Fall 2020 First-Year Seminars


Body Size in Biology (NS)

How the body sizes of organisms, be they microbes or mammoths, affect their structure, functioning, ecology, and evolution. An exploration, through readings, discussion, and small projects, both of general principles and of case studies.

Professor: V. Louise Roth

V. Louise Roth, Ph.D. (Yale University) is a Professor of Biology with a secondary appointment in Evolutionary Anthropology. Her most recent courses have focused on the biology of mammals, biology of bone, and macroevolution. Her research has focused on evolutionary morphology and phylogeny in mammals, and on the functional and ecological implications of evolutionary changes in growth and body size.




What Now? Discovering the Tree of Life (NS, EI)

55 years ago Zukerkandl and Pauling discovered that genes behave much like a ticking clock, with mutations marking the seconds as they pass. The longer it has been since a species is formed, the larger percent divergence is observed between the DNA in its genes and its closest relatives. The improvements at sequencing DNA starting in 1980 has allowed Scientists to discover the “family tree” of much of Life’s Diversity, coming close to achieving a “Holy Grail” for Evolutionary Biologists. In this seminar, we will begin by exploring the amazing story behind confirming the closest relatives to humans — a story which includes data falsification and the destruction of hopes and careers.  We will have regular debates, and use as our guide David Quammen’s new book “The Tangled Tree”. Part of the What Now? network of first-year seminars.

Professor: Clifford Cunningham

Cliff Cunningham, Ph.D. (Yale University), is a Full Professor of Biology, one of the pioneers of using DNA to discover the “Family Tree” of animals. His interests include the “Trans-Arctic Invasion” of Pacific marine animals into the North Atlantic after the first opening of the Bering Strait. He likes to promote scientific synthesis and sing 70’s style folk music. 




Chemistry and Biology of Life (NS, STS)

Presents the science of life processes ranging from communication to health. The molecules behind life functions and managing disease will be discussed. Concepts of drug discovery and management will be introduced. The final project will involve student presentations on a health topic.

Professor: Emily Derbyshire

Emily Derbyshire, Ph.D. (University of California, Berkeley) is an Assistant Professor of Chemistry. Her research uses both chemical tools and biological methods to uncover novel aspects of malaria parasite biology with the ultimate aim of identifying druggable targets. 




What Now? Ancient Mind (ALP, CZ, CCI, EI)

Understanding who we are now demands understanding where we came from. The study of the ancient mind is thus one of the most challenging and fascinating research activities regarding homo sapiens and human society. This kind of study requires a multidisciplinary approach that involves different disciplines and research backgrounds relevant to understanding how ancient minds thought about the world. This can be possible with a new dialogue between neuroscience and the humanities that, in particular, connects the study of art and material culture with cultural models, cultural patterns, and the evolution of the brain. This course seeks to open new perspectives in the study of the past and in the interpretation of the ancient and modern mind by approaching research questions at the intersection of the brain sciences, humanities, archaeology, anthropology, art, philosophy, aesthetics, and visual studies. Part of the What Now? network of first-year seminars.

Professor: Maurizio Forte

Maurizio Forte, Ph.D. (University of Rome), is William and Sue Gross Professor of Classical Studies. His expertise includes digital archaeology, classical archaeology and neuro-archaeology.




Troy: Excavating an Epic (Codes Forthcoming)

Troy is one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world—but to paraphrase the Roman poet Lucan, already by the first century CE, ‘even the ruins were ruined’. The site, and the legends that grew up around it, nonetheless played a starring role in the art and literature of ancient Greece and Rome, in the imagination of 19th-century Europeans who pioneered ‘modern’ archaeology, and even in contemporary American culture, with retellings of Homer’s Iliad set in war zones like Iraq. In this course, we will work to disentangle the afterlife of Troy and the Trojan War in myth-building exercises, ancient and modern, from the very real life of the city over the millennia. Archaeologists reconstruct nine Troys, built one on top of the other on the hill of Hisarlık (literally “place of fortresses”) in modern Turkey. Which one was Homer’s Troy? When did the ‘real’ Trojan war take place, if ever, and who fought in it? Most of all, why should we, or do we still, care?

Professor: Kathryn R. Morgan

Kathryn R. Morgan, Ph.D. (University of Pennsylvania)is Assistant Professor of Classical Studies. She is an archaeologist of the ancient Mediterranean who leads excavations in modern Turkey. Her research and teaching interests include political organization, group identity formation, cross-cultural communication, feasting, craft production, ritual performance, and the intersection of material and textual histories.




What Now?: Quantifying Self (SS, EI, STS)

The last decade has seen an explosion in efforts to utilize a variety of self-tracking technologies to improve well-being. Although the "quantified self" movement holds promise for improving our lives, there are ethical, technical, and other questions that need to be addressed. In this course, students will be exposed to and experiment with techniques and technologies for collecting, analyzing, and visualizing personal data. We will explore debates related to ethical issues surrounding personal data itself. We will ask questions such as how might technology that provides information about oneself improve daily life? Who should these data belong to? Who should or shouldn't have access to these data? and What does it mean to "quantify" oneself in the first place? Finally, we will reflect on how to bring these tools and techniques to bear as we make decisions about navigating collegiate life. Part of the What Now? network of first-year seminars.

Professor: Shaundra Daily

Shaundra Daily, Ph.D. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), is Associate Professor of the Practice in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Her research and teaching interests include human-centered design and engineering, affective computing, broadening participation in STEM, and interaction design and evaluation for technology-rich learning environments.




Anthropology of Apocalypse (SS, CCI, EI)

Apocalyptic, post-apocalypse, and dystopian fiction are booming in video games, books, and TV-film. This class explores the historical roots and the ongoing popularity of this subgenre of sci-fi/cli-fi/horror/fantasy in order to learn about our world through these stories. How do the anxieties and solutions offered in [post]apocalyptic and dystopian worlds reflect on our present? Readings in cultural and media theory, anthropology, political crisis, public health, natural disaster response, and more.

Professor: Christine Folch

Christine Folch, Ph.D. (City University of New York), is an Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology. Her research and teaching interests include water and energy politics amidst the constraints of the Anthropocene.




What Now? Education as Liberation: Ethics, Organizing, and Equity (Codes Forthcoming)

How do communities, schools, and neighborhoods organize for social change? How do individuals organize their own commitments and energies to change themselves and the world around them? This course examines education as a component of collective liberation in the contemporary United States through themes of ethics, community organizing, and educational equity. It will introduce central philosophical and practical approaches to political organizing, help students develop skills in understanding and critiquing school segregation and resegregation in the US, and enable students to locate their own commitments, callings, and aptitudes within a variety of liberative accounts of social change. Part of the What Now? network of first-year seminars.

Professor: Adam Hollowell

Adam Hollowell, Ph.D. (University of Edinburgh) serves as Senior Research Associate at the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity and Faculty Director of the Benjamin N. Duke Memorial Scholarship Program. His teaching and research focus broadly on ethics, religion, race, and public policy. 




What Now? Hip Hop, Civil Rights, & the Pursuit for Purpose (Codes Forthcoming)

This course will investigate Hip Hop’s ascension to the number one musical genre in America, the ensuing societal implications, and its origins in the Civil Rights Movement. Students will also analyze lesser known Civil Rights Movement history and historical figures. Lastly, students will use the medium of Hip Hop and Civil Rights to scrutinize, ascertain, and search for the purpose of life. Part of the What Now? network of first-year seminars.

Professor: Martin Paul Smith

Martin P. Smith, Ph.D. (The University of Texas at Austin), blazed his own path by first fusing his passion for education and sport at the University of California at Berkeley. He earned his bachelor’s (‘06) and master’s (‘07) degrees in education while playing basketball for the Golden Bears. At Berkeley, he won the 2006 Jake Gimbell Award which honors the student most committed to academic and athletic excellence. In pursuit of his passions, Dr. Smith has traveled extensively, directing basketball clinics in China, the Philippines, and Panama. Furthermore, he was the Lead Teacher’s Assistant at the University of Cape Town, South Africa facilitating a course examining the effects of apartheid and American segregation on contemporary Black, urban economic development. He then conducted post-doctoral research in Spanish at the Mesoamerica Center in Antigua, Guatemala, studying the amalgamation of race, culture, education, and athletics before joining the faculty at Duke University. His work has been published in The Journal of Urban Education and The Journal of Race, Gender and Class. Dr. Smith’s research interests include racial, academic, and athletic identity, and he is passionate about examining how identity contributes to and influences social change.




The Empire Writes Back: Postcolonial Literature and the Rewriting of the Novel (ALP, CZ, CCI)

Twentieth-century literature from former European colonies often aimed to give life to minor characters or silenced figures who were nonetheless important in the novels of empire. We will read British novels, some of which demonstrate the impossibility of thinking Europe without its relation to the countries it colonized. And we will pair these texts with ones that write back, in creative and critical forms, to tell the other side of the story, or the voices or lives of characters that were not fleshed out in those earlier texts. Do we understand the early novels as representative of a repressed interest in colonized figures, or as an inevitable presence in the fabric of the worlds represented? And is the response combative or demonstrative of literary complicity in the recent history of the novel?

Professor: Ranjana Khanna

Ranjana Khanna, Ph.D. (University of York), is Professor of English, Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies, and the Literature Program. Her research and teaching interests include Anglo- and Francophone Postcolonial theory and literature, and Film, Psychoanalysis, and Feminist Theory.




Doctors’ Stories (ALP, EI, STS)

This class will explore both the stories doctors tell about themselves, and the stories that have been told about them. We will begin by considering what “becoming a doctor” has meant to people of different genders, ethnicities and social classes. We will go on to investigate some of the roles doctors play in modern society, and the ethical dilemmas that accompany those roles.  Issues to be discussed include: doctors at the intersection of science and social management; the ethics of empathy between doctors and patients; the politics of "cure" and disability; and the specific narrative strategies of medical stories.

Professor: Charlotte Sussman

Charlotte Sussman, Ph.D. (Cornell University), is Professor of English. Her research and teaching interests include eighteenth-century gender and British slavery, mass migration, the Romantic-era novel, and such writers as Samuel Richardson, Charlotte Smith, Walter Scott, and Mary Shelley.




Climate Change: Causes, Consequences, and Solutions (NS, STS)

Climate change is one of the defining challenges facing humanity today. The goal of this first-year seminar is to develop a comprehensive and integrated view of contemporary climate change. The first half of the course will examine our current understanding of the science of climate change, and explore the potential societal consequences of a changing climate. The second half of the course will focus on potential solutions, with a focus on technological, political, and social challenges that will have to be overcome to mitigate and adapt to climate change. More broadly, the course seeks to develop intellectual, academic, and learning skills by engaging students in active inquiry, critical analysis, and discussion of competing ideas.

Professor: Prasad Kasibhatla

Prasad Kasibhatla, Ph.D. (University of Kentucky), is Professor of Environmental Chemistry. The overarching theme of his research is to develop a fundamental and quantitative understanding of the factors that determine the chemical composition of the atmosphere. He is particularly interested in delineating natural and anthropogenic impacts on the chemical composition of the atmosphere, and in exploring the potential for these impacts to affect natural ecosystems. His research involves the use of numerical models in conjunction with remote and in situ measurements of atmospheric composition.




Gulf Disasters and Recovery (Codes Forthcoming)

The Gulf of Mexico is bounded by five coastal states with economic interests in tourism, sport and commercial fishing, and recreation. Explores negative impacts of Deep Horizon oil spill (DHOS) on water resources, migratory fishes and marine mammals; habitats and fauna of coastal states. Examines restoration efforts initiated in 2013. Compares ecosystem recovery efforts related to DHOS and impact of hurricane Harvey. Questions addressed through governance (federal and state) and state of coastal ecosystems prior to event. Using discussions, debates, and focused literature reviews, determine if effective monitoring is in place to provide critical baseline data prior to future events.

Professor: David Hinton

David Hinton, Ph.D. (University of Mississippi), is Nicholas Professor of Environmental Quality in the Nicholas School of the Environment. His research and teaching interests include mechanistic toxicity in all life stages of small, aquarium model fish and in selected species with particular environmental relevance (freshwater and marine).




What Now? Composing Oneself: Stress, Identity & Wellness (Codes Forthcoming)

How do we find composure amidst countless stressors in our lives? Answering that question well requires inquiry across disciplines as well as hands-on experience. This course offers exploration into the arts and sciences of stress, identity, and wellness: What are structural causes of stress and how do they impact our sense of self and community ethics? What can arts of wellness, including yoga, mindfulness, and art-based therapies tell us about how we experience who we are, how we function, and how we act with others? How does stress impact us physiologically? This course will employ writing both as a method and object of study for the exploration of stress, identity, and wellness. Composing Oneself includes hands-on experience with stress-reducing wellbeing strategies, theoretical and research-based texts, and nonfiction, fiction, poetry, art, and performance. The writing component includes a semester-long blog (visible only to class members) for reflection on wellness practices, a book review about wellness, and a final project about stress, identity, and wellness. Each student chooses their own final project content (i.e., music and wellness; compassion and race; illness and art therapies; Wall Street and mindfulness, etc.) and format (i.e., a musical composition; a visual artifact such as a scrapbook or photographic essay; a research-based essay, etc.). Course includes opportunities to visit relevant art exhibits, attend related performances, and engage in meaningful interactions with other students, staff, and faculty on campus working in associated areas of research and practice. Part of the What Now? network of first-year seminars.

Professor: Denise Comer

Denise Comer, Ph.D. (University of South Carolina), is Associate Professor of the Practice of Writing Studies. Her research and teaching interests include narrative medicine, new media, travel writing, writing pedagogy, and writing transfer. 




What Now? Virtuous Thinking in an Age of Political Polarization (CZ, EI)

Americans today live in a time of political polarization and cultural tribalism. Those with whom we have deep disagreements, assuming we interact with them at all, are often viewed as not just wrong but as irrational and immoral. Is this a good thing? What sort of habits of mind (e.g. intellectual humility and charity) and practices should we cultivate in response to this reality? In her concession speech, Hillary Clinton asked her supporters to keep an “open mind” with respect to the coming Trump presidency, but what exactly does that mean? What shouldn’t it mean? Using social and political science literature, this course will examine the current phenomenon of political “partyism” and cultural segregation in our society. Using moral philosophy, the class will address the question of the proper ethical response to deep political disagreements. Part of the What Now? network of first-year seminars.

Professor: John Rose

John Rose, Ph.D. (Princeton Seminary), is Associate Director of the Arete Initiative and Instructor at the Kenan Institute for Ethics. His research and teaching interests include the tradition of virtue ethics, particularly Aristotle, and Christian philosophy and theology, with an emphasis on Augustine and Aquinas.




What Now?: Clothing and Care in a Fast-Fashion World (Codes Forthcoming)

Clothing is at once a principal form of care and a source of considerable carelessness.  The emergence of the “fast fashion” industry has precipitated environmental degradation, labor exploitation, and economic destabilization. Clothing can be a form of self-care and self-expression but also a source of anxiety around status, appearance, and cultural fluency.  Concerns about these issues have fostered a growing effort to be more mindful about the social, cultural, and ecological impacts of the production, distribution, and even display of clothing.  This seminar is part of two larger projects: the Humanities Unbounded lab on “Rethinking the Value of Care in the Global Economy” and the “What Now?” series of seminars at the Kenan Institute for Ethics. Student work will include experiential learning, the production of a Wikipedia article on a course-related topic, and the development of a prospectus for a future project that might be an undertaking such as a research project, a creative endeavor, a business plan, or a technological solution. Part of the What Now? network of first-year seminars.

Professor: Jocelyn Olcott

Jocelyn Olcott, Ph.D. (Cornell University), is Professor of History, International Comparative Studies, and Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies. Her research and teaching interests include questions of gender and citizenship in 1930s Mexico, the history and legacies of the United Nation’s first world conference on women in 1975 in Mexico City, the biography of the activist and folksinger Concha Michel, and the value of care labors, including not only dependent and household care but also, for example, environmental, community, cultural, and sexual care.




A History of Diversity: Race, Language, Culture (Codes Forthcoming)

Starting in the late eighteenth century, Europeans and Americans began to classify global human populations into vast families using two primary systems: the first was race; the second was language families, focused on two they called Aryan and Semitic.  These ideas imposed order on the world, and also violence. Both systems continue to shape our understanding of culture, character, and nationhood, and to affect institutions, politics, and health.  In this seminar, we will read early works that contributed to creating these systems, as well as works of fiction that explore them. We will ask: What assumptions underlie these classifications?  Are the boundaries between races, languages, cultures, and nations mutable or fixed?  What does it mean for a system to be scientific? To be true? How does the idea of “family” on this large scale contribute to the way groups, then and now, relate to each other, feel about each other, and act towards each other?  Authors will include Kant, Goethe, William “Oriental” Jones, Josiah Nott, Frederick Douglass, W.E.B. Du Bois, Wagner, Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka, and Nella Larsen. Texts and class discussion in English.

Professor: Stefani Engelstein

Stefani Engelstein, Ph.D. (University of Chicago) is an Associate Professor of Germanic Languages and Literature. Her research and teaching interests include the ways Europeans have understood and classified themselves and others in knowledge-systems that span the humanities, sciences, and social sciences, particularly from 1750-1915, but with an eye on current repercussions. Such categories include race, sex, language family, religion, and species. 




The Legend of King Arthur in Literature and Film (Codes Forthcoming)

The legend of the “Once and Future King,” Arthur of Camelot, has fascinated poets, artists, writers, and filmmakers.  In this course students will read and view a selection of different versions of the Arthur legend, beginning with the earliest surviving, sixth-century witness to the legend, until, in the final weeks modern films on the legend.  In investigating this body of material, students will engage with its re-creation and transmission over time.  Focusing on the themes of leadership, gender, and love, they will explore how each work understands Arthur and his milieu and the implications of each vision for the political and cultural worlds in which it originates. They will approach these questions through discussions of both content and form, considering the ways in which the formal aspects of the works shape meaning. Students will improve their skills in reading and interpretation by grappling with older texts that challenge modern expectations of fiction; acquire a deeper knowledge of the wealth of Arthurian texts from the past; acquire a more nuanced understanding of the medieval world; and gain an appreciation for the modernity of present-day adaptations on the Arthurian legend.

Professor: April Lynn Henry

April Henry, Ph.D. (University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill), is an Instructor in German Studies.




Gandhi, King, Mandela (Codes Forthcoming)

What are the political and ethical consequences of refusing to obey the laws and dictates of a governing authority, of being practitioners of what has been hailed as “civil disobedience?”  Is it a “dangerous” idea? These are the key questions of this seminar which focuses on the words and actions of three of the 20th century’s most “disobedient” men: “Mahatma” Gandhi of India, Martin Luther King, Jr. of the United States, and Nelson Mandela of South Africa. One important goal of the course is to encourage you to think of these figures not as “Indian,” “American,” or “South African” per se, but as “global” thinkers whose ideas regarding willful and conscious dissent were fertilized by influences that were trans-national and trans-historical.  We will look at the manner in which each of these men fashioned a “disobedient” self through their writing and their oratory.  We will also consider how their seemingly “rebellious” personas were crafted by the artist’s brush, the photographer’s lens, and the filmmaker’s camera.  Not least, we will focus on their spectacular public enactments of civil disobedience in order to understand how their global reputations were acquired. Methodologically and conceptually, our goal is to track an “arc” and “archive” of disobedience within which we can place these men—and other individuals like them—and ask why the 20th century appears to have been particularly prone to such acts of willful acts of dissidence, of “sitting apart,” of refusing to comply with unjust and unfair laws.

Professor: Sumathi Ramaswamy

Sumathi Ramaswamy Ph.D. (University of California at Berkeley), is James B. Duke Distinguished Professor of History and Professor of International Comparative Studies. Her research and teaching interests include colonial and modern history of India; South Asian anthropology; Tamil studies; the British Empire; gender studies; history of cartography; visual studies; and history of philanthropy.




Sexuality around the World (CZ, SS, CCI, EI)

Students will study the relationship between sexual desires, acts, pleasures and dangers in various areas of the world throughout human history. We will examine hunter and gatherer societies, early modern urban communities, modern rural villages, and postmodern globalized societies. We will compare different regions and time periods in order to consider the effects of discourses and desires related to sexual behaviors and subjectivities. We will particular discuss the importance of colonialism in the development of the modern concept of sexuality. We will analyze a variety of institutions that seek to instill an ethics of sexual pleasure and danger, including the family, religion, law, ethnography, sex work, and pornography.

Professor: Peter Sigal

Peter Sigal, Ph.D. (University of California, Los Angeles), is a Professor of History. His research and teaching interests center around the relationships between gender, sexuality, and colonialism. 




Game Theory and Democracy (QS, STS)

What is democracy? More specifically, how does one create rules for elections which have outcomes most consistent with democratic values? The magnitude of the game theory of the single vote ballot in democracies that use it is huge: the two-party system, the need for political primaries, obstacles facing 3rd party candidates, and how voters are “throwing their votes away” when they vote for them. This is not inherent to democracy. This is the game theory of the single vote ballot. Alternatively, using preferential ballots in elections is a natural idea since it allows voters to express a 1st choice, a 2nd choice, a 3rd choice, etc. on each ballot, thereby collecting more information from each voter and creating the potential for an outcome which better represents the voters. However, there are many ways to determine the winner of a preferential ballot election, and each “preferential ballot vote counting method” has its own game theory, both for the candidates and the voters, some better and some worse, and often very different from the game theory of the single vote ballot. So which preferential ballot vote counting method is the best? Does there exist a vote counting method which incentivizes politicians to seek out centrist, consensus building positions and to focus on issues important to voters, more than game theoretic tactics meant to manipulate the electorate? Or is there another goal we should be pursuing? In this course, we’ll use game theory and mathematics to study these questions.

Professor: Hubert Bray

Hubert L. Bray, Ph.D. (Stanford University) is a Professor of Mathematics and Physics. His teaching and research interests include geometric analysis, general relativity, and theoretical astrophysics. His interests include black holes, dark matter, and the curvature of spacetime.




What Now? Serious Play (Codes Forthcoming)

The core disciplines in universities have historically devoted themselves to the study of ‘serious’ things: the origins and nature of the physical universe, the structure of the human mind and the explanation of behavior, the history of civilizations and the foundations of law, the regulation of the economy, the question of the existence of deities, and myriad questions about, literally, life and death. Even when scholars enquired about leisure activities, they tended to focus on the serious ones: drama not humor, ballet not sports, classical music not folk or improvised music, harmony not rhythm, games for childhood development not for fun. In short, until very recently, serious enquiry has almost always looked down on anything involving play or playfulness. This course, in contrast, will be a serious enquiry into the nature and value of play, playfulness, games, sports, humor, magic, and the things that make popular culture pop. As a serious enquiry, the course will also serve as an introduction to philosophical analysis, logical argumentation, critical reasoning, and scientific method. Readings will range from the works of Greek and Chinese philosophers in the 4th and 5th centuries BCE, to Netflix stand-up comedy specials, and the latest theories of neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists, and video-game designers. Part of the What Now? network of first-year seminars.

Professor: Wayne John Norman

Wayne Norman is the Mike and Ruth Mackowski Professor of Ethics in the Kenan Institute for Ethics and the Department of Philosophy at Duke University. He specializes in business ethics and political philosophy: his work in business ethics includes critical evaluations of stakeholder theory, corporate citizenship, corporate social responsibility, the so-called “triple bottom line”, and conflicts of interest; and his work in political philosophy includes nationalism, citizenship, constitutionalism, federalism, secession, and multiculturalism.




Hot Topics in Health

This course will provide an overview of the components of health and wellness, with more specific topics/current trends or issues being explored within each component.  Emphasis will be on information, resources, and skills to help students achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle, as well as an understanding of the broader health issues facing our current society.

Professor: Janis Hampton

Janis Hampton, M.A. (UNC–Greensboro), is Assistant Professor in the Practice of Health, Wellness and Physical Education. Her fields of teaching and research interest center on developing awareness of health and fitness issues for the general population as well as young adults.




Beyond Reason and Empathy (NS, SS, R, W)

Leadership in the knowledge-based economy and globally interconnected world of the 21st century requires that students develop their abilities to constructively engage ethnic, religious, and political differences and generate and apply knowledge in the service of society. The premise is that developing the capacity for critical reasoning is necessary but not sufficient. It is also necessary to develop a personal epistemology that is, beliefs about knowledge and its justification, and the capacities of empathy that is, the ability to understand and share the feelings, perspectives, intentions, and mental states of another person, and identity, the integrated experience of oneself as a unique individual that includes one's goals, values, and commitments. This seminar takes a developmental science approach to synthesizing and applying the knowledge and understandings generated across the biological and social sciences and humanities about the nature, development, and enhancement of personal epistemology, empathy, and identity. Selected readings are provided for each session. Clinical cases, in the form of videotape, and narratives from literature are utilized to reflect salient issues and processes.  Students write three, 3-8 page, synopsis/application papers based on the assigned readings and a 15-20-page research review paper on a topic of their choice. Students read and respond to each other's work. In individual meetings with the instructor, feedback is provided on the rough drafts of each paper and students submit revised papers as their final product. Grade is based on the quality of papers and participation in class discussion. Each synopsis paper accounts for 15% of the grade, the research paper accounts for 40%; and class participation accounts for 15%.

Professor: Robert J. Thompson, Jr.

Robert J. Thompson, Jr., Ph.D. (University of North Dakota), is Emeritus Professor of Psychology. His research interests include how biological and psychosocial processes act together in human development; the adaptation of children and their families to developmental problems and chronic illnesses, including sickle cell disease and cystic fibrosis; and the assessment of teaching and learning in higher education.




What Now? Displacement and Belonging: Fiction, Routes, and Roots (ALP, CZ, CCI, EI)

Don Quixote, a novel about a man getting lost, has been one of the world’s great explorations on the meaning of home for over four hundred years. This course will examine what it means to belong, to be rooted, and to be understood through the deep exploration of stories. Cervantes, himself a migrant, believed that we understand each other—and ourselves—best through stories and storytelling. Using his classic novel as a springboard, this course will examine rich and complicated questions of displacement, belonging, and what it means to be (or make) home. We will read a mix of classic and contemporary accounts of migration, examining fictional and journalistic accounts of people as they move into the unknown in hopes of a better life. The course centers on questions that affect campus life just as much as they affect geopolitics: How do we belong? What makes strangers strange? What can others’ stories of home tell us about our own longings and belongings? Part of the What Now? network of first-year seminars.

Professor: Elvira Vilches

Elvira Vilches, Ph.D. (Cornell University), is an Associate Professor of Romance Studies. Her teaching and research interests include early modern Spanish and Colonial Latin American literature, the rise of capitalism, economic thought, and the making of practical knowledge.




Latin American Cinema (ALP, CCI)

This course offers an overview of key moments of Latin American cinema from the 1960s to the present. The examples are drawn from Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, and Cuba. We will examine landmark films and explore the relationship between socio-historic contexts of production and cinematic genres, styles, modes of production, and aesthetics. The first part of the course focuses on the “New Cinemas” of the 1960s and 1970s and the way in which filmmakers of that period attempted to address the lingering effects of colonialism and major problems of social justice through a cinema that was at once politically committed and experimental in form. In another section of the course, we will examine the cinema of Cuba and its evolving relationship with the Cuban Revolution—including the quest for a revolutionary cinema that followed from the 1959 overthrowing of the Batista regime. The final section of the course will look into the “New Cinemas” of the present, the wave of film production that started in 1990s in several countries and continues today. This recent wave includes transnational filmmakers like Alejandro González Iñarritu (Mexico) and Walter Salles (Brazil) and works that have garnered attention in the mainstream circuit as well as in international film festivals and the arthouse circuit.

Professor: Gustavo Furtado

Gustavo Furtado, Ph.D. (Cornell University), is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Romance Studies. He teaches courses on film studies, Latin American culture, and Caribbean Studies. His research interests include cultural studies, Latin American studies, and cinema.




Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky (Codes Forthcoming)

The Russians go deep into your soul and discover strange and scary things lurking there. In a year of political upheavals, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky are more relevant than ever. They wrote in a time when personal freedoms were under threat; when saying the wrong word could send you straight to prison; when social classes were in conflict and revolution was in the air. They ask: how can God be all-powerful and yet allow suffering? Why do I do evil though I want to do good? Can I understand the soul of another? Above all, Dostoevsky and Tolstoy are great storytellers. Taught in English, but you may choose to read the assignments in any language--English, Russian, or any other.

Professor: Carol Apollonio

Carol Apollonio, Ph.D. (UNC–Chapel Hill), is an Associate Professor of the Practice of Slavic and Eurasian Studies. Her teaching and research interests include 19th-century Russian literature, language pedagogy, translation and interpreting theory and practice, Russian post-glasnost prose fiction and Japanese language and literature.




What Now? The Science of a Happy and Meaningful Life (Codes Forthcoming)

This course will examine recent discoveries in the scientific study of happiness, and place the idea of happiness within historical and cultural context. The course will integrate findings from sociology, psychology, economics, anthropology and the natural sciences (neuroscience, biology, behavioral genetics) to explore questions about happiness. We will discuss how happiness is defined and measured, and whether and why some individuals and cultures experience more happiness than others. Most importantly, we will try to translate this literature into an understanding that can help class members have more meaningful, happier lives. Part of the What Now? network of first-year seminars.

Professor: Lynn Smith-Lovin

Lynn Smith-Lovin, Ph.D. (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), is the Robert L. Wilson Professor of Sociology. She studies emotion, identity, and action, and is interested in the question of how identities affect social interaction.




Collaboration & Improvisation (Codes Forthcoming)

Emphasis on team building and communication, confidence, connecting, being present in the moment, listening, adaptability, presentation skills, emotion, expressivity, and vulnerability. Invent new ways to disrupt the recognized systems of making work and our ways of looking at the world. Blur or disappear the lines between performer, writer, director, dramaturg, and designer. Our aim, first and foremost, is to investigate and explore ways to genuinely investigate and give theatrical expression to our own personal, political, and spiritual interior lives, values, observations, and beliefs. Students will create their own piece from the ground up using improvisational games, teasing out a story they want to tell and how they want to tell it. We might tell the story of an idea, an individual, or event. Our investigation may include interviews and documentary source material. A text will emerge in democratic fashion and we will examine the most effective manner of communicating our experiment to an audience. We will include multimedia presentations as part of the scripted onstage play or performance. Strong emphasis on the tracking and documenting of process.

Professor: Jody McAuliffe

Jody McAuliffe (MFA, Yale University), is a Professor of the Practice of Theater Studies and Slavic and Eurasian Studies. Her research and teaching interests include directing, adaptation, dramaturgy, performance and integrated media, documentary, and development of new work. Most recently, as Resident Artist at Abrons Arts Center in New York, she adapted and directed Don DeLillo’s The Body Artist.




Public Art: Monuments, Murals, Graffiti and More (ALP, CZ, CCI, R)

Monuments, murals, posters, sculptures, and graffiti. Street performances, gardens, and new media platforms. These artistic expressions happen outside museums and galleries. This course invites students to debate them in the context of the shared history of public art across the Americas. How and why do artists venture out of the safe spaces of art institutions? Who funds that art? Who permits or censors it? Students explore the role of public art in political and grassroots movements, and in the stories told about our past. They evaluate radically different responses to public art, from uproar and scandal to its disappearance into the background of everyday life. What communities invite art into their shared spaces? What kind of communities might it produce? In addition to landmark works from across the American continent (North, Central, and South), we look closely at those nearby: on campus and in Durham. Local murals and monuments give texture to these big ideas, and area leaders in the arts offer their hands-on experiences.

Professor: Esther Gabara

Esther Gabara, Ph.D. (Stanford University) is Associate Professor of Romance Studies. Her teaching and research interests include art, literature, and visual culture from modern and contemporary Latin America, especially the relationship between ethics and aesthetics, theories and practices of non-mainstream modernisms, and representations of race and gender.




Visual Culture of Venice (ALP, CZ, CCI, R)

Venice was one of the wealthiest and most powerful states in the Early Modern world (1450-1600). A city whose curved urban form seemingly floated on water, it was experienced, lived, and navigated unlike any in the world. This course entails an extensive analysis of the urban and natural topography of Venice in the Early Modern period, and it investigates the artistic commissions that made the city into one of the most admired and well-visited destinations in the world.

Professor: Kristin Huffman

Kristin Huffman, Ph.D. (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill) is a Lecturing Fellow of Art, Art History and Visual Studies. Her teaching and research interests include Renaissance and Baroque Art History.