First-Year Seminars

Offerings for 2022-2023

Beijing and the Forbidden City
Art History and Archaeology; L61 FYP 146
The Forbidden City has been the heart of Beijing for more than six hundred years, and continues to influence both China and its capital today. Through art, architecture, and urban design, this seminar examines the intertwined relationship of the palace and its surrounding city: their origins and constructions, the coded symbolisms of their plans, their most influential characters, their modern identities as the backdrops to major political events, and their roles in contemporary art and the Olympics.

The Art of Rhetoric from Cicero to Social Media
Classics; L61 FYP 118
In Barack Obama's victory speech after the 2008 election, he said, "It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America." He did indeed promise change, but in making that promise he relied on rhetorical rules -- like the climactic tricolon -- that were first formulated in classical antiquity and have been passed down in an unbroken tradition right up to today. In this class we will study the uses and abuses of rhetoric from the ancient world to the present. The course combines a study of rhetorical theory with observation of its practice from Cicero to contemporary advertising, and also includes a significant public speaking component. 

The Hero
Classics; L61 FYP 120
The tale of the hero has endured as one of the most popular narrative forms since the 3rd millennium BC. From the first recording of the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh to the 21st c. cinematic spectacle of Marvel's Avengers, audiences have been transfixed by the travails of the protagonist who attains heroic status. In studying seminal heroes drawn from near eastern and ancient Greek epic, classical tragedy and history, this course will examine why the hero generates such fascination and how the hero reflects back the most fundamental concerns of human existence.

Bridging London: An interdisciplinary Exploration of One of the World's Great Cities
Global Studies; L61 FYP 124
This course provides a multi-disciplinary perspective on the past, present, and future of London. Topics include the historic roots of the city, the development of the British urban system, transportation and the shaping of the city; social, political, and economic dynamics of the Greater London Area; urban growth, decline, and revitalization; suburbanization; and the challenges facing the city in the 21st Century.

Literature of Addiction: From Opium to Adderall
English Literature; L61 FYP 156
This course investigates literary representations of addiction. We will study the development of familiar stages in narratives of substance abuse-i.e. experimentation, transcendence, downward spiral, "rock bottom," and recovery/sobriety. Through discussions and short writing assignments, we will explore various imaginations of people with addictions as tortured souls, creative geniuses, immature party-goers, and/or depraved monsters, seeking to better understand the way experiences of addiction shape perception, and in turn, how perceptions of addiction shape human experience.

Religious Turns: Conversion, Belief, and Changing Minds
English Literature; L61 FYP 171
What makes a person change their mind? How can one find words to explain an experience that cannot be understood in terms of reason, logic, and empirical proof? These questions are key when thinking about religious conversion, and reading conversion literature reveals seismic changes in how humans have thought about God, themselves, and their communities. In this course, we will think together about the relationship between religion and identity, focusing especially on how literature mediates and refracts that relationship. 

Stories of Medicine
English Literature; L61 FYP 151
Because interactions between doctors and patients often occur at times of extreme stress and vulnerability, and because pain and fear can shape how such interactions are perceived, the best narratives about medicine offer especially intense explorations of human experience. As readers and writers, we will focus on how these artists employ diction, syntax, and structure to create both meaning and effect.

Literature and Democracy
Comparative Literature; L61 FYP 111C
Recent trends in the United States and around the world have led many to believe that the beliefs and institutions undergirding democracy are in peril. This First-Year Seminar examines how literary and theatrical works have explored both the promises and challenges of democracy. We will focus on the democracies of ancient Greece (Athens) and the United States of America. 

Twenty Thousand Years on Turtle Island: A Deep History of North America
Anthropology; L61 FYP 136
The twin premises of this course are that humans are the subject of history and that history should begin at the beginning. American history courses normally begin with the colonization of the New World by Europeans beginning in the 15th century, sometimes with a cursory chapter dedicated to the 20,000 years of history that came before. This course will invert this structure and place what we normally think of as American history in the context of a much longer story by drawing on sources from many disciplines, including archaeology, ethnography, ecology, geology, linguistics, and oral history.

A Star is Born: Literature and Celebrity
English Literature; L61 FYP 166
This course tracks the long, intertwined history of fame and literary production from the eighteenth century to the present, Lord Byron to Kim Kardashian. We'll read novels and poems about celebrity, learn about literary celebrities both immortal and forgotten, and study the ways in which the emergence of various media (from print to photography to film and television and social media) have forced literary writers to reckon with the type of visibility that fame bestows on the famous.

All About Black Holes
Physics; L61 FYP 1001
Black holes are the Universe's most extreme objects: they are so massive and compact that gravity bends space and time into a knot. The signature property of a black hole is that your can get in, but not out. In this first-year seminar, we discuss what is currently known about black holes, starting from Einstein's theories about space, time, and gravity, through the first observational evidence for black holes, to the latest images of the shadows cast by black holes taken with the largest telescopes on earth. This class is designed to bend your mind when figuring out why clocks run slower when approaching the edge of a black hole, what could be at the center of a black hole or even at the other side. 

Angels, Prostitutes and Chicas Modernas: Women in Latin American History
History; L61 FYP 2118
This course looks at the nation building process through the lens of Latin American women. Students will examine the expectations, responsibilities and limitations women confronted in their varied roles from the Wars of Independence to the social revolutions and dictatorial regimes of the twentieth century. Besides looking at their political and economic lives, students will explore the changing gender roles and relations within marriage and the family, as well as the changing sexual and maternal mores.

Beyond the Melting Pot: Life in Immigrant America
Sociology; L61 FYP 2710
This course uses a sociological lens to explore contemporary immigration to the United States. The more than 43 million immigrants living in the United States today come from across the globe. Their reasons for migrating to the United States are complex, as are the laws, policies, and social structures they must navigate before and after their arrival. Readings will be drawn from sociological research that opens windows into the lives of immigrants in America. Students will also conduct their own hands-on research to better understand life in immigrant America.

Black Lives Matter and Educational Justice for Black Youth
Education; L61 FYP 102C
In the wake of the global uprising against racial injustice, this introductory course examines how schools in the United States can create opportunities for Black youth to thrive. We will examine the schooling experiences of Black children and youth amid pervasive anti-blackness, analyze the relevance of educational models for racial justice, and imagine radical ways that P-16 schools might dismantle white supremacy.

Detective Fiction from Poe to Doyle
English Literature; L61 FYP 155
An introductory survey of the pioneers of the modern detective story. The broader historical context for our readings include the urbanization and mechanization of society, technological transformations that seemed to both empower and confine, shifts in social norms regarding sexuality and gender, and a grave concern about the ability of alien, exotic or bestial agents to penetrate domestic space-what is often called 'the homeland' in the mass media of our day. 

Habitable Planets
Earth and Planetary Sciences; L61 FYP 105
Why does the Earth have water oceans? Where did our atmosphere come from? Is Earth uniquely habitable among Solar System bodies? This course is an exploration of the origins of volatiles such as water and carbon on planetary bodies, and the internal features that help to regulate our planet's surface conditions. The importance of magnetic fields, plate tectonics, and climate feedbacks with respect to the origins and sustenance of life on Earth will be discussed. 

Imagining and Creating Africa: Youth, Culture, and Change
African and African-American Studies; L61 FYP 178
The goal of this course is to provide a glimpse into how youth reshape African society. Whether in North Africa with the Arab Spring, in West Africa with university strikes, or in East Africa through a linguistic full bloom, youth have been shaping social responses to societies for a long period. In this course, we will study social structures, including churches, NGOs, developmental agencies as well as learn about examples of Muslim youth movements, and the global civil society. The course will also explore how youth impact cultural movements in Africa and how they influence the world. 

Introduction to Digital Humanities
Interdisciplinary Project in the Humanities; L93 IPH 3123
It is a truism that computers have changed our lives and the way we think and interact. But in fact systematic efforts to apply current technologies to the study of history and culture have been rare. This course will enable students to consider how these technologies might transform the humanities. We will explore the various ways in which ideas and data in the humanities can be represented, analyzed, and communicated. We will also reflect on how the expansion of information technology has transformed and is continuing to transform the humanities, both with regard to their role in the university and in society at large. Readings and classwork will be supplemented by class presentations and a small assigned group project.

Improving Student Success Through Psychological Interventions
Education; L61 FYP 102B
In this seminar, we will learn about psychological interventions in education; how they work; how they can cause lasting benefits; their intellectual lineage; how they can be used, adapted, and scaled to address contemporary problems; and challenges and mistakes that can arise in doing so. In addition to learning from classic and contemporary research, students will design their very own intervention and workshop others' efforts. When students have completed this seminar, they will more fully understand the psychological aspect of educational problems and how this can be addressed through rigorous research.

Introduction to Environmental Humanities
Environmental Studies; L61 FYP 215
In this environmental humanities seminar we will consider texts illustrating how American citizens evolved in their perceptions, use, and expectations of the natural world during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, especially but not limited to the practice of agriculture. We will also consider how practices of agriculture were inextricably tied to oppression and misuse not only of land but of people. As a class we will meet with faculty researchers (from both science and the humanities) and hear about their work on ecosystem sustainability, that is, thinking long-term for human and environmental health. Throughout the course we will use texts such as: government reports, history, literature, environmental policy and autobiography.

Introduction to Memory Studies
Psychological and Brain Sciences; L61 FYP 221
This course focuses on memory not only as an individual phenomenon but also how our memories for historical events can be determined by the groups to which we belong. We will survey such topics as experimental methods and findings in the study of individual memory; questions of accuracy and vividness of memory; false and illusory memories; eyewitness memory reports that are used in trials; methods to greatly enhance learning and memory; and people with extraordinary memories.

Introduction to Problem-based Learning in Biology
Biology and Biomedical Sciences; L41 FYP 112
In this course, students take responsibility for their own active, inquiry-based learning on biological problems. Instructors will guide small groups of 4-6 students in researching issues of biological importance using primary literature as their principal resource. Learning to read and interpret research articles from scientific literature is emphasized. Students should have a strong background in general biology. They will be challenged to use critical and creative thinking in both independent and group work. Intended for but not limited to prospective biology majors. 

Italy's Invention of the Modern Museum
Italian; L61 FYP 247
This course traces the development in Italy of what we know as the modern museum. Unfolding chronologically from the Renaissance to the current day, the course will examine the origins and rise of art, natural history, science, and national museums across the peninsula from Rome to Venice, Florence to Naples. We will study the establishment of the early public art museums epitomized by the Vatican Museums, the Uffizi Gallery, and the Capitoline Museums. Taught in English.

Jewcy: Jewish Culture in the 21st Century
Jewish, Islamic and Middle East Studies; L61 FYP 180
This course will examine cultural expressions of American Jewish identity within an ethnographic context. We will analyze processes of assimilation, Americanization, and innovation, as well as Jewish contributions to popular American culture and entertainment, from Irving Berlin to Madonna, and the 'The Joys of Yiddish' to 'jewlicious.com.' Moving from tradition to modernity, pluralism and transdenominationalism and back to tradition (sometimes with a vengeance) we explore challenges to Jewish identity and creative responses through the cultural lens.

Mapping the World: Introduction to Human Geography
Global Studies
L61 FYP 155
This course first provides a broad understanding of the major concepts of human geography, including place, space, scale and landscape. It then utilizes these concepts to explore the distribution, diffusion and interaction of social and cultural processes across local, regional, national and global scales. Additionally, this course seeks to engender a greater appreciation of the importance of geographic perspectives in an increasingly interconnected and globalized world.

Modern Political Thought: Text and Traditions
Interdisciplinary Project in the Humanities; L61 FYP 207C
This course begins by examining early modern figures, such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, and the concepts, principles, and aspirations of the modern project, such as the emergence of the nation state, modern notions of freedom, and religious toleration. Next, we engage with some of the most influential critics of modernity, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Karl Marx, John Stuart Mill, W.E.B. Du Bois, and Hannah Arendt, asking how they challenge our modern intuitions and commitments.

Monumental Anti-Racism
African and African-American Studies; L61 FYP 144
This course examines the racial politics of commemorative objects and practices, and commemorative intervention as a strategy of anti-racist activism. We begin with an historical survey of various ways that racism has been inscribed on the commemorative landscape, and readings in history, political theory, cultural studies, and other fields to gain insight on these contested commemorative objects, their development, and social significance. We then turn to a critical assessment of efforts to remove and recontextualize commemorative objects, and to erect new objects commemorating neglected figures and issues. 

Saints and Society
History; L61 FYP 154
The topic of this course is saints and society in medieval and early modern Europe. It will explore the complex relationships between exceptional holy men and women, the historical settings in which they lived, and the religious and cultural traditions on which they drew. It will consider saints as both embodiments of the highest ideals of their societies and radical challenges to ordinary patterns of social existence.

The Literary Life
English Literature; L61 FYP 100
This class approaches literature from many angles: the creative to the scholarly, the emotional to the ethical, the edifying to the entertaining. At the heart of our study will be a survey of literary "values" such as invention, emotion, style, subversion, beauty, humor-those fundamental reasons readers come to literature in the first place. Along the way, we will learn about literary culture today through discussions with nationally renowned writers and scholars who will visit the class, and you will write and workshop your own stories, poems, and non-fiction works.

The Nuremberg Trials and International Justice
History; L61 FYP 2443
This course is an exercise in understanding how professional historians and the general public discover and use the past. The main goals of this course are to understand the many different methods and standards applied to the past; to understand how and why each generation changes the past as it seeks to make it "usable"; and to develop the skills of exposition and argumentation necessary to describe and analyze complex historical issues and to express critical ideas effectively. 

The Secret Lives of Plants
Biology and Biomedical Sciences; L61 FYP 1260
This course is designed to familiarize undergraduate students with the fascinating lives of plants, their evolution, their remarkable structural and morphological diversity, how they grow, and how they have been modified to feed the planet. Overall goals are to enhance an understanding and appreciation of the plant kingdom, to help young scientists understand the primary scientific literature, and as a starting point for possible careers in plant biology.

The Theatre as a Living Art
Drama; L61 FYP 2150
Moving in and out of practice and theory, this FOCUS plan interweaves a traditional introductory acting course with discussions of dramatic theory and visits to rehearsals where directors and actors work to shape the play. Course is for first-year students in the Theatre as a Living Art Program only.

The Trojan War in Myth, Art, and Reality
Art History and Archaeology; L61 FYP 1040
The goal of this class will be to examine the wide-ranging and varied evidence for the story of the Trojan War and its long-lasting cultural influence, from antiquity to the present day. Ultimately, we will seek to understand how every reflection on the Trojan War as a past event - whether poetic, artistic, or archaeological - has also been a reflection of a contemporary society - Iron Age Greece, Imperial Rome, Modern Europe - and an attempt to situate that society within a global history.

The Vietnam Wars
Global Studies; L61 FYP 111
This course examines the outlook, values, agency, and experiences of northern and southern Vietnamese, as well as rural and urban Cambodians and Laotians. Drawing on a wide range of primary and secondary sources it provides a macro and micro level historical analysis of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos from the premodern era until the present. In so doing, it explores the early sociocultural foundations of ancient Southeast Asian civilizations, the impact of Chinese and French colonialism, and Japanese occupation, the rise of Indochinese nationalist and communist revolutionary movements, the process of decolonization, the impact of US military intervention, the rise and fall of the Khmer Rouge, postwar political and economic developments, and the memories and multiple meanings of the Vietnam Wars for Southeast Asians.

Introduction to Urban Studies
Urban Studies; L18 URST 101
This course provides a survey of the field of Urban Studies, utilizing the city of St. Louis as a field site. The major purpose of the course is to gradually reveal how a city operates internally, and how it operates externally with its sister cities, surrounding metropolitan areas and neighboring states, amidst competing and often contradictory interests. Utilizing historical analysis as a guide, the course will briefly revisit the experiences of previous waves of ethnic groups to the St. Louis metropolitan area, as a lens for understanding the current social, political and economic dilemmas which many urban dwellers in St. Louis now face. The course will reveal to students the intricacies of social welfare issues and policies among high density populations, in St. Louis, that are homogeneous and heterogeneous, at the same time.

Superhero Media
Film and Media Studies; L53 Film 114
This course will examine the superhero as American myth and media industry commodity. We will consider historical, cultural, and industrial aspects of the superhero genre across comic books, films, television series, and video games. Focusing on multiple media allows us to examine an array of medium-specific and cross-media issues (e.g., how criticism of superhero films as "not cinema" reflects a legacy of comics being perceived as juvenile). Our study will encompass a number of critical frameworks, including myth, adaptation, gender, race, and transmedia storytelling. Each course unit will focus on how different media have presented one or more superhero franchises (e.g., Superman, Batman, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Watchmen).

Banned Books
L61 115C
Banning books is an old practice of social and political control, and the reading of banned books is a time-honored gesture of resistance. In this seminar, we'll read some books that are the object of current controversy (e.g., Art Spiegelman's MAUS; Toni Morrison's THE BLUEST EYE; George Johnson's ALL BOYS AERN'T BLUE), and some notorious older banned books (e.g., John Steinbeck's OF MICE AND MEN; Kurt Vonnegut's SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE). We'll also examine court cases and other documents to help us better understand the historical context of book banning in the US. Two short papers and a final digital project.

Topics in Interdisciplinary Inquiry-The Good Life
L61 150
What is a good life, and how can we live one? Is a happy life synonymous with a good life? If so, what is happiness? In this seminar, we will examine these questions with a variety of methods. We will begin with the ancient Greeks, exploring the philosophical perspectives they offer on questions of happiness and virtue. From there, we look at findings from psychology, economics, and anthropology to try to understand what makes people happy from a scientific perspective. Finally, we will look to various literary and cross-cultural perspectives on what a good life consists of. The aim of this course is threefold. First, this course aims to increase your knowledge of the various answers that have been proposed to the questions listed above. Second, it aims to help you develop your own ability to think and engage by deepening your skills in close reading, especially with respect to how we can approach philosophical, scientific, and literary texts differently-in particular, you'll learn how to diagram philosophical arguments and scientific studies. Third, this course aims to help you develop your skills in communicating your ideas, both extemporaneously (in discussion with peers) and in writing.

Classical to Renaissance Literature: Text and Traditions Classic to Renaissance
L61 201C
Students enrolled in this course engage in close and sustained reading of a set of texts that are indispensable for an understanding of the European literary tradition, texts that continue to offer invaluable insights into humanity and the world around us. Homer's Iliad is the foundation of our class. We then go on to trace ways in which later poets and dramatists engage the work of predecessors who inspire and challenge them. Readings move from translations of Greek, Latin, and Italian, to poetry and drama composed in English. In addition to Homer, we will read works of Sappho, a Greek tragedian, Plato, Vergil, Ovid, Petrarch, and Shakespeare.

Early Political Thought: Text and Traditions
L61 203C
A selected survey of the political and moral thought of Europe from the rise of Athenian democracy to the Renaissance, with emphasis on analysis and discussion of writers such as Thucydides, Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Castiglione, and Machiavelli. The course aims to introduce students to basic texts in the intellectual history of Western Europe, understood both as products of a particular time and place and as self-contained arguments that strive to instruct and persuade. The texts are simultaneously used to chart the careers of such fundamental notions as liberty, virtue, and justice.

Exploring East Asian Classics
East Asian Languages and Cultures; L61 FYP 150A
This first-year seminar introduces students to major works of the Chinese, Korean, and Japanese traditions. Although written centuries in the past, these texts still reverberate with meaning today and offer important means to understand the often chaotic and confusing events occurring daily around us. What is the self? What is the relationship between the individual and society? How do we live an ethical life? What is literature and for whom is it intended? In grappling with these questions, we will directly engage with the texts through close reading and in-class discussion. We will, at the same time, also ask broader questions that concern how knowledge is produced, spread, and consumed: what is a canon? Who are the gatekeepers? What does it mean to approach East Asia through a set of “canonical” texts? Among the texts considered this term will be The Analects, Daodejing, Lotus Sutra, Tale of Genji, Tales of the Heike, Tales of Moonlight and Rain, Samguk yusa, and Memoirs of Lady Hyegyŏng