First-Year Seminar Course Descriptions

Seminar in Scholarly Inquiry 1

Important Note: The following offerings are current as of April 21, 2017. Changes to these offerings may occur, and will be reflected in choices available online through Puget Sound’s seminar selection tool. Residential seminars (seminars whose students live together on the same floor of a residence hall) are denoted as “RS” in the course title. Some seminars will only be residential and others will have one section that is residential. New this fall, the Humanities Residential Program Seminars offer students a living-learning opportunity that is intellectually engaging and fun. Students in these seminars enjoy living together on the same floor, where they often form a vibrant community by working collaboratively on assignments for their writing seminar, and by participating in co-curricular events such as film screenings, open-mic nights, guest lectures, dinner parties, and trips to Tacoma and Seattle cultural venues.  These courses are denoted as "RS-Hum" in the course title.

First-Year Seminars at Puget Sound introduce students into our academic community and engage them in the process of scholarly inquiry.  In these discussion-based seminars, students develop the intellectual habits necessary to write and speak effectively and with integrity. Students increase their ability to develop effective arguments by learning to frame questions around a focused topic, to assess and support claims, and to present their work to an academic audience both orally and in writing. As part of understanding scholarly conversations, students learn to identify the most appropriate sources of information and to evaluate those sources critically.  Students take a Seminar in Scholarly Inquiry I in the fall semester, with the Seminar in Scholarly Inquiry II taken in the spring, pending successful completion of SSI-1.

In the first seminar in this sequence, students engage challenging texts and ideas through guided inquiry led by the faculty member. Students begin to develop the academic abilities of reading, writing, and oral argument necessary to enter into academic conversations. Assignments in this seminar largely involve sources prescribed by the instructor, rather than sources students search for and identify themselves. Each seminar is focused around a scholarly topic, set of questions, or theme. These seminars may be taken only to fulfill core requirements.

SSI-1 101: Dionysus and the Art of Theatre (RS-Hum)
(Professor Geoffrey Proehl)


SSI-1 111: Life, Death, and Meaning
(Professor Ariela Tubert)

This course is devoted to a number of philosophical issues surrounding death and the meaning of life. The main focus is a number of existential questions and different attempts, past and present, to answer these questions. The central question of the course is: What gives life meaning? Some philosophers have argued that meaning is to be found in one of the following: the pursuit of pleasure of one’s own happiness, the pursuit of justice or the common good, religion, the pursuit of knowledge, the pursuit of some other value (like artistic value or human excellence); while others have argued that life has no meaning (life is absurd). In addition, the following questions are examined: Is freedom of some sort necessary for a meaningful life? Would life have meaning if we lived forever? Is it rational to fear death? Does causing someone to exist always benefit that person? Is letting life go extinct bad? Readings for this course include a number of existentialist writers (Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Sartre, Camus, de Bevouvoir), some excerpts from classic writers (Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus), and a number of contemporary writers (Nagel, Williams, Feldman, Nozick, Parfit, Taylor, Wolf). Affiliate department: Philosophy..

SSI-1 112: Salsa, Samba, and Soccer: Popular Culture in Latin America (RS)
Advising seminar only
(Professor John Lear)

This course considers the intersections of gender, race, and class in the production of popular culture as an introduction to, and a way to understand, Latin America, and as a vehicle for students to develop essential skills by examining a variety of sources and developing and supporting arguments in class and on paper. Beginning with introductory historical and theoretical frameworks, students examine a variety of contemporary forms of popular culture: popular religious symbols and rituals, secular festivals, music, dance, food, and sports. Students explore the tensions between elite and popular cultures; popular culture as a resistance or opposition; attempts by the state to manage popular culture as a symbol of national identity or a form of social control; the relation of popular culture to mass and commercial culture; and the migrations of cultural forms between Latin American countries and the rest of the world. The final project is a substantive paper based on independent research. Affiliate program: Latin American Studies.

SSI-1 115: Imaging Blackness (RS)
(Professor Renee Simms)

The study of film is a key aspect of visual rhetoric, a growing area of academic interest linking film studies and rhetorical theory. This seminar focuses on the study of popular visual images as public argument. Students examine the political economy (ownership, production, dissemination), engage in a textual/visual analysis (what meanings are embedded), and examine audience reception of black film (how do audiences understand and use these media images). Students explore how these films function as public argument advocating particular views of black identity while contesting counter arguments as part of a larger agenda of promoting blacks and shaping U.S. public life. Affiliate department: African American Studies.

SSI-1 116: Communicating Forgiveness and Revenge
(Professor Bianca Wolf)

Students critically consume and analyze a variety of challenging texts, formulate and support argumentative claims, produce written assignments, and present their work orally. Students examine forgiveness as a relational and communicative process along with the implications of forgiving between dyads, small groups, and society at large. In addition, alternative post-transgression options such as unforgiveness and revenge that are commonly depicted in opposition to forgiveness are considered. Ultimately, students work to uncover the light and dark sides of both forgiveness and revenge during an examination of these relational processes. Affiliate department: Communication Studies.

SSI-1 119: Einstein and Everything
(Professor Amy Fisher)

In 1999, Time Magazine named Albert Einstein the most influential person of the twentieth century. Who was Albert Einstein? This course examines his personal and scientific life as well as his legacy. Einstein’s research in physics revolutionized our understanding of space and time, produced a new theory of gravity that underpins modern cosmology, and contributed to the development of quantum theory. A German national who renounced his citizenship as a teenager only to take a distinguished job in Berlin, a pacifist who opposed WWI but urged President Roosevelt to start a nuclear-weapons program, a non-religious Jew who championed freedom of conscience but turned down the presidency of Israel, Einstein embodies many of the contradictions of the twentieth century. By examining Einstein’s life in its historical context, students analyze a range of issues: how does society (e.g., through its religious beliefs, economics, and military interests) shape science, and how does science shape society, affecting institutions, cultural values, and national and personal identity? Affiliate department: Science, Technology, and Society.

SSI-1 120: Hagia Sophia – From the Emperor’s Church to the Sultan’s Mosque
(Professor Kriszta Kotsis)

The church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople was not only a daring architectural achievement at the time of its completion in 537, but also a significant religious and political statement. As the primary church of Constantinople, it was the meeting ground of the emperor, the patriarch, and the populace, and a treasure trove of holy relics sought out by pilgrims who flocked to the Byzantine capital. After the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453, Hagia Sophia was refurbished and rededicated as a mosque, and it functioned as such until it became a museum in 1935. This course explores ideas related to this single but fundamental monument of world heritage across multiple cultures and periods and from the perspective of multiple disciplines in order to provide students an opportunity to engage with the process of scholarly inquiry. By completing extensive reading and writing assignments, students amplify their skills in creating effective arguments, synthesizing complex ideas based on multiple sources, and deepen their skills in critiquing primary and secondary sources. Affiliate department: Art.

SSI-1 122: Ectopia? Landscape, History, and Identity in the Pacific Northwest
Two sections – one advising seminar, one traditional seminar
(Professor Doug Sackman)

In his novel Ectopia, Ernest Callenbach envisioned Northern California, Oregon, and Washington separating from the USA to become a breakaway “green” republic. Using this vision of the Northwest as a sustainable society as a touchstone, this course explores the multifaceted relationship between human identity and landscape (or place) in the region over the last century. Probing historical documents, visual representations, and literature, students investigate how different peoples have encountered, experienced, and represented the environment in the Pacific Northwest and how, in turn, the environment has shaped their sense of who they are. Additional topics may include the wilderness idea, globalization, and the way that social divisions such as gender and race have intersected with the process of making and re-making places in the region. Affiliate department: History.

SSI-1 124: Utopia/Dystopia
(Professor William Breitenbach)

What is human happiness? Can human beings live together in harmony? What is the perfect society? Is it possible to achieve such a society? This course examines how selected writers and communitarians have answered these questions in theory, fiction, and practice. The course studies the themes of utopianism and anti-utopianism in Western thought from ancient times to the 21st century. Readings vary from year to year, but may include Plato’s Republic, More’s Utopia, Voltaire’s Candide, Bellamy’s Looking Backward, Gilman’s Herland, Zamyatin’s We, Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, and documents from actual utopian communities. Affiliate department: Humanities.

SSI-1 127: “Why Beethoven?” (RS)
(Professor Geoffrey Block)

“Why Beethoven?” was a question the composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein asked himself in an imaginary conversation published in his book, The Joy of Music. More than half a century later we are still asking the same question. Why has Beethoven played such a pivotal role in the history of classical music, the world of ideas as a whole, and in popular culture? Why is he “a ubiquitous icon in all corners of American society,” as described by the scholar Michael Broyles? This seminar attempts to offer some answers about this towering figure in Western culture. Through critical examination of representative works and through important biographical studies, film, and a Broadway play, this course will explore issues that include the nature of genius, the compositional process of Beethoven’s music, the connections between creativity and suffering, and the presence of Beethoven in American culture. Affiliate school: School of Music.

SSI-1 128: The Philosophy and Science of Human Nature
(Professor Justin Tiehen)

Is there a universal human nature, and if so what defines it? For millennia now philosophers have debated this question, proposing a number of starkly different accounts of human nature in the process. More recently scientists have gotten in on the action as well, bringing empirical results to bear on various hypotheses regarding what human beings are like. This course examines the interaction between philosophical and scientific approaches to the study of human nature. Topics include the following: Which features of human minds are innate? What is the relation between the language a person speaks and the way in which that person conceptualizes the world? What does evolution entail about human nature? Is the existence of free will compatible with various scientific findings regarding human beings? What are the moral and political implications of different views of human nature? Do men and women have fundamentally different natures? What is the relation between human nature and religion? The course examines works by Aristotle, Hobbes, Rousseau, Marx, Darwin, and Mead, as well as many contemporary philosophers and scientists. Affiliate department: Philosophy.

SSI-1 132: Wild Things
(Professor William Kupinse)

The concept of wilderness--and the related category of the wild--has proved a central imaginative paradigm for much of the environmental literature produced in and about the United States and Canada since the time of European settlement. By examining a varied selection of ecologically minded texts, this seminar explores how and why writers have argued for particular understandings of the concepts of wilderness and wild. Drawing on nature writing in several genres, the course further explores the social, political, and cultural issues at stake in these contested definitions. Among the questions the course considers: Is wilderness a useful conceptual category for current ecocritical analysis, or is it fraught with excess ideological baggage? Is wild a more productive concept for a critical practice that might inform effective resistance to current environmental degradation? How do wild and wilderness intersect with the familiar critical issues of race, gender, and colonial legacy? Affiliate department: English.

SSI-1 133: Not Just Fun and Games – Sport and Society in the Americas
(Professor Michael Benveniste)

Many people turn to sport as an escape from the pressures and concerns of everyday life, a space apart from society’s daily grind. This course, however, explores the myriad ways that sport is enmeshed in the social world: the interplay of sports and sporting culture with sociopolitical conflict and ideology. Honing in on the three major sports of the Americas—baseball, soccer, and boxing—students examine the interaction of these sports with shifting historical and social contexts in order to query the role of identity, economy, class, and politics both on and off the field. Drawing on writings and films about sport, as well as sporting events themselves, students learn the rudiments of critical analysis and argumentation as they explore just how permeable are the boundaries between sport and society. Affiliate department: English.

SSI-1 134: Dreams and Desire – The Liminal World
(Professor Beverly Conner)
(Professor Ann Putnam)

The theme of this course is the exploration of the liminal world – the terrain for which there is evidence but no proof. For example, what do religion, anthropology, philosophy, medicine, psychology, and literature have to say about the seen and the unseen, the threshold between life and death &ndash issues that shoot to the core of human existence and exert the strongest hold on the human spirit? Students explore the validity of claims about belief and unbelief, the world beyond the senses, made by prophets, priests, poets, shamans, scientists, philosophers. As both writers and speakers, students construct persuasive arguments based on an evaluation of sources that either contradict or defend given assumptions about the role of liminality in culture, history, identity, and the natural world. Students begin with texts that insist upon controversial readings, such as Toni Morrison's Beloved, Louis Owen's Wolfsong, and Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits. Affiliate department: English.

SSI-1 135: An Unnatural Disaster – Hurricane Katrina (RS)
(Professor Nancy Bristow)

This course explores the causes and consequences of Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged the Gulf Coast in 2005. The course investigates the ways in which this catastrophe might be understood as an "unnatural disaster." While the course takes an historical perspective, it also explores issues that require students to look at the past from a variety of perspectives &ndash cultural, social, political, legal, economic, environmental, and technological.  As a result, students have the opportunity to work with sources drawn from disciplines reaching well beyond history, including meteorology, engineering, public policy and the law, as well as the visual, theatrical, and musical arts. Affiliate department: History.

SSI-1 136: Urban America – Problems and Possibilities
(Professor Alison Tracy Hale)

This course introduces students to the essential skills for participation in the academic community. In this course, students develop their ability to read and assess scholarly texts, to identify appropriate methods of academic argumentation, to gather and evaluate evidence, and to present their ideas in focused and academically appropriate oral and written forms. Students are introduced to essential elements of information literacy and approach academic writing and discussion as recursive and mutually reinforcing practices. The course topic, "Urban America," invites students to enter a contemporary dialogue regarding the nature of urban spaces, to examine the complex forces that contribute to their problems, and to consider the ways that 21st century life brings new possibilities and opportunities to city dwellers. Affiliate department: English.

SSI-1 138: Theatre and Comedy – Drama, History, and Theory from Aristophanes to the Absurd
(Professor John Wesley)

This course studies the theory and artistic expression of dramatic comedy, from ancient Greece to 21st-century America. Specifically, and somewhat distinct from an investigation of jokes and laughter, readings and assignments focus on the formal aspects of comedy, especially as shaped by its origins in Greek fertility festivals through to its absurdist postmodern manifestations. Expressions of comedy include representative plays from four or five historical periods, as well as selections from television and film of the 20th and 21st centuries.  Theoretical readings by such writers as Plato, Aristotle, Henri Bergson, Sigmund Freud, Bertrand Russell, Susan K. Langer, Mikhail Bakhtin, Northrop Frye, and Martin Esslin provide frames not only for interpreting comedy itself, but also for understanding the relationship between comedy and society. Affiliate department: English.

SSI-1 139: The Third Wave – Rock After the Beatles
(Professor Kenneth Harris)

This course surveys rock music in the immediate post-Beatles period from 1970 to 1990, two decades witnessing an unprecedented diversity of rock music styles. Close reading of representative works by numerous artists (such as David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, Patti Smith, Sex Pistols, Talking Heads, Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna) will develop critical listening and basic music-analytic skills. Scholarly works from numerous perspectives (musicological, sociological, historical) are engaged closely and intended to introduce students to the academic response to rock music. Affiliate department: Music.

SSI-1 141: Architectures of Power
Two sections – one advising seminar, one traditional seminar
(Professor Mita Mihato)

Using words as its building blocks instead of bricks or stones, writing has power to evoke or create socially-coded (and sometimes socially subversive) meanings for its readers. The title of this seminar, "Architectures of Power," suggests that there is some kind of mechanism, be it actual or theoretical, that structures power and one's ability to act effectively. Focusing on the power dynamics that structure writing, cultural interactions, and individual mindsets, this course is composed of a series of units that, building on one another, move students from the basic questions one asks of writing to more complex written assignments that require integration of a number of provided source materials. In analyzing a variety of texts (linguistic, visual, and even aural), students explore, develop, and analyze the kinds of social and communicative powers that writing can construct. Affiliate department: English.

SSI -1 143: Controversies of Communication and Technology
Advising seminar only
(Professor Nicholas Brody)

This course explores controversies as they relate to technology and communication. Technology is now a pervasive aspect of daily life. Some technology-related discussion topics include online privacy, cyberbullying, anonymity, surveillance, trolling, and online dating. In addition to reading about developing and structuring arguments, students view relevant media and read popular press and academic articles about the various issues relating to technology and communication. In the process of examining these controversies, students encounter the two central aspects of the humanistic tradition of rhetorical education: argumentation and effective oral and written expression. Students engage in a variety of activities and exercises and prepare a final paper designed to develop their fluency in written composition and oral expression. Affiliate department: Communication Studies.

SSI-1 144: Constitutional Controversies
(Professor James Jasinski)

This course focuses on the U.S. Constitution in order to introduce students to frameworks for analyzing both policy and interpretive arguments on issues such as bicameralism, presidential veto, equal protection, and racial preferences. In the SSI1 version, students develop their analytical skills using texts provided by the instructor. In the SSI2 version, students research an ongoing legal controversy and prepare arguments on it. Students also gather materials concerning an amendment debate and analyze them. Students examine and assess arguments from authority, with particular attention to what makes for credible authority in a particular area. Through a series of short writing assignments, students prepare to undertake the major writing assignment emphasizing the various analytical perspectives. Affiliate department: Communication Studies.

SSI-1 165: Never Really Alone – Symbioses and Parasitism Around and Within Us
(Professor Mark Martin)

This course seeks to explore the prevalence, impact, and history of the associations between organisms (including human beings), from the very large to the microscopic, throughout the biosphere. There is a growing paradigm shift in science that places diverse associations between organisms as central to evolutionary theory and life on Earth: not so much competition among organisms but complex “networking” between them. Various relationships between organisms will be examined through this metaphorical lens, ranging from crustaceans that replace the tongues of fish, nematode worms that alter the behavior of the insects that host them, the tiny “wildlife” that lives on and within human beings, bacteria that help feed plants or insects cooperatively, and the fact that life as known on Earth has resulted from ancient symbioses. In this context, some associations to be discussed are mutualistic and benefit both “partners,” while other associations are far more graphically one-sided. Using this intellectual framework, students will develop skills in evaluating, discussing, and presenting concepts relating to symbioses and parasitism, from historical, philosophical, and scientific viewpoints. These skills will include the evaluation of popular scientific articles (as well as social media, television, and journalistic sources) and the ability to seek out and analytically read scientific and scholarly journal articles. Student learning outcomes for this course will include: effective classroom discussion and evaluation of assigned material, creation of a class “blog” with student generated entries, and short written reports on individual symbiotic or parasitic associations. Each student will create an end of semester project exploring one such association in depth as a well-crafted and scaffolded term paper as well as a PowerPoint oral presentation to the class. Affiliate department: Biology.

SSI-1 171: Medical Discourse and the Body
(Professor Darcy Irvin)

The human body presents a challenging topic for discourse. The body is at once universal and yet radically subjective; everyone has a body, but not all bodies are the same or similar. Moreover, knowledge about the body varies dramatically between different groups of people. This course focuses on discourse about the body: who has authority to speak about the body? Why and for what reasons? What kinds of language do people employ when they write or speak about the body? How does their language use change depending on the audience? Students begin thinking about these questions by reading several texts about legislation debates concerning the body. A human body forms the single most basic legal entity in our society, and also perhaps the most contested. Who has power over an individual? What are the limits of that power, and how are such limitations determined? These discussions are followed by reading several accounts by doctors—people who spend their lives examining and interacting with many kinds of bodies in different situations. How do doctors understand their relationship to the kinds of bodies they see? Finally, students consider how people conceptualize their own relationship to their bodies. Affiliate department: English.

SSI-1 172: The Scientific and Romantic Revolutions (RS)
Advising Seminar only
(Professor George Erving)

This course explores the causes and consequences of two decisive turning points in Western civilization—the Scientific Revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, and the Romantic movement of the late-18th and early 19th centuries. The course aims to understand these periods of upheaval in their political, religious, economic, scientific, and aesthetic dimensions, and to discover how their legacy continues to inform the relationship between science and art. Affiliate program: Humanities.

SSI-1 174: Lethal Othering – Critiquing Genocidal Prejudice
(Professor Margi Nowak)

The anthropological study of prejudice looks critically at the process of "othering" - that is, the fear-based tendency to regard groups who are "different from us" in ways that emphasize (their) threat versus (our) safety. Logically, this perspective can lead to attitudes, policies, and actions that aim to annihilate the difference between "us" (the in-group) and "them" (the dangerous outsiders) - either by forced assimilation or even by genocide.  This course examines the ways that prejudice has been a part of such murderous and inhumane activity, beginning with a sustained exploration of the role of anti-Semitic prejudice in pogroms that took almost immediately after the Holocaust. Following the first section of the course, students will be guided to examine other situations of prejudicial, even murderous thinking and actions against Native Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, Latino Americans, and Arab and Muslim Americans. Students will choose one of these five groups as the subject of further, more independent scholarly exploration, while concluding the course with a consideration of yet another kind of "othering": the practice, in some US locales, of local governments enacting legislation to exclude certain types of people from certain neighborhoods. Affiliate department: Sociology and Anthropology.

SSI-1 175: Utopia and the Imagination
(Professor Allen Jones)

In 1516, Thomas More wrote a fanciful story about the New World and called it Utopia. While the term he coined, u-topia, literally means no-place, his fictional text served as a powerful indictment of English society. Among other things, he argued for a radical rethinking of education, a reduction in territorial expansion, and an oddly progressive approach to gender relations and marriage. While More coined the term, the notion of utopia as a societal critique stretches back to foundational texts such as Plato’s Republic and Genesis. In fact, it is hard to conceive of the progress of Western thought without the presence of utopian thinking. This course explores utopian thought, examining utopian theories of the golden age, economics, religion, architecture, gender relations, technology, etc. Students are asked to use this frame to examine and critique today’s society. This is a writing-intensive course which uses the theme of utopia to teach critical thinking and scholarly writing. Affiliate department: English.

SSI-1 195: Honors – New World Rhetorics
Honors students only

This course provides students with valuable composition and speaking skills for academic and civic life. The course helps students frame a problem or question (historical, visual, and literary) to develop interpretations or arguments for oral presentation and in expository prose. Course readings focus on the way the discovery of the New World required late-medieval and early modern writers to develop a new language to explore a new ontology or paradigm of reality. Course materials include travel literature, plays, and novels that complement the readings in Honors 211; the focus of this course, however, is on the process of academic writing, from the development of a thesis or arguable assertion through textual analysis and prewriting to the final draft, polished through extensive revision. Affiliate program: Honors.

Residential Seminars - RS

Residential seminars are indicated with "RS" in the title. The students in a residential seminar live together on the same floor of a residence hall. New this fall, the Humanities Residential Program Seminars offer students a living-learning opportunity that is intellectually engaging and fun. Students in these seminars enjoy living together on the same floor, where they often form a vibrant community by working collaboratively on assignments for their writing seminar, and by participating in co-curricular events such as film screenings, open-mic nights, guest lectures, dinner parties, and trips to Tacoma and Seattle cultural venues. These courses are denoted as "RS-Hum" in the course title.

All residential seminars are a wonderful opportunity for first year students to extend their learning beyond the classroom. Faculty and Residence Life staff working with residential seminars provide the students with a variety of enrichment events that connect to their coursework and will enhance their learning experience.  Some activities offered in the past include films, field trips, and guest lectures.