First-Year Seminar Themes



Patrick Scanlon, M.A.
This class is designed to provide an overview of the importance of leadership trends over the 20th & 21st centuries. We will focus on three specific fields where leadership is crucial: military, sport and business management. Examining the fields thoroughly, we will answer questions, such as:

  • What leadership characteristics seem to be consistent in both the 20th and 21st centuries across the fields of military, sport and business management?
  • What methods seemed to work in the 20th Century that might not be as effective in today’s current world?
  •  How has leadership changed from a gender standpoint?
  •  In what ways do leaders fail? Has this changed, and if so why or why not?  What do leaders do in response to failure? How do/can they adjust?
  •  What is the future of leadership? How should today’s leaders prepare?

Randolph Williams, M.A.
This seminar will explore the history of the arts as a universal language across time and divergent cultures. We will focus on the development of the arts as a parallel vehicle in understanding human communication. In addition to exploring traditional aesthetic concepts we will examine contemporary art and its relationship to contemporary modes of communication. Our aesthetic investigation will include fine arts, music, and drama. Reading by Rudolf Arnheim, John Berger, Howard Gardner, Michael Kimmelman, Marshall McLuhan, Ben Shahn, and Dai Sijie will provide topics of discussion. The class will also include visits to local museums and museums in New York City. Time and scheduling permitted we will attend plays and music concerts. We will use the Manhattanville College art community as a learning lab for our aesthetic exploration.


Mohamed Mobdj, Ph.D.
This first-year seminar examines pivotal moments from antiquity to modern times when Africa and Africans encountered non-Africans, both within the continent and outside it. In these cases, Africa and Africans were the essential others to be assessed then conquered by the West. The course addresses fundamental questions about African and non-African cultural contact and its aftermath through investigations of primary source materials and film.

AMERICAN GOTHIC: LITERATURE AND FILM (1 regular and one off-cycle section)

Carleigh Brower, M.F.A.
The enduring popularity of horror films and Gothic literature begs the question: why are we drawn to the macabre and the grotesque? In this seminar, we will read, analyze, and discuss several influential American Gothic authors and auteurs, including Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, George A. Romero and John Carpenter. We will first study American Gothic literature, discussing the themes, motifs, and style of the genre. Additionally, we will examine the relationship between this literature and the real horrors that cast a shadow over American history. We will then turn to the evolution of the American horror film, uncovering how some of the most influential films in the genre reflect our collective nightmares. Ultimately, horror films and literature resonate because they tap into our culture’s deepest anxieties and fears, fears that persist in American life today. Readings will include "The Turn of the Screw" by Henry James, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" by Washington Irving, and "The Uncanny" by Sigmund Freud. Films studied include Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Psycho and Night of the Living Dead.


Danielle Travali, M.S.
Late journalist and social critic Walter Lippmann, who wrote the book Public Opinion (1922), suggests the role of the media is to give the people on the “island,” a.k.a. civilians, a glimpse of what the world is like beyond their own experience. Indeed, the media has the power to liberate the public by exposing the positive and negative sides of political and social issues, by uniting different people under a common ground and by preventing the government from taking control. But many theorists and critics have argued that the media itself often uses its power to shape and control reality through the messages they convey. So, how do we discern reality from fiction? Does objectivity in news really exist? When several different ideas conflict one another, especially with today's overflowing sea of information on the Web and on television, the idea of discerning truths from lies can be overwhelming. This course is designed not to provide students with a definition of “The Truth,” but to help students become savvy, informed consumers of the mass media so they can make informed decisions about what to believe. The ultimate goal of the course is to help students re-think the portrayal of reality, to better understand news subjectivity, to evaluate media like a professional and to develop their very own educated perception of truth.


Beth Papke Fonfrias, M.A.
Some of us are caught between two worlds: the world of home, the place where we were born, and the place we have chosen to live, or the place we find ourselves in. Using a cross-disciplinary approach through personal narrative, philosophical and political essay, literature and film, this seminar will explore the world of the outsider. Readings include Albert Camus’s The Stranger, Edwige Dandicat’s Breath, Eyes, Memory, and Amy Tan’s “Two Kinds.” Films include Persepolis, Crash, and Mississippi Masala.


Maureen Kindilien, M.L.S.
This first-year seminar will examine personal insight and development through the lens of our social environment. This course will introduce the concepts of self-discovery, community building, the construction of social contracts, and the development of social empathy. Readings, films and discussions will correlate these themes with historical and current social conditions and trends.


Courtney Kelly, Ph.D.
What can we learn about ourselves and our society by critically analyzing how we represent ourselves and our key institutions? This seminar will examine depictions of schools and schooling in books, television and films, and across different eras and cultures, to promote dialogue on topics such as the significance of popular culture, the importance of media literacy and the politics of representation. A fundamental goal of the seminar will be to help students develop the ability to view education and images of it through a critical lens. Course readings will include James Kozol's Savage Inequalities. Films studied will include Dangerous Minds, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Waiting for Superman.


Siobhan Nash-Marshall, Ph.D.
Evil is horrendous. It shocks us. It causes pain and anguish. It obsesses us. How can people commit murder? How can people torture other people? How can people round up people, hold them in concentration camps, and coldly exterminate them? How can our friends betray us? These are terrible questions. We all raise them. None of us has adequate answers to them. And yet we all know that we ourselves are capable of evil. So how is it that none of us has real answers to the problem of evil, even though we are all capable of it? This is the question that this course wants to address.


Genevieve Burger-Weiser, M.F.A.
How has genocide happened again and again? How do we hold people accountable for their actions (or for non-action)? Do we have a responsibility to try to stop genocide if we know it is happening? What can we do to prevent future genocide? Can we reconcile the idea of God with the human history of atrocity? Is there universal morality? What does it mean to be human? Is it possible to heal after surviving, or committing, acts of genocidal war? This seminar will ask those questions and more as we engage critically with a variety of records that relate to the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide. We will focus on parallel elements from both genocides such as campaigns to dehumanize the victims, premeditation and systematization of killing, portraits of the perpetrators, and attempts at bringing the perpetrators to justice through the courts system. The course will consider the dialectic of the unspeakable and the need for expression in the wake of genocide. Students will read and respond to a spectrum of sources including journalistic accounts, survivor accounts, critical essays, political documents and poetry.


Gillian Greenhill Hannum, Ph.D.

Do you have a passion for travel, or have you always wanted to see the world but have not yet had an opportunity to do so? Then, this is the course for you! Through exploring travel essays and artists’ renderings of various journeys, through discussions, lectures and independent and group projects, you will learn what goes into a truly enriching travel experience—one which will broaden not only your physical horizons, but also your mental ones. You will have a sense of the history of travel and will learn to be a culturally sensitive traveler, guided by ethical and environmental considerations. You will also develop the practical skills necessary to plan a trip and will try your hand at writing travel essays and designing promotional materials for travel. The final group project will involve planning and taking a trip, perhaps to Connecticut, New Jersey or a neighborhood in New York you’ve not visited before, and presenting it to the class in a multi-media presentation.


Shirley Baker, M.A.
The first thing that we notice when we meet someone is whether that person is male or female. How does that affect our expectations? What assumptions do we make based on a person’s gender? Are men and women more similar than we often imagine – or are we truly miles apart in how we think, feel, and behave? What messages do we receive from family, friends, teachers, the media, and others based on gender - and how do those messages impact our views of ourselves, our choices, abilities, and behaviors? Through this seminar, students will explore the concepts of masculinity and femininity in our own and other cultures and examine evidence to explain whether specific characteristics and behaviors of men and women are primarily the result of nature or nurture. Areas of exploration will include: communication styles, friendships and love relationships, leadership styles, family and work roles (and the division of labor), cognitive abilities, health and body image, and other topics. Students will have the opportunity to explore advertisements, magazines, television, films and popular music related to these topics.


Marni Berger, M.F.A.
Throughout time, Western science has maintained a closely intertwined if sometimes vexed and always complex relationship with art and religion. The supposedly rational practice of science and the imaginative production of art both invoke great spiritual issues and concerns, increasingly complicated by the technologies science makes possible. Religious institutions and doctrines, along with cultural systems, have had to cope with scientific discoveries that raise fundamental questions about knowledge, morality, and power. Many of these questions focus on scientists: Where are scientists to get their ethics? What are their responsibilities to the universe? To other humans? To life? To Nature? Do they have spiritual obligations? Other questions focus on science as a mode of inquiry: If science is rational, can scientists even be spiritual and still be scientists? Are objectivity and rationality compatible with spirituality? Why and how do the activities of science, religion, and art remain so connected?
Discussion and writing for the class, therefore, will focus not so much on scientific theories (although we will encounter them) as on how imaginative art, specifically literature, has handled some of the social and philosophical questions raised by scientific discovery, such as: Who creates? Is there order in the universe, and if so, what kind? Can science substitute for religion? Does science refute religion? Are science and religion, or science and art, truly incompatible? What is the relation of science, art, and religion? Where is spirituality in this relation? What is the spiritual meaning of discovery? The spiritual responsibility of knowledge? Is knowledge a burden? Why? How and why does science (or literature) change religion? Culture? The imagination? Does it change the human spirit? The scientist? How?


Andrew Bodenrader, M.A.
Sea stories have long explored the limits of human endurance, the perils of emotional extremes, and the profundities of spiritual searching. “The Literature of the Sea” will examine some of the best literature set on ships and boats, and within ocean deeps. Much of the Fall semester will be devoted to two masterpieces: Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. The Spring semester will broaden the course’s focus to examine the nonfiction of Olaudah Equiano and Langston Hughes; the poetry of Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop; the prose of Virginia Woolf; the drama of Eugene O’Neill; and the fiction of Jules Verne, Ernest Hemingway and Kate Chopin. Along with the literature, this class will examine art, music and film that take inspiration from the sea. In addition, the course will examine history and philosophy relevant to the readings.


Joseph Fasano, M.F.A.
From its beginnings, the written word has given witness to humanity's evolving hardships, including its violent trials with itself. This course will consider various texts that deal with the theme of war in the 20th century. We will hear from a vast chorus of voices—witness, victim, soldier, rhetorician, protester, and others—and our emphasis will be on the individual's literary response to societal unrest. We will explore how different genres (fiction, non-fiction, and poetry) are equipped to witness, effect, or protest circumstances of violence and upheaval. Students will strengthen their critical reading and thinking skills through an engagement with this material. Authors include Paul Fussell, Ernest Hemingway, Tim O’Brien, Federico Garcia Lorca, and Pablo Neruda.


David Gutman, Ph.D.
Over the course of the academic year, through examining various works of literature, art, and film, this First Year Program will investigate how western (and especially American) views of the Middle East have shifted over time. This course will place particular emphasis on how western perceptions of the Middle East have been shaped by issues such as race, imperialism, war, and terrorism. In addition, we will also examine several literary and film sources from various countries in the Middle East to gain a better understanding of Middle Easterners’ own complicated and multi-faceted view of the United States. Throughout the course of the year, students will be encouraged to challenge and rethink stereotypes and misperceptions about the Middle East. We will also work to develop a better understanding of the complex historical and political dynamics that shape our perceptions of “the Other.”


Donald Richards, Ph.D.
This first-year seminar will explore America’s multicultural past and future directions. The course will examine America’s impact on minority groups and how those groups in turn influenced U.S. social and cultural developments. Changing views of race and “people of color” will be explored as well as the impact of economic developments on the ideas and phenomena of "assimilation" and "ethnicity." Global discussions and controversies about multiculturalism, migration and immigration will also be examined. Our primary text will be Natives and
Strangers by Dinnerstein, Nichols and Reimers, which examines particular groups extensively, with particular emphasis on Native Americans, African Americans and Hispanics. Secondary sources, readers and other texts abound including: Jon Gjerde ed., Major Problems in American Immigration and Ethnic History (1998), Ronald Takaki, ed., Iron Cages: Race and Culture in 19th Century America (2000) and David Gerber and Alan Kraut American Immigration and Ethnicity: A Reader (2005). A class field trip to Ellis Island is also included.


Gawain de Leeuw, D.Min.
What does it mean to strive or dream for a perfect world? What do stories about idealized worlds and alternative realities say about the impact of industrialism, gender and economic production upon the human experience? This seminar will examine visions of the “perfect” world in literary works such as Thomas More’s Utopia, Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, 2000-1889, George Orwell’s 1984 and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and films such as Gattaca and Blade Runner. These works will be a launching pad for us to examine a wide variety of topics, including the relationship of humanity to nature; technology; the idealization of agrarian or post-industrial society; the role of the state in maintaining law and order; and gender roles. We’ll reflect upon visions of the perfect world as a means to convey warning as well as hope. We will also spend some time examine how groups of people have attempted to build their own idealized communities.


Karen Steinmetz, M.A.
From the earliest known lyric poems to today’s slam poetry, poets address the nature of desire. In the sixth century B.C.E., Sappho writes, “Sweet mother, I cannot work the loom—/slender Aphrodite has overwhelmed me/ with longing for a boy.” In Sappho’s poems, what is best loved is usually another person, and no poet describes longing more achingly. However, human desire defines beauty or what is good in many ways. The absence of what we love pains us, yet desire for what is good or beautiful keeps us going. Contemporary poet Stanley Kunitz writes, “What makes the engine go? / Desire, desire, desire.” This seminar will focus on poetry as the creative impulse to define what we desire, linking the expression of desire across centuries and cultures. Texts will include Anne Carson’s translation of Sappho, Eros the Bittersweet; Helen Vendler’s Poem’s Poets, Poetry; Czeslaw Milosz's A Book of Luminous Things; Susan Wolfman’s John Keats; and The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.


Carmelo Comberiati, Ph.D. (1 section)
Frank Brancaleone, Ph.D. (1 section)
This seminar will engage the students in listening to musical works from various style periods and where applicable pair them with texts and/or discussion of religious, social and political events and their implications. The principal concern of the course is European classical music and its representations in the United States. The main work of the course will be learning how to listen to the works in a meaningful context, including cultural background, insightful musical considerations, and for aesthetic appreciation.


Nada Halloway, Ph.D.
This class will focus on the ways in which women’s roles have been imagined in literature, society, and culture. The class will be composed of some theoretical works by feminist scholars as well as a selection of major Western and non-Western writers. We will look at how gender roles inform power, authority, and class in Western literature and how that idea is approached in non-Western writers as they work from the margins.


Lawson Bowling, Ph.D.
Homo Ludens, or "Man the Player," written in 1938 by Dutch historian Johan Huizinga, discusses the significance of play in human experience as a means of human expression, conflict, and emotion. "Work hard, play hard" is a modern cliche that is debatable as well as widespread. This seminar introduces students to thinking seriously about sport and play. Topics include; classical civilization, sport, and war; cockfighting in Bali: multidimensional
meanings; North America’s original game—“the moral equivalent of war”?; The Joe Louis story—“a credit to his race”; the “Woman Question” in sports; sports, education, and values.


James Jones, D. Min.
This seminar explores religious texts and other readings as ways of understanding modern terror that is practiced in the “name of God.” In particular, the course will focus on the role of perceived victimization as a rationale for “holy terror.” Readings will include the Bible, The Qur’an, Mark Juergensmeyer's Terror in The Mind of God, and Charles Selengut's Sacred Fury: Understanding Religious Violence.


James Bryan, Ph.D.
In this course we will explore elements of human nature: what defines us as Human. With a foundation in both evolutionary theory and an understanding of the interplay of nature with culture and environment, we will consider selected human universals. In our explorations we will attempt to understand a wide range of things, from the pursuit of social status, to mating, to judgments of right and wrong, to competition, to what makes us happy, to the ways in which we make choices, to the narratives we put together in constructing our identities. Our focus will be on human thinking, learning, understanding, and decision-making. From models of the hyper-rational economic man to theories of intuition, gut-feelings and emotions, we will observe human behavior -- humans making decisions, sometimes very deliberately and other times quite unconsciously and automatically.


Rachel Snyder, M.F.A.
This course will explore the theme of life’s critical junctures by examining literature that addresses individual transitions and transformations. We will read essays, short stories, poems, and even children’s stories to identify how change is addressed through writing and storytelling. Additionally, we will look for examples of transition in popular culture and the media, keeping in mind that the basis of every story is a change in condition.
Through discussion and critical analysis, we will try to answer questions such as: How does individual change reflect changes in society, and similarly what is the relationship between cultural and individual change? How are similar or shared experiences expressed differently depending on medium, author, and audience? What common themes can be found among vastly different experiences, voices, backgrounds, and stages?


Gregory Swedberg, Ph.D.
This seminar examines the nature and purpose of state-directed violence and how it is remembered and represented in Modern Latin America. Students will also explore the tactics that victims deployed to resist violence in several settings such as Chile, Guatemala, Mexico and Argentina. Through the reading of monographs and novels and interpreting film, students will explore Latin American violence through the lens of class, ethnicity and gender. Special emphasis will be placed on the rise and fall of military dictatorships, class inequality, ethnic tensions, and urban violence. Assignments will require students to review critically assigned texts and films.