First-Year Seminars

Offerings for 2023-2024

The Vietnam Wars

Asian American Studies; American Culture Studies; Global Studies; L61 FYP 111A

US-centric historical narratives of the Vietnam War obscure the perspectives and lived experiences of the Vietnamese. The social, ethnic, and religious diversity, and the political and gender-related complexities of the Vietnamese are typically neglected. By focusing almost exclusively on Vietnam, US narratives of the war also tend to gloss over the wider regional dimensions of the conflict. In the interest of redressing this imbalance, 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.

Monumental Anti-Racism

African and African-American Studies; L61 FYP 144

As sources of national memory and identity, public monuments, place names, historical markers, and other elements of commemorative landscapes are potential sites of cultural violence (e.g., alienation, disrespect, and erasure) contributing to broader conflict and inequality, and therefore important considerations in movements for equal opportunity and justice. Some contend that memory sites are "the new lunch counters," where our racial politics are worked out. 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. We consider how these reparative efforts relate to what political theorists call remedies of recognition, and specifically how they might aid in advancing equal opportunity and justice. Through our study and engagement with contested commemorative landscapes, including local, national, and global cases, students will become familiar with the burgeoning interdisciplinary field of memory studies, diverse forms and sites of commemoration, local and global efforts to advance what has been termed "commemorative justice," and challenges they face.

Imagining and Creating Africa: Youth, Culture, and Change

African and African-American Studies; Children’s Studies; L90 AFAS 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. In particular, we will examine Hip-Hop movements, sports, and global youth culture developments that center on fashion, dress, dance, and new technologies. By the end of the course, students will have enriched ideas about youth in Africa and ways to provide more realistic comparisons to their counterparts in the United States.

Introduction to Urban Studies

American Culture Studies; Urban Studies; L61 FYP 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. Visits and discussions with various governmental and nongovernmental agencies, and how such agencies function or dysfunction for various constituencies allow students to ask crucial questions regarding equality of opportunity in a democratic society. Students will also encounter diverse communities and neighborhoods and the intended and unintended consequences of social welfare policies designed to ameliorate urban dilemmas such as poverty and inequality, homelessness, educational underachievement, gentrification, migration and immigration, development, health care, fiscal issues, the informal economy, and issues concerned with crime and social justice, among others. Readings are reinforced and challenged through visits, interactions and observations with broad constituencies and institutions, ranging from city officials to community residents. As such, this course offers a survey discussion of the rich interdisciplinary field of Urban Studies for those who may be interested in pursuing a stand alone major in the field of Urban Studies.

Black Lives Matter and Educational Justice for Black Youth

American Culture Studies; 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.

Jewcy: Jewish Culture in the 21st Century

American Culture Studies; Jewish, Islamic and Middle East Studies; L61 FYP1802

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 '' 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.

Angels, Prostitutes and Chicas Modernas: Women in Latin American History

American Culture Studies; History; Latin American Studies; Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; L61 FYP 2118

Women have been active players in the construction of Latin American nations. In the last two decades, leading scholars in the field have taken up the challenge of documenting women's participation. This research explosion has produced fruitful results to allow for the development of specialized courses. 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.

Introduction to Problem-Based Learning in Biology

Biology; L61 FYP 112

In this course, students take responsibility for their own active, inquiry-based learning on biological problems. Instructors will guide small groups of 8-10 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. Topics covered in this class have included: neurological disorders, infectious diseases, CRISPR, cancer, and stem cell therapy among others. 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. Enrollment limited. Intended for but not limited to prospective biology majors.

The Secret Lives of Plants

Biology; 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. Topics include: how plants can survive with just water, minerals and light, how they transport water astonishing distances, their unusual sex lives, why they make seeds, how they can grow nearly forever, how plants survive extreme environments without running to hide, why they synthesize caffeine, nicotine, THC and opiates, how they defend themselves from pathogens without an immune system, how they sense their environment without dedicated sensory organs, how plants have been modified by humans to provide food, fiber and fuel, and how genetically modified (GMO) crops are made and their implications to the environment and society. 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. Class includes field trips to the Missouri Botanical Gardens and a local plant biotech company/institute. Where appropriate, the class will also emphasize key differences between plants and animals.

Exploring East Asian Classics

Chinese; 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, students will directly engage with the texts through close reading and in-class discussion. Students 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 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 Hyegyong.

The Art of Rhetoric from Cicero to Social Media

Classics; L61 FYP 118C

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 meticulous deconstruction of complex texts and ideas in this course will give students a tool for cutting to the heart of the issues that continue to face the modern world, and the participants' own speaking and writing will also benefit. Students will analyze both ancient and modern attempts at persuasion in light of classical rhetorical theory, and they will write and deliver two short speeches on topics of their choice.

Topics in Comparative Literature

Comparative Literature; L61 FYP 115C

A variety of topics in comparative literature, designed for first-year students--no special background is required--and to be conducive to the investigation and discussion format of a seminar. Previous topics include: Story Telling Through Sound, Banned Books, Imigrants and Exiles, Literature and Democracy, Literature and the Art of Apology, Hell on Earth: Crime, Conscience, and the Arts, Magical thinknig: Literature and Theory Engage the Occult.

The Theatre as a Living Art

Drama; L61 FYP 215

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. 

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. Through readings and discussion, we will consider the great variety of ways literature expresses these values, and will explore them ourselves via creative assignments. 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. 

Detective Fiction from Poe to Doyle

English Literature; L61 FYP 155

An introductory survey of the pioneers of the modern detective story. Works will range from those by Edgar Allan Poe in the 1840s to Arthur Conan Doyle´s Sherlock Holmes stories from the late nineteenth century. In between we´ll read works by Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and a few less remembered writers. 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. Course is for first-year, non-transfer students only.

Literature of Addiction: From Opium to Adderall

English Literature; L61 FYP 156

This course investigates literary representations of addiction, from Thomas De Quincy's CONFESSIONS OF AN ENGLISH OPIUM-EATER (1821) to Ottessa Moshfegh's MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION (2018). We will study the development of familiar stages in narratives of substance abuse-i.e. experimentation, transcendence, downward spiral, "rock bottom," and recovery/sobriety-posing questions like: What symbolic and literal positions have people with addictions occupied in their societies? How has the modern pharmaceutical industry and the War on Drugs impacted perceptions of "typical" drug use? How do race, gender, age, class, and sexuality factor into the imagination and realities of chemical dependency? To what non-narcotic substances-e.g. media, gambling, sex, adrenaline-do we consider people addicted? We will read diverse selections of poetry, fiction, scholarship, and memoir from authors like Samuel Coleridge, William Burroughs, James Baldwin, Sherman Alexie, Denis Johnson, Irvine Welsh, Paul B. Preciado, Melissa Broder, Tao Lin, Michelle Alexander, Laurie Weeks, Mian Mian, Reginald Dwayne Betts, and Nico Walker. 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.

Literature, Spirituality, and Religion

English Literature; Religious Studies; L61 FYP 171A

Prize-winning novels and novelists form the entire reading list for this class, which is interested in how writers from multiple perspectives (Christian, Jewish, pluralist, atheist, and others) have viewed the function of religion and the meaning of spirituality. This course is designed for non-English majors as well as potential English majors. As we read some of the best, most influential, and most controversial writers of the last hundred years, we'll discuss not just the competing claims about religion and spirituality, but also the functions, forms, and multiple ways of interpreting literature. Studying the topic of religion and spirituality, this class will thus also serve as introduction to the discipline of English and literary studies.

Exploring East Asian Classics

East Asian Languages & Cultures; Japanese; Korean; 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, students will directly engage with the texts through close reading and in-class discussion. Students 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 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 Hyegyong. 

Introduction to Environmental Humanities

Environmental Studies; L61 FYP 215A

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. How did the mandatory short-term goals of health and economic security sought so eagerly by citizens, and supported by evolving technologies, foreshadow the unintended consequences of long-term environmental damage that would contribute to climate change, and historic trauma that marginalized communities still live with today? How can we understand this using a critical and hopeful lens? Considering contemporary writings on our perception of "environmentalism" will help us nuance our analysis. Topics will include: agrarian democracy; settlement of the Great Plains by immigrant farmers; the Dust Bowl; fragementation of the Sioux ecosystem. If COVID guidelines permit, students will have the opportunity to visit the Tyson Research Center, Washington University's field laboratory in west St. Louis County. Tyson's mission is to provide a living landscape for environmental research and education as a component of Washington University's International Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability (InCEES). 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.

Cultures of Health in the Francophone World

French; Medical Humanities; L61 FYP 247F

Under which socio-historical conditions was the idea of a universal right to health conceived? This complex notion did not spring fully formed from the pen of the jurists who authored the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). Instead, it gradually emerged from philosophical texts and artistic works that advocated for this right. In the first part of the course, we will examine the origins of this right in France, which took shape during the Renaissance. First conceived by a doctor who wrote a best-seller recounting the tale of a giant, Gargantua, this right was later forcefully proclaimed by Zola, defender of the rights of workers in the mines of northern France. In the second part of the course, we will extend our study of the healthcare system in contemporary France to public health policies in the French-speaking countries of the West Indies (Haiti), West Africa (Senegal), and Quebec. By adopting different cultural perspectives on the right to health from legal texts, literary excerpts, works of art, and discussions with invited guests from the medical field, first-year students who are interested in careers in healthcare will be prepared to question its timeliness and relevance. Taught in English.

Bridging London: An Interdisciplinary Exploration of One of the World's Great Cities

Global Studies; Urban 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.

Mapping the World: Introduction to Human Geography

Global Studies; L61 FYP 1550

What is human geography and why is it important? This course addresses these questions by introducing students to the fundamentals of the discipline of human geography. A geographic perspective emphasizes the spatial aspects of a variety of human and natural phenomena. 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. Topics include language, religion, migration, population, natural resources, economic development, agriculture, and urbanization. In addition to providing a general understanding of geographic concepts, this course seeks to engender a greater appreciation of the importance of geographic perspectives in an increasingly interconnected and globalized world.

Renaissance Florence from Dante to Machiavelli

History; L61 FYP 2650

The city of Florence has long held an important place in the history of the western world. Hailed as the birthplace of the Renaissance and of the modern state, Florence exerts a seemingly natural appeal as an object of study. But why did these things happen in Florence and why at this particular time? This course will explore these issues as well as others through the close reading of a wide range of texts produced by Florentines who left enduring marks on the history of Europe and the world.

Sex and the Bible

Jewish, Islamic and Middle East Studies; Religious Studies; Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; L61 FYP 2401

What does the Bible say about sex and sexual desire? Gender and gender identity? Bodies and bodily pleasure? This class critically examines sex, gender, and sexuality as they are constructed in the Bible. We will consider biblical ideas of sexuality and desire, laws regulating sex and the body, homoeroticism and homosexuality, trans representation, the portrayal of women, and queer characters and moments in the Bible. We will also explore how key biblical texts about gender and sexuality (Adam and Eve, Sodom and Gomorrah, the Whore of Babylon, etc) have been interpreted over time. Our methods of interpretation will include feminist, womanist, postcolonial, queer, and trans reading strategies; biblical texts will come from both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.

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. At the same time, we will discuss the inner workings of the most advanced telescopes that astronomers have developed to study black holes, and the strategies astronomers employ to develop ever more sensitive instruments. Also expect a fair bit of astronomy in this class, when we discuss how black holes form, when and how they grow, and which roles they play in cosmic eco-systems such as the Milky Way Galaxy. This first-year seminar adopts a flipped class/socratic discussion structure. The students are asked to read a wide variety of texts, including texts from the current literature, and to present and to discuss some of the material in class. The class assumes no background in math; at the same time, we will discuss some of the math that brings Einstein's theories of space and time to life.

Leaders in Context

Praxis; L61 FYP 2012

In this course, we will explore the concept of leadership and focus on understanding, from an interdisciplinary point of view, the foundations, relationships and contexts that create an individual's leadership journey. This course is also designed to help you develop insights about leadership practice through readings, discussions, conversations with leaders, and the development of a personal leadership portfolio.

Feminist and Queer Science and Technology Studies

Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; L61 FYP 1061

This course will introduce students to key concepts and ideas emerging from the fields of feminist and queer science and technology studies. Science and scientific practice are commonly understood to proceed from a neutral, objective perspective aimed at producing universal truths. Similarly, technological innovation is understood to be an unquestioned good for human development. Feminist and queer thinkers have critiqued these views along epistemological, methodological, and socio-political lines. They have consistently pointed to both the gaps in scientific knowledge production and the risks of uncritical technological development for reproducing marginalization and oppression. At the same time, feminist and queer thinks have critically imagined the possibilities of both science and technology as potential forces for addressing social injustice. We will survey a number of these interventions while considering how this work might inform our present contexts.