First-Year Seminar Program

89S Series Seminars: First-Year Students Only

First Year Seminars all bear the 89S number (e.g., History 89S). Taught by our leading faculty, these signature classes enroll no more than 18 first-year students per section, allowing our students to engage closely with faculty, with each other, and with ideas at the heart of the seminars.

80S Series Seminars: All Undergraduates

In addition to the 89S seminars available only to enrolled first-year students, several departments offer seminars bearing a number in the 80s that are introductory courses appropriate for first-year students but also open to enrollment to upper-division students.

Faculty interested in teaching a first-year seminar should review the Guidelines for Teaching First-Year Seminars and contact Program Director Denise Comer for more information.

Current First-Year Seminars

Spring 2021

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 2021.

What Now? Race and Education 

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 minority groups. Given that the minority population within the U.S. has been steadily increasing and is projected to comprise 45 to 50 percent of the U.S. population in 2050, understanding racial differences in achievement is important for scholars, educators, and policy makers. This seminar will focus on the role of education in both the production and amelioration of social inequality. Particular attention is given to racial achievement gaps. By engaging both quantitative and qualitative studies, you will acquire 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. In addition to focusing on the relative underachievement of Blacks and Latino/as, this course will also focus on the academic success of Asian Americans and Asians living within the U.S. Part of the What Now? network of first-year seminars.

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. 

What now? Emotion, Evolution, and Ethics (NS, EI)

Fear, love, anger, pride, regret, envy – the emotions seem to play a big role in our lives, as well as in the lives of certain other animal species.  But what are the emotions?  Are they guides to behavior?  Are they judgments, or perhaps biases of judgment?  Are they motivations? Or maybe they are epiphenomenal – mere side effects of other mental processes, essentially irrelevant to proper mental function.  The course explores what the emotions are, what they are for, and how they evolved. We begin with readings of some classic treatments of behavior and emotion in certain animal species, including gulls and chimpanzees. We then consider emotions in humans, reading selections from important works in psychology, neurobiology, and ethics. The central issue in the last part of the course will be the role of the emotions in human judgment, especially moral judgment. Part of the What Now? network of first-year seminars.

Professor: Daniel McShea
Dan McShea, Ph.D. (University of Chicago), is a Professor of Biology. His expertise includes hierarchy theory, especially the causal relationship between higher-level wholes and their components.

What Now? Visionary Thinking: On Becoming an Ordinary Genius 

A recent study from University of Pennsylvania suggests that Nobel Prize winning scientists are 22 times as likely as their peers to engage in dance, theatre or magic. What we often call “genius” is an ability to see possibilities and connections that elude most of us, most of the time. But this kind of creativity can be cultivated. This seminar is an exploration of boundaries, connections, how we see, and what we do. Its structure will encompass multiple forms, including a practice-based studio, outdoor work and discussions. It introduces numerous established and experimental artistic methodologies as tools to aid process of creative, associative thinking and development of new ideas in any chosen field.  Through the cultivation of awareness, perception and imagination and the exploration, experience and application of embodied thought, students will gain tools to unlock creative potential and visionary thinking in the personal and social realm. No movement or artistic experience required. Students of all abilities welcome. Part of the What Now? network of first-year seminars.

Professor: Michael Kliën
Michael Kliën, Ph.D. (University of Edinburgh) is a Professor of the Practice of Dance. He is a choreographer and artist. His work is concerned with the theoretical and practical reworking of choreography and dance and its contribution to society.

What Now? Why are we here: Finding purpose and meaning in education (SS, CCI, EI)

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? Organizing for Equity: Ethics, Education, and Social Change (CZ, SS, CCI, EI)

How do communities, schools, and neighborhoods organize for social change? How do individuals organize their own commitments and energies to change the world around them? This course examines political activism, ethics, and education in the contemporary United States. It will introduce students to central philosophical and practical approaches to political organizing, help student develop skills in understanding and critiquing segregation and resegregation in the US, and enable students to locate their own commitments, callings, and aptitudes within the variety of accounts of organizing for 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? What We Owe to Each Other (CZ, EI)

What obligations do we have to each other? Do we have different obligations to friends, family, and strangers? Is loyalty a moral value or is impartiality more important? We will consider whether social life is necessary for or an impediment to the best human life. In particular, we will focus on altruism--giving to others with nothing expected in return--and on collective moral obligations. When a moral problem, like alleviating global poverty or remedying climate change, is solvable not by individual action, but by coordinated, collective action, does that morally obligate each of us individually? Part of the What Now? network of first-year seminars.

Professor: Jesse Summers
Jesse Summers, Ph.D. (University of California at Los Angeles), is an Academic Dean and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Philosophy. His research in philosophy is on the ethical implications of various forms of irrationality.

What Now? Leading through Change: The Science of Leadership for Social Action (EI)

Nowadays, we can broadcast our thoughts to the world, yet creating the change one wants to see in the world requires leadership. In this class, we will examine the skillsets and mindsets of effective leaders in order to hone our own abilities to make change. Drawing on the interdisciplinary work business schools use to train students, we will study dimensions of leadership in theory and practice, particularly as it pertains to responding in moments of crisis or uncertainty. Through discussions, reading, reflection and experiential assignments, students will learn how to lead effectively and develop their leadership abilities in general, specifically focusing on leading social change. Part of the What Now? network of first-year seminars.

Professor: Moran Anisman-Razin
Moran Anisman-Razin, Ph.D. (Bar-Ilan University) is a Research Associate at the Kenan Institute for Ethics. Her research and teaching interests include Organizational Psychology, Leadership, Courage, Power, Social Psychology.

What Now? The Beatles Duke Ellington and the Magic of Collaboration (ALP, CZ)

This course will explore two of the greatest musical collaborations in music history, The Beatles and the Duke Ellington Orchestra.  We will pay close attention to the nature of the collaboration, which was unique in each case, and we will learn about two great periods in the history of popular music, Big Band Jazz from the 1920s through the 1950s and Rock and Roll in the 1950s and 1960s.  Ellington worked with his musicians and with Billy Strayhorn to transform dance music into art music that helped define a modern identity for African Americans.  Similarly, the Beatles turned rock into art.  Without collaboration, these musicians would have been good; with it they make claims to the status of genius. Part of the What Now? network of first-year seminars.

Professor: Thomas Brothers
Tom Brothers, Ph.D. (University of California – Berkeley) is a Professor of Music. His teaching and research interests include popular music, jazz, late medieval and early Renaissance music, and African-American music.


More First-Year Seminars for Spring 2021

Real Science Behind the News (NS)

Cutting edge science discoveries are often covered by journalists and news outlets. These written publications or videos often use language and explanations that a broad audience can understand.  But what is the real science behind these stories? The main purpose of this course is to deepen your critical analysis skills in reading scientific journal articles on topics that are often covered by the mainstream media. We will read news articles or summaries and watch videos to help build background knowledge about the topic. Then we will delve into the scientific literature.  By the end of this course, you will feel more confident in utilizing primary scientific literature to enhance what you read in the news. You will feel more confident in reading the scientific literature and presenting the material to the class.

Professor: Jessica Harrell
Jessica Harrell, Ph.D. (University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill) is Director of Academic Engagement for the Natural and Quantitative Sciences.  Her background includes helping undergraduates build their research skills and confidence to be successful in a research lab.  She is a trained facilitator for the National Research Mentoring Network’s Entering Research curriculum, and her interests include making science and research accessible to students from all backgrounds. 

The Archaeology of Death: Ritual and Social Structure in the Ancient World (ALP, CZ, CCI, EI)

Historically contextualized study of how the dead "lived" in the ancient Roman world, in funerary practices and traditions. Topics may include: funerary rituals; ritual distinctions between the space of the living and dead around cities and in the countryside; ancestor cult; monumental and not-so-monumental tombs; grave offerings and grave assemblages; public personae and funerary iconography tied to gender, age, and occupation. Course will compare death-practices between ancient Rome and other regions and periods.

Professor: Alicia Jiménez
Alicia Jiménez, Ph.D. (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid), is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Classical Studies. Her expertise includes archaeological theory and Roman visual and material culture, especially in the western and central Mediterranean in the period 218 BCE-200 CE.

Energy & Society (CZ, EI, STS)

This course examines how the production, transmission, and use of energy transform our daily lives. By reflecting on the centrality of energy in humanity's interaction with nature, we will explore questions at the very core of the environmental, economic, political, and cultural dimensions of society. Readings, discussions, hands-on activities, and visiting experts will introduce students to subjects and themes that will include power systems, energy access, energy in pop culture, energy and the environment, as well as topics with contemporary salience such as intensive extraction techniques (fracking, mountaintop removal, etc.), microgrids, energy storage, and the current dimensions of energy consumption on Duke's campus. Through this seminar, students will gain knowledge and understanding of the major connections between energy and society, develop skill in the analysis of secondary sources and current events, and begin to explore the landscape of energy scholarship at Duke.

Professor: Tom J. Cinq-Mars
Tom J. Cinq-Mars, Instructor in History, is an historian of modern (Soviet) Russia interested in questions at the intersections of business, energy, and the environment.

Environmental Change in the Big-Data Era (NS)

A revolution in how we understand environmental change is underway, from the type and amount of data that are available to the ways in which it is synthesized and interpreted. The training needed for the next generation of scientists, engineers, and decision makers includes a blend of modeling, computation, and the capacity to exploit large data streams, often accessed through the internet. Students will be introduced to sources of data, their strengths and limitations, and interpretation through readings and discussions of scientific literature and data exploration. Examples will introduce basic concepts in R software applied to climate change, human impacts, and biodiversity loss.

Professor: James Clark
Jim Clark, PhD (University of Minnesota), is the Nicholas Professor of Environment Science, Professor of Statistical Science, and Professor of Earth and Ocean Sciences. His research focuses on how global change affects populations, communities, and ecosystems using long-term experiments, monitoring studies and modeling to forecast ecosystem change.

Gender and Science 

This seminar provides an overview of research that puts science and scientists themselves under the lens to be studied in relation to gender, sexuality, race, and colonialism. We consider questions such as: How does inequality affect scientific practice and knowledge? Do colonial, racist, or sexist contexts matter for the science produced? Does the identity of the scientist matter? In addition to scientific papers, our readings center on an interdisciplinary field known as Feminist Science Studies, that draws on sociological, ethnographic, historical and literary approaches to science. We also consider how scientists themselves are creating feminist and decolonial approaches to their research. This course is designed for those interested in combining feminist and other social justice perspectives with careers in STEM as well as students curious about feminist humanities and social-science approaches in general. As a seminar, classes will focus on discussions of readings and participation is required as well as some regular written work.

Professor: Ara Wilson
Ara Wilson, Ph.D. (City University of New York) is an Associate Professor of Gender, Sexuality & Feminist Studies. Her work focuses on the feminist ethnography of globalization through description and analysis of various market economies. Her work examines the cultural, social, and sexual aspects of Bangkok economies, as well as illustrating the inaccuracies of Eurocentric ideology

Irish Questions (ALP, CZ)

Topical introduction to the history of Ireland from its entry into the United Kingdom through the present. Class sessions will be devoted to discussions of questions with global ramifications for our understanding of nationalism and racism, religion and violence, empire and the postcolonial. Was Ireland a kingdom or a colony?  What caused the Great Famine?  When did the Irish become “white”? Were members of IRA and/or UDI terrorists or freedom fighters? What is the difference between history and heritage, memory and commemoration?  What are the prospects and preconditions for “truth and reconciliation” in Northern Ireland today?

Professor: Susan Thorne
Susan Thorne, Ph.D. (University of Michigan at Ann Arbor), is an Associate Professor of History. Her research and teaching interests are most broadly put in the imperial history of industrial capitalism. She is particularly interested in exploring the intersecting histories of poverty, race-thinking, and class formation in nineteenth century Britain. 

Math and Medicine: Applications of Mathematics to Medicine (NS, QS, R)

This seminar uses the Socratic method with discussions of how to apply mathematical and statistical principles to understand human health and disease. Topics include: the heart and circulation, immune system and infectious diseases, precision medicine and big data, cancer prevention and evolutionary game theory in cancer. There will be particular emphasis on the multi-scale nature of human health and disease, from biologic mechanism to clinical management and public health. Students do background reading and work in groups on problem sets, presenting their group work to the class and writing short papers. Each student conducts a research project, gives two 25-minute lectures to the seminar, and writes a 15-page paper in article format. On the final exam students write essays about group work and each others projects.

Professor: Marc Ryser
Marc Ryser, Ph.D. (McGill University) is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Population Health Sciences and the Department of Mathematics. His scientific interests converge at the intersection of mathematical modeling, clinical research and epidemiology. His current research is focused on the management of ductal carcinoma in situ, also known as stage 0 breast cancer.

Moral Change and Human Nature: How Are Moral Conversions Possible? (CZ, EI)

We are fascinated by individuals who make a dramatic change in themselves for the better.  In the film, "The Lives of Others," an agent for the East German secret police ends up trying to save the people he is assigned to spy upon.  During the Second World War, Oskar Schindler changed from a roguish playboy to an industrialist who sheltered Jews from the Nazis.  C.P. Ellis was a high official of the Ku Klux Klan in Durham who formed a friendship with black civil rights activist Ann Atwater and helped integrate the Durham public schools.  What happened to them?  We will discuss these cases and explore their implications for the possibility of moral change.  What in human nature makes change possible?  Do people come to know something, to see something, that they did not see before, that changes them?  We will read philosopher and novelist Iris Murdoch who argues for this view. Does it take events of great emotional impact to bring about change?  We will read David Hume's theory of sentiment as the primary human motivation.  To become a good person, must one already have some goodness that is inborn?  The classical Chinese philosopher Mencius held that there are moral "sprouts" such as natural compassion that can be nurtured and grown.  His theory also raises the question of what environmental, social and institutional conditions need to be in pace for moral growth and conversion to take place.  We will read psychological literature on what makes for a "resilient" person who can overcome early adversity and a disadvantaging environment.  We will also look at psychological studies of human tendencies that might stand in the way of moral change such as the Milgram study of obedience to authority.

Professor: David Wong
David Wong is the Susan Fox Beischer and George D. Beischer Professor of Philosophy. His research and teaching interests include moral differences and similarities across and within societies, the attempt to understand morality naturalistically, and the nature of conflicts between basic moral values.

Hot Topics in Health

Overview of the components of health and wellness (e.g., nutrition, exercise, sexual health, etc.), 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.

Information, Technology and Policy (SS)

This is a course about the politics and policy surrounding information and technology. It will focus on how politicians, policymakers, economies, citizens and society watchers talk about, worry about and understand the internet and other technologies, such as phones, networks, etc., as well as uses, artificial intelligence, social media and more. The course will address information privacy and security, global information flows, technology in campaigns and elections, how technology has changed journalism and news, and how our identities are changed by our media use. Students will research, analyze and write about technology policy issues.

Professor: Ken Rogerson
Kenneth S. Rogerson, Ph.D. (University of South Carolina) is Professor of the Practice at Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy, and former Research Director of the DeWitt Wallace Center for Media and Democracy at Duke University. He is currently the Director of Graduate Studies for the Sanford Master's of Public Policy Program and the Director of Duke's Policy Journalism and Media Studies Certificate Program. He has served as chair of the American Political Science Association’s Information Technology and Politics Section and the International Studies Association's International Communication Section.

Race, Region, and Republican Principles (SS)

The "Great Experiment" in American democracy has, since even before the Founding, balanced two imperatives.  One was to live up to our Founders' calls that "all [people] are created equal" and that the Constitution was designed to achieve a "more perfect union."  The other was how to deal with that liberty and equality in a multi-racial society that, from the beginning, was without liberty or equality for many.  This class will consider classic and contemporary writings on this topic, from the Federalist Papers and Slave Narratives on to today's questions about voting rights and Black Lives Matter, to seek to understand how we got to today's circumstances and how we might expect America to move forward.

Professor: John Aldrich
John Aldrich, Ph.D. (University of Rochester) is the Pfizer-Pratt University Professor of Political Science, John Aldrich specializes in American politics and behavior, formal theory, and methodology.

Capitalism, For and Against (SS, 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.

Brazil, Race, Sex, The Body (ALP, CCI)

Brazil is commonly understood as an example of a “racially democratic” nation, but as scholars have recently shown, racism permeates all aspects of Brazilian society. This course examines the development of the theorization of race, racial identity and race relations in contemporary Brazil, and will explore very closely the role of sex, and sexuality in the construction of race relations. We will attend to questions such as: how is desire racialized? How is racial difference produced through sex as a material practice and what is the function of sex in racial (self)formation? How do we reconcile questions of pleasure and desire and the structures of power and national identity? The approach of the course will be interdisciplinary, drawing upon works from literature, music, film, anthropology and history. Topics will include colonialism and enslavement, abolition, nationalism, social activism, and popular culture. We will also consider how Brazilian social relations differ from or conform to other racialized patterns in other nation-states in the Americas. Particular attention will be placed on the impact of the interrelationship between race, gender, class, and nation on the lives of black Brazilians. Conducted in English.

Professor: Lamonte Aidoo
Lamonte Aidoo, Ph.D. (Brown University), is an Assistant Professor of Portuguese Studies. He teaches courses on 19th-20th century Brazilian literature, Afro-Brazilian cultural studies, comparative Brazilian and inter-American racial formations, the confluence of sexuality and national identity. His research interests include slavery and abolition in the Americas, miscegenation, comparative trans-Atlantic studies (Anglophone, Francophone, Hispanic, Lusophone).

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. 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
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.

Feminisms Past and Present (ALP, CZ, CCI)

What is feminism? How are feminist ideas expressed in different forms? Does the meaning of the term change across centuries? Can “feminism” exist before the word was first used in the 1800s? This course explores these questions by analyzing feminist thought produced in the Western world – from fourteenth-century letters to twenty-first century Instagram posts. We won’t isolate the study of feminism to particular time periods or decades; instead, we will explore the genealogies of feminism and their relationship to the present by pairing texts and images from various time periods. Through letters, poetry, novels, theoretical essays, and film, we will explore what kinds of expression have been considered “feminist” or not and why. This will allow us to analyze themes in feminist thought more broadly, such as sexual difference, the woman writer, and the tension between theory and politics. Our study will include works and authors from various national and linguistic traditions (Anglo, French, Italian, Spanish).

Professor: Alyssa Madeline Granacki
Alyssa Madeline Granacki, Ph.D. (Duke University) is a Postdoctoral Associate in the Department of Romance Studies. She teaches courses on medieval Italian literature and gender studies. Her research interests include Dante, Boccaccio, feminist thought, and women writers. She is currently working on a book manuscript based on her dissertation, "Boccaccio's Women Philosophers: Defining Philosophy, Debating Gender in the Decameron and Beyond," which examined the relationship between women and philosophy in early Italian literature.