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First-Year Seminars

The first phase of registration is a first-year seminar. In your portal you will list eight first-year seminars you are interested in taking. Students in the Honor Scholar Program are assigned first-year seminars so they do not need to request one.

Each first-year student’s fall schedule will include a first-year seminar. A first-year seminar is a small, discussion-based class that fosters academic discussions where students are encouraged in the exploration of ideas, careful reading of texts, and critical thinking. A first-year seminar is writing-intensive and serves as the first level of DePauw’s writing curriculum. In most cases, the instructor is also the students' academic advisor until they declare a major.

First-Year Seminars are not intended to be the first step toward a specific major or career. Instead, they are designed to open new areas of interest and to allow students to think in new ways. Most seminars are interdisciplinary, introducing ideas and ways of thinking from more than one discipline (e.g., political science and environmental studies or chemistry and forensics).

For seminar requests, you will list eight seminars you are interested in taking. Students in the Honor Scholar Program do not request first-year seminars because they are assigned to their seminars.


Fall 2020 First-Year Seminar Descriptions


20th Germany Through Film

Inge Aures

Films and images can have a powerful impact and shape the viewer’s perspective of past and current events. This writing intensive seminar offers an introduction to Germany through the lens of German filmmakers. Can we rely on German films as a "truthful" depiction of past or current events? What is a film’s relation to reality? What do these films want to accomplish? Are we presented with "accurate" portrayals of life in Germany, or do these films create a new reality? How do these films appeal to our emotions? In what ways do these films contribute to our understanding of Germany and her history?

German film has influenced international film makers, but particularly shaped our image of Germany, her history and her people. We will analyze a wide variety of films, some entirely fictional others based on real events. We will be looking at these film makers work within the larger socio-historical context of German history, politics, and culture. The focus of the course will be on specific films and film directors as well as on historical events that marked German history in the 20th Century such as the Weimar Era, World War II, the Cold War, and the fall of the Berlin Wall. To help us understand these events we will read background information on German history and theoretical articles about German film.


Black Lives Matter: Race, Resistance, and Popular Protest

Emmitt Riley

This course will focus on the #BlackLivesMatterMovement as a way to examine race, rebellion, and political resistance to state-sponsored violence in the United States through an interdisciplinary lens. We will explore and analyze the history of racist ideas, conceptions of race, the prison industrial complex, the war on drugs and crime as a way to investigate and unpack the killing of unarmed African Americans at the hands of law enforcement officers. The focus of this course will engage in a critical examination of racial justice and its intersection with public policy in the United States. We will highlight and debate intellectual understandings of protest (violence vs. none violence), the role of black religion, the influence of the media, and the rise of white nationalism in the United States in the Obama and Trump Eras.  


Bob Marley Through Different Mirrors: Music, Popular Religion & Expressive Cultures

Leslie James

Through different mirrors, prisms, lens, this course provides a variety of pathways and interpretation of the iconic Reggae superstar and legend, Bob Marley. It seeks to access the various modes of being, life, religious, artistic, cultural and other imaginaries he offered during his lifetime and the enduring contemporary impact of his musical archive. Through engagement with Marley’s life and work, the course exposes students to the intersections between music, popular religion, and cultural expressions. In addition, it aims to interpret Marley as a significant messenger and vessel who dealt with the complex issues related to religious, political, economic, race, and cultural history in the Caribbean and world through music.


Breaking Images: Iconoclasm and Iconophobia in a Global Context

Lyle Dechant

Why do people destroy images? This course will flip the focus of traditional art history: instead of looking at the processes behind the creation of statues, paintings, and other artworks, we will examine the ways they are attacked, erased, dismantled, or demolished. Through close reading and careful looking, we will explore a vast range of iconoclastic activity, from the mutilation of ruler portraits in ancient Mesopotamia, to the tearing down of Confederate statues in the present-day American South. We will investigate the motivations, methods, and goals of image-breakers, and how these relate to politics, religion, class conflict, aesthetics, and other areas of culture. Ultimately our journey into destruction will reveal just how dangerous images can be, both as a means of communication and as a source of power in their own right.


Campus Sustainability 101

Jeanette Pope

In a finite world, the needs of our ever-growing population and rampant consumption strain the resources of the earth and threaten the environment. Due to their complex and global nature, modern environmental problems like climate change, water scarcity, or mass extinctions can be overwhelming and really, really scary. Many individuals who care about both other people and the planet around them are left wondering: “what am I to do?” Fortunately, the practice of sustainability – which balances the needs of people today with those of people in the future – can provide solutions to these challenging problems.

This seminar will explore both the theoretical concepts explicit in different definitions of sustainability as well as consider how to put these ideas into practice. Because there is no universally accepted definition of sustainability, students will critically examine crucial ideas central to the concept of “sustain” (as in “to make last”) through readings and discussion to ultimately to build a class definition over the course of the semester. Examples of these ideas include: markers of environmental quality; the role of social justice; and organizational principles of systems thinking. The seminar also includes an applied aspect in which students will be able to incorporate sustainability practices into their own lives while also learning about how to participate in positive change at a local, regional, and even global scale.

Whether you take it as a blessing or a curse, there can be no doubt that we live during interesting times. One thing that sets DePauw graduates apart, though, is their ability to think critically, creatively, and compassionately, and therefore do what needs to be done. As the foundation of a DePauw education, this seminar will both challenge and support students in a balance that will helps them grow into the person they want to be.


City Lab: Complexity Thinking

Glen Kuecker

City Lab-Complexity Thinking is designed to introduce students to the fundamentals of complex systems theory. Students will learn key concepts, such as feedback loops, thermodynamics, resilience, overshoot, oscillation, emergence, collapse, panarchy, and disruptive properties.  Students will apply complexity thinking to the study of 21st century urbanism through participation in a research workshop called City Lab (http://gkuecker.wix.com/citylab). During Fall 2020 the workshop is focusing on the topic of the post pandemic World, which understands the current global pandemic as a soft-collapse of modernity. The post pandemic world raises questions about how large-scale transitions happen within complex systems, the role cities within macro systemic transitions, and what it means to live through them. Students apply their learning about complexity thinking in a research project about the post pandemic world and 21st century urbanism. By the end of the semester students will have gained facility with complexity thinking, gained insights to the challenges of 21st century urbanism, and will have undertaken a college level research project.


Diversity in Computing

Khadija Stewart

This course examines the history of diversity in computing. Computing is generally viewed as a white male field where women and minorities often feel out of place. In this course, students will research and uncover the rich diverse history of computing to find common misconceptions and understand the need and value of diversity, especially in computing.


Dystopian Economics

Jarrod Hunt

Standing in stark contrast to the perfection that could be experienced in a utopia, a dystopia is a world riddled with imperfection. Many fictional works, including novels, short stories, television shows, and movies depict such flawed existences. Are the fictional worlds created in dystopian works really so implausible? What parallels can be drawn between the experiences of characters in various fictional dystopian worlds and real-world episodes encountered both in the past and present? In Dystopian Economics, we will explore these questions and others as we analyze substantial contemporary issues, including scarcity, income inequality, and social mobility. An emphasis will be placed on examining the social, political, and economic institutions that perpetuate, and often exacerbate, the circumstances navigated by fictional characters. And through the lens of dystopian fiction, we will evaluate existing real-world institutions and the role they play in our everyday lives.  


 Elemental Theater

Gigi Jennewein

Why is theatre so alluring? Why has humanity in virtually every culture throughout recorded history been compelled to both witness and partake in the production of theatrical experiences? Simply explained by the renowned theatre activist Augusto Boal, it is the "art of looking at ourselves." Elemental Theatre will examine this grand art that holds a mirror up to ourselves and our shared humanity through the various lenses of theatre's many collaborators: the playwright; the director; the scenic lighting, sound and costume designers; the actors; the critics; the theoreticians; and the audience. Students will study the unique contributions of each in relation to four live productions, including two at professional Indianapolis theaters.


Empire of Sport

Robert Dewey

Organized sports are frequently described as one of Victorian Britain’s most enduring global legacies.  This course will consider the historic development of organized sport in Great Britain and the British Empire through case studies analyzing cricket and rugby football.  Central course themes will include the codification of games in the 19th century, the emergent Victorian sporting ethos, amateurism/professionalism, and debates over gender and social class in a sporting context.  Of particular interest are the cultural and sporting ties that spread to the Dominions and Crown Colonies of the British Empire and beyond through formal and informal means during the Victorian and Edwardian periods.  The course will highlight the ways in which sport illuminated broader imperial developments including those that secured ties to Britain but simultaneously fostered emerging national and post-colonial identities and resistance.  The geographic range of the class will include: cricket in the West Indies, Australia and South Asia; Rugby in New Zealand, South Africa and the Pacific Islands. 


Fantasy Fiction:  J. R. R. Tolkien and J. K. Rowling

Michael Sinowitz

This course will focus on the fantasy novels of J. R. R. Tolkien and J. K. Rowling.  Tolkien’s works are an obvious inspiration for Rowling’s Harry Potter series as well as most of the fantasy fiction that followed them.   At their course, each series can be considered a bildungsroman, stories of growing up, entering society and taking on responsibilities beyond the self.  As we read these texts, we will consider them in light of theories of the bildungsroman, world building, and genre. 


Geosciences in the Movies

Ken Brown

Remote landscapes and catastrophic natural disasters inspire the imagination and make for great storytelling. However, filmmakers take great liberty in how they represent natural events, scientific facts, and scientists. Although these films can be incredibly entertaining, they can also lead to wildly inaccurate and damaging misconceptions about science and how the general public view scientists. Examining geology-themed films will provide a non-traditional way of exploring the earth sciences while helping students distinguish scientific fact from fiction. This first-year writing seminar will investigate the portrayal of science in cinema through course discussions, selected reading assignments, formal film critiques, and a collaborative project aimed at characterizing how “scientists” are represented in cinema.


History of the Italian Renaissance

Michael Seaman

Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Lorenzo the Magnificent, Machiavelli. These individuals immediately bring to mind the Italian Renaissance, an age that saw an explosion of human ingenuity and creative expression as well as economic development and social experimentation. We will uncover the histories of Florence, Venice, Rome, Milan, Urbino, Siena, and other centers of Renaissance culture, read the works of Renaissance writers, and study the artistic achievements of this influential period. In class, we will focus on close readings in translation and hold constructive discussions of the main problems raised in the historical texts in an effort to develop critical thinking skills. The topics explored in the course include the Florentine republic; Petrarch and the development of Humanism; The Renaissance debate over the ideal form of government; Renaissance Venice; The impact of religious reformation on theology and politics; The Renaissance Papacy; Women in Renaissance Italy; Renaissance education; and the end of the Italian Renaissance, to name a few. Students will gain a thorough understanding of the principles of Renaissance humanism and an appreciation for the supreme artistic achievements of the age. No prior knowledge of Italian history or culture is required.


How to Build a Better World: American Social Movements

Christina Holmes

Abolition and suffrage, marriage equality and Janet Mock’s #GirlsLikeUS hashtag activism, DREAMERS, criminal justice reform, climate justice—this course introduces students to some of the most important social movements in the United States. Drawing on the fields of sociology, history, political science, art, and communication, we examine the successes and failures of social movements in their efforts to build a better world for all of us. We bring theories of oppression and justice, identity, and coalition to bear on our in-depth historical review of activism in the twentieth century as well as to our analysis of more recent and emergent social movements. We will look at and practice tactics such as forum theater and culture- jamming art production. Students will leave the course with increased social movement literacy, passion for causes that grab them, and some strategies for becoming change agents themselves.


Human Lungs: An Exploration into Respiratory and Pulmonary Physiology

Brian Wright

The area which the human lungs can provide gas exchange is about half the size of a tennis court, yet these organs fit nicely into our thoracic cavity. Our respiratory system provides vital gas exchange necessary for living cells. As part of this first-year seminar we will explore the inner workings of the respiratory system, experience common measurements used to quantify pulmonary function, discuss how respiration requires a coordinated integration from other systems such as our nervous, cardiovascular, and muscular systems. Once we have established this understanding we will explore how the respiratory system changes when faced with various stressors such as traveling to altitude, training for high level competitive sports, and degenerative and infectious diseases. Through this experience you will learn the process of science and spend time writing a scientific research proposal.


Introduction to Philosophy through the Works of C.S. Lewis

Erik Wielenberg

Christianity is, at least in part, a philosophical position that offers a distinctive view about the nature of human beings and their place in the universe. In this course we will seek to understand and critically examine some of the central tenets of that philosophical position. The primary expositor and defender of the Christian philosophical position will be C.S. Lewis (1898-1963).  The three main critics of the Christian view will be David Hume (1711-1776), Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), and A.C. Grayling (living).


It's Funny Because It's True: Education in, through, and with Comedy

Caitlin Howlett

Comedy has become particularly prevalent and increasingly accessible in the United States over the past two decades. Whether it is because of the advent of social media, the increased reliance on television streaming services, or a turn to satire to address political tensions, comedy has become a central component of many people’s lives in the United States. In this course, we will learn about the history of comedy in this country, both informally and as a profession, and examine its relationship to contemporaneous social, political, and cultural events, in order to set the stage for exploring comedy in the present. During this phase of the course we will read, watch, listen, and experience various forms of comedy and ask questions about what constitutes comedy, the social value of comedy, who can be a comedian, what the limits of comedy might be, and, most importantly, what role comedy can, does, and should play in various educational spaces and institutions. In other words, we will spend the semester asking: Can comedy be understood as a source of knowledge, learning, teaching, and understanding that makes it a legitimate experience for becoming more deeply educated?


Leaders, Heroes and Superheroes

Smita Rahman

One of the central questions of political theory is-- what makes for a good leader? Should the leader be a philosopher-king as Plato argued, someone who has a deep love of wisdom or knowledge? Or is an effective leader a ruthless tactician who does not hesitate to use violence and fear to acquire and maintain power, as Machiavelli famously asserted? In this first-year seminar we will begin to explore the idea of leadership across a wide-ranging set of literary and visual texts. We will begin with the conceptual underpinnings of the idea of leadership by reading excerpts from some of the most famous texts of political theory such as Plato's Republic and Machiavelli's The Prince, to name a few. We will then look at the heroic model of leadership in myth and fiction, weaving from Homer's Odyssey and his epic quest to return home from the Trojan war, to the heroic figures of Harry Potter and Katniss Everdeen in young adult fiction. We will close with an examination of superheroes as leaders by watching films such as Wonder Woman and Black Panther. Superhero films and graphic novels continue to permeate our popular culture in deep and profound ways. What does our contemporary fascination with superheroes reveal about the models of leadership we yearn for today?


 (Mis)Perceptions of Art

Pauline Ota

This course will challenge students to consider (or reconsider) their understanding of art. What is art? Or perhaps the more difficult question might be what is NOT art? We will focus on cross-cultural encounters, both fruitful and futile, which lead/led to art production. Students will learn to visually analyze art (objects, installations, performances, and film), situate art within a specific historical moment, identify artistic/literary/religious/linguistic traditions referenced in art, and approach art critically using methodologies gleaned from key readings. This class, therefore, will help students to develop the skills needed not only to analyze art, but also to articulate that analysis, both verbally and in writing.


Myth and Conquest: Spain and the Americas

Ryan Bean

The history of early modern Spain and its overseas empire in Latin America is shrouded in myth, much of which continues to live on in today’s popular culture. Indeed, one does not have look further than Hollywood movies, the Harry Potter books, and Monty Python to see that these historical fictions are still alive and well. Drawing on a variety of historical and popular sources, this course will challenge the myths and stereotypes—collectively known as the “Black Legend”—that still cloud the history of Spain and Spanish America. Specifically, you will examine common misconceptions regarding the conquest and colonization of the Americas, the Inquisition, the Spanish Empire’s scientific achievements, and more. You will learn how and why these myths began, and will explore the films, books, and TV shows that keep these myths alive in the 21st century. By analyzing the Black Legend and its enduring appeal, you will develop your historical knowledge, as well as your writing, critical-thinking, and communication skills. 


Nature, Race, Money, and Power: A History of Environmental Justice

Anthony Andersson

The burdens of pollution and climate change are not evenly distributed across the surface of the earth.  Why have certain groups borne the brunt of industrial production, and not others?  How have efforts to control or remediate environmental degradation functioned to reinforce social hierarchy?  What does ecology have to do with public health?  Can an environment be racist or sexist, and how?  Is climate change eroding the existing structures of power?  In this class, we will explore the creation of environmental inequality at multiple scales and at different times and places around the world, as well as the social movements that have arisen to challenge those inequalities.  Together, we will explore the connections between society and the environment, using lessons from the past to inform a plan of action in the present.

This course approaches the subject of environmental justice from multiple disciplinary angles, as well as bridging the long-term perspectives of historical inquiry with pressing social questions today.  Students will engage in critical discussions, drawing on the reading and their own writing and applying them to informed analytical judgments about current events locally, nationally, and around the world.


Photography and Social Justice: The Camera as a Weapon

Cynthia O’Dell

I picked up a camera because it was my choice of weapons against what I hated most about the universe: racism, intolerance, poverty.  -Gordan Parks

In this class, we will learn how photographers, such as Gordan Parks, have used photography as a tool to help them inform the greater public consciousness about injustice. Some of the topics these photographers have addressed from around the world and over time, include: racial violence, poverty, child labor, sexualized violence, migration, war and climate change. We will learn about the photographers intimately, including their life and struggles. Students will respond to films, class discussions, texts and images. Students will also write a major research paper on a photographer. The course will be approached from the perspective of the photographer, with a focus on visual literacy and critical observation. Although, we will not make our own photographs, we will learn how these photographers empower themselves to become agents of change, thereby inspiring all of us.


Reading and Writing the Holocaust

Julia Bruggemann

The Holocaust was one of the defining experiences of the 20th century and the memory of its horrors continues to haunt our imaginations. In this course we will examine the background, development, and the historical and moral impact of the Holocaust in Europe and America. We will use historical documents and historical scholarship, but also literature, autobiography, films, etc. specifically with an eye to developing our reading and writing skills.


Recasting Narratives

Chris White

Contemporary writers often work in (and from) a number of different genres. Novels, books of nonfiction, and plays are adapted for film; newspaper articles and short stories become plays; and poetry can lead to longer expressions, evolving into drama, prose, or short films. This hands-on writing, literature, and performance course will explore the transformative process that takes place when one form becomes another. Students' final culminating projects may range from research papers/presentations to the creation of short plays to the production of short films based on preexisting work. Texts may include: THE LOVER, by Marguerite Duras (novella to film), THE ORCHID THIEF, by Susan Orlean (nonfiction) to ADAPTATION (film), THE SWEET HEREAFTER, by Russell Banks (novel to film), and BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, by Annie Proulx (short story to film).


Remembered Lives: Anthropology and Transformational Storytelling

Angela Castañeda

Anthropology endeavors to understand, explain and interpret cultural worlds. As anthropologists, we understand that the heart of our discipline is the power of stories. It also means we recognize our own positionality as storytellers - retelling the stories of others as well as our own. In our research, the stories are the point, and we strive to tell the stories that have to be told. This means addressing critical questions such as: Whose stories, who gets to tell them, who is listening, and who can understand? Indeed stories are not neutral but instead must always be situated in specific contexts - historical, political and cultural. 

In this course, students will engage with stories in the form of ethnographies written by anthropologists working in Egypt, Mali, rural and urban areas of the United States as well as our southern border with Mexico. The stories told span nearly one hundred years from the 1920’s to 2020. Some of the people we meet along the way will seem familiar and others less so but together we will use the anthropological stories told to humanize the experiences we encounter. In addition to reading, analyzing and writing about ethnographic stories, students in this course will also have the opportunity to participate in the construction and installation of the Hostile Terrain 94 participatory art project which seeks to tell the stories of migrants crossing the Sonoran Desert.  https://www.undocumentedmigrationproject.org/hostileterrain94


Science Communication and Public Engagement

Avery Archer

This course is designed to look into the ever-growing need of effective communication between scientists and non-scientists. The course will cover effective ways to present scientific results to a non-expert audience in a variety of settings. We will discuss the challenges faced by scientists in presenting complex information in a way that is broadly accessible but still communicates key scientific details. Public policy is often formed by scientific information and input, as such decision-makers (politicians, public-servants, etc.) should be well-informed. Some policymakers have little to no scientific training but need to be informed on scientific matters in making policy decisions. We will discuss and analyze the methods of some prominent science popularizers in translating the jargon-heavy science writing into an accessible form for the general public.


Space and Time

Ash Puzzo

What is space? What is time? Suppose nothing ever changes. Does time pass? Can there be perfectly empty spaces? Is time travel possible? If there are three spatial dimensions, could there be more? If there could be more spatial dimensions, why aren't there more? Why is there only a single time dimension? Are space and time something we make up or are they part of the human-independent world? Does the universe have a center or is space infinite in all directions? Are space and time really independent phenomena or are they different aspects of the same phenomenon? In this course we will explore these questions primarily through philosophical texts and multimedia.


Studies in American Song

Ron Dye

Students will study commercial recordings of songs from the last half-century to gain a more thorough understanding of popular music and its place in American culture.  Songs will be examined through their form, methods of composition, relationship to technology and position in the marketplace. Students will exchange ideas with one another regarding what makes for a “good” or “successful” song, and as a group we will examine specific song samples from different decades and various music genres including rock ‘n roll, jazz, rhythm ‘n blues, soul, country and hip hop, among others. Work in the course will include reading and listening, class discussions, an oral history song collection, short written assignments and a final written research project. Students will spend some class time working in small groups and doing peer critiques of written work by classmates. As with all First Year Seminars overall the coursework will be balanced between studying content (music) and practicing good writing.


Women in Mathematics

Suman Balasubramanian

In this course, the students will learn about a diverse group of female mathematicians, present and past, obtain an understanding of their lives and successes, challenges and issues that they faced in the mathematics profession (both historically and currently) due to gender and will also engage in the “doing” of mathematics and communicate mathematics to their fellow peers in a welcoming classroom setting.


Women's Political Movement 1960s-1980s

Sarah Rowley 

This course considers the ways that independent, professional women across the political spectrum entered into electoral politics in unprecedented numbers starting in the late 1960s. They shaped policy debates, participated in congressional reforms, faced gender stereotypes in campaigns, challenged political parties’ power structures, and intervened in larger cultural debates over the role of women in a changing society. We will devote special focus to the institutional and partisan political aspects of the feminist movements of the era. Course assignments will be built around archival materials, introducing students to hands-on, primary-source historical research.


Writing Creative Nonfiction: A Sense of Place

Greg Schwipps

Creative nonfiction, like fiction or poetry, is a type of creative writing.  As such, it uses the tools of the creative writer: figurative language (similes, metaphors), dialogue, flashbacks, scenes, frames – in short, tools that increase the dramatic effect of a piece of writing.  Various types of creative nonfiction exist: personal essays, articles, travel accounts, profiles, memoirs and narrative histories.  In this class, we will focus on the reading and writing of creative nonfiction.

The second component of this course involves the subject area we will explore in our creative nonfiction writing: Greencastle, the place, and its surrounding areas.  While you will be able to investigate your own past and places in personal narratives, most of the writing you do in this class will in some way involve the local community.  My hope is that this practice gives you both practical experience with creative nonfiction writing and a better sense of where you will live for the next four years.


Wrong: Science you know that just isn’t so

Kevin Kinney 

This class is about misinformation, specifically scientific misinformation. By the time you finish high school, you’ve had several science classes, and been exposed to a great deal of science. It would make sense that high school graduates would have at least a decent command of scientific knowledge. And yet, on a nearly daily basis, we can find glaring errors in common scientific knowledge- some errors so great as to be hilarious. Such errors become self-propagating- they are repeated, perhaps by someone in authority, perhaps just someone who has a loud voice, until it becomes generally accepted as true, even when the facts say otherwise. They become old wives’ tales, scientific urban legends, myths, etc. 

Our goal in this Seminar is to get you to examine this pool of “common knowledge.” We’ll be covering several specific examples at the beginning, in part to simply clean out the weeds planted in our heads, and in part to learn how to evaluate claims of scientific facthood. We’ll also look at the science behind the claim- in some cases, there is a kernel of scientific truth hidden within the error. Along the way, we’ll be learning about the difference between an observation, a fact, a hypothesis, a theory, and various other levels of “truth” in scientific phenomena. We’ll also try to learn exactly how these “facts” become embedded in the library of common knowledge- through error, misunderstand, or perhaps outright fraud.