Spring 2024 First-Year Seminars

To read more about available courses, select from the list below or scroll to find the full list.

EDUCATION 89S / ETHICS 89S What Now? Why Are We Here: Finding Purpose and Meaning in Education
ETHICS 89S What Now? American Identity at a Crossroads?
ETHICS 89S / HISTORY 89S / INNOVATION & ENTREPRENEURSHIP 89S / MUSIC 89S What Now? Long, Strange Trips: The Grateful Dead & American Cultural Change
GENDER, SEXUALITY & FEMINIST STUDIES 89S / ETHICS 89S What Now? Introduction to Critical Animal Studies
WRITING 89S / ETHICS 89S What Now? Composing Oneself: Stress, Identity & Wellness

BIOLOGY 89S Genetics, Evolution, Star Trek
CLASSICAL STUDIES 89S That Belongs in a Museum: Archaeology, Cultural Heritage, and Telling Stories About the Past
CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY 89S / AFRICAN & AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDIES 89S / ETHICS 89S Watching ‘Lovecraft Country’: Racist Terror and Terrifying Monsters in Jim Crow America
ECONOMICS 89S Economics in the News
EDUCATION 89S SPIRE Fellows: Discovering and Exploring Your STEM Identity
ENERGY 89S Energy & Society
ENGLISH 89S / AFRICAN & AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDIES 89S Contemporary Southern Literature & Culture
HISTORY 89S The End of the World: A History
POLITICAL SCIENCE 89S Capitalism, For and Against
THEATRE STUDIES 89S / NEUROSCIENCE 89S / DANCE 89S Movement, Neuroplasticity, and Health: The Feldenkrais Method


First-Year Seminars Connected to the
"What Now?" Network of First-Year Seminars

This first grouping of seminars are part of the What Now? network of first-year seminars. What Now? courses contain a shared “wellness lab,” offering opportunities to engage with faculty and students in other participating seminars. Register for this .5-credit component of the program by adding Ethics 189 to your schedule. Scroll down for the full range of first-year seminars offered during Spring 2024.


What Now? Why Are We Here: Finding Purpose and Meaning in Education (Codes Forthcoming)
The aims of education in general - and the purpose of college in particular - often remain invisible to and unexamined by students and faculty.  This seminar will examine the multiple functions and purposes education serves - from credentialing to career preparation to finding meaning and purpose in one's life.  Students will examine the current scholarship on teaching and learning (SoTL) with a particular focus on emerging trends in progressive education such as self-authorship, integrative learning, experiential learning, growth mindset, and digital innovation.  Students will analyze divergent philosophies of education and then develop and articulate their own educational philosophy and statement of purpose.  Ethical issues and inequities in educational opportunities will be explored.  Students will engage in a service-learning experience focused on development of an initiative aimed at changing campus culture to create a more inclusive and equitable campus community. Part of the What Now? network of first-year seminars.

Professor: David Malone
David Malone, Ph.D., (Duke University) is a Professor of the Practice of Education. His research and teaching interests are in educational psychology, school psychology, student-centered approaches to teaching and learning, experiential and service-learning, innovative educational approaches in higher education.


What Now? American Identity at a Crossroads? (Codes Forthcoming)
Is America a country built on systemic oppression or a land of opportunity where anybody can flourish and prosper? We engage the key texts in discussions on race, religion, class, and gender to evaluate these conflicting claims. We examine the meaning of “justice” in social justice movements by assessing their core tenets alongside the ideas and values long undergirding American institutions. The seminar encourages students to reflect on what it means to live in America in this pivotal cultural moment. Students will also have the opportunity to meet guest speakers, themselves leading figures at the forefront of these debates. Part of the What Now? network of first-year seminars.
Professor: Nasser Hussain
Nasser Hussain, Ph.D. (Columbia University), is Associate Director and Postdoctoral Fellow in Duke's 
Civic Life and Thought Initiative. His research and teaching interests include identity & migration, anthropology of religion, ethics, and politics.


What Now? Long, Strange Trips: The Grateful Dead & American Cultural Change (CZ, EI)
“We're like licorice. Not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice really like licorice.” Jerry Garcia. Few musical acts have ever reached the level of cultural awareness and impact as the Grateful Dead, and perhaps none has enjoyed such ardent devotion for so long. The story of the Grateful Dead offers a lens through which to view not only the tumult of the 1960s counterculture movement but also to understand broader political and historical forces in the United States.  In other words, the Grateful Dead and their history and music will form the backbone for the class, but this will be used to shed light on social upheaval, identity and shared experience, how ideas endure, and the sometimes-murky search for collective meaning. Using a mix of scholarly and biographical accounts, this course will offer students a multidimensional and interdisciplinary examination of how ideas form, inspire, intimidate, and ultimately stand the test of time. We will also explore the significance of how ideas can go from the margins to the mainstream through notions of authenticity and cooptation. Part of the What Now? network of first-year seminars.
Professor: Eric Mlyn
Eric Mlyn, Ph.D. (University of Minnesota), is a Lecturer in the Sanford School of Public Policy and Distinguished Faculty Fellow in the Kenan Institute for Ethics. His research and teaching interests include civic engagement and social change.


What Now? Introduction to Critical Animal Studies (CZ, SS, EI)
Some scientists contend that the Earth has entered a new geological age in which human actions and effects are the dominant force shaping the planet, a so-called "anthropocene." Such a planet offers diminishing possibilities for other creatures to live beyond the influence of Homo sapiens. How do animals fit into human societies when human society is now so inescapable? Do animals still exert agency and shape how we live? And how can humans maintain ethical relationships to nonhuman critters? Can we share landscapes and ecosystems, much less an entire planet? This course explores these questions, surveying different approaches to the critical study of animals from the humanities as well as the natural, environmental, and social sciences. We will pursue these questions through scientific papers, philosophical essays, literature, films, and experiential learning activities. Part of the What Now? network of first-year seminars.
Professor: Gabriel Rosenberg
Gabriel N. Rosenberg, Ph.D. (Brown University) is an Associate Professor of Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies and History. His research and teaching interests include the historical and contemporary linkages among gender, sexuality, and the global food system and spaces of agricultural production as important sites for the constitution and governance of intimacy – intimacy both between and among humans, animals, and plants. 


What Now? Composing Oneself: Stress, Identity & Wellness (ALP, CCI, EI, W)
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 a Professor of the Practice of Writing Studies. Her research and teaching interests include narrative medicine, media studies, travel writing, writing pedagogy, and writing transfer. 


The seminars listed above are part of the What Now? network of first-year seminars. What Now? courses contain a shared “wellness lab,” offering opportunities to engage with faculty and students in other participating seminars. Register for this .5-credit component of the program by adding Ethics 189 to your schedule. Scroll down for the full range of first-year seminars offered Spring 2024. 



Medusa: Icon, Myth & Nature (ALP, CCI)
Medusa and her story have fascinated and terrified people for millennia. She is by turns alluring, monstrous, powerful, and sympathetic, but by most accounts petrifying. Her powerful image, name, and myth have inspired generations of activists, artists, designers, poets, writers, and scientists. This seminar follows the long history of Medusa’s many transformations from 750 BCE to the present: monster, beauty, victim, demon, icon, and force of nature. The course explores these transformations in art, film, folklore, literature, magic, myth, science, and religion. By the end of the course, students will gain an appreciation for the complex dynamics at play in the representation of gender and nature over a long period of time. Students will learn basic art historical and literary approaches to studying the past and will gain an introduction to key academic disciplines, including art history, classics, folklore, religious studies, and sexuality and gender studies.
Professor: Andrew Griebeler
Andrew Griebeler, Ph.D. (University of California, Berkeley), is an Instructor of Art and Art History. His research and teaching interests focus on the intersections of art, science, and natural history in the medieval Mediterranean.


Genetics, Evolution, Star Trek (NS, STS)
We’ll use depictions of genetics and evolution as observed in Star Trek, a popular science fiction series, as an entry point to go over how the processes described work in the real world. We'll talk about the evidence for evolution, processes involved in inheritance, how natural selection works, what happens when species hybridize, and more. We will also look at scientific papers. No advance knowledge of biology or Star Trek needed. Not open to students who have taken or are concurrently enrolled in Biology 202L or who have BIO 20 (AP) credit.
Professor: Mohamed Noor
Mohamed Noor, Ph.D. (University of Chicago), is a Professor of Biology. His teaching and research explore how genetic changes contribute to species formation and molecular evolution.


That Belongs in a Museum: Archaeology, Cultural Heritage, and Telling Stories About the Past (CZ, CCI)
Who “owns” the past? Who gets to display or use ancient objects and monuments? Who gets to do research on ancient bodies? Who gets to tell stories about them? This is a major ethical question for archaeologists excavating ancient material and for archaeological and anthropological collections, both public and private. This course will explore how we create official and unofficial stories about the past around archaeological objects and sites, and how different past and present voices have been heard. Topics covered include (de)colonialism, indigeneity, nationalism, repatriation, and pseudoarchaeology. The course develops writing skills and encourages critical thinking about academic and popular narratives of life in the past and their political uses. Students will analyze academic and popular writing for a range of audiences, do short research projects and in-class presentations about cultural heritage frameworks around the world, and visit the Nasher Museum to learn about museum collection and display practices.
Professor: Catharine Judson
Catharine Judson, Ph.D. (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), is an Instructor of Classical Studies. Her research focuses on Greek archaeology of the Early Iron Age and on the intellectual history of constructions of protohistory in the ancient Mediterranean world.


Prison Worlds (SS, CCI, EI)
This course explores what it means to lock up human beings. We will ask how the prison became the dominant contemporary method of meting out “justice;” how prisons vary through time and across space; how carceral technologies exceed prison walls; how social, artistic, and scholarly movements have responded to imprisonment; and how to evaluate prison reform and prison abolition. The course will illuminate prisons both internationally and in our local context, to suggest routes for practical engagement with prison issues in North Carolina and beyond. Assignments include posting thoughtful questions and responding to those of your peers and a scaffolded independent research paper. This course contends that we are entangled in prison worlds. What we should do with this knowledge is for us to figure out together.
Professor: Joseph Hiller
Joseph Hiller, M.A. (Tulane University), is a Ph.D. candidate in Cultural Anthropology. His research and teaching interests include prisons, decarceration and justice in Colombia, feminisms, anthropology of the law, Black studies, and fiction.


Watching ‘Lovecraft Country’: Racist Terror and Terrifying Monsters in Jim Crow America (Codes Forthcoming)
In August 2020, HBO premiered Lovecraft Country, a historical drama set in 1950s Jim Crow America. Based on Matt Ruff’s novel of the same name, this show creatively brings together two seemingly disparate forms of horror: racist terror and terrifying monsters. In this course, we’ll analyze all 10 episodes of this series through texts across academic disciplines and artistic media. H.P. Lovecraft’s short stories and Ruff’s novel will provide context to relevant works in anthropology, sociology, Black studies, and gender studies that interrogate Black people’s historical and contemporary experiences in the United States. Students must have their own access to watch the show. 
Professor: Tracie Canada

Tracie Canada, (University of Virginia), is an Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology. She researches and teaches about race, sport, kinship, and the performing body.


Economics in the News (Codes Forthcoming)
Every day, the news is full of economic stories and stories that are related to economics.  This course focuses on taking stories from the news and using simple economic models to visualize and understand the economic analysis and arguments contained in these stories.  Students will learn about simple economic models from microeconomics, macroeconomics, financial economics, and international economics and then apply the models to current news stories.  Students will work in teams during class to create and present their economic analyses, which will then be the basis of further discussions. No prior experience studying economics is needed.
Professor: Connel Fullenkamp
Connel Fullenkamp, Ph.D. (Harvard University), is a Professor of the Practice of Economics and Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Economics Department. His research areas include financial market development and regulation, the economic and policy implications of risk sharing, the macroeconomic impacts of immigrant remittances, and valuing natural capital in order to create new funding mechanisms for ecosystem conservation and restoration.


SPIRE Fellows: Discovering and Exploring Your STEM Identity (Codes Forthcoming)
The Duke SPIRE Fellows Program: STEM Pathways for Inclusion, Readiness, and Excellence, is community where students find an academic home and feel a sense of belonging. This is a course designed for first year SPIRE fellows that investigates the theme of diversity and humanity within STEM fields. Students will participate in research activities, professional development and discussions. Instructor consent required.
Professor: Amanda Curtin Soydan
Amanda Curtin Soydan, Ph.D. (Drexel University), is an Academic Dean and Director of the SPIRE Fellow Program. Her research and teaching interests include paleobiology, dwarfism in large mammals, e.g. elephantids, student development and learning sciences.


Energy & Society (SS, EI, STS)
Although controversial, nuclear energy promises to contribute to the stability and security of a low-carbon power system. To acquaint you with that key technology, this course explores the history and sociology of commercial nuclear power plants through guided discussions, hand-on activities, and collaborative research. Broadly speaking, it will impart to you three new skills. First, you will learn to explain energy as not only the ability to “make us go” but also a set of dynamic relationships between people. Second, you will learn to interpret large technical systems as not only engineering feats but also social constructs, or creations bound by shared ideas. Third, you will learn to analyze the failures and successes of high-risk technologies as not only individual but also organizational events–that is, the results of culture. Taken altogether, these skills will equip you for meaningful pursuits ranging from advanced social science courses here at Duke to highly sought-after internships abroad.
Professor: Tom Cinq-Mars
Tom J. Cinq-Mars, Ph.D. (Duke University), is Administrative Manager and Assistant Director for Research Development in the Duke Energy Initiative. His research and teaching interests revolve around questions at the intersections of business, energy, and the environment in terms of change over time, especially in terms of links between modern (Soviet) Russia’s oil industry and economic diversity within the former Soviet Bloc.


Contemporary Southern Literature & Culture (ALP, CCI, EI)
In their acceptance speech for Best New Rap Group at the 1995 Source Awards, André 3000 of the hip hop duo OutKast, proudly declared to a crowd of primarily East and West Coast rappers: “The South got something to say!” This pivotal moment in hip hop history turned out to be quite prescient, as the last 30 years have witnessed a Black southern renaissance, if you will, in literature, music, and pop culture. This course will explore how a range of contemporary Black artists—including writers Jesmyn Ward and Kiese Laymon, pop stars Beyoncé, Big Freedia, and Lil Nas X, and TV shows Atlanta and Queen Sugar—are reimagining the US South as the site of a viable present and future for Black people, even as they continue to grapple with its tortured past of racial injustice and anti-black violence. We will examine the intricacies and contradictions of contemporary Black southern identity, not only in relation to whiteness, but to the region’s fast-growing Latino/a/x population as well. Discussions will explore the intersections of race, region, class, gender and sexuality, performance, and environmentalism. Assignments (e.g., weekly discussion posts and 2-3 papers approximately 4-6 pages each) will aim to teach students how to write critically at the intersections of literature, music, and pop culture.
Professor: Jarvis McInnis
Jarvis C. McInnis, Ph.D. (Columbia University), is the Cordelia and William Laverack Family Assistant Professor of English. His research and teaching interests include African American & African Diaspora literature and culture, the global south (primarily the US South and the Caribbean), sound studies, performance studies, and visual culture.


The End of the World: A History (CZ,EI, W)
Students will examine current threats to human survival within the broader contexts of western vocabularies about the end of history and the efforts of individuals and communities to keep hope alive in the face of impending disaster. Students will evaluate both apocalyptic ideas in Jewish and Christian thought as well as ideas of progress in modern secular thought, seeking to understand how these two, competing visions have done much to shape the course of history in Europe and the US. Readings will provide historical background but also emphasize essays by contemporary writers (Atwood, Franzen, Solnit, Wallace-Wells, Kolbert, for example) as they attempt to come to terms with the challenges we currently face.
Professor: John Martin
John Martin, Ph.D. (Harvard University), is a Professor of History. His research and teaching interests include early modern Europe, with particular interests in the social, cultural, and intellectual history of Italy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.


Race and Power in the Renaissance World (CCI, CZ)
How does power handle difference? How does history remember “Otherness”? And what occurs when unique cultures attempt to interpret one another? This course ventures into the Renaissance past (ca. 1300–1700) to interrogate these and other related questions, exploring how the histories and mythologies of race, difference, and diplomacy were constructed, fictionalized, and disseminated in early modern European encounters with the Atlantic and Pacific world. The course’s two interlocking terms—race and power—will frame our witnessing of the early modern mind at play in imagining the prospects and precarities associated with unknown lands and “discovered” peoples. Pairing an Italian textual concentration with examples from French and Spanish traditions, we will study how Renaissance thinkers, travelers, and translators came to know and represent the world around them. The histories of expansionism, colonization, science, and slavery will inform our readings and visual analysis of the relationship between forms of power and vehicles of influence.
Professor: Kate Driscoll
Kate Driscoll, Ph.D. (University of California, Berkeley) is Assistant Professor of Romance Studies. Her research and teaching interests include the literary, social, and political histories of early modern Italy and Europe; issues of gender and women’s studies; and the history of music and the performing arts.


Special Topics in Nutrition: Analysis of Dietary Trends
In this course you will get an overview of the basic components of nutrition as well as skills to evaluate your own eating patterns in addition to current popular dietary trends.  You will also be introduced to several current topics in nutrition in order to develop a deeper awareness of dietary patterns.
Professor: Sheri Branson
Sheri Branson, M.A. (Meredith College) is a full-time Instructor. Her teaching interests include Promotion of lifelong fitness and wellness; Exercise performance, recovery, and restoration; and Sports Nutrition.


Capitalism, For and Against (CZ, EI)
This seminar compares and contrasts arguments for capitalism (from conservative, libertarian, and objectivist perspectives) and against capitalism (from socialist, environmentalist, and feminist perspectives). Explores historically prominent assessments of capitalism from moral, political, and economic perspectives. Readings from utilitarian, conservative, and liberal proponents of capitalism including Smith, Say, Bastiat, Mises, Hayek, Rand, Friedman, Nozick, Buchanan, and Simon.  Readings from socialist, feminist, and environmentalist opponents of capitalism including Malthus, Fourier, Marx, Veblen, Keynes, Galbraith, Rawls, Nussbaum, Piketty, and Graeber.
Professor: Richard Salsman
Richard Salsman, Ph.D. (Duke University) is a Lecturing Fellow of Political Science. His teaching and research interests are in political economy and political theory.


Beyond Reason: Empathy and Identity (SS, NS, 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. Seminar discussions focus on selected readings and Ted Talks. Students continue the discussion and dialogue between sessions through postings to the seminar discussion board. As a writing course, the focus is on both learning-to-write and writing-to-learn through feedback and revision.  Students write three, 3-8 page, synthesis/reflection papers based on the assigned readings and a 15-20 page research review paper on a topic of their choice. 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 synthesis/reflection 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.


Educational Inequality within the United States (SS)
Education is becoming increasingly important for upward social mobility in the U.S. and abroad.  Education has been linked to societal inequalities in health, income, and other life-chance measures. Thus, schools play a central role in social and economic well-being, particularly for women and minority groups. Given that the minority population within the U.S. has been steadily increasing and is projected to comprise 40 percent of the U.S. population within the next 20 years, understanding racial differences in achievement is important for scholars, educators, and policy makers. This course will engage both quantitative and qualitative studies to help you gain 1) knowledge of the historical trends and understanding of racial differences in achievement, and 2) a broad understanding of the current issues/debates in the literature.
Professor: Angel Harris

Angel Harris, Ph.D. (University of Michigan), is a Professor of Sociology and Director of the program for Research on Education and Development of Youth. His research interests include social inequality, policy, and education, focusing on the social psychological determinants of the racial achievement gap. 


Movement, Neuroplasticity, and Health: The Feldenkrais Method (Codes Forthcoming)
We will explore techniques for spontaneous behavior, immediate creation, and developing your creativity and truth on stage. The goal of our work will be to build community and collaboration, to deepen your communication skills, and to strengthen your natural sense of humor. Emphasis on team building, confidence, connecting, being present in the moment, listening, adaptability, presentation skills, emotion, expressivity, and vulnerability.  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.  We will study the basics of improvisation: patterns, theory, connections, and the philosophy of long-form improvisation. You will discover your strengths, focus on character creation, “the group mind,” and object/environment work. We will work on the 2-person scene, the anchor of long-form improvisation. The class will include a segment on stand up. We will study the works of Del Close and Charna Halpern (iO), Viola Spolin, and Keith Johnstone.

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.