldiers fight and what did they experience? What did non-combatants in the North and South, including immigrants, free and enslaved African Americans, women, and children do during the war? How did local experiences shape national politics? With these questions in mind, the class will mount an exhibit of Civil War letters and memorabilia. In the second part of the course, students will think about their own pasts in relation to the larger social, political, and economic contexts that shaped their lives. How did you get here? Where are you going? This part of the course will help students make sense of their own everyday experiences and plan for the future.
“Visual pedagogy is not solely about media per se, or about education narrowly speaking,” laments writer Brian Goldfarb “It begins with the premise that the science of pedagogy is not limited to schools, and the ethos of media pedagogy is an elevation of, and allegiance with, the visual as a way of thinking and a way of organizing life, identity, and community.”
Interactively, we will engage in a process of researching theories of our visual culture, while simultaneously challenging the nexus of the art-media-technology intersection. Our impetus is to analyze the acquisition/creation of social media knowledge and its meaning, thus extending beyond mere reception and regurgitation. At its inception the visual social media culture was viewed as a threat to literacy, but as educator Paulo Freire argued, “to acquire literacy is not simply to learn the techniques of reading and writing but to gain the ability to think critically.” As we investigate indigenous forms of communication and the visual technologies of pedagogy, we will arrive at knowledge-based interpretation(s). Students will be challenged to question and arrive at researched answers to the “reasons,” “whys,” and “ways” information and knowledge are disseminated and produced, specifically the constructs of social media and visual culture.
Already having surpassed blacks as the largest ethnic minority in the United States, Latin@s are projected to grow from 17 percent to 29 percent of the U.S. population by 2050. Their influence on American culture has been felt for some time now. Salsa is now the number one condiment. Music lovers listen to tango, mambo, Latin jazz, salsa, and reggaeton, and can find Shakira, Jennifer Lopez, Pitbull, and Enrique Iglesias among the Top Forty. Over 28 percent of Major League Baseball players are Latinos, and Zumba, a Latin-inspired dance-fitness program, is a craze in gyms. In November 2012, Latin@s, the so-called sleeping giant of American politics, awoke to exercise their power, particularly in battleground states such as Colorado, Florida, and Nevada. So who are the 52 million people referred to as Latin@s? What subgroups comprise Latin@s? How are they culturally different and alike? How long have they resided in the United States? Where have they migrated from in Latin America? What compelled them to migrate? How are they changing and being changed by America? These and other questions are discussed in this course while reading both popular and scholarly articles, studies, memoirs, and other literary pieces.
In this course, we will explore the concept and practice of yoga from several different aspects: its beginnings in Hindu religion and philosophy, its development from a mental practice into a physical practice, the story of its popularization in the West, and its rapid diversification in 20th-century America into several radically different “styles,” each of which emphasizes different environmental conditions for yoga, pose sequences, use of props, and breathing techniques. Over the course of the semester, we will approach these topics largely through texts; students will read 1) translations of ancient texts, including the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, Patanjali, and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika; 2) modern philosophical ruminations and items of the “self-help” genre; 3) sociological perspectives on American ideologies of exercise, gender, and body image; 4) an investigation of the risk for injury in yoga; and 5) scientific articles about the effects of meditation on the brain and body. In addition to the readings and discussions, there will also be frequent exercises of reflective and critical writing. Finally, students will be expected at least to attempt a meditation and yoga practice.
This seminar will encounter real and fictional cities of the past, present and future, and using Beloit, Wisconsin as our primary “laboratory,” we will engage with a set of questions around the notion of a healthy city. What makes a city “healthy”? What roles do food, education, access to medical resources, and the absence of poverty, for example, play in the health of a city? We will explore the obvious and subtle influences of industry and commerce, public transportation, and population diversity. What would a sustainably healthy city look like and what steps might be taken to pursue such a goal? Seminar members will read and discuss others' ideas, and we will design and implement projects that seek to understand and improve one or more aspects of the “healthiness” of Beloit College and/or Beloit, Wisconsin.
The war on terror has dominated U.S. foreign policy since the 9/11 attacks, pulling the U.S. into two lengthy wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Using primary documents such as the 9/11 report, participant memoirs, scholarly research, and documentaries, we will explore the changing nature of terrorism from the 1970s-1980s to the transnational era of al-Qaida. We will consider a multitude of thorny and hotly contested moral, political, military, and human rights questions such as: What groups should be considered terrorists and who gets to decide? Is terrorism a crime or an act of war? Are the traditional laws of war applicable to terrorists? What are the practical and moral issues surrounding the use of drones? How effective has U.S. counterinsurgency strategy been in Iraq and Afghanistan? What should be done about Guantanamo Bay? Should U.S. officials involved in torture be prosecuted?
Do you want to learn more about one of the greatest but most mysterious ancient civilizations in the world? In this seminar, we will study the Indus Valley Civilization (www.harappa.com), centered on the river valleys and coastal areas of southwestern Pakistan and northwestern India and contemporaneous with the other well-known and well-studied civilizations of the ancient world in Egypt and Mesopotamia. The Indus civilization covered a vast geographical area and had trade and connections extending all the way to Troy in ancient Greece. However, our knowledge of the civilization, now more accurately known as the Harappan civilization since it flourished around major planned cities with paved streets, sewage disposal and (possibly) flushing toilets at Harappa and Mohenjodaro, is limited. The written record, consisting of a relatively small number of beautiful but mysterious seals with inscriptions on them, has defied all attempts to figure out their meaning or understand the “script.” We will also study the seals in detail using special computer software (including image and frequency analysis tools) being developed by the seminar leader, in an attempt to “decipher” the inscriptions.
Architecture, painting, sculpture, photography, dance, theatre, and music.
What defines these creative processes as art? Is this definition fluid? Is it ephemeral–changing as the culture evolves, as the artist personally evolves–or is it concrete?
Are these art forms non-essential? Are they each an extraneous activity enjoyed by only the affluent, a luxury emergent once all necessities are fulfilled–or are they more than that?
Is the key to creation critique? Is viewing another’s art essential to creating our own as we assess its value, as well as determine the components which contribute to that value; and if we can’t receive criticism of our own art, will we stagnate–or does art come purely from within?
Incorporating established examples of time-tested art in various forms, we will discuss these questions. Then, as we observe the various forms of art so readily available on campus, we will use Liz Lerman’s Critical Response Process to form verbal discussions and written critiques.
Do you know how many countries are involved in the production of your iPhone? In our current global economy, a product can be designed in one country, its components produced in many others, all to be shipped to one destination for assembling, and the final products sent to consumers in markets all over the world. In this seminar, we will go through a series of case studies to examine business, cultural, and ethical issues that firms face in such an integrated world. How do differences in culture and in political, economic, and legal systems affect international business operations? How do firms strategically decide how to fragment production activities, where to locate them, and how to distribute their products globally? What are the ethical issues faced by international businesses? The seminar will follow a case-based and student-centered teaching method. Students will be divided into groups, each group researching and presenting a case study on one issue.
When we yearn for invisibility, what do we really desire? How do we evade detection? How do we learn not to see the people right in front of us? How do authorities and institutions hide people in plain sight? In this course, we will explore the physics of light, the biology of vision, and the psychology of perception in order to understand practical invisibility. Through The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells, Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, and other works, we will examine the temptations and perils of not being seen.
In the U.S. we tend to think of biology and culture as totally separate entities. We will examine the interconnectedness between biology and culture to study the many patterns of human diversity. Our focus investigates human biocultural diversity as adaptive mechanisms which are specific to the environments in which humans reside. To begin we will explore human emergence as cultural beings through the process of natural selection and biological diversity. As humans spread over the globe culture became more complex and environmental factors began to shape the diversity in variation seen in human populations. For example, we will examine skin color and how human populations use it to culturally construct notions of race. We will consider how the distribution of infectious disease is not random. Finally, we examine the human body to see how various cultures uniquely construct its meaning. In essence we will discover humans are biological beings ensconced in sociocultural matrices, and how we must move beyond the tired old question of nature or nurture.
This seminar examines the fairy tales surrounding the Grimm’s fairy tales as well as their enduring influence on our culture, especially in terms of literature. As scholar Maria Tatar notes, “For many adults, reading through an unexpurgated edition of the Grimm’s collection of tales can be an eye-opening experience.” Tatar’s study, The Hard Facts of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales concerns the “murder, mutilation, cannibalism, infanticide, and incest that fill the pages of these bedtime stories for children” and the truth behind the often romanticized versions of how and why Jacob and Wilhelm collected the tales. We’ll consider the genesis and significance of the fairy tales, their “sanitization” over time, and their impact on contemporary literature: our course texts include academic studies in the fields of psychology and folklore in addition to notable contemporary retellings by fiction writers and poets such as Angela Carter, Donald Barthelme, Anne Sexton, and Margaret Atwood.