First-Year Seminars

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Fall 2013 Courses

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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 will attempt to decipher this history by careful examination of field evidence. Class meetings will take place principally outdoors at interesting geological localities around the Connecticut Valley. Participants will 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 17 first-year students. {N} WI 4 credits

John Brady (Geosciences)
M 7:30–8:30 p.m., Th 1 p.m.–5 p.m. (lab)

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 4 credits

Justina Gregory (Classics)
T Th 9 a.m.–10:20 a.m.

FYS 110 Mysticism and Redemption (PENDING CAP APPROVAL)

This course will explore what gives form and meaning to our experience. Throughout most of history, this journey has been confined to philosophical and religious beliefs systems from Platonism to Zen Buddhism. Increasingly, contemporary culture has become a source of redemption or salvation through which we find meaning, order, and purpose. Course materials will including: music (both classical and popular), literature (philosophy, narratives and poetry), film and art. Each student will keep a journal of reactions to the class material. There will also be a final, integrative paper in which students will explore a line of inquiry on mysticism and redemption. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. WI 4 credits

William Hagen (English Language and Literature)
T Th 1–2:50 p.m.

FYS 111 Health Care, Justice, and Self-Determination: Exploration of Bioethics

This course introduces students to bioethics starting with its ancient roots. Following an exploration of key works in the Hippocratic Corpus and by Plato, we turn to theoretical underpinnings of contemporary bioethics. On this historical and moral-theoretical foundation, we move to concentrate on health care and social justice, and end-of-life care and euthanasia. Our approach to these matters will take into account both their importance to bioethics and their centrality to all of us as citizens and individuals. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. {S} WI 4 credits

Susan Levin (Philosophy)
M, W 2:40–4 p.m.

FYS 114 Turning Points

How have women in the Americas understood defining moments in life? We will read fictional and autobiographical narratives that seek to understand different kinds of turning points: coming of age, coming out, coming to freedom, coming to consciousness. We will consider turning points in history (migrations, internment, war, civil rights and the women’s movements) as well as personal turning points (falling in love, leaving home, resisting oppression) and ask how history and memory, the political and the personal define each other. We will ask how these stories can help us understand and tell stories about turning points in our times and lives. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. Counts toward the Study of Women and Gender major. {L} WI 4 credits

Susan Van Dyne (Study of Women and Gender)
M, W, F 11 a.m.–12:10 p.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. {L/H} WI 4 credits

Michael Gorra (English Language and Literature)
T, Th 9–10:20 a.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 4 credits

Kiki Gounaridou (Theatre)
M, W 2:40–4 p.m.


Is the mail of email the same as letters sent through the post office? Are letters home and love letters obsolete? Has Skyping replaced letter-writing? What role do letters play in literature, and how have letters influenced the historical record? These are some of the questions we will consider in letters from the 17th century to the present, literary and non-literary, beginning with the letters of Madame de Sévigné and continuing with Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther; the love letters of George Sand and Chopin; Fontane's Delusions, Confusions; Kafka's "Letter to his father"; selected examples from correspondences such as the letters written by Sylvia Plath when she was at Smith. We will see original letters in the Rare Book Room, and students will visit the Smith Archives to read letters home by Smith students in the past. This course may be counted towards the German studies major. {L} 4 credits

Jocelyne Kolb (German Studies)
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 4 credits

Thomas Riddell (Economics)
T, Th 10:30–11:50 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 4 credits

Cornelia Pearsall (English Language and Literature)
T, Th 1–2:20 p.m.

FYS 135 The Explorers

Women have set forth on journeys of exploration across the centuries, stepping into the unknown, challenging tradition, expanding the world. The story of women’s exploration is largely unknown. Who were these women? What does it feel like to go into the unknown? How did they plan their trips, find their way? What dangers did they encounter? In this seminar we will survey several famous explorations and some not so famous ones. Students will work with historical documents, study navigation (including celestial), and develop their ability to make oral and written presentations. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. Quantitative Skills WI 4 credits

James Johnson (Exercise and Sport Studies)
M, W 1:10–2:30 p.m.

FYS 140 Literature and Medicine

How do stories heal? What can we learn about medicine from stories, novels, poems, plays and case studies? Comparing narratives from different cultures, students will also compose their own stories. The course also introduces broader issues in the medical humanities, such as medical ethics, healthcare disparities, and cross-cultural communication. Works (available in translation) from China, Taiwan, France, Russia, and North and Latin America. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. {L} WI 4 credits

Sabina Knight (Comparative Literature)
T, Th 10:30–11:50 a.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.” Watch a video of this class {H} WI 4 credits

Section 1: John Coby (Government); enrollment limited to 25 first-year students; M, W 7–9 p.m.
Section 2: Joshua Birk (History); enrollment limited to 20 first-year students; M, W 2:40–4 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 4 credits

Daphne LaMothe (Afro-American Studies)
M, W, F 9–9:50 a.m.

FYS 155 Celtic Worlds

A reading in translation of classical authors on the ancient Celts, as well as the imaginative literature of medieval Wales and Ireland. We will explore the unique religion of this archaic people, their conceptions of this and the Otherworld; their cult of the Great Mother and other divinities; their celebration of beauty, art, music, sexuality, and violence; the role of druids and "sovereignty goddesses" in the education of charismatic chieftains and their "warriors with horses"; the lives of Celtic saints, like Patrick, their miracles and devotion; and the beginnings of Arthurian romance in the Breton lais of Marie de France. This course counts toward the English major. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. {L} WI 4 credits

Craig R. Davis (English Language and Literature)
T, Th 10:30–11:50 a.m.

FYS 160 The End of the World as We Know It: The Post-Apocalyptic Novel

We will be exploring a wide range of literary scenarios that depict the collapse of civilization in the wake of plague-like disease and/or nuclear war. The motif of the post-Apocalyptic novel has become common, yet its roots go back as far (and farther than) Jack London's The Scarlet Plague and Mary Shelley's The Last Man. In the works we will be examining, we will witness the attempts of the few survivors of catastrophe to create a new world, or merely to live in a world in which the past casts a vast shadow over the present. The society that comes forth from these worlds can be anarchic, dystopic, utopian, or a combination of these. Some works we will explore include Alas, Babylon, On the Beach, Riddley Walker, The Postman, A Canticle for Leibowitz, The Chrysalids, The Road, and others. Film adaptations will be shown as part of the course. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. {L} WI 4 credits

Gillian Kendall (English Language and Literature)
T, Th 9–10:20 a.m.

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 will 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 will 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. {L/H/S} WI 4 credits

Giovanna Bellesia (Italian Language and Literature)
M, W 2:40–4 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 4 credits

Katwiwa Mule (Comparative Literature)
T, Th 10:30–11:50 a.m.

FYS 170 Crime and Punishment

What are some of the causes and consequences of human wrongdoing? What kinds of wrongdoing do we consider worse than others, and why? How can we tell the guilty from the innocent? How can punishments be made to fit crimes? What's the relation between punishment and guilt, the distinction between punishment and revenge? How, finally do we define and recognize and attain that most elusive and important of human ideas: justice? We will investigate these questions by reading, discussing and writing about selections from the Old and New Testaments, a trilogy of ancient Greek plays (Aeschylus, Oresteia), a medieval allegory (Dante, Inferno), a 19th-century psychological novel (Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment), and two or three modern American films. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. (E) {L} WI 4 credits

Jefferson Hunter (English Language and Literature)
M, W 2:40–4 p.m.

FYS 179 Rebellious Women

This writing-intensive First-Year Seminar will introduce 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 will chronicle the history of feminist ideas and movements, interweaving historical change with contemporary debate. This course will use a variety of sources as our “texts” in addition to Freedman and will rely 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. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. (E) {H/S} WI 4 credits

Kelly Anderson (Libraries)
M, W 9 a.m.–10:20 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 4 credits

Anna Botta (Italian Language and Literature)
T, Th 10:30–11:50 a.m., M 7–11 p.m. (film showing)

FYS 186 Israel: Texts and Contexts

This course is intended for students interested in Cultural Studies, Film and Media Studies, Literature, Judaic Studies, Middle East Studies. It offers a study of a national culture through its cultural texts and their historic, ideological, political, social and cultural contexts. “Israel”, which like “America” is a uniquely formed nation of immigrants, who create their identity in a complex and constantly evolving multicultural context, will serve as test case for studying a nation, society and culture through its texts. What were the roles of literary, visual, folk and popular culture in the construction of Israel's founding myths and interpretations of its present realities? In the course of our study we’ll read and analyze diverse varieties of texts and use methodologies of cultural studies to study culture through its texts: prose fiction, poetry, cinema- feature films and documentaries, folk culture-dance, song, collective festivities and holidays, rock and pop music, commercials, TV drama and reality television, cuisine, architecture, life style, and fashion. Through these different texts and an analysis of their discourse-as it articulates ideology and changing values- we’ll shed light on diverse aspects of the texts in their contexts: senses of place: the relationship between sacred and secular space; exile and homeland; place as text and place as a lived, sensual experience; Mediterraneanism as a cultural and political third way between “East” and West” as political and cultural alternatives; Immigration and multiculturalism as national enterprises, personal traumas and cultural alternatives;  “Jews” and “Arabs” Israelis” and “Palestinians” as hybrid, evolving identities, archetypes, historic realities, communities sharing collective traumatic memories,  media made types, cultural alternatives in clash and in possible harmonies. Miri Talmon (Jewish Studies)
M, W 2:40–4 p.m.

FYS 189 Utopia and Human Nature

What do human beings want? Can people be trusted to want what is good for them? How does the good society deal with sex and acquisitiveness? How can it reconcile individual desire with the common good? In facing these questions, every utopian writer constructs his or her imaginary society in response to basic assumptions about the nature of human nature. In considering these fictions we'll focus on works from three different periods by Thomas More, Nathanial Hawthorne and Ursula K. LeGuin. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. {L} WI 4 credits

William Oram (English Language and Literature)
M, W, F 9–9:50 a.m.

FYS 195 Health and Wellness: Personal Perspectives

In this course, we will explore health and wellness topics relevant to the student group. Students will learn about a number of health-related topics, and explore them from both academic and personal perspectives, using scientific information to inform and understand personal experiences with health issues. Information about health is everywhere, and we will discuss how to evaluate the health information found in the media, including Internet and print sources. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. {N} WI 4 credits

Barbara Brehm-Curtis (Exercise and Sports Studies)
T, Th 9–10:20 a.m.

FYS 198 The Global Coffee Trail

Billions of cups of coffee are consumed around the world every day. We will explore the history of the little green bean in the bright red berry, from its murky origins in North Africa, to its present status as the second most traded commodity in the world, after oil. Topics will include origin stories, the history of the “coffee house,” biochemical and physiological aspects of coffee consumption, coffee botany and techniques of cultivation, the coffee trade and organic and fair trade coffee movements. Students will investigate Northampton coffee-houses, visit a local coffee roaster, and work with the Botanic Garden. Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students. (E) {S} WI 4 credits

Nola Reinhardt (Economics)
Offered Fall 2012 T, Th 3–4:30 p.m.