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Fall 2015 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.

Please consult the Smith College Course Catalog for the most up-to-date listings.

FYS 103 Geology in the Field

Clues to over 500 million years of earth history can be found in rocks and sediments near Smith College. Students in this course attempt to decipher this history by careful examination of field evidence. Class meetings take place principally outdoors at interesting geological localities around the Connecticut Valley. Participants prepare regular reports based on their observations and reading, building to a final paper on the geologic history of the area. The course normally includes a weekend field trip to Cape Cod. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. {N}{WI} Credits: 4
John Brady

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

FYS 106 Growing up Asian American

What does the term “Asian American” mean? What difference might it make to grow up in the United States of America as an Asian American? This seminar explores Asian American coming-of-age narratives from the early 20th century to the present. We read novels, short stories, poems, plays, autobiographies and films about childhood and adolescence, relations with parents, transracial adoption, dating and travel to countries of heritage. We also consult theories of Asian American identity from the field of psychology. Through class discussion, oral presentations, and writing, we come to be more thoughtful and articulate about Asian American identities in particular and coming of age in general. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. {WI} Credits: 4
Floyd Cheung

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

FYS 112 Doing Good in the World

What does it mean to do good in the world? We consult historical and contemporary readings that are representative of distinct approaches to moral philosophy: virtue ethics, utilitarianism, Kamtianism, and the ethics of care. We discuss applications of moral principles to contemporary issues such as our duties to the hungry, euthanasia, abortion, and animal rights. And we consider how basic features of moral philosophy—such as moral responsibility, ideals of human excellence, and death—ought to shape our attitudes and action. Students are asked to critically engage the material in four short essays. (E){H}{S}{WI} Credits: 4
Joshua Wood

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

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

FYS 120 Writing Home

Are letters home and love letters obsolete? Has skyping replaced letter writing? Is the mail of email the same as letters sent through the post office? What role do letters play in literature, and how have letters influenced the historical record? These are some of the questions we consider in letters from the 17th century to the present, literary and nonliterary, beginning with the letters of Madame de Sévigné. Visit to the Rare Book Room; use of the Smith Archives. This course may be counted towards the German studies major (unless students have also taken GER 238). Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. (E) {WI}Credits: 4
Jocelyne Kolb

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

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

FYS 134 Bookmarks: Reading and Writing from Plato to the Digital Age

What kind of human practices are reading and writing? How have they changed over time and what are the implications of those changes? When and how did women writers begin to participate in the literary culture of Western Europe? How should we envision the reading and writing practices of the future as printed books mingle with digital files? Students in this course explore the history of reading, writing, books, bookstores and libraries from the classical era to the digital revolution and engage with the plans for renovating Smith’s library. Counts toward the English major and the book studies concentration. Enrollment limited to 20 first-year students. {L}{WI} Credits: 4
Katherine Rowe, Nancy Bradbury

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 20 games now in use. Students read from elaborate game books that 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 are trying to accomplish, are corrected in a postmortem 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: 5
J. Coby, Joshua Birk

FYS 144 Science of Exploration

Successful outdoor travel requires that the participant’s skill, knowledge and physicality match the demands of the journey. How much energy does it take to hike a trail? Climb a mountain? Cycle long distances? What are the nutritional requirements? How do you find your way? Stay warm? What do you wear? How does one handle altitude? We explore the answers to these questions during this highly experiential course. We measure energy expenditure and determine student compatibility for various types of travel. We read about some classic trips and study the science behind success and failure. We learn to determine latitude and longitude with a sextant and how to use a topographical map. Students should expect to fully participate in occasional vigorous outdoor activity. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. {WI} Credits: 4
James Johnson

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

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

FYS 157 Syria Beyond the Headlines

Syria today is at the center of turmoil that is remaking the Middle East and challenging global security. Civil war, violent extremism, sectarian polarization and the globalization of terrorism have devastated the country, leading to mass population displacement and the most severe humanitarian crisis since WWII. By exploring the historical origins and the current trajectory of Syria’s revolution in 2011 and its collapse into violent conflict, the seminar provides critical insight into the forces that are defining the future of Syria and the Middle East. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. (E) {S}{WI} Credits: 4
Steven Heydemann

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

FYS 161 Immigration and the New Multiethnic Societies

The first part of this course traces the history of emigration from Italy to the United States. Students read historical, literary and sociological texts, and study the representation of Italian Americans in movies and on television. The second part of the course studies contemporary Italy. In the last 20 years Italy has become a country of immigration. Questions of race, ethnicity, color, religion, gender, language and nationality are at the center of the formation of a new Italian identity. Some immigrants are starting to express their opinions on these issues. We read some of their writings and compare them to the writings of Italian Americans. Are there experiences shared by all immigrants across the boundaries of time and culture? Can past migrations teach us something about stereotypes and intolerance? Do globalization and modern society, along with technological advances in communication, change the immigrant experience? Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. {H}{L}{S}{WI} Credits: 4
Giovanna Bellesia

FYS 162 Ambition and Adultery: Individualism in the 19th-Century Novel

We use a series of great 19th-century novels to explore a set of questions about the nature of individual freedom, and of the relation of that freedom—transgression, even—to social order and cohesion. The books are paired—two French, two Russian; two that deal with a woman's adultery, and two that focus on a young man’s ambition—Balzac, Père Goriot; Flaubert, Madame Bovary; Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment; Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (there are some additional readings in history, criticism and political theory). Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. {WI} Credits: 4
Michael Gorra

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

FYS 168 Damaged Gods: Myth and Religion of the Vikings

A reading of poems and sagas about the Old Norse gods and their cults during the Viking Age (ca. 800–1100 CE) as these were preserved mainly in Icelandic manuscripts of the 13th century, but also in Arabic, Latin, Old High German and Anglo-Saxon texts and runic inscriptions. We explore the dark world-view and desperate religion of the Vikings from the creation of the world to the end of time, including relations between living and dead, male and female, animals and humans, gods and giants, Æsir and Vanir—a crowded universe of trolls, elves, witches, dwarfs, valkyries, berserks, shapeshifters and various kinds of human being. Enrollment limit of 16. {L}{WI} Credits: 4
Craig Davis

FYS 175 Love Stories

Could a Jane Austen heroine ever marry a servant? What notions about class, decorum or identity dictate what seem to be choices of the heart? How are individual desires shaped or produced by social, historical and cultural forces, by dominant assumptions about race, class, gender or sexuality? How do dominant love stories both reflect these assumptions, and actively create or legislate the boundaries of what may be desired? How may nondominant (queer or interracial) love stories contest those boundaries, creating alternative narratives and possibilities? This course explores how notions of love, romance, marriage or sexual desire are structured by specific cultural and historical formations. We closely analyze literature and film from a range of locations: British, American and postcolonial. Required texts: Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, Shyam Selvadurai’s Funny Boy. We also read some theoretical essays to provide conceptual tools for our analyses. This course can count towards the major in English, CLT or SWG. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. {L}{WI} Credits: 4
Ambreen Hai

FYS 179 Rebellious Women

This writing-intensive First Year Seminar introduces students to the rebellious women who have changed the American social and political landscape through reform, mobilization, cultural interventions and outright rebellion. Using Estelle Freedman’s No Turning Back on the history of feminisms as our primary text, we chronicle the history of feminist ideas and movements, interweaving historical change with contemporary debate. This course uses a variety of sources as our “texts” in addition to Freedman and relies heavily on primary sources from the Sophia Smith Collection. The intention of this seminar is threefold: 1) to provide an overview of feminist ideas and action throughout American history; 2) to introduce students to primary documents and research methods; and 3) to encourage reflection and discussion on current women’s issues. Counts toward the major in the study of women and gender and the archives concentration. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. (E){WI} Credits: 4
Kelly Anderson

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

FYS 199 Re-Membering Marie Antoinette

How can we re-imagine, reconstruct, understand a historical personage? How do we perceive and get to “know” such a figure, and through this knowledge, the historical moment and context in which the person lived? We examine Marie Antoinette from a variety of perspectives: archival sources, documents and letters; biographies, portraits—official and unofficial—caricatures, pornographic pamphlets, fictional works such as plays, novels and films in which she figures. The course incorporates a role-playing unit reenacting her trial, during which every member of the class plays the role of one of the important participants. Some film screenings. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. {H}{L}{WI} Credits: 4
Janie Vanpee