Academic Core

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.

Class of 2023: Please fill out the online form to submit your top choices for Fall 2019 First Year Seminars. The system for submitting FYS preferences will be open from 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, May 31, to 5:00 p.m. on Friday, June 14.

Fall 2019 First Year Seminar Courses

FYS 101: Course Titles and Descriptions

*denotes FYSH 101: Honors section available

101, 102: 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? How can I thrive in my first year in college, let alone life after college? Have you ever had these questions? Many people have written articles and books, launched websites, and created podcasts to consider and provide answers to these questions.  In this class, through research and discussion, we will explore information and acquire skills to get the most out of college and get a jump start on the “real world”.

103, 114*: Music and 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, country, folk, rock, 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 this course. But, all students will need to be ready to take music seriously as a way to seriously analyze U.S. history.

104, 112*: Creation: Bernini Style and Art

This seminar will explore the life and work of Gianlorenzo Bernini, one of the most innovative and important artists of seventeenth-century Rome.  His artistic creations encompass painting, sculpture and architecture as well as fountains and theatrical performances.  For instance, Bernini’s groundbreaking Ecstasy of St. Teresa is the first multimedia installation piece uniting painting, sculpture and architecture in a single work of art.  This course will examine Bernini’s career not only within the artistic context of the time period but also from political, cultural and religious perspectives.  This seminar will also provide other opportunities including a field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

105, 106: Dictatorships & Democracies

This seminar will examine how several nations have experimented with dictatorship, democracy, and other forms of government in between. While analyzing the transition from fascism to democracy in Germany, the course will also explore other alternatives to authoritarianism that emerged in Russia, Rwanda, and Iran. The seminar will place special emphasis on gender, race, and ethnicity as categories of analysis when examining dictatorships and democracies. It will also explore the contemporary political phenomenon of “populism.” Combining history, literature, current events, and vast amounts of data from digital sources, this course will encourage civic engagement and global understanding while also developing the skill areas of the first year seminar.

107, 108: Imagined Worlds: Social Justice & the Power of Literature

In his 1926 address to the NAACP, W.E.B. DuBois stated, “I do not care a damn for any art that is not used for propaganda.” What this civil rights leader meant was that writers should be using their voices to expose and critique injustice.  In this course we will examine fiction as a tool for social reform and as lens to understand conflict, marginalization, and activism in U.S. history. Specifically, we will be reading ‘speculative fiction’ written in the 20th century through the present, in which authors imagine and build worlds different from their own. While some writers imagine worlds where problems have been solved (utopian fiction) others offer cautionary tales about what might happen if current trends spin out of control (dystopian or apocalyptic fiction). We will consider the propaganda value of stories and connect their vision to actual events, people, and ideas at the time of their publication, moving chronologically through the most important social movements in our nation’s history, from women’s suffrage through Black Lives Matter.

109, 111*: Students Revolt!

Student activism has been at the heart of revolutionary movements from the Civil Rights Movement, to the global revolutions of 1960s, to activist movements today.  This class uses history, journalism, photography, film, and literature to analyze what brings students together to resist oppression and call for social justice. Students will use our analysis of the past to understand and evaluate organizing efforts around us today such as March for Our Lives, Black Lives Matter, and the #MeToo movement, to name a few.

113*: Economics: Don’t Believe Everything You Read

The course will expose students to the basic structure of the macro economy and the metrics used to detect trends. The purpose is to provide students with the necessary skills to critically examine economic reporting.  Throughout the semester students will be exposed to and asked to analyze economic news reports. Are the reports objective or are the reports politically motivated?

112, 113: 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.

114, 115: Celebrity in the 19th Century

This FYS class will examine the concept of “celebrity” in order to better understand what it is, how it is cultivated, and how it changes over time. To this end, we will study the written works and publicity methods of several celebrated personalities of the nineteenth century: Gothic writer Edgar Allan Poe, prolific poet Emily Dickinson, abolitionist and activist Frederick Douglass, and investigative journalist Nellie Bly. In addition to thinking about their cultural value in their own time, we will consider their legacies and examine more modern representations of these figures. Because we live in an age obsessed with fame and self-image, it is useful to look back and see how the concept of celebrity emerged and developed over the years.

116, 117: 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.


“Maps show you what is simple and true…”

Fun Home, the Musical

Hmm…is this always the case? In these course we will explore a wide variety of maps and the questions of authority, accuracy, falsehood, and fiction they raise. Our investigations will explore a 13th-century mappamundi (world map) made on calfskin; wartime propaganda maps; Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and other graphic novels; and Marist-related projects developed by seniors for a Spring 2019 Capping & Mapping class.

As our work progresses, you will have the opportunity to focus on maps that relate to your own interests and to try out cartographic tools such as ArcGIS. By the end of the semester, you will create a map that could, perhaps, reflect something authentic about yourself and/or the world around you.

119, 120: 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.

121, 115*: 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.

122, 123: 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 quietly govern how we understand the world, and therefore how we act in our everyday lives.

124, 125: The Mindful Writer

Many college students feel pulled in a million different directions. Work, family, friends, relationships, roommates, coursework, internships, and career-related decisions are just some of the distractions the average college student must deal with on a daily basis. These stressors and responsibilities, coupled with our growing dependence on technology (e.g. smartphones) can make us feel disconnected, distracted, and alone. Have you ever wondered what impact this growing lack of mindfulness can have on our writing?

In this course, students will explore how developing a mindfulness practice—a practice of living in the present moment, without judgement or reaction—can help us to feel more grounded and connected, and improve our writing process. During this process of exploration, students will research the cognitive, emotional, and physical effects of various mindfulness practices, and experiment with these practices in order to determine which practice(s) provides them with the most benefits; that is, benefits to their writing process, as well as to their mental, emotional and physical health.

Some of the mindfulness practices that will be explored in this class include: yoga, meditation, reflective journaling, contemplative reading and listening, guided visualization, walking meditation, and mindful drawing. Please come to this class with an open mind and a desire to experiment with mindfulness practice.

126, 127: Gender in Crisis—The American Civil War

The Civil War transformed gender as perhaps no other event in American history.  During this time, American writers began speaking of “embattled manhood” and of the “woman’s question” in new ways.  The war gave women options socially that they had not had previously—nursing, spying, political activism, and, yes, even soldiering—just as it redefined men’s lives by suddenly testing their previous definitions of what it meant to be a man.  Sexual mores changed dramatically as well.  Gender in both the North and the South was redefined by a war in which hundreds of thousands of men lost their lives.  Thousands of women suddenly had to confront a life without their husbands, brothers, lovers and sons, i.e., those who had previously defined who they were and what society expected of them.  Family life and childhood, both North and South, both Black and White, altered irrevocably.  In this course, we will examine what became of America as a result of this crisis in gender, of this world of houses divided, of a nation scarred by battle.  This four-credit course explores this crisis from both literary and historical perspectives, looking at works from the Nineteenth-Century to the present.  The three main themes of this course include Imperiled Domesticity, Beset Manhood, and the intersections of Race and Gender in 19th Century America during the time of the Civil War.  Class activities will include lectures, discussions and workshops.

128, 129: Greek Myth & 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.

130,131: “I’m not racist, but…”: Racial Cognition and Responsibility for Bias

Being overtly racist is widely regarded as unacceptable these days. But, while overt racism is justifiably denounced in the public square, many people exhibit behavior that suggests that their actions are often motivated by racial biases of which they are not directly aware. Moreover, people consciously deploy racial categories in their cognitive lives. Such thinking, while perhaps innocuous at times, can lend itself to irrational generalizations that result in actions and policies that contribute to the domination over and oppression of groups of people who are regarded as falling under a specific racial category.

In this course, we will focus on four problems that arise in reflecting on racial cognition by examining relevant work in evolutionary psychology, moral philosophy, neuroscience, philosophy of race, and social psychology. The first of these is over whether using racial categories in our cognition can be reduced and the extent to which the use of any such categories in our thinking ought to be retained. Second, we will consider whether there are any reasons for accepting that racial categories track any actual salient differences between groups of people that justify the use of such categories. Next, we will shift to how we may unjustifiably deploy racial categories in our unconscious cognition and exhibit implicit biases as a result. Finally, assuming that we agree that people can and should be regarded as morally blameworthy for explicit racial biases, we will consider whether people can also be held morally responsible for their implicit racial biases.

132, 133: 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 Tai Chi. This experiential learning culminates with the creation of a choreographed flash mob as a way of understanding how ritual functions to transform gathered individuals into bonded groups.

134, 135: Family Matters

Families: we all have them, be they adoptive, biological, or chosen. We have relationships to our parents or caregivers, siblings of various sorts, and many face the question of whether to start families in the future. Although we don’t always consider them, these relationships raise a host of philosophical questions and concerns, which we will explore in this class. Should one have children? Do parents have a special obligation to their children that they do not have to others? If so, why? Who should do the caretaking? How should parents raise their children, in terms of gender norms or religious expectations? What should parents do when their children are grown? What obligations do children have to their parents? Taking The Philosophical Parent, by Jean Kazez, as our central text, we will read chapters and related articles from contemporary philosophy that aim to challenge and enrich the students’ thoughts about parenthood and family in general.

136: The Body in Sickness & 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.

137: “You Learn By Living”: Showing Up for Your Life

Was it ‘meant to be?’ or does ‘stuff’ just happen? Are you the driving force in your life, or are you a passenger along for the ride? Do you live in the moment appreciating that every choice you make impacts who you are becoming? Have you ever wondered how you could live more purposefully so your life is full of possibilities? This seminar focuses on learning life lessons by exploring success, failure, hopes, dreams, regrets, and redemption -- the stuff which makes life both complicated and meaningful. Using literature from the Hudson Valley, your new home, such as Eleanor Roosevelt's You Learn from Living and Washington Irving's Legends and Lore of Sleepy Hollow and the Hudson Valley and the movies A Quiet Place (filmed in Ulster County), Nobody's Fool (filmed in Beacon) and Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding (filmed in Woodstock), you will develop essential 21st century skills to prepare you for “life after Marist.”

138: True Crime in Film

This course will explore the historical, social, political and economic aspects of the criminal justice system and the depiction of true crime stories and celebrated real life cases in film and literature. Through feature films, readings, and discussion, the course will cover various aspects of the criminal justice system including courts, policing, and corrections. Students will work in small groups to create a short documentary on the topic of their choosing.  All of our work will help students improve their research, writing, and oral communication skills.

139, 140: Did “It” Happen Again?: The Great Recession Compared with the Great Depression

What caused the Great Recession of 2008?  This course will consider the ethical, historic, and economic dimensions of the crisis.  There has been an outpouring of research, films, books, first person accounts, government reports, monographs, and blogs on this topic.  Key films such as The Big Short, Too Big to Fail, Margin Call, Inside Job, and the television show House of Cards will be discussed, as well as books, and journalistic accounts. Such an outpouring of literature and films on the topic is an interesting phenomenon in itself, along with the large number of scapegoats from which to choose, and multiple perspectives to consider. Skills in information management will be developed, as well as critical thinking skills to assess the varieties of genres and the divergent accounts under consideration.

141: Between a Rock and a Hard Place: A Critical Exploration of Disparities in Health, Education, & Society

Disparities in society continue to persist in the United States.  In this class we will learn about the effects of the dominant culture on individuals from diverse and marginalized backgrounds. Through readings, multimedia, research, and case studies, we will develop answers to understand “Who gets what, and why?” We will investigate ways in which racism, sexism, economic injustice, ageism, and other forms of discrimination influence health, education, and society as a whole.  This course will encourage students to think critically and expansively about themselves, the social world, and the conditions of humanity. Collectively, we will explore the dimensions of identities and critically reflect on how our identities shape our societal experiences and our future.

142, 143: Laughing, Screaming, Crying: Emotional Television

Emotional engagement with mass media is key to understanding its pleasures and messages. This seminar examines television comedy, horror, and coverage of national traumas in order to understand how and why we enjoy these media and what they tell us about our culture. Students will be exposed to theories of humor, monsters, trauma, and so forth and will be asked to think about how television impacts our way of understanding the world through its emotional appeals.

144, 145: The Making of Latin America

Students will explore some of the writings, paintings, drawings, maps, and films that have shaped the way we think of the region and cultures we call Latin America. Class will center on identifying and discussing how representations of racial, gender, and sexual difference in these texts are constructed and manipulated to build Latin American identity within the context of European and American (neo)imperialism from 1492 to now.   

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!