First-Year Initiatives (FYI) Seminars, Fall 2015

Preparation for FYI

Here is what you need to know—and do—to prepare for the program:

Listed below are the 22 FYI Seminars. Please read the course descriptions and then submit your top five 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. 15; this class begins during New Student Days.

The first four FYI seminars listed below (marked with an asterisk) are linked courses, "Exploring the Backstories of Human Development." They explore individual course themes in relation to one another through a robust set of common readings, co-curricular events, and community building activities. Students and FYI faculty will work together to fully connect the academic and residential components of the first-year experience in particularly rich and meaningful ways.


Descriptions listed below are subject to minor changes.

01. Blood and Guts in the 21st Century and Beyond* (linked seminar)

02. Changing Times* (linked seminar)

03. Lesions, Leeches, and Leprosy* (linked seminar)

04. From Beijing to Beloit: Ecology, Development, and Education * (linked seminar)

05. Clouds, Culture, and Cli-fi

06. From Lagos to Johannesburg: 21st Century African Cities

07. Social Change and Identity in Comic Books

08. Is That a Good Idea or Not?

09. The Beatles’ White Album: Peace, Love, and Revolution in 1968

10. The Wonder that is India

11. Nanotechnology

12. Belwhat? Mapping History and Memory in the City and College Communities

13. Re-inventing The Wheel: User Experience Design

14. "The Book of Changes"

15. Habitus and Home: Be It Ever So Humble There Is No Place Like It

16. Slippery Slopes: Power, Desire and Situational Advantage

17. Living Sustainably in Beloit and the World

18. Speculative Fiction of the African Diaspora

19. America’s Hot Cold War: From Korea to Iraq

20. On Trial

21. Seriously Pop: Analyzing Pop Culture

22. Water Scarcity

 

1. Blood and Guts in the 21st Century and Beyond*
(linked seminar)

An historical analysis of medieval European medicine (Leeches! Blood-letting! Animal dung-poultices!) can leave you wondering how the human species endured long enough to make it to our relatively technologically-advanced state. But will future humans look back at the early 2000s and be just as horrified at our understanding of the science of health and medicine (Open heart surgery! Blood transfusions! Antibiotics!)? In this course, we’ll take a relatively small slice of recent history and analyze how and why our perceptions and understanding of what is “good medical practice” have changed, especially within the past 20 years. We will consider the impact of trial and error and the scientific method on medical practices. We also will incorporate discussions on how issues of biomedical ethics, stigma, and the limits of current human knowledge change and influence what we think of as good practices. By comparing modern western medicine to historical medical interventions, we can identify patterns that may inform the future of how we as humans manage our health.

Return to list

2. Changing Times *
(linked seminar)

Time is a concept central to all areas of our lives. Exploring how humans perceive, react, and adjust to change through time will be the primary focus of this course. We will explore these ideas through an interdisciplinary lens using examples from technology, science, ethics, philosophy, and the arts in both the past and present. Together, we will discuss various concepts related to how things change through time including rate, magnitude, and frequency. Throughout the semester we will reflect on the different ways our lives and the world around us has changed. The transition from high school to college is a temporal event resulting in great personal changes for all of us and part of this course will focus on facilitating that transition through increased awareness of one’s self. We will actively discuss how we react to different forms of change throughout our lives and how developing a better understanding our behaviors and perceptions can improve our future interactions in an ever changing world.

Return to list

3. Lesions, Leeches, and Leprosy*
(linked seminar)

Ever wonder why people used to bleed the sick in an attempt to cure a fever? Curious whether any modern western biomedical practices might be based on techniques and ideas from the distant past? Think you know what life (and death) in the past was really like? This course will examine those questions as we investigate how the peoples of medieval Europe understood disease and how they treated illness. We will delve (figuratively) into the apothecary shops of medieval cities and read the medical texts that educated the doctors of the Renaissance. Special focus will be placed on reactions to and treatment of the Black Death of the fourteenth century, as well as diseases (like leprosy and tuberculosis) that can be identified in the skeleton. Both the biological and social implications of disease in a medieval context will be discussed. At the end, we will place western biomedicine in its historical and cultural context, illuminating how we can apply the medical treatments of the pre-industrial world to our contemporary understandings of health.

Return to list

4. From Beijing to Beloit: Ecology, Development, and Education *
(linked seminar)

This seminar explores the interconnections between ecology, development, and education. Drawing on theories and practices from the West and the East, and the ancient and the contemporary, we examine key concepts such as sustainability, ecology, modernity, and development from interdisciplinary and international perspectives. Ecology is defined in both physical and metaphorical terms, including both natural and social ecosystems. We discuss three agendas on ecology: 1) on modern conservation policies and practices; 2) on the changing ecology of local and global community associated with modern industrial life; and 3) on efforts to regain balance and achieve sustainable development. At the beginning of the class, taking China as a case study, we examine how its recent rapid development has devastated its environment, altered people’s lifestyles, and disturbed traditional cultural values. We also discuss the possibility of fostering a new philosophy of sustainable development, one that marries scientific understanding of ecology and development with a renewed appreciation for traditional cultural values. Enlightened by a global perspective, students explore the ecological agendas in the local community of Beloit and the Beloit campus as their final project.

Return to list

5. Clouds, Culture, and Cli-fi

This seminar keeps a cross-disciplinary watch on the weather through the lenses of literature, art, history, and science. From the emergence of 19th-century weather prediction to contemporary fictional narratives about climate change, we ask how and why weather matters in our personal lives and shared experiences--as reality and metaphor, cause and consequence, and everyday occurrence and extraordinary event. How have people depicted and interpreted weather through time--from the Flood of Genesis to our phones’ weather apps? How does our ability to “see the future” change our behavior and thinking? How will “man-made” weather present us with new ways of understanding our place in the world? Along with these broad concerns, we will use weather as a vehicle for addressing program objectives such as engaging with each other, exploring place, mapping social identities, and communicating effectively. Our reading and writing blends creative and critical approaches, including use of museum collections, archival materials, and students’ multi-media work. Sample reading: Moore’s lively history of 19th-century weather prediction, The Weather Experiment; Redniss’s category-defying picture-book, Thunder & Lightning; and Adams’ anthology of climate change fiction (cli-fi), Loosed Upon the World. Bring your umbrella.

Return to list

6. From Lagos to Johannesburg: 21st Century African Cities

The United Nations predicts that two-thirds of the world will live in cities by 2050. Africa is currently the most rapidly urbanizing region on the planet. In 1963 Lagos Nigeria had a population of 1.3 million; today it is 17.9 million people; and by 2050 it is predicted to double in size. This course will examine the rising megacities of Africa through a variety of disciplinary perspectives. While rapidly growing megacities pose a number of problems as governments struggle to meet the basic housing, infrastructure, and energy needs, there are also a range of opportunities in densely populated areas: diminishing environmental impact; improving water, sanitation, and education; and rapid job creation. In particular, we will focus on Lagos through texts on popular culture, urban policy and planning, politics, and anthropology. We will use data to identify sustainable urban development challenges and opportunities. We will discuss the concept of Afropolitanism and the relationship between geography and identity. We will ask how growing cities shape new identities and how these identities map onto race, gender, ethnicity and class-- both regionally and globally. Finally, students will create self-reflexive pieces on how their family experience has been shaped by geography and displacement.

Return to list

7. Social Change and Identity in Comic Books

Comic books have always been a place to encounter heroes and villains, to see our humanity amplified, and our ethics writ large. In this class, we will look at some of the ways that recent comic books have shown us different kinds of heroes to identify with, reflecting (and in some cases, causing) certain kinds of social change among readers and in communities of fans. From Kelly Sue DeConnick's Penny Rolle to G. Willow Wilson's Kamala Khan, we will examine some of the ways non-traditional heroes have been changing the stories that are told and the audiences who consume those stories. Students should be prepared to encounter challenging characters and ideas that focus on race, gender, sexuality, and other social identities. Using comic books as our vehicle, we will talk about identity formation, social justice, and storytelling itself. We will explore the ways that representation matters in pop culture, as well as the importance of narrative to our self-formation.

Return to list

8. Is That a Good Idea or Not?

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 3% of their annual income for 20 years following graduation. These are provocative ideas, 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.

Return to list

9. The Beatles’ White Album: Peace, Love, and Revolution in 1968

What can popular music tell us about history, conflict, and our yearnings for peace and understanding? Can pop music inspire, shape, or even predict change? This seminar examines these questions through close study of The Beatles, a record better known as the White Album. Songs on this sprawling, double album captured the turbulence of 1968, and, some claim, inspired events in the wake of its release. Seminar participants will study the history of the late 1960s, read authors like Joan Didion, Norman Mailer, Arthur C. Clarke, N. Scott Momaday, Denise Levertov, and Michel Foucault. We will also watch seminal 1968 films like The Graduate, Night of the Living Dead, Flesh, Planet of the Apes, and Rosemary’s Baby. After the class completes its study of the White Album, students will select topics and research subjects related to the era. Some of these topics include the international peace movement, Transcendental Meditation, the Black Panthers, Students for a Democratic Society, the Prague Spring, May 1968 in Paris, Haight-Ashbury, the Manson Family murders, the Vietnam War, the attempted assassination of Andy Warhol by a radical feminist, and Beloit College in the late 1960s.

Return to list

10. The Wonder that is India

India is home to one-sixth of the world’s population and is projected to surpass China as the most populous country in 2022. This vast population is composed of people with diverse languages, religions, customs, and food. Following a spate of liberalization measures initiated in 1991, the Indian economy became among the top growing major economies in the world. However, the challenges of economic and social inequalities remain at large. In this seminar, we will focus on understanding the interplay of society and culture with economics using India as our case study. We will first develop a basic understanding of India’s broad population trends, with particular emphasis on the colonial history, the size and distribution of the population and labor force, the social institutions of family and marriage, and the debates surrounding gender discrimination and domestic violence. Then we will turn to understanding how these issues are intimately connected to the growth potential of the Indian economy. By the end of the semester, students will be familiar with the main sources of Indian data, basic quantitative measures and techniques of analysis, recent policy measures, the Bollywood movie industry, and even some Indian cuisine!

Return to list

11. Nanotechnology

The nanoscale refers to materials with dimensions on the scale of nanometers (a thousandth of a thousandth of a thousandth of a meter). The emerging fields of nanoscience and nanotechnology are enabling control of the material world at the scale of atoms and molecules, potentially producing materials with fundamentally different properties and behavior. Material syntheses an atomic layer at a time have already revolutionized lighting and display technologies and are an integral part of today’s computer technology. Studying nanotechnology now is equivalent to studying the automobile in 1900 or the computer in 1960. There is much yet to discover. Hype and reality are often hard to tell apart, but it is clear that nanotechnology will affect food and agriculture, water, health and medicine, energy, the economy, and the natural environment. Some questions we will consider include: What makes nanomaterials special? What tools can be used to study such materials? What nanotechnology already exists? What are the potential benefits? What are the potential risks? How might the risks and benefits change society? What technology is needed to change the world? This seminar will include frequent laboratory experiences as we make and study nanoparticles and their applications.

Return to list

12. Belwhat? Mapping History and Memory in the City and College Communities

You've decided to spend four years in this small town in Wisconsin. Your friends are like Belwhat? Belwhere? What is this place? Find out what makes BELOIT special, what generations before you loved and learned while setting down roots and making memories. Discover how Beloit got to be how it is today as you walk across its college campus or down its main street. Conduct research in the College Archives and Museums, learn to make interactive maps that show changes in buildings and topography over time. In this seminar, we will begin our historical explorations in the nineteenth century, examine the motives and intentions of the College's founders in the 1840's, and trace the ways that both the City and the College have grown and become more diverse while struggling to be inclusive through the twentieth century up through the present. A central premise of this course is that you can't really know Beloit College today without an understanding of its historical and urban contexts and of the various communities that call the city of Beloit home.

Return to list

13. Re-inventing The Wheel: User Experience Design

User Experience Design refers to the judicious application of certain user-centered design practices, utilizing certain methods, techniques, and applications to arrive at a highly contextual design mentality to achieve desired effects. The purpose of good design is to engage a cause and effect discourse to meet the user’s goals. It also measures the designer’s levels of success and enjoyment, as they experiment intuitively and cognitively to meet those goals. One of the main tenets of User Experience Design is the importance of incorporating user feedback into the design evolution process, that is, co-evoking the system with its user’s. This course will investigate the User Experience Design process by challenging the effectiveness of pre-existing outcomes, thus the outcome of each project should be as unique as its context. Students will act on the material gathered in the first step of the process and find a design worth refining. This stage is not only about documenting; it is about artistic fury, creative explosion, and creatively re-calibrating a design.

Return to list

14. "The Book of Changes"

What is the nature of change (personal, social, natural, etc.)? And, how do we respond to it? Of perennial relevance, these questions may yet seem particularly urgent to you now as you begin your first year at college. In this course you will engage the notion of change in your own life through a semester-length creative project. Your project will grow from your own experiences as well as from an encounter with the imagery, text, and commentary of one book: the Yìjīng (a.k.a. I Ching), or, as it is often called in English, the Book of Changes. The Yìjīng is the oldest of the Chinese classics, tracing its origins back to the divinatory practices of Bronze Age China (ca. 1000 BCE). Over two millennia, it has served as a touchstone for philosophers, writers, and artists working within the Chinese – and, more broadly, East Asian – intellectual tradition. Further afield, it has both puzzled and inspired the likes of the German philosopher-cum-mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646-1716), the Swiss psychotherapists Carl Jung (1875-1961), and the American science fiction author Philip Dick (1928-1982). Exploration of these varied intellectual lineages will provide structure to your creative work.

Return to list

15. Habitus and Home: Be It Ever So Humble There Is No Place Like It )

What makes us human? One anthropologist suggests the evolution and development of a home is central to our humanity. No other life form on this planet has what would be considered a home. In this seminar we will begin by examining the evolutionary history of our ancestors. When did “homes” first appear in the archaeological record? Why might the need for a “home” emerge? Like other primates, humans are very social beings. We draw a great deal of comfort and emotional support from our relationships and our homey surroundings. However, what happens when our home (life) is disrupted, threatened, or lost? Can it be rebuilt and are there lasting developmental, emotional, and/or psychological effects? We will examine these topics while also considering how creating home and habitus at Beloit College is important for academic and personal growth and development and how it will affect your concept of home and habitus as a dynamic social/physical/mental state that changes over your lifetime.

Return to list

16. Slippery Slopes: Power, Desire and Situational Advantage

How do power, desire and our own situational advantage/disadvantage define us? Do they reveal an essential “us,” or calibrate a more nuanced us? Are they anchored historically, socially, individualistically, nationally, and culturally? This course will look for and elaborate on the metaphors for power in a select group of literary and theatrical texts. As in real life, the drive of desire and a shrewd awareness of advantage sculpt fictional power into likenesses we might relate to, but our archetypes and our real selves battle the same unending tensions: a slippery continuum between hero and villain and a deep suspicion about where power lives and grows and when it might be trustworthy. We will look at our own lives and fictional constructs, questioning the templates by which we both live and create stories. Authors might include: Tracy K. Smith, Shakespeare, Toni Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Robert Moore, and Hanya Yanagihara. Expect a combination of reading/discussion and analysis, along with simple graphic exercises that do not emphasize artistic ability.

 

Return to list

17. Living Sustainably in Beloit and the World

So often, we think of a college education as a means to an end, a point on a journey. What happens when we think about college as a place-based experience? What does it mean to truly situate knowledge and learning in the place where we reside? Does it change the way we live, think, and act? In this course, we consider our relationship to Beloit and the world. We explore what makes a place special, how the meaning of a place is conveyed and how natural and built environments shape our experiences and even our identities. Our study looks forward and backward in time: in addition to archival research on the college’s architectural and educational history, we examine the plans for the Powerhouse, the new sustainable student union/recreation facility to be housed in a renovated industrial building adjacent to campus. Through engagement with the campus community and the renowned architectural firm designing the Powerhouse, students will provide leadership in shaping the place and the vision for a vibrant, healthy, Beloit community.

Return to list

18. Speculative Fiction of the African Diaspora

African-American authors and other descendants of the African diaspora have regularly used speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, magical realism, alternative history, etc.) as a vehicle to explore issues of particular importance to them and their cultures. Authors such as W.E.B. DuBois, Octavia Butler, Samuel Delany, Walter Mosley, Nnedi Okorafor, Nalo Hopkinson, and others will guide us through ways that the African diaspora experience has shaped lives and cultures. For example, religious themes are a common occurrence within speculative literature, but are particularly important and recurring in the literary experiences of Africans and their descendants. Many other works incorporate experiences which are a direct outgrowth of the slavery experience and the classism and racism of the societies in which Africans and Americans of African ancestry lived even well after the end of formal slavery. The use of Caribbean mysticism as a source of magical realism, and the incorporation of African mythology and experiences, extend this diaspora connection well beyond the shores of the American experiences.

Return to list

19. America’s Hot Cold War: From Korea to Iraq

Since the Second World War America has used its military forces in several limited conflicts. We study two hot Cold War conflicts, the Korean and Vietnam wars, in the first half of our seminar before examining the Gulf War (1990-1991) and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The changing political and military doctrines that characterized these wars are examined, as we study how the American armed forces dealt with the changing requirements of limited conventional war and counterinsurgency war. We study the perceptions of the American military in literature and film during these six decades as well to understand the attitudes of the American public as they relate to these conflicts. Readings include War Trash by Ha Jin, If I Die in a Combat Zone by Tim O’Brien, Jarhead by Anthony Swofford, and Redeployment by Phil Klay. Films include “Pork Chop Hill” (1959), “Full Metal Jacket” (1987), “Jarhead” (2005), and “American Sniper” (2014).

Return to list

20. On Trial

Trials have been a favorite topic for literary treatment in European cultures. In addition to their obvious dramatic potential, they appear to have a special capacity to express conflicts between reason and faith, between necessity and human agency, and between social and political norms and individual responsibility. Trials can represent the tension and interdependence between large-scale social, cultural and religious structures and the specific thoughts and actions of individual persons which are articulated through and against these realities. Consequently, in trial literature the authority of institutions, the coherence of ideals and the authenticity of individuals can be simultaneously explored and tested. It is a genre where the foundations and the seams of a society begin to show and the possibility of human dignity and integrity is forged. Readings will probably include Job, Aeschylus' Oresteia, Plato's Apology, the Gospels' account of the trial of Jesus, St. Joan by George Bernard Shaw, Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Lee, and The Trial by Franz Kafka.

Return to list

21. Seriously Pop: Analyzing Pop Culture

Popular culture is often treated as something trivial and unserious, as a collection of silly trends and fads that don’t matter. Yet, social science tells us that the cultures we live in deeply shape who we are. So, what do we make of pop culture – movies, memes, tattoos and tweets, dance crazes, viral videos, fads in clothing and hair styles? Are they trash, or are they critically important? How has pop culture influenced us? Do we choose what we consume to reflect our own personal identity? Or does it choose us, with trends, fashions and peer pressure shaping who we are, and forming our identity? What becomes popular, and why? Should we care, or try to control it? In this course, we will examine pop culture through the lens of our own experience, coupled with social science perspectives, such as Pierre Bourdieu’s theories of consumption and cultural capital. We will make everyday life the subject of deep and serious analysis. This course is an introduction to the challenges and pleasures of college-level work: we aim to understand ourselves and the world we live in, and discover how any topic, no matter how seemingly trivial, can be seriously and intelligently studied if we put our minds to it.

Return to list

22. Water Scarcity

Where does your water come from? How much do you use in a typical day? Do you think your rate of water consumption is sustainable? Ensuring the future availability and quality of water for human populations and natural ecosystems is a significant societal challenge. In this seminar, we will explore natural, political, and economic constraints on sufficient water supplies. We will discuss environmental disasters like the Aral Sea and the Salton Sea, where our thirst for water in arid environments has resulted in catastrophic effects on regional ecosystems. Water scarcity can also occur in areas with consistent and abundant rainfall, so we will examine the less obvious but equally pressing water resources issues in places like Wisconsin. Finally, we will explore conservation measures, public policies, and new technologies that aim to ease local and global water scarcity and improve management strategies for this critical natural resource.

Return to list

 

FYI Registration Form