First-Year Seminar Courses

What is a First-Year Seminar? Each year Goucher offers close to 25 seminars just for first-year students. These small, discussion-based classes are designed to show you the ropes of real academic inquiry. The courses cover a wide range of topics and disciplines. None assumes prior experience with the topic. Take your time, click on the links to read course descriptions, and pick a topic that intrigues you!

FYS 100.001 - Hands in Clay

This course will emphasize hand-building, and explore the fundamental clay-forming techniques of pinch, coil, and slab. Students focus on using clay sculpturally to make work that imitates nature. You will learn to fire the electric kilns as well as participate in weekend outdoor raku firings. PowerPoints will be presented and readings will be assigned to appreciate the extraordinary history of clay’s use throughout the world and time, from Etruscan, pre-Columbian, and African, to American indigenous, and Japanese. We will visit the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore Clayworks, and have class visits and demos by local artists working with clay.

Allyn Massey

FYS 100.002 - Power of Photography

The photographer Richard Avedon stated: “All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.” Since photography’s invention in 1839 photographers and photography have revealed convincing truths about the world and told us monumental lies. This course will examine how photographic images have shaped our understanding of culture and the way we literally see the world. By studying photography’s history and by making photographic images, we will explore both sides of the camera and will engage with Susan Sontag’s assertion that “Today everything exists to end in a photograph.” No prior experience with photography required; experienced photographers are enthusiastically welcome. Photographic work will be made with Smartphones and cameras that we build in class. No other specialized photographic equipment is required to take this course.

Laura Burns

FYS 100.003 - Embodying Your Creative Potential

How is the human body a powerful tool of self-expression and an extension of your intellectual and creative self? This course will challenge you to integrate your intellectual, physical, and emotional responses to the world around you by using your unique body as a powerful medium to express what words sometimes cannot. In a constantly changing world, creative thought, experimentation, and practice is integral to the development of a mind that has the ability to produce fresh, innovative ideas and fearlessly forge into unknown territories. We will transform our ideas, discussions, and individual and group research into impactful performance pieces. Movement skills will be developed and practiced through improvised and structured studio experimentation. Prior movement/dance experience is not necessary for this course. Everyone has the capacity to fulfill their creative potential and discover the power of ones physical and creative voice.

Linda Garofalao

FYS 100.005 - Words and Music and Meaning; what’s the point of a song?

Songs are a part of the fabric of our lives from childhood; why do words and music add up to more than the sum of their parts? This class will explore the various ways these elements interact and how songs function in our lives, and search for meaning in music. Basics of music theory (no prior knowledge required!) and analysis, along with perspectives from sociology and psychology will guide us in this analysis. Students will have an opportunity to create songs in the final project, with any or no musical background at all.

Kendall Kennison

FYS 100.006 - Exploring Your Musical Self

Exploring Your Musical Self recognizes that each person has different natural tendencies in the way they relate to music, called musicality. The course provides the experience and understanding to make it possible for each participant to discover, explore, and expand their musicality. The focus of Exploring Your Musical Self is on putting musicality into action. The course is divided into four units, each examining one of the four pathways of musical activity (improvising, interpreting, composing, and arranging), the issues associated with each pathway, and the techniques available to achieve musical expression in each pathway. Students will participate in guided activities using all four pathways. In addition, there are reading assignments, writing assignments, and other projects to develop critical reading, writing, and thinking skills, and to explore different perspectives. This fosters independent thought, intellectual curiosity, collaborative inquiry, teamwork, community, and the joy of learning.

Jeffrey Chappell

FYS 100.007 - The Dark Ages Illuminated: Journeys of Wonder, Magic, and Memory in the Medieval Imagination

Were the so-called “Dark Ages” really so dark? This course explores the vibrant culture of literature, ritual, and the visual arts between the 4th and 14th centuries from Western Europe to the Edge of the known World. Through key works of literature and art, we will consider ways in which the cultural dimensions of the middle ages relate to our own ideas and traditions today. Topics for discussion will include medieval notions of reduce/reuse/recycle, hoarding, the divine, dreams and the visionary, love and desire, journeys and adventure, foreigners and the exotic, and games.

April Oettinger

FYS 100.008 -The Sound and the Fury: Movies and Music as History?

This course is for first semester students who want to listen to music, watch movies, and discuss the stories they tell. It is organized around one key question: if movies and music tell stories, are they works of history, or are they historical artifacts? We’ll explore this question by engaging with movies and music across cultures and time periods to think about how stories get told, who gets to tell them, and why.

James Dator

FYS 100.009 -Hamilton: The Man and the Musical

Who was Alexander Hamilton? What were the main features of Hamilton’s world? Why has Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical about this influential man and his world captivated millions? Does the musical accurately portray the main features of Hamilton and his world, and does it matter if it does not? How should the story of the “Founding Fathers” and their American Revolution be told, and who gets to tell it? This course seeks answers to those questions through an examination of Alexander Hamilton the man and Hamilton the musical.

Matthew Hale

FYS 100.010 - The Latinx Experience in the US

There are 58.9 million Latinx living in the United States, making them the largest ethnic minority group in the nation. By 2060, Latinx are projected to account for 28.6 percent of the total U.S. population. This course introduces you to the social, political, and cultural history of this vital and diverse ethnic group using a variety of primary and secondary sources to illuminate selected topics and themes from the colonial period to the present. Key topics include: past and present immigration; Latinx identity and perceptions of Latinx in the U.S., the formation and transformation of cultural identity; and the Spanish language in media and education. You will be asked to take an active role in the learning experience through participation in the community-based learning component of the course. This component will provide the opportunity for you to reflect on your views and the perspectives presented in class through interactions with Latinx immigrants from area neighborhoods.

Frances Ramos-Fontan

FYS 100.011- Perception and Misperception of the Arab World/s

In this FYS section, we will examine our perceptions of the Arab World and learn about the conflicts and upheavals that have shaped modern Arab society and culture. Throughout the semester, we will be introduced to a wide variety of thought-provoking Arab films, stories, poetry, and music that will spark a new understanding of the major trends and themes of this region. This will be a discussion-based seminar, in which our short essays will be geared toward developing the critical tools and skills needed for academic success in this course and beyond.

Zahi Khamis

FYS 100.012 - On the Move: Migrants On Screen

Migrants and vagabonds have long fascinated filmmakers across cultures. This course looks at how migrants and migration have been imagined and filmed by directors in Europe, Africa, the Arab World and the Americas. We will look closely at a sample of diverse films from the world that offer narratives presenting the many intercultural challenges migrants face as they cross multiple geopolitical borders and adapt to their new host country.

Florence Martin

FYS 100.013 - Extremism

This course will unpack big questions around extremism: what it is; how one becomes an extremist; how it spreads in societies; and how and why one disengages from violent extremism. In doing so, it will draw on cases at the individual and organization level, including from nationalist groups, the extreme right; anarchists; and religious extremists in the United States, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe.

Julie Chernov Hwang

FYS 100.014 - Imagining the Middle East

What images do you associate with the Middle East? What assumptions do you make about the Middle East? How are these images transmitted, and how do you formulate your ideas? In this course, we will use film and literature of the Middle East as forms of political, social, and cultural commentary. We will assess the different visions and images presented by filmmakers and writers on topics that include religious and ethnic identity, colonialism and revolution, war and violence, and gender and cultural stereotypes. Understanding these issues through film screenplays, cinematography, personal narratives, short stories, and poetry helps us imagine the Middle East from multiple and diverse perspectives.

Amalia Honick

FYS 100.015 - Gifts of Cultural Sustainability

This course introduces the topic of cultural sustainability and the concept of the gift, and asks you to consider culture as a key dimension of sustainability and a livable world. The vital generativity of this concept flows in four directions: to envision humanly and ecologically sustainable futures, and consider transitions to more sustainable ways of life; to work collectively, ethically and effectively to sustain valued cultural traditions, gifts, relationships and spirit; to use culture skillfully to support human thriving, and to connect and heal across lines of difference; to understand the relationships of culture to human and planetary well-being. With roots in anthropology, philosophy, cultural policy, social theory, ecology, ethnomusicology, folklore, and community arts, cultural sustainability is a form of professional practice and intellectual inquiry that considers these themes and their interconnections. To work effectively in this area requires the cultivation of ethical leadership and critical empathy, and such skills as ethnographic research, facilitation, collaboration, cooperation, and entrepreneurship. In this course, we will explore cultural sustainability, and working at Goucher and in Baltimore, create individual and group cultural projects in relationship to the concept, our gifts as a class, and your own interests. We live in a perilous time, but a time where opportunities can be grasped to strengthen our communities and reconnect as human beings through sustaining the cultural gifts and resources which sustain us.

Rory Turner

FYS 100.016 - Childhood Left Behind? Getting Schooled in Twenty-First-Century America

As American students began to fall behind their international counterparts on a variety of standard measures of achievement, many came to perceive that the U.S. public education system was failing and in desperate need of overhaul. Fears that our schools were not preparing students for success in the "global marketplace" led to the development of government initiatives (such as Bush's "No Child Left Behind Act" and, more recently, Obama's "Race to the Top" program) that involved imposition of high performance standards, standardized and stripped-down curricula, strict assessment procedures, financial incentivization, and sometimes severe sanctions and even school closings. In this course, we will address the broader psychological, social, and political underpinnings, implications and repercussions of this "standards" movement in education, as well as examining some current initiatives, including the “Every Student Succeeds Act” and the “Common Core” standards. At the same time, we will consider a variety of alternative perspectives in which student performance and motivation are framed in the context of an educational system that, in its zeal to improve the educational product (i.e., achievement outcomes), has failed to account for the importance of social justice concerns, teacher-student relationships, or the valuing of students' needs, interests, and feelings for promoting quality learning and healthy social and emotional development. Through discussion of the work of Ravitch, Kohn, Kozol, Khan, and others, we will explore the possibility of a more student-centered, humanistic education that emphasizes the value of meaningful experience and holistic psychological development.

Brian Patrick

FYS 100.017 - Alternative Energy for Everyone

This is a lecture/laboratory hybrid course designed to provide an appreciation and in-depth understanding of alternative energy. Topics will be taught in an interactive environment and will include hands-on activities/projects in the construction of selected devices related to alternative energy. As the title implies, this class is designed for everyone, which includes both science and non-science students; the one pre-requisite is an interest in the topic. This course fulfills the Environmental Sustainability component of the Goucher Commons Requirements.

Ruquia Ahmed-Schofield

FYS 100.018 - Free Speech: Is It Really Free?

In this age of rapid globalization and heightened cross-cultural contacts, nations, communities, and individuals are working hard to hold on to and reaffirm their own identities and values. In the United States, one of the most precious values is free speech, embedded in the First Amendment to the Constitution and regarded as a primary tenet of American democracy. But arguments and controversies over the boundaries, if any, of free speech have become frequent and intense, and all the more so in the era of digital communication. This course will examine the dialogue that is taking place within the United States and around the world on these issues – sometimes in a civil manner, and at other times as a political or cultural confrontation that all too frequently turns violent as witnessed in the election that made Donald Trump president of the United States. Our own dialogue will hopefully remain civil, but it may at times be controversial and heated; when we examine violent music and raunchy comedy and analyze different reactions to pornography, for example. By the end of the semester, we may all emerge a little less certain than we thought we were before about what legitimately deserves protection as free speech and what does not. We will also explore this in terms of the Goucher community and our media outlets of The Goucher Eye, The Q and our campus radio station. We will discuss international and domestic protests over politically sensitive cartoons like the ones published in Charlie Hebdo, controversies over Holocaust denial, whether hate speech should be banned, whether the media can be constrained on national security grounds, whether WikiLeaks was right to publish Hillary Clinton’s hacked emails and what constitutes freedom of speech on the Internet, cell phones or in social media. Through court cases and by other means, we will examine the debate in this country over what it means to be patriotic and whether patriotism requires us to say, or prohibits us from saying, certain things. Examples of constraints on free speech in our daily lives and work will be discussed, including in the classrooms and student press platforms at Goucher. Our sources will include writings and statements made by the participants in these debates, a classical treatise on liberty by the political philosopher John Stuart Mill, media reports, commentary by scholars and journalists from different societies and cultural positions, and your own experiences about what you can and cannot say. You will have a chance to discuss and critique the work of your professor as it appears in his writing at the Baltimore Sun and commentary and analysis on CNN. The most important thing to know about the course is that we do not have a set of predetermined opinions that we are trying to convince you are correct. We are interested in your formulation of your own opinions on the basis of the readings we assign, the writing you do, and the discussions we have in class. Hopefully, we will manage to surprise each other once in a while.

David Zurawik

FYS 100.019 - American Romantic Comedy

This course explores the American romantic comedy from the “screwball” era of the 1930s-1940s to its “radical” turn mid-century in the wake of the sexual revolution and women's liberation movement, to some of its contemporary incarnations: the queer romcom, the “chick flick,” and the “bromance.” We'll examine how romantic comedy has changed and stayed the same stylistically, thematically, and ideologically. At the heart of our explorations will be ongoing consideration of how romantic comedies reflect and negotiate ever-changing cultural concepts around gender roles, relations between the sexes and those of the same sex, and issues of race, class, ethnicity, age, work, friendship, family, and nation.

Maria San Filippo

FYS 100.020 - The Secret Life of Puppets

Puppets are arguably one of the earliest forms of performance--used to educate, incite, enlighten or just delight, they were and remain a staple of theatrical performance. A puppet is, however, a very special performer, made from humble materials, fashioned into a living form and finally animated or brought to life by the mind and body of a person either directly or at a distance. This "bringing to life", this mysterious alchemy at the heart of puppets, is perhaps why this otherwise ubiquitous theatre form often remains in the shadows. In this seminar/workshop we will look at the history, forms, uses and theory of puppets and form questions such as: Is Homer Simpson a puppet? Why do puppets go in and out of fashion? What is the relationship between the puppet and the maker/animator? What stories do puppets need to tell? What drama ensues between the knife, the spoon and the dog when the kitchen light goes out? Through creative exploration, guided improvisation and the making of original puppet performances, these questions and many more will be answered in The Secret Life of Puppets.

Allison Campbell

FYS 100.021 - Am I Black or White? Am I Straight or Gay?: CONTROVERSY?

Long before recording artist Prince penned these lyrics in the 1980s, America has been a space and a place demanding and mandating polarized definitions of race and sexuality. As such, this course will examine the reasoning and ramifications of this dichotomy from the Colonial Period to the present in genres that include literature and film. The focus of the course is an exploration of why and how individuals and groups resisted these racial and sexual dictates with strategies that include “passing."

Angelo Robinson

FYS 100.022 - Gender: Past, Present, Futures

How do we understand, experience, and express our gender identities? Taking a humanistic perspective, we’ll explore influential treatments of gender from ancient times to our own. Our readings will include religious texts; classical philosophy; essays on gender and artistic achievement, including excerpts from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (1929) and Linda Nochlin’s “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” (1971); Ursula Le Guin’s science-fiction novel The Left Hand of Darkness (1969); and Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts (2015), a hybrid work of memoir and criticism.

Juliette Wells

FYS 100.023 - Where the Wild Things Are: America's Relationship to Wilderness

This course brings together the work of adventurers, children’s writers, environmentalists, film makers, visual artists, and philosophers in order to trace America's complex attitude towards wild places and wild things. Topics include: why we used to find mountains ugly, our irrational fear of grizzlies, the climb that drove Thoreau insane, America's obsession with lawns, and the dark appeal of Tarzan's jungle.

Mary Marchand

FYS 100.024 - Education as Liberation

What is a liberal arts education for? In this course we will take a deep dive into that question by examining the work of thinkers who write about their own education as the practice of freedom, and demonstrate how and what they needed to learn in order to be free. We will begin by reading Frederick Douglass’s Narrative, an autobiographical text published in 1845 that shows us the realities of slavery and also how Douglass becomes free, in spirit and mind, before becoming free physically. We will read and reflect upon additional literary, philosophical, sociological, and pedagogical essays and stories that characterize how the hard work of learning shows us the way to become free thinkers, that is, people who are not bound by unexamined opinion, bias, and prejudice.

Leslie Lewis

FYS 100.025 - Shakespeare on Screen

Shakespeare’s plays shouldn’t work on screen. The plays are highly verbal… film and television are highly visual media. The plays were written to be interactive with a live, present audience… film and television project to a passive and distant audience. Why then are Shakespeare’s plays so often “translated” for the screen, often very successfully? In this course we will read several of Shakespeare’s plays, we will do in-class exercises, you will make videos inspired by one of Shakespeare’s works, we will analyze and critique films and film clips of his works interpreted for the screen, and you will write reviews of several of those works. This year we will focus on plays that focus on issues of prejudice.

Michael Curry

FYS 100.026 - Future Worlds

For millennia, humans have thought, written, painted or simply dreamt about the future. Many of those imaginings have been of egalitarian utopias, societies devoid of social struggle, where ideas are freely exchanged and consensus rules. Sometimes, we envision nightmarish dystopias replete with police states, extreme social hierarchies and/or machine rule. In this course, we will study a number of these future worlds as depicted in film, literature and art as well as in the lived realities of alternative communities around the world. We will identify and distill shared ideas, preoccupations and guiding concepts. We will analyze the political and economic contexts within which these ideas arose in the past and are arising now. Ultimately, we will imagine, propose, articulate and hone our own visions of future worlds where serious contemporary problems are resolved.

Seble Dawit

FYS 100.027- American Feminist Voices: Many-Headed Melodies

What does it mean to be feminist and/or womanist in 2019 and how should we contemplate the diversities of these movements? Can they be storytelling, a performance, a spirituality, a decision, a hashtag? This seminar will look at six womanist issues and contemplate these questions through multiple voices. Five of these will locate around (1) historical suffrage and current political fallout; (2) violence against women; (3) health care and reproductive justice; (4) womanist theology and (5) storytelling as history. The final section will derive from class interests, and chosen by you. Our conversations will consider the realities of race, economics, educational opportunity, and concerns from LGBTQ communities. Assignments will include historic and contemporary readings, along with stories, film, songs, testimonies, and poetry. A wandering voice will move among these others, and that will be yours. My goal for our class is to have meaningful discussions, but also to contemplate a strategy that actively listens to the many-headed melodies and shares them forward.

Thomasin LaMay

FYS 100W.001 - Mindful Writing

What is mindfulness, and what has it got to do with writing? What happens inside our heads when we write? In this seminar, we will investigate mindfulness and how this practice can inform and improve our writing practice. How can being more mindful help us grow as writers? We will experiment in class with various techniques and practices to find out the best ways to overcome writer’s block, procrastination, struggles with structure or page counts, and each develop personal strategies to improve our writing habits. This course invites you to consider all kinds of approaches to improving writing, including ways we can incorporate the joys and freedoms of creative writing into our academic work. Bring an open mind and see what we can discover about mindful writing together! This course is an honors level writing intensive First-Year Seminar, fulfilling both your First-Year Seminar and Writing Studies requirements. This seminar asks for frequent writing and revision, thoughtful peer review, and a high level of motivation and engagement. Requires placement in honors level by the Writing Program.

Kate Welch

FYS 100W.002 - Writing Movements

Think about how many ways you can use the word “movement.” Our bodies move. Our emotions move. You can listen to a movement, or part, of a musical composition. You can join a movement to advocate for your beliefs. This course explores the concept of movement in its many manifestations. By consuming and producing multiple types of media, we will explore the relationship between movement and change. What does it mean to write with an awareness of the body? What does it mean to make our words move? These questions and more will shape our understanding of writing as an embodied experience that takes multiple forms. This course is an honors level writing intensive First-Year Seminar, fulfilling both your First-Year Seminar and Writing Studies requirements. This seminar asks for frequent writing and revision, thoughtful peer review, a willingness to stand up and move (gently), and a high level of motivation and engagement. Requires placement in honors level through the Writing Program.

Hannah Fenster

FYS 100W.003 - The Mind-Body Connection

What is the connection between our physical and our emotional selves? Between our subconscious thoughts and our actions? Between what we think about something and what and how we write about it? Questions like these will be the focus of this hybrid Honors First-Year Seminar-Writing Studies course. Through an examination of outstanding popular science and social science writing, we will probe the connection between mind and body and related issues of both mental and physical health and wellness through multiple angles and multiple ways of writing about this connection. Our course will include both the theoretical (for example, how does the brain function when we make split-second decisions?) and the practical (how can meditation help us become better thinkers and writers?). This course is an honors level writing intensive First-Year Seminar, fulfilling both your First-Year Seminar and Writing Studies requirements. This seminar asks for frequent writing and revision, thoughtful peer review, and a high level of motivation and engagement. Requires placement in honors level by the Writing Program.

Charlee Sterling