First-Year Seminar

First-Year Seminars initiate students into the academic life of the College by offering intellectually engaging experiences in which students and faculty from a wide range of departments work through challenging material, often across disciplinary lines. Each one-semester seminar is designed to develop essential skills for college work, such as the ability to read critically and analytically, to speak clearly and effectively, and to write logically and persuasively.

First-Year Seminars vary in content and format, and fall into two categories: Special Topics and Reacting to the Past.

Special Topics

See Course Descriptions, Spring 2019 for current offerings.

These seminars are developed individually by faculty from a wide range of departments in the College to investigate interdisciplinary themes.

Seminar titles have included:

Ethnicity & Social Transformation


The Enchanted Imagination

The Beautiful Sea


Culture, Ethics and Economics

Revolution: Locke to Luxemburg

Animals in Text & Society

Equality Between the Sexes

Tipping Points


How Do We Know What We Know?

Modernism in the City

Texts of Protest in the Americas

On Dreams and Nightmares

Arts of Adaptation


Taboo and Transgression

Literature and Justice

The American Middle Class

Violence and Justice


The Hudson: America's River

Thinking Latin America

Ethical Theories & Practice

Art, Sex and American Culture

Small Lives

Unburied/Undead: Memory, Trauma and the Cultural Imagination

Exploring the Poles

Classics Over Time

Shapes and Shadows of Identy

Legacy of the Mediterranean

The Americas


Reacting to the Past

In these seminars, students play complex historical role-playing games informed by classic texts. These seminars are speaking- and writing-intensive, as students pursue their assigned roles’ objectives through presentations, debate and teamwork.

Each seminar will work with three of the following four games: 1) The Threshold of Democracy: Athens in 403 B.C. explores a pivotal moment following the defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian War, when democrats sought to restore democracy while critics, including the supporters of Socrates, proposed alternatives. The key text is Plato's Republic. 2) Confucianism and the Succession Crisis of the Wanli Emperor examines a dispute between Confucian purists and pragmatists within the Hanlin Academy, the highest echelon of the Ming bureaucracy, taking Analects of Confucius as the central text. 3) The Trial of Anne Hutchinson revisits a conflict that pitted Puritan dissenter Anne Hutchinson and her supporters against Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop and the orthodox ministers of New England. Students work with testimony from Hutchinson’s trial as well as the Bible and other texts. 4) Greenwich Village, 1913: Suffrage, Labor and the New Woman investigates the struggle between radical labor activists and woman suffragists for the hearts and minds of "Bohemians," drawing on foundational works by Marx, Freud, Mary Wollstonecraft, and others. Visit for more information about the course.