About the Seminars
Course Descriptions
Contact Us
First-Year Experience
Course Descriptions

Related Link

Fall 2014 Courses

Smith College reserves the right to make changes to all announcements and course listings online, including changes in its course offerings, instructors, requirements for the majors and minors, and degree requirements.

FYS 104 God and Evil

If God is perfectly good, wise, and powerful, why is there evil? For atheists, the problem of evil is a favored means of arguing against the existence of the God of the Abrahamic traditions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). For theists, reconciling God's existence with evil is one of the main challenges of faith. This course examines the problem of evil and related questions: What is the nature of human free will? Would a perfectly good God create hell, or create species through natural selection? Texts include philosophical and religious works, novels, paintings, poems, and movies. Enrollment limited to 16. {H}{WI} Credits: 4

Samuel Ruhmkorff
MW 1:10–2:30 p.m.

FYS 107 Women of the Odyssey

Homer's Odyssey presents a gallery of memorable women: Penelope above all, but also Nausicaa, Calypso, and Circe. Helen makes a cameo appearance, while Clytemnestra is regularly invoked as a negative example. Together these women define a spectrum of female roles and possibilities: the faithful wife, the bride-to-be, the temptress, the adulteress, the murderer. We will begin with a close reading of the Odyssey, then study the afterlife of its female characters in the Western literary tradition. Readings will be drawn from authors both ancient (Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, Ovid) and modern (H.D., Robert Graves, Louise Gluck, Margaret Drabble). Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. {L}{WI} WI 4 credits

Justina Gregory
T Th 9–10:20 a.m.

FYS 108 Curry: Gender, Race, Sexuality and Empire

As one early currency in the global trade of food, the spices in curry have sustained empires and built hybrid cultures. The circulation of food and food cultures has shaped normative gender and sexual relations and influenced how we racialize work. In South Asia, environmental questions about how to cultivate foods sustainably and how to distribute food equitably are vital components of the food security movement. In this course, we will study histories of curry in Empire, watch comedy sketches, read novels and investigate social movements around agriculture and food allocation in South Asia and the South Asian diaspora. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. {S}{WI} Credits: 4

Elisabeth Armstrong
M W 10:30–11:50 a.m.

FYS 115 Reading the Civil War

In Faulkner's Flags in the Dust the son of a Confederate cavalry office listens to one of his father's old troopers describe a memorable raid, and at the end asks what it was all about. Comes the answer: Damned if I know. This course interrogates the spectacularly different replies that question has drawn over the years. We will examine the rhetoric with which the Civil War has been defined in both the documents of the time and in later works of memory. We will read fiction, poetry, speeches, diaries, letters, memoirs, and war-reporting; look at period photographs, monuments, and such films as Glory. Works by Stowe, Bierce, Chesnutt, Douglass, Grant, Shaara, and others; readings in such historians as Foote, Foner, and Faust. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. {H}{L}{WI} Credits: 4

Michael Gorra
T Th 9–10:20 a.m.

FYS 117 The Bible and the Public Square

We will examine what the Bible (and to some extent the broader Jewish and Christian traditions) have to say about controversial issues that have divided Americans in the past (e.g., slavery) and present (e.g., abortion). The aim is to give students the skills to assess critically various arguments that invoke the Bible or religious tradition and authority, wherever they come from on the political spectrum. Students will be introduced to the Bible and biblical scholarship, as well as learning about different understandings of biblical authority and views of applying the Bible to contemporary political and ethical debates. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. {H}{L}{WI} Credits: 4

Joel Kaminsky
M W 1:10–2:30 p.m.

FYS 119 Performance and Film Criticism

An introduction to the elements, history, and functions of criticism. How do reviewers form their critical responses to theatre and dance performances as well as to films? The seminar will explore different critical perspectives, such as psychoanalytic, feminist, political, and intercultural approaches. The students will attend live performances and film and video screenings, and will write their own reviews and critical responses. Seminar discussions and student presentations will be complemented by visits and conversations with invited critics and artists. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. {A}{L}{WI} Credits: 4

Kiki Gounaridou
M W 2:40–4 p.m.

FYS 121 The Evolution and Transformation of the Northampton State Hospital

This seminar explores the history of the Northampton State Hospital, its impact on the city of Northampton, and the current planning process around the redevelopment of the site. The former Northampton State Hospital grounds lie adjacent to Smith College. The facility was opened in the mid-1800s as the third hospital for the insane in Massachusetts. At its height, a century later, it had over 2000 patients and over 500 employees. In 1978, a federal district court consent decree ordered the increased use of community-based treatment as one part of a process of deinstitutionalizing the mentally ill in Western Massachusetts. In 1993 the hospital was officially closed. Subsequently, 120 acres of land and 45 buildings on the “campus” were made available by the state for reuse and future development. As a case study of socio-economic change and public policy, this seminar will explore the history of the Northampton State Hospital, deinstitutionalization, the hospital’s closing, and the ongoing development of the site. Students will develop background and skills, including map reading, site visits, and historical research, to appreciate both the past and the future of the hospital grounds. Enrollment limited to 16 first year students. {H}{S}{WI} Credits: 4

Thomas Riddell
T Th 10:30–11:50 a.m.

FYS 122 Eden and Other Gardens

“We are... / Caught in a devil’s bargain / And we’ve got to get ourselves / Back to the garden” (“Woodstock,” 1969). Why is the ideal human existence so persistently imagined as life in an enclosed garden? Along with plants, gardens have long hosted nostalgic yearnings, epiphanies and visions, seductions, healing, and dramatic increases in knowledge. This seminar explores the changing meanings over time of gardens both textual and real, including botanic gardens and the college campus as academic garden. Weekly writing, an oral presentation, and a self-designed research project analyzing the history, design, plantings, and cultural meanings of a campus or local garden. Enrollment limit of 16 students. {WI} Credits: 4

Nancy Bradbury
M W 1:10–2:30 p.m.

FYS 126 Literature of the Fantastic: Dystopian Worlds

Whether it's a seemingly familiar England where children are being raised for their organs (Never Let Me Go), or Panem (The Hunger Games), where children fight to the death, dystopian fantasies provide a window into our own world. These dystopias break down categories we usually visualize as discrete: humans become sources of organs or food; androids seem human; and colors and music cease to be categories at all. But in all of the books we will look at, however uncanny, the traumatic secrets at the center of the dystopia lay bare what it means to be a human being. Enrollment limit of 16 first-year students. {L}{WI} Credits: 4

Gillian Kendall
T Th 9–10:20 a.m.

FYS 128 Ghosts

This course explores what Toni Morrison in Beloved calls "the living activity of the dead": their ambitions, their desires, their effects. Often returning as figures of memory or history, ghosts raise troubling questions as to what it is they, or we, have to learn. We shall survey a variety of phantasmagorical representations in poems, short stories, novels, films, spiritualist and scientific treatises, and spirit photography. This course counts towards the English major. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. {L}{WI} Credits: 4

Cornelia Pearsall (English Language and Literature)
T Th 10:30–11:50 a.m.

FYS 130 Lions: Science and Science Fiction

This seminar will explore lions from many perspectives. We will look at how lions are viewed by artists, scientists, science ficiton writers, directors of documentary films and movie producers. We will also compare different kinds of science fiction and different kinds of mammals, exploring the science of fiction and the fiction of science. Readings will be by OS Card, CJ Cherryh, J Crowley, G Schallar and others. Enrollment limited to 16 first year-students. {N}{WI} Credits: 4

Virginia Hayssen
T Th 9–10:20 a.m.

FYS 131 Opera: The Book and the Music (Saints and Spitfires)

This seminar will focus on three literary texts -- Shakespeare's Othello, Prevost's Manon Lescaut, and Merimee's Carmen -- and their "translations" into opera -- Verdi's Otello, Puccini's Manon Lescaut, and Bizet's Carmen. The chosen texts give us three radically different women -- the saintly Desdemona, a "maiden never bold"; Manon, the young coquette who bargains for more than she realizes; and Carmen, the feisty spitfire who gets what she wants, but at a terrible price. Both the text and the libretto will provide opportunities to consider issues of race and gender, cultural construction and imposition of identities, and politics of various stripes. No prerequisites. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. (E) {A}{L}{WI} Credits: 4

Robert Hosmer
M W 1:10–2:30 p.m.

FYS 133 Reading the Landscape

A course in reading and writing about landscape, focusing on essays, poems, and personal narratives that raise issues of how we see or fail to see the natural world. Attention to issues of ecology, sustainability, wilderness, preservation of habitat and species, agriculture, climate change, and design. Emphasis on how writers conceptualize and shape, rather than merely react to, their environments. Analytical and creative writing in response to works by Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry, Annie Dillard, John McPhee, Henry David Thoreau, Mary Oliver, Gary Snyder, Bill McKibben, and others. Field trips and journal-keeping will be included. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. {L}{WI} Credits: 4

Dean Flower
M W 1:10–2:30 p.m.

FYS 136 Moth to Cloth

For thousands of years cloth has been one of the major occupations of women, a vital part of every economy, a promoter of technological development, a signifier of status and power, and a primary expression of identity and social connection. Literally and metaphorically, cloth spans nearly every branch of scholarship - anthropology, archaeology, art, biology and botany, classics, chemistry, dance, economics, engineering, history, linguistics, literatures, mathematics, physics, psychology, religion, sociology, theatre, urban studies, women and gender studies. In this course we will examine the components of cloth -- fiber, yarn, construction, finish -- through group and individual projects, situate them in history and culture (and the curriculum), and create a website that will be a resource for scholars everywhere. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. (E) {WI} Credits: 4

Catherine Smith, Marjorie Senechal
M W 1:10–4 p.m.

FYS 138 Contemporary Dance: A Critical, Physical and Aesthetic Inquiry

This course is designed to introduce students to some of the aesthetics and practices of contemporary dance in the U.S. We will examine a wide range of dance forms including ballet, modern and post-modern dance, hip hop, and ballroom. Through the study of some of the major choreographers and dance writers in America, the class will address the diverse aesthetics that these artists represent and the cultural importance of dance in contemporary society. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. (E) {A}{WI} Credits: 4

Chris Aiken
M W 9–10:20 a.m.

FYS 139 Wisdom of the Sages

Do you seek insight in to life's ultimate questions? Then ask a sage. In nearly every culture throughout history, the figure of the sage has inspired fascination, reverence, and even fear. People flock to gurus and savants, medicine men and medicine women, for advice. But what special wisdom does the sage possess? What makes a sage a sage? In this writing intensive course, we will encourter sages in many guises: Socrates and his mystic teacher Diotima; swamis and master yogis of the Himalayas; a Roman philosopher-emporeror; West African shamans. Our goals will be to learn both about and from sages, while exercising critical thinking and writing skills. Along the way, we may even answer som perennial questions of human existence. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. (E) {L}{WI} Credits: 4

Carrie Mowbray
T Th 9–10:20 a.m.

FYS 141 Reading, Writing and Placemaking: Landscape Studies

Landscape Studies is the interdisciplinary consideration of how we view, define, and use the land, whether it be our backyard, a moonscape, or a national park. How does land become a landscape? How does space become a place? Scientists study and manipulate landscapes, and so do politicians, builders, hunters, children, artists, and writers, among others. In this course, we will examine how writers, in particular, participate in placemaking, and how the landscape influences and inhabits literary texts. The course will include some landscape history and theory, visits by people who study landscape from non-literary angles, and the discovery of how landscape works in texts in transforming and surprising ways. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. {L}{WI} Credits: 4

Ann Leone
M W F 11:00 a.m.–12:10 p.m.

FYS 142 Reacting to the Past

Reacting to the Past is an interdisciplinary, historical role-playing course, consisting, typically, of two or three games from a list of about twenty games now in use. Students read from elaborate game books which place them in moments of heightened historical tension. The political and intellectual backgrounds are explained, game rules and elements are laid out, and supplementary readings are supplied. The class becomes a public body; students, working from role descriptions, become particular persons from the period and/or members of factional alliances. The purpose is to advance a policy agenda and achieve victory objectives by speech-making, cross-table debate, coalition building, bargaining, spying, and conspiracy. After a few set-up lectures, the game begins, and the students are in charge; the instructor retires to a corner of the room and functions as gamemaster/adviser. Deviations from the actual history, which some students will be trying to accomplish, are corrected in a post-mortem session. Students write papers, which are all game- and role-specific, but take no exams. Games used recently at Smith include: "The Threshold of Democracy: Athens in 403 B.C."; "Confucianism and the Succession Crisis of the Wanli Emperor"; "The Trial of Anne Hutchinson"; "Henry VIII and the Reformation Parliament"; "Rousseau, Burke, and the Revolution in France, 1791"; "The Trial of Galileo"; and "Defining a Nation: Gandhi and the Indian Subcontinent on the Eve of Independence, 1945." To see a video of this class go to www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUqSnPHQoUQ {H}{WI} Credits: 4

Section 1: Joshua Birk, enrollment limited to 20 first-year students; T Th 1–2:50 p.m.

Section 2: Pat Coby, enrollment limited to 25 first-year students; M W F 1:10–2:30 p.m.

Section 3: William Oram and Richard Sherr, enrollment limited to 25 first-year students; M W F 2:40–3:50 p.m.

FYS 148 Migration Stories: Border-Crossing and Becoming in African-American Literature

This course will explore how histories of migration have shaped the formation of Black cultures and identities. African American culture and identities have always been produced in the crucible of migration, both forced and voluntary. Black people and black cultures have always been on the move, and have always been in the process of formation and reformation. African peoples arrived in the "New World" as captives of the transatlantic slave trade. This historical event was devastating, yet it was also an occasion for new cultures and identities to be formed. Migration has compelled Black peoples to refashion themselves, transform their environments and make their mark on the art and cultures of their new societies. Among the topics covered will be: the transatlantic and domestic slave trades, fugitivity, the Great Migration from the South, the post-Civil Rights era "reverse migration," and more recent immigrations by people from the Caribbean and Africa. We will use literature, history, music and film to ask how these stories help us understand the intricacies of this rich history. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. {L}{WI} Credits: 4

Daphne LaMothe

M W 9–10:20 a.m.

FYS 153 The Bollywood Matinee: Gender, Nation and Globalization through the Lens of Popular Indian Cinema

This course will engage the world of popular Indian cinema, Bollywood and beyond. We will integrate scholarly articles on the subject, lectures, in-depth discussions, and of course, film screenings to explore the history and political economy of India and South Asia. Students will analyze how this vital cultural form deals with the politics of gender, class, caste, religion, and Indian nationalism. Our discussions will simultaneously focus on the role of globalization, migration, and the cultural significance of Indian characters on international media, e.g., Raj in the popular American sit-com The Big Bang Theory. Students are expected to engage with the readings, bring their reflections, and actively participate in class discussions. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. (E) {WI} Credits: 4

Payal Banerjee
M W 2:40–4 p.m.

FYS 159 What's in a Recipe

What stories do recipes tell? What cultural and familial information is embedded in a recipe? Who wrote the recipe? Why? How does it reflect her (or his) life and times? What do we learn about the geography, history and political economy of a location through recipes? Are recipes a way for an underrepresented group to tell its story or to resist assimilation? Does a recipe bolster or undermine national cooking? This seminar will look at recipes and cookbooks from the Spanish-speaking world (in English) and theories of recipes from a variety of different sources. Our reading will inform our writing as we try to establish such connections as the politics of the traveling tomato, the overuse of corn and other indigenous crops of the Americas. How to read, write, construct and deconstruct a recipe will inform our collective work in this class. Knowledge of Spanish is useful but not required. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. {L}{WI} Credits: 4

Nancy Sternbach
M W F 11 a.m.–12:10 p.m.

FYS 165 Childhood in African Literature

A study of childhood as an experience in the present and a transition into adulthood, and of the ways in which it is intimately tied to social, political and cultural histories, and to questions of self and national identity. How does the violence of colonialism and decolonization reframe our understanding of childhood innocence? How do African childhood narratives represent such crises as cultural alienation, loss of language, exile, and memory? How do competing national and cultural ideologies shape narratives of childhood? Texts include Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions, Zoe Wicomb's You Can't Get Lost in Cape Town, Ngugi wa Thiongo's Weep Not Child, and Tahar Ben Jelloun's The Sand Child. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students.{L}{WI} Credits: 4

Katwiwa Mule
T Th 10:30–11:50 a.m.

FYS 167 Viking Diaspora

The Norse colonies of Iceland and Greenland, and the attempted settlement of Vinland in North America, were the first European societies of the New World, revealing patterns of cultural conflict and adaptation that anticipated British colonization of the mid-Atlantic seaboard seven centuries later. We will compare the strengths and weaknesses of the medieval Icelandic Commonwealth, founded in 930, with the 1787 Constitution of the United States, both political systems facing serious crises within two generations. Our sources for these experimental communities are the oral memories of founding families preserved in the later Íslendingasögur “Sagas of Icelanders” of the 13th century. {L}{WI} Credits: 4

Craig Davis
T Th 10:30–11:50 a.m.

FYS 185 Style Matters: The Power of the Aesthetic in Italian Cinema

Examining Italian cinema from neorealism to today, this course will investigate how major directors have negotiated two apparently independent postwar traditions: the aesthetic of neorealism (which purports to show Italian society and landscape without embellishments) and that search for beauty and style which has historically characterized Italian civilization and become its trademark in today's global culture (Made in Italy). Topics such as: Italian divas, modern Italian landscape (il Bel Paese), the aesthetics of Fascism, religious iconology, and recent immigrants. Directors include Amelio, Antonioni, Bertolucci, De Santis, De Sica, Germi, Guadagnino, Moretti, Ozpetek, Pasolini, Visconti. Conducted in English. Film screenings with English subtitles. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. {A}{L}{WI} Credits: 4

Anna Botta
T Th 10:30–11:50 a.m.

FYS 186 Israel: Texts and Contexts

What is the role of the writer in the construction of a nation’s founding myths and interpretation of its present realities? Explores the relationship between Zionism as the political movement that established the State of Israel and Zionism as an aesthetic and cultural revolution. Focuses on efforts to negotiate tensions between sacred and secular; exile and homeland; language and identity; Arab and Jew; and Israel’s self-definition as a democratic and Jewish state. Reading of fiction and poetry complemented by discussion of historical documents, popular culture, and landscape. Intended for students with an interest in the relationship between literature and politics. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. {L}{WI} Credits: 4

Justin Cammy
M W 2:40–4 p.m.

FYS 197 On Display: Museums, Collections and Exhibitions

Why do people collect things and what do they collect? Members of this seminar will explore these questions by focusing on local museums and exhibitions. From a behind-the-scenes look at the Smith College Museum of Art to an examination of hidden gems like the Botanical Sciences herbarium collection or that cabinet of curiosities which is Mount Holyoke’s Skinner Museum we will research the histories of these collections and analyze the rationale of varying systems for ordering objects. By learning the critical skills of visual analysis and by grappling with the interpretations of art historians, anthropologists, and psychologists we’ll attempt to come to an understanding of how knowledge is constructed in the context of display and how visual juxtapositions can generate meaning. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. {A}{H}{WI} Credits: 4

Barbara Kellum
T Th 10:30–11:50 a.m.