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Academic Core

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First Year Seminar

The First Year Seminar combines academic skill development with an expansive approach to learning. Many First Year Seminars involve field trips to such destinations as the Beatrix Farrand Garden at Bellefield in nearby Hyde Park and the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City. Students’ classroom experience is further enriched by guest lecturers, such a talk by Survivor contestant Terry Deitz, and even by students taking a leading role in coordinating on-campus events, such as a student-run conference on JFK and his legacy. Coursework in the FYS can even lead to scholarly conference presentations, as it did for Christopher Ravosa ’21 in March 2018.

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Fall 2018 First Year Seminar Courses

FYS Course Titles and Descriptions

*denotes Honors section available

FYS 101 L101, L102: How to Make the World a Better Place

What would it take to make life better for people around the world? The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in partnership with businesses, non-governmental organizations, and countries around the world, has developed an answer. It put forth a strategic plan to make the world a better place by 2030. This plan, the “Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” is a network of seventeen separate items, and focuses on key areas such as alleviating poverty and reducing economic inequality, promoting peace and democratic governance, and fostering ecologically sustainable development. In this course we will use the framework of the SDGs to help us understand development in the world and here in Poughkeepsie.

Prof. E. Kaknes    

FYS 101 L103, L104: Beyond Game of Thrones

The popularity of the historical fantasy series Game of Thrones and the books that engendered it leads us to question: is this what the Middle Ages was really like?  Were people forced to be slaves through raids and conquests?  Is the concept of chivalry, in battle and otherwise, a myth?  Were women objects for arranged marriages and forced sex?  And, finally, was medieval society so seemingly vastly different from the modern world, even though many components of the modern state, even the United States, can be traced to that period?  These questions are a few of many that will be discussed in this course in an attempt to disentangle historical fantasy, or what is called “medievalism,” from historical understanding of the medieval past.  We will discuss the reality of medieval society in relation to how it is depicted in GoT, as well as investigate why this genre of medievalism is so popular today.  While this course will include some watching/reading of the series, the focus will be on interrogating the narrative about the Middle Ages that persists in popular culture.  A familiarity with the series is not required to take this course.

Prof. J. Peterson

FYS 101 L105: Not That Seventies Show

This course will offer students an opportunity to consider this pivotal decade in ways that go beyond the nostalgia, attention to fashion, and comic situations of the popular television sitcom. Using historical documents, including the popular literature, films, and television shows of the era, as well as scholarship in the areas of cultural and political history, students will engage in an in depth exploration of the impact of this decade on the lives of Americans. We will consider such issues as: the Vietnam War, Watergate, the oil crisis, the Iranian hostage crisis, as well as activism and changing attitudes regarding gender, race, sex, family life, and religion.

Prof. R. Rosen

FYS 101 L106, L107: Nostalgia

The word “nostalgia” was first coined in the 17th century to describe a homesickness so severe it required medical treatment. Today, we more often think of nostalgia as a mild, even pleasant, desire for a better time, whether one that we’ve actually lived through or one we've only imagined. In this course, we will read works about nostalgia by historians, psychologists, political scientists, and literary critics. Some of these theorists write about nostalgia as a personal way of engaging with the world, while others argue for nostalgia as a societal ill. We will also read fiction, personal essays, and poetry, watch films, and analyze current forms of media that enact nostalgic desire. Along the way, we will develop our own theories of nostalgia and deepen our understanding of nostalgia as a complex aspect of contemporary life.

Prof. J. Kotzin

FYS 101 L108, L109: Happiness Embodied

The search for happiness gives rise to humanity’s basest behaviors and its noblest pursuits. This religious studies and philosophy course examines the connection between happiness, identity, and belonging through the lens of the active human body.  We examine how our physicality influences religious depictions of human excellence and the construction of our relationships and groups. More specifically, we will discuss topics ranging from gender and sexuality to martial arts, communal prayer, and ritual practice.

While this course focuses on examining religious and philosophical texts, students in this class will also be invited to participate in physical forms of experiential learning, such as breath meditation or taichi. This experiential learning culminates with the creation of a choreographed flashmob as a way of understanding how ritual functions to transform gathered individuals into bonded groups.

Prof. B. Loh

FYS 101 L110: Myths of Africa: Past & Present

The record-breaking movie, Black Panther, has ushered in a plethora of tweets, blogs, and videos, many focusing on the film’s success in debunking fantastical and false depictions of Africa. Examples of such myths can be found in early European literature. During the first century CE, the Roman scholar, Pliny, stated that the inhabitants of north-eastern Africa were "said to have no heads, their mouths and eyes being seated in their breasts." In the early nineteenth century, the influential German philosopher, Hegel, described Africa as an "unhistorical" and "underdeveloped" continent on the "threshold" of world history.

Using films, such as Black Panther, as well as primary and secondary material, this course will challenge such myths that seek to portray an ahistorical, underdeveloped, and isolated continent. Attention will be paid to the African diaspora, particularly in the Americas, including the notion that enslaved peoples were unable to establish cultural institutions based on their African heritage. In doing so, this course will enhance your understanding of the continent and its diaspora, both past and present.

Prof. S. George 

FYS 101 L111: True Crime in Film

This course will explore the historical, social, economic aspects of true crime in the U.S. and the depiction of true popular crime stories and celebrated real life cases in film and literature. Infamous criminals throughout history will be covered including H.H. Holmes, Al Capone, Aileen Wuornos, Frank Abagnale, Jr., the Zodiac killer, and the Bonanno crime family. Through feature films and discussion, the course will cover all aspects of the criminal justice system including courts, policing, and corrections, and will explore the system within the historical, social, economic, and political contexts.

Prof. J. Raines

FYS 101 L112, L113: Life Skills

Do I know how to budget my time and money now that I am basically on my own? Do I know how to do my income taxes? Do I understand all those flyers and applications I receive for credit cards? Should I even get a credit card? Why do I need, or do I need, life insurance? What are the best ways to invest my money? Why should I start thinking about a retirement fund now? Have you ever had these questions? Come to this class and get answers to them.

Prof. C. Hill

FYS 101 L114: Unlearning the Separate and Unequal: Disparities in Education

Schools serve many roles in society: preparing individuals for work, instilling ideas about one’s place within society, and developing individuals’ thinking and knowing about the world, nation, and self. What about the “hidden curriculum?” Research shows that inequities exist in education and consequently influence individual’s success and their communities. What roles do schools and teachers play in fostering social justice and equity? We will examine educational disparities through readings, multimedia, research, and case studies. Collectively, we will explore the dimensions of identities and critically reflect how our identities shape our educational experiences and our future.

Prof. C. Fields

FYS 101 L115, L133: The Haunted Nineteenth Century

In this course, we will read, discuss, and do research about nineteenth-century American Gothic literature. In addition to learning about the conventions of the genre, we will examine the social and historical issues that writers used dark, mysterious tales to expose and critique. We will read works by authors such as Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edith Wharton, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Henry James. We will also consider film adaptations of several works that we will read. Our analyses will focus on issues of race, gender, class, and religion and will touch on themes such as marginalization, imagination, and social injustice.

Prof. P. Tarantello

FYS 101 L116, FYSH 101 L114: Reading the Apocalypse*

People have long been fascinated by how the world ends, and that critical imagining has become even more intense since the turning of the last millennium. This course will sample literature written in the past ten years that takes as its premise the end of civilization as we know it, and we’ll use film and television to supplement our investigation. Why are we so interested in the destruction of civilization, and why now? We’ll use history, psychology, philosophy, and literary studies to try to answer this question.

Prof. R. Grinnell

FYS 101 L117: The Human Body in Sickness & in Health

This course will begin with a general refresher of the scientific method, and will progress with a description of many of the major body systems, spending time along the way on various homeostatic imbalances of those systems. We will also debate some recent controversies in health and medicine, and compare and contrast the writing styles of 2 books: The Great Cholesterol Myth, and Atherosclerosis Risk Factors. The course culminates in a 4 – 6 page research paper corresponding to a timed oral presentation.

Prof. T. Paskell

FYS 101 L119, FYSH 101 L112: Greek Myth and the Other*

How do we understand myth making in contemporary times? What role might it play in shaping an understanding of ourselves and the world we live in? In this course, we will take a closer look at myths of Greek antiquity and their reception in the realm of contemporary philosophy in order to open a dialogue around the questions of myth, meaning, and otherness. Centering on the themes of creation myths, the outcast, the scapegoat, the ideal state, divine encounters, the power of masks, ethical obligation, alterity and power, students will explore how, through myth (both stories and criticism) and philosophy, an attempt to negotiate the encounter with otherness is a necessary endeavor of our times.

Prof. S. Biro

FYS 101 L120, L121: Revolution!

Students consistently have been at the forefront of social change. This course examines inter-connected global revolutionary movements with an emphasis on student demonstrations.  Early independence activism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries impacted the anti-authority movements of the 1960s leading us to our focus on 1968.  We will use music, cultural analysis, film and memoirs to identify what brought students together over which issues and what are the lasting effects of their efforts.  Furthermore, we will look at contemporary rebellions and revolts that are connected to ones of the past.

Prof. K. Bayer

FYS 101 L122, FYSH 101 L111: Your Mind on Metaphors*

You may perhaps think of metaphors as an ornamental device that poets use to make their poems more engaging and meaningful. And they are that, certainly. But the authors George Lakoff and Mark Johnson argue in their book Metaphors We Live By that our minds are fundamentally metaphorical, that metaphors govern every aspect of how we understand our world and act in it. In this class, we will start by learning to appreciate the metaphorical language employed by the Elizabethan sonneteers Sidney, Daniel and Shakespeare. But then, under the guidance of Lakoff and Johnson, we will broaden our focus to the metaphors that are quietly govern how we understand the world, and therefore how we act in our everyday lives.

Prof. G. Machacek

FYS 101 L123, L124Slavery & the Making of America

By examining slavery's depiction through history, fiction and popular culture (most especially its depiction in film and song), this course examines how slavery shaped and continues to shape America.  Broad themes covered include the contrasting worlds the slaves made (their work, religion, diet, living conditions and so on) versus the world the slave owners made.

Prof. M. Morreale

FYS 101 L125, L126: Cannibals and Amazons & the Making of Race

Students will explore depictions of cannibals and Amazons in the Caribbean and South America through early modern Amerindian and European writing and images, as well as recent film. Class discussion will focus on how and to what purpose are representations of difference in race, gender, and sexuality constructed and manipulated within the context of empire and the colonial condition.

Prof. P. Ferrer

FYS 101 L127, L128: Murder, Madness, & Mental Mayhem

This seminar will focus on the recurring motif of madness and mental illness in literature, film, television and society in general, and address the question of how madness challenges traditional assumptions regarding individual identity. Through an interdisciplinary approach, we will explore the nature of the human mind and cultural representations of madness in a variety of contexts. Students in this course will consider how madness is a very ordinary human possibility which can be creative and/or destructive, which can be a breakdown and/or a breakthrough. We will examine the significant presence of madness in society and question how central madness is to human life. Students will study both social/intellectual components and cultural/emotional/expressive aspects of mental illness.

Prof. L. Neilson

FYS 101 L129, L130: Challenges to Free Will from Neuroscience & Psychology

Consider the following title of a recent article from the April 30, 2016 U.K. newspaper, The Daily Mail: “Free will could be an ILLUSION created by our own brains, new study finds.” Articles like this with similarly provocative titles are common in the press, including popular science magazines. But are they really accurate?

The accuracy of such titles depends upon the exact findings of an experiment. Some findings threaten some conceptions of free will, while others are left unscathed. The mistake made is to assume that there is a single conception of free will that has been in use by both philosophers and ordinary people. There are, in fact, multiple sophisticated conceptions of free will that have been developed over the millennia. Some are clearly vulnerable to recent findings, while others are not threatened at all. Moreover, research shows that many ordinary people simultaneously work with multiple conceptions of what free will involves, deploying different concepts of free will in different types of circumstances.

In this course, we will examine some issues at the intersection of philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience related to human free agency. Time will be spent discussing some of the most prominent philosophical theories of free will and considering some research on how ordinary people think about the concept of free will. But our focus will be on considering whether recent psychological and neuroscientific data poses a genuine threat to the conception many of us have of ourselves as free agents.

Prof. A. Buckareff

FYS 101 L131, L132: Greening America

We will consider how a range of American writers frame human interactions with “Nature,” and explore their various representations of the natural world. How have cultural values shaped conceptions of nature? How has “Wilderness” been imagined? How do authors construct language to shape the way readers think about the environment? What vision do these texts offer about the relationship of individuals to society, and about progress, industrialism, and technology?

As a multi-disciplinary course, we will ask: What occurs when findings from Natural History are combined with notions from Literary Transcendentalism and Romanticism? We will examine Native American stories, early accounts of natural history, diverse representations of flora and fauna, memoirs of the local, essays on urban nature, and narratives of exploration. “Nature Writing,” often combines rhapsody and science and runs the gamut of the scientific, philosophical, psychological, aesthetic, ethical, and spiritual.

We will consider authors such as Gilbert White, William Bartram, John James Audubon, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, John Burroughs, Rachel Carson, Ernest Thompson Seton, Leslie Marmon Silko, Joseph Bruchac, Julia Butterfly Hill, Wendell Berry, Bill McKibben, and Terry Tempest Williams. In this class you will construct essays based upon the course readings, your own observations, and your classmates’ presentations. The texts we will analyze directly consider the relationship between human beings and their environments over a range of diverse habitats and places, from deserts to rainforests to Alaska, to dorm rooms and malls and cityscapes. Many species and natural phenomena are represented.

Prof. S. Mercier

FYS 101 L134: Vampires, Werewolves, Goblins: Diversity & the Rule of Law

What does hilarious satire/fantasy involving vampires, werewolves, and goblins teach us about the value of The Rule of Law and the value of diversity? In this course we will read two of the famous Sir Terry Pratchett Discworld novels and, once we are finished laughing, see how they help us relate the requirements of the Rule of Law and anti-discrimination laws to the kind of society we want to live in. Alongside the novels we will read federal anti-discrimination statutes, a pre-eminent website on The Rule of Law, and scholarly articles discussing these topics.

Prof. C. Rider

FYS 101 L135, L143: Comedy, Tragedy, & Madness: Overcoming Everyday Nihilism

As human beings, our lives are marked by various forms of suffering. This seminar will focus on the psychological suffering associated with the experience of nihilism, and some possibilities for overcoming it. Particular emphasis will be placed on the roles that comedy, tragedy, and madness can play in responding to the crisis of meaning, value and authority characteristic of nihilism. We will examine texts from philosophy, history, literature, film and art to help provide a framework for understanding and analyzing the experience of everyday nihilism.

Prof. G. Ulary

FYS 101 L136: Science Fiction: Speculations & Destinations

Come explore the many forms taken by, and purposes served by, the science fiction genre. We will study a wide range of topics and themes, from optimistic science fiction depicting technology as a gauge of humankind’s development, to pessimistic prophecies of the human race engineering its own destruction. We will also consider science fiction as commentary on contemporary and classical socio-political issues. We will study science fictions origins in literature and its prominence as popular entertainment in films, television, and video games. Special emphasis will be placed on Star Trek as a staple of science fiction.

Prof. J. Bass

FYS 101 L138, FYSH 101 L115: Eco-warriors, Tree-huggers, & Sellouts: Representing Modern Environmentalism*

From novels to memoirs, film to The Simpsons, and Capitol Hill to The New York Times, how are environmentalists presented in American culture? Do they stand up for an important cause, or stand in the way of progress and development? Are they brave champions for environmental justice, or dangerous domestic terrorists? In this course, we will investigate the ways that this social movement is depicted in various media, by both outsiders and environmental activists themselves. We will consider ways these portrayals might affect citizen attitudes toward environmental issues, and the actions we take (or don’t take) to protect natural resources.

Prof. J. Boscarino

FYS 101 L140, FYSH 101 L113: The Painter of Modern Life*

In 1863 Charles Baudelaire published an essay entitled “The Painter of Modern Life” in which the French poet and art critic examined how the conditions of modernity (fashion, the city nightlife, prostitution, self-displays of all social classes) should consume the imagination of the modern artist.  The Second Empire was a time of great prosperity during which Paris was modernized under Baron Georges Haussmann.  Most of these improvements were seen as progressive and utilitarian, such as the new sewers, street lights, and expensive apartment buildings for the bourgeoisie.  The modernization of Paris, however, came at a cost.  The working districts of Paris were destroyed and consequently their population displaced outside of the city limits. Some critics lamented the loss of the Old Paris.  Others concluded that the true motivation of this modernization was to minimize the threat of the proletariat that emerged from the 1848 Revolution.

In this seminar, we will analyze the social conditions of modernity in mid nineteenth-century Paris to understand why Baudelaire and avant-garde painters became fascinated with the concept of modernity.  To do so we will examine the artistic production of such painters as Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Claude Monet, Berthe Morisot and Gustave Caillebotte and pay special attention to their representations of Modern Life.

Prof. A. Bertrand-Dewsnap

FYS 101 L141: Bodies, Minds, & Social Norms

What overt or unspoken assumptions affect the way we respond to bodies and minds that challenge social norms? 

We will explore these questions by studying literary works, TED talks, YouTube videos, and plays. Along the way, our 
analysis will explore points of intersection and difference among the civil rights, disability rights, feminist, and LBGTQ 
movements.

We will read selections from The Fat Studies Reader (eds. Esther Rothblum & Sondra Solovay); use terrific digital resources such as Life and Limb: The Toll of the American Civil War; and ponder representations of depression, anxiety, and social pathology in artistic works such as the Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen and the essays of James Baldwin.

Our class will take a field trip to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Museum & Library to see how the museum depicts
FDR's experiences of polio and its aftermath. You will be encouraged to develop research projects that reflect your own interest in the questions surrounding so-called physical and mental "normalcy."

Prof. M. Fitzgibbons

FYS 101 L142, L148: Gendered Bodies, Alien Relationships

Have you ever heard the phrase “men are from Mars, women are from Venus”? This phrase originates from the title of a book written by a relationship counselor in 1992 that sold an astonishing 50 million copies. But the success of this book, and the adoption of its title phrase as popular wisdom, posed a troubling question for American society at the end of the 20th century: after a nearly 100-year period that saw major advancements in social and political equality, why did such a large number of Americans see the opposite sex not as fellow human beings but as something akin to aliens from outer space? What were the interpersonal effects of this mutual alienation? And does this sense of gendered alienation carry on into the 21st century?

Students in this first year seminar will explore questions about gender definitions and roles both historically and today through study of what is commonly termed “speculative fiction.” These speculative works (novels, stories, films, television shows, and other cultural products) will provide us strange and often provocative lenses through which to examine gender issues in American society. By introducing us to alien peoples, genderless cultures, third sexes, advanced technologies, alternate histories, and both utopian and dystopian worlds, this literature will reveal to us the potential detriments of a rigidly gendered society as well as the possibility of a future free from gender's restrictive influence. Readings extend from the late 19th century to the beginning of the 21st, with selections from major speculative authors like H. G. Wells (The Island of Dr. Moreau), Joanna Russ (The Female Man), and Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid's Tale).

Prof. J. Canino

FYS 101 L144, L145: Theorizing Comics and Superheroes

Comics and the superheroes that are in them have long been stereotyped as interests fit only for children, delinquents, and social misfits. Lately, however, the emergence of comics that are both popular and sophisticated and the predominance of superhero movies worldwide has spurred the notion that they’re fit objects for academic attention. In this course, we’ll be exploring the cutting edge of comics studies, dealing with problems about their ontological status, relations to other art forms, narratological possibilities, and ethical value. Then we’ll consider the ways in which superhero stories prompt reflection on heroism, moral duties, and identity. Throughout, the course will stress the importance of critical and creative thinking, as well as philosophical argumentation, in coming to terms with a vital part of our contemporary culture.

Prof. H. Pratt

FYS 101 L146, L147: Music & the Drama of History

When people talk about their favorite bands or artists, they sometimes ask, “What kind of music are you into?” Music is a universal language of drama, complexity, and emotion. This course works from such a premise. By drawing on specific musical moments and genres, we will use the art form as a way to “get into” the study of the past. U.S. history is filled with stories of heroism and villainy, inspiration and shame, contradiction and ambiguity. But, as 21st-century people several steps removed, we don’t always feel the drama of it all. In this course, we will listen intensively to key musical selections in order to feel the realities of our collective past. Our focus will be the twentieth-century popular genres of blues, rock, folk, and jazz; our historical orientation will be the modern United States; and, our topics will include race and the black freedom struggle, gender and the feminist movement, class and economic inequality in America. One need not be a musician to take or understand this course. But, all students will need to be ready to take music seriously as a way to seriously analyze U.S. history.

Prof. S. Garabedian

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A Message From Robyn Rosen, Director of First Year Seminar

The First Year Seminars we offer at Marist are designed with you in mind--a brand new college student. These classes not only broach topics, ideas, theories, systems, ideologies, cultures, time periods, and literary genres that you may never have had the opportunity to explore in high school, but they also provide support to you as you adjust to a new set of academic standards and expectations.

With your help, we create a dynamic classroom environment to stimulate curiosity and enhance your knowledge, skills, and level of comfort in your new community.  This class may take you in unexpected directions, and it will surely be a sturdy foundation upon which to build your academic career at Marist. Make the most of it!