First-Year Seminar Offerings, Fall 2016

All first-year seminars meet Tuesday and Thursday, 11:00-12:15.

First-year seminars are writing-intensive courses of 14-15 students each, as well as fora to introduce students to the academic life of Pitzer College. As such, the professors choose topics that interest them and about which students will discuss and write. The courses are not part of any major and are not necessarily “introductions” to any given field or major. They are designed to be accessible to all students, regardless of background.

Incoming students will be asked to indicate their preferences for their first-year seminar. The professor teaching a given first-year seminar will also serve as their students’ faculty adviser for the first three or four semesters, until a student declares a major. Students develop strong mentoring relationships with faculty and gain a broad understanding of how the curriculum intersects with their individual educational goals.

In addition, mentorship goes beyond the first semester by providing diverse venues for students to participate early on in community engagement, study abroad, as well as the broader intellectual life of the campus; all hallmarks of a Pitzer education. As part of this, there will also be additional required programming outside of scheduled class time (TBA).

FYS 1
Anthes, Bill – “Writing About Animals”

This seminar explores the interdisciplinary field of “animal studies” and aims to build students’ confidence and skill in college-level writing. Animal studies draws from many disciplines including art, anthropology, laboratory and field biology, ecology, ethics, history, literature, and other fields. We examine how past and present societies have understood the animal and the human relationship to non-human nature. We will consider how human definitions of non-human animals express cultural norms and habits of thought, and how humans’ relations with animals matter, and to whom. In addition to being an interdisciplinary field, animal studies is also intersectional – class topics and assignments will also engage with issues of race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, and social justice. Writing projects and other class exercises will focus on developing abilities in critical reading and discussion, the research process, drafting and revision.

FYS 2
Armendinger, Brent – “On Memory”
In this course, we will focus on works of literature and film that explore the emotional, creative, philosophical, and political dimensions of memory. We will consider how memory changes our understanding of time; how memory informs the imagination; how imagination informs what (and how) we remember; how interpersonal relationships are structured by memory, its variability, and its loss; what it means to “remember” an event for which we were not present; the politics of remembering and forgetting; how landscapes harbor – and sometimes erase – historical trauma and the traces of those who lived there. Students will practice composing works of analytical and creative writing in order to engage with these ideas.

FYS 3
Berg, Tim – “Tongue-in-cheek: Humor in Art and Visual Culture”
In this course you will develop your skills as a writer while gaining a heightened awareness and appreciation of humor. Historically humor has been vital to both modern and postmodern art movements including dada, fluxus, pop and funk art. Humor is an incredibly important vehicle for dealing with complex questions because it is one of the few forms that allows the author to communicate contradictory statements simultaneously through absurdity, irony or satire. Humor also has the ability to make something inaccessible, accessible or open up a taboo subject for discussion. In some cases humor is a political gesture; an act of defiance in the face of adversity. In this course we will examine humor through a critical interdisciplinary and intercultural lens. You will be responsible for developing written responses, critiques, oral presentations and research. Personal research into the course themes may include creating art or performance as an individual or as a part of a group.

FYS 4
Borowski, Tom – “Is there a Science of Dreaming?”
One of the most puzzling of psychological phenomena is the nature of dreams. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) regarded dreams as disguised wish fulfillments, usually of a sexual nature, that lurk within the unconscious mind. According to Freud, if one wants to understand the unconscious mind then one needs to understand the content of dreams. On the other hand, J. Alan Hobson, a pioneering researcher into the neural basis of dreams, regards them as nothing more than the brain attempting to make sense of the random neural activity that occurs during sleep. Dreams are also a subjective and private experience. For the dreamer, dreams can be fantastic and illogical, filled with images of one’s life often colored with strong emotional feelings. Indeed, given that the meaning and nature of dreams is far from obvious the primary goal of this seminar is to try to determine whether the meaning and nature of dreams can be explained and understood according the principles of science and rational thought. Through readings and class discussions students will be exposed to a number of different perspectives on the nature of dreams and dreaming. We will also look at how dreams represented in our society through art, music and film and whether or not dream states can be artificially induced either through drugs or brain machine interfaces.

FYS 5
Harris, Laura – “Wild Seed to Earthseed: The Art of Octavia E. Butler”

Students in this course assiduously read and study the writing of Octavia Estelle Butler, a renowned author of the latter twentieth century. While closely reading and discussing Butler’s body of work students conduct library research on the historical period and global-local contexts of Butler’s artistic vision. Butler’s writing offers few ready answers and instead invites readers to raise critical questions about social and political ideologies such as environmental destruction, community values, hierarchical power relations, social constructions of sexuality, race and gender, colonization, slavery, home, displacement and immigration, detention and imprisonment, self-reliance, trans-species cooperation and trans-human hybridity, to name a few. This is a reading intensive course with weekly group work and in class presentation. It is also a Pitzer College required writing intensive course in which students organize their cumulative research into an annotated bibliography and draft a final research essay. Students are required to participate in Honnold Library training workshops and field trips to Pasadena’s Huntington Library Octavia E. Butler archival collection, as well as other First Year Seminar activities and events.

FYS 6
Herrold-Menzies, Melinda  – “Environmental Documentaries: Critical Analysis, Evidence and Persuasion”
This course introduces students to environmental controversies and the intercultural and social justice issues surrounding them through their documentation in film. Through class discussion and writing assignments, we will analyze the methods of persuasion and types of evidence these documentaries use to examine how films convey messages about what and who are international global environmental problems and how they incite an audience to audience to act. Readings range from excerpts from Aristotle’s Rhetoric to popular blogs on persuasive writing to scholarly materials that provide background, additional evidence, and counterarguments on the subjects of the documentaries. Major comparative topics include: environmental justice controversies over pollution surrounding the oil industry internationally and domestically (sites include: the Ecuadorian Amazon, Niger Delta, and Louisiana along the Mississippi River) and the “objectivity” vs. cultural biases in documentaries about the exploitation of whales and dolphins for food and use in exhibitions (issues include: Japanese vs. Norwegian whaling, dolphin hunting in Taiji, Japan, and orca hunting for aquariums in North America). Other topics to be studied include food production and the increasing privatization of water resources around the world.

FYS 7
Honma, Todd – “Fast Cars and Giant Robots: Introduction to Asian American Popular Culture”
This seminar introduces students to key concepts and theories in understanding and analyzing Asian American popular culture and the cultural politics of racial representation. We will examine how Asian Americans embrace pop culture as forms of opposition and resistance to dominant narratives and racial stereotypes (e.g., techno-orientalism, exotification, model minority, yellow peril, forever foreigner, etc.) Why cars and robots? Both cars and robots are common tropes employed in Asian American cultural production. They often symbolize increased efficiency, advancement, innovation, and future possibilities…but for whom and for what purpose? We will examine how cars and robots contribute to our understanding of racial formation, gender and sexuality, labor, migration, urban development, geopolitics, and utopian and dystopian futures. We will also critique the role of pop culture in resisting and/or reproducing ideological structures that naturalize capitalist exploitation, patriarchy, heteronormativity, and white supremacy. At stake in these investigations is a consideration of how popular culture intervenes in the ways in which we conceptualize a more just and sustainable world.

FYS 8
Junisbai, Azamat – “Model Minority and Perpetual Foreigner: Asians in America”
What is the contemporary Asian American experience? How does Asian America look when we take into account differences in ethnicity, class, gender, and generation? This course offers a sociological examination of what it means to be Asian American today. Topics include immigration, assimilation, demographic trends, ethnic identity, discrimination, socioeconomic mobility, gender, and relationships with other groups. By exploring the structures that shape Asian American experiences and Asian American challenges to those forces, the course encourages students to consider their own role in transforming US society.

FYS 9
Justus, Timothy – “The Literate Brain”
This seminar examines reading and writing through the interdisciplinary lens of cognitive science. Frameworks may include: (1) neurobiology, including the brain networks that mediate literacy, and the extent to which these regions are evolutionarily conserved, (2) cognitive archaeology, including the historical emergence of writing and its organizing effects on spoken language, (3) cognitive development, including the information processing required to map written symbols to sounds and meanings, and the emergence of this ability in children, (4) psycholinguistics, including research on sentence and discourse processing, and its application to prescriptive questions of how one ought to write, and (5) neuroaesthetics, including considering literature, among the other arts, as playing with the brain’s drive to connect form and meaning. Students will develop the ability to articulate novel positions and defend them with empirical, textual, and artistic evidence.

FYS 11
Lorenat, Jemma – “Visual Evidence”

While a picture is worth a thousand words, it can also show billions of numbers. The graphic representation of quantitative information dates back to the earliest map making and star charts. Today quantitative analysis in diverse research fields requires summarizing data and showing findings “at a glance.” This course offers a historical survey of how data visualizations have been made and applied. We will consider technologies of drawing and reproduction, processes of innovation and standardization, and consequences of collecting and applying data. Throughout the course, we will critically interrogate past and present data visualizations as practices of manufacturing perception and increasingly prevalent forces in our everyday lives.

FYS 12
Portillo Villeda, Suyapa – “The Politics of Breakfast: Commodities, Labor & Global Export Economies”
Have you ever wondered about the origins of your breakfast foods? This seminar will explore the labor, social, cultural and political history of breakfast fruits and foods as they make their way from global markets to the local breakfast table. Students will explore the history of the Latin American export economies and the countries that produce and export bananas, coffee, cacao, and sugar, among other export commodities. The class will explore: the cultural and political implications of export economies for Latin American nations, labor conditions, trade routes, and the connections between the global export chain and local consumption. Class activities will include student cooking demonstrations and tasting exercises highlighting some of these commodities.

FYS 13
Robins, Colin – “Exploring Natural Disasters”

“Civilization exists by geologic consent, subject to change without notice.” This quote by Will Durant hints at the captivating, profound, and (too often) tragic ways in which natural processes sculpt our planet and influence extinction, survival, and evolution. This seminar will survey the causes and occurrences of natural disasters including volcanoes, earthquakes, landslides, floods, droughts, bolide impacts, and more. We will simultaneously explore the science of hazard assessment, the wide-ranging temporal and spatial scales of disaster, the coverage of natural events and hazards in news and popular entertainment media, and the ramifications of disasters and hazard awareness for individuals, cultures, and nations. Emphasizing critical evaluation over sensationalism, this writing-intensive course is intended to foster new perspectives on the dynamic Earth and the resilience of society.

FYS 14
Rodriguez, Norma and Torres, Maria“La Familia
This seminar will examine the role of la familia for Latinos living in the U.S. We will examine both commonalities and differences across conceptions and constructions of la familia. We will also examine la familia from a comparative perspective (contemporary, across different Latino groups, within families, etc.), and will pay particular attention to the psychological and sociocultural factors that contribute to the complexity and diversity of la familia. As part of the course, students will learn about cultural traditions that are maintained and practiced within and across different familias.

FYS 15
Snowiss, Sharon -“What Is Human?”
This course serves two purposes. First, it raises questions about our understanding of ourselves as Homo sapiens, distinct from other animals, machines and biological creations. Second, it emphasizes analytical reading and writing skills. The determination of what is particularly or distinctively “human” is a problem for the contemporary world and at present has no definitive or consensual answer. We will explore how peoples in other eras defined themselves and how those distinctions are being blurred by modern technology and biological research. Do computers have consciousness? Do clones have souls? Do we think with our heart? Do we have obligations to others? How do we determine human nature? Or, does man have a nature? Readings will range from works in philosophy and science to science fiction.

FYS 16
Strauss, Claudia – “American Political Cultures”
Few commentators predicted the success of Donald Trump and the popularity of Bernie Sanders in the 2016 U.S. presidential primaries. How can we understand the millions of votes they received? We will consider possible explanations that focus on problems with both the Democratic and Republican Party establishment, economic insecurity, racial resentment, and American populist traditions. What do the surprises of this election year reveal about the assumption that powerful elites control public opinion? What is good evidence for claims about political culture?

FYS 17
Ballagh, Michael – “Love and Loathing in Los Angeles”
Through readings, documentary, cinema, and selected field trips to iconic LA spaces, students will unpack the stereotypes of communities and the natural environment of Los Angeles and come to their own understanding of this enigmatic and deeply flawed city. The course will focus on communities of color within LA and the cultural and environmental “apartheid” that impacts them. Readings—both fiction and non-fiction—movies, and documentaries will reflect Los Angeles in the later part of the 20th century.

FYS 18
Wachtel, Albert – “World in a Nutshell”
This course seeks to produce a unified quest among students, faculty, libraries, librarians, internet services, and available faculty aids, administrators and facilities for significant truths with small T’s. Once they are discovered, students, with the help of their seminar mates, will undertake to convey those truths in essays driven by purpose, clarity and intensity, intending to improve human understanding, advance empathy, increase appreciation and better the world. We will usher ourselves into the realm of our search by reading, developing and writing thesis driven essays about great short stories, at least one film, and locations and people of interest, all of them metaphorically nutshells that contain worlds. We will be meeting periodically with freshman classmates in other seminars and with faculty and administrators dedicated to improving students’ abilities, advancing their knowledge about thinking and writing as well as requirements (sometimes disguised as “expectations”), the reasons that motivated their creation and ways of beneficially fulfilling them. You should step away from this seminar better thinkers, better writers and informed members of the Pitzer and Claremont Colleges community, knowing and eager to do the necessary and desirable, and able to engage the resources available to help you and your undertakings to thrive.

FYS 19
Wenzel, Anna – “Drug Development, Policy and Innovation”
This seminar provides students with an in-depth perspective into the pharmaceutical industry, particularly the process by which a drug candidate transitions from the laboratory to patient. Discussions will also focus on public policy and ethical debates surrounding the pharmaceutical industry and the commercialization of science. Topics include: the link between academic research and industry, the clinical trial process by which a molecule becomes a drug, the origin and role of the FDA in protecting the consumer, the concept of informed consent in ethical drug development, and the economics associated with orphan drug development.


FYS 20
Herman, Leah – “Diversity, Equality and Inequities”
This course will examine examples of difference in ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality and consider how this diversity has been challenged or accepted in the United States. Students will analyze contemporary and historical issues and explore questions of social justice as they read a variety of fiction and non-fiction texts. In discussions and compositions, students will consider the ways that culture and social structures shape the Pitzer experience, as well as imagining their own roles in transforming society. This course is the designated First-Year Seminar for students in the International Scholars Program and is open to non-native English speakers only.

FYS 10
Keeley, Brian – “The Examined (College) Life”
Western Philosophy’s first hero, Socrates of Ancient Athens, is reputed to have claimed that the unexamined life is not worth living. Of course, talking about such “examination” is easier than actually doing it. In this seminar, we will conduct a Socratic examination of our own lives. In doing so, we’ll consider a number of classic and contemporary texts. In addition, the students will be called on to creatively collaborate with one another and the instructor to design their own “introduction to Pitzer College,” determining what skills and knowledge they will need to succeed in our unique environment. This course is the designated First-Year Seminar for transfer students and students in the New Resources Program and is open to those students only.

Page last updated on September 27, 2016