Seminar Descriptions


Y:1 seminars are designed to provoke thought and discussion among the first-year participants and across the campus at large. Each course will incorporate, through the use of iPads and online portfolios, digital skills and informational literacy. While each class will have a different focus in terms of content, all members of the y:1 seminars will meet together at various times during orientation and during the fall semester for special projects, speakers and events.  These are semester-long classes that contribute to general education requirements and introduce students to the life of the College. Possible courses for y:1 seminars in 2014 include:


In the Company of Animals
Rob Alexander

This course will be a historical and contemporary examination of human interactions with wild and domestic animals. We will explore the phenomenon of domestication, studying it from both a scientific (domestication as a genetic process) and social (the role of domestication in social evolution) point of view. We will discuss the domestication os dogs and the possibility that humans co-evolved with dogs as well as the origins of other domestic animals. We will conclude the course with an exploration of ethical issues in our relationships with animals, considering issues such as animal welfare, what sentience is, whether the capacity for pain and suffering is related to sentience, and whether non-humans should have standing in human legal systems.

The Writer as Public Intellectual
John Casteen

Photo by Michael BaileyThis course focuses on public, social, and political engagement by writers in world literature. It offers students the ability to make critical comparisons between the cultures of different writers in context, and offers them readings in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry alongside biographical studies of the writers in their time. It also illustrates the cultural differences between modernisms enacted in American and European literature. Possible authors include Anna Akhmatova, Josef Brodsky, Osip Mandelstam, CP Cavafy, Yannis Ritsos, Orhan Pamuk, and various expatriate Americans including James Baldwin; students will use the work of those and other writers as models for their own original poems, stories, and essays. 

Industrialized Killing: The First World War, Modernity, and the Human Experience
John Ashbrook

This course focuses on the war experiences of combat veterans during the First World War and the technological changes that made warfare so much more deadly and dehumanizing than in previous conflicts. It deals with trench warfare, changing technology, lingering concepts of class and class deference on the battlefield and the social changes during and immediately after the conflict. The first third of the class is a brief history of the war itself, followed by memoirs and other primary sources that illuminate the changes that shaped the 20th century. It delves into aspects of the changing meanings of modernity and how the combat experience shaped these meanings.

The Raw and the Cooked: Seeing Culture through Food
Cathy Gutierrez 

The procuring and consuming of food is one of the requirements for all of humanity, and the ability to grow, store, and trade foodstuffs shapes cultures and their views of others. This course will look at the history of food as it affects group identity, from the mysterious beginnings of bread to the spice trade and finally to current movements such as Slow Food and locavorism. We will consider themes throughout the course of how food creates insiders and outsiders, how gender and food are interwoven, and how the exchange of food and cooking styles has created much of the modern world.  

Architecture of Sweet Briar College: A Social History
Kimberly Morse Jones 

We will examine how precisely the college’s architecture reflects the values of Sweet Briar, particularly as it has defined itself as a women’s college. This course will attempt to trace a social history of the design and layout of the college’s campus and buildings. In addition to a variety of secondary sources, we will be utilizing the college’s collection of blueprints and archives. We will compare the results of our investigation with other types of social architecture, including prisons, asylums, and institutions of higher education, both coeducational and single sex. It is hoped that by doing so the students will cultivate a sense of place and a deeper connection with their environment.