First Year Seminars

Last updated: April 15, 2014 at 5:03 p.m.

First Year Seminars

First Year Seminars (FYS) are special courses specifically designed for first-year students. Although not required, the seminars provide an excellent foundation for undergraduate studies at Brandeis. Under the close guidance of faculty, students are able to experience the intense intellectual engagement of a seminar and interactive small class environment.

These courses explicitly address development of analysis, writing, and oral communication. The seminars incorporate multiple perspectives (disciplinary or interdisciplinary) in addressing significant issues, questions and problems.   

The seminars are also skill-oriented: they encourage students to develop analytical, writing, and oral communication skills. Class discussions, under faculty guidance, help students to formulate key questions and to construct a critical analysis of the author’s or artist’s assumptions, evidence, and argumentation. In addition, they allow students to develop and share insights and ideas, thus learning from each other.

JustBooks

At Brandeis, social justice is more than an extracurricular option; it informs all our fields of study. Beginning this year, a special set of humanities seminars will allow first-year students to explore issues of justice in the context of a specific topic under the guidance of a professor who is expert in his or her field.

Like all first-year seminars, JustBooks Seminars foster a climate of deep and lively discussion and provide the opportunity for you to work intensively on the skills you’ll most need for success at Brandeis. As you grapple with complex ideas and challenging ethical questions, you will have the benefit of a small-group setting for honing your abilities at critical thinking, close reading, analytical writing, and oral argument.

Since questions of justice underlie every sphere of intellectual inquiry and daily life, the JustBooks program is designed to appeal to diverse student interests and goals. All sections will share some reading from Justice: What’s the Right Thing To Do? by renowned Harvard professor and Brandeis alumnus Michael Sandel ’75. But each JustBooks Seminar will have a special focus, and each will provide course credit toward one or more specific majors.

Courses of Instruction

(1-99) Primarily for Undergraduate Students

FYS 2c Physical Science Frontiers
[ sn ]
A year-long seminar open only to first-year students in the physical science scholars program.
This seminar is designed to introduce students to topics of current research in mathematics, computer science, physics, and chemistry. The class time includes both lectures and interactive activities.
Ms. Charney (Mathematics) and Mr. Hickey (Computer Science)

FYS 4a Literacy and Development
[ hum wi ]
Studies various definitions and forms of literacy across cultures and eras as depicted in literature and social science texts. Students' personal literacy stories are part of the curriculum.
Ms. Hale (Romance Studies)

FYS 8a Metamorphosis
[ hum wi ]
Examines how literature responds, internally and externally, to the challenge that change poses for the individual and society. Metamorphosis, the transformation of one object into another, is the primary focus within each text studied, but considerable time is also spent in determining how each text relates to the others with which it shares characters, plots, and themes. As multiple versions of a few particular stories are read, only students with a tolerance for repetition and an appreciation for variation should consider enrolling.
Ms. Walker (Classical Studies)

FYS 9b Going to Hell: Journeys to the Underworld
[ hum ]
Why does the theme of a living being, either divine or human, going to visit the world of the dead occur in several cultures? This seminar explores connections to the meaning of life and justice within the specific cultures engendering each text.
Ms. Walker (Classical Studies)

FYS 11a Nature's Nanotechnology
[ sn ]
Familiarity with high school math, physics, chemistry and biology is expected.
Imagine a world occupied by machines whose size is 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. Some of them produce fuel by harnessing solar energy, while others transport cargo on tracks only 10 atoms across, or assemble other machines following molecular blueprints. This is the bustling world inside a living cell, which we will explore using high school level math, physics and biology. Usually offered every year.
Mr. Kondev (Physics)

FYS 15a Journeys to Enlightenment
[ hum wi ]
Literature often symbolizes the meaning of existence as a journey from error to truth, from affliction to freedom and enlightenment. Works by Dante, Rabelais, Shakespeare, Blake, Baudelaire, Hesse, and Hurston illustrate visions of human existence that have been entertained from the Middle Ages to the present.
Mr. Kaplan (Romance Studies)

FYS 18a Understanding Evil and Human Destiny
[ hum ]
Designed to introduce students to some of the Western classics that deal with the impact of evil on human destiny. Suffering, justice, and death are studied in their relationship with God, the world, and history.
Mr. Kimelman (Near Eastern and Judaic Studies)

FYS 20b Art and the Asian City: Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong
[ ca ]
Studies the evolution of the urban environment in three modern Asian cities and its impact on the visual arts. Examines the city as the financial and cultural hub of the nation, as well as the site of clashing cultural identities, personal anxieties, and civic crises.
Ms. Wong (Fine Arts)

FYS 24b The Howl of Simple Words: Reading Gender in Israeli Literature and Cinema
[ hum ]
The poet Rachel Bluwstein describes her poetics as "the howl of simple words." With these words she exposes the normative expectation of women's writing at the beginning of the century, on the one hand, and the subversive potential that lies in women's creativity, on the other. This seminar explores this ongoing duality in Modern Hebrew literature and Israeli cinema.
Ms. Szobel (Near Eastern and Judaic Studies)

FYS 25a The Artist Behind their Work
[ ca ]
No previous painting or drawing experience required.
Appreciates through understanding the artists lives and experiences behind his/her work. Each student gains deeper appreciation for their chosen artist’s painting process, style and artistic content through the execution/replication of a chosen artist’s work.
Mr. Moody (Theater Arts)

FYS 26b Maps of Hidden Worlds: From the Cosmos to the Human Genome
[ sn ]
Explores the science behind making maps of worlds that we cannot perceive with our senses. In particular, this seminar examines maps of the universe around us and maps of the cells within us. The approach is historical, covering the great discoveries that have culminated in the mapping of the cosmic microwave background radiation, and the sequencing of the human genome. Some of the questions considered are: How does one measure the distance to a galaxy far, far away? How do we know the age of the universe? What does it mean to sequence the human genome? What is nature's nanotechnology and how do we discover it?
Mr. Kondev (Physics)

FYS 28b The Jewish Family: Past and Present
[ hum ]
Examines the transformation of the Jewish family in four different settings (Europe, America, North Africa, and the Middle East) from medieval to modern times, focusing primarily on the internal dynamics of family life and interaction with majority cultures.
Ms. Freeze (Near Eastern and Judaic Studies)

FYS 32b Crime and Punishment in History
[ ss ]
This seminar aims to help first-year students sharpen their skills in critical reading, thinking, writing, and oral expression — vital tools of a liberal arts education and a rich intellectual life. Our common substantive project will be to develop an informed historical perspective on crime and punishment. Immersing ourselves in an eclectic mix of texts and genres — criminal codes, pardon tales, trial records, political essays, memoirs, true-crime journalism, history books, urban sociology, novels, and films — we will examine how Western Europeans and Americans of different eras have defined, represented, and punished crime.
Mr. Willrich (History)

FYS 33a Wonders of the Ancient World
[ hum ]
Uses the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and their cultural contexts as backdrop, this seminar investigates the different notions of cultural heritage and its reception through the ages. Ancient texts, archaeology, travelers' accounts, and reconstructions explore the impact of the Seven Wonders through time. Special one-time offering, fall 2012.
Mr. Koh (Classical Studies)

FYS 35a Topics in Drug Discovery and Development
[ sn ]
Explores drug discovery and development through basic chemical and biological strategies to identify therapeutics and subsequent requirements to bring a pharmaceutical to market. Topics including targets, optimization and scaling synthetic processes, patenting, and drug delivery will be discussed. Usually offered every year.
Mr. Pontrello (Chemistry)

FYS 36b Drama and Social Issues
[ hum ]
What are the values and purposes of drama? What drama can tell us about violence and sexuality, about political relationships, and about ourselves is explored through plays by writers from Sophocles to Calderón to Dorfman.
Ms. Fox (Romance Studies)

FYS 41a Darwin's "On the Origin of Species"
[ sn ]
The year 2009 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. We celebrate these occasions by considering Darwin and his legacy. The publication of the Origin transformed Western society, providing a new paradigm that ranks in its far-reaching effects with those of Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton. Although Darwin’s work is often cited, frequently celebrated, and sometimes maligned, it is seldom read. This course is an invitation to read the Origin in its entirety. Each chapter provides lessons not only in evolution and natural selection, but also Darwin’s life, Victorian times, philosophy, geology, embryology biogeography, and the history of life on Earth. We end by considering the impact of Darwin in his own times, and ask why the Origin remains controversial today.
Mr. Morris (Biology)

FYS 43b JustBooks: Visions of the American Environment, Images to Action
[ hum ]
Explores the role of the natural environment in the North American vision through the lens of books and selected readings, films and art. We focus on the 1800's to present as we consider how these works reflect our relationship with the environment over time and shape our treatment of natural resources as we address daunting environmental challenges. As we examine a series of broad environmental themes and issues, including environmental justice concerns and the meaning of "place" and "home" in the American vision, our field trips and hands-on work with local groups help bring our studies to life and meaning. Offered as part of the JustBooks program.
Ms. Goldin (Environmental Studies)

FYS 44a JustBooks: Tragedy, Right vs. Right?
[ hum ]
Most stories are about good vs. evil. Even if they end unhappily, we know what the happy alternative would be. But tragedy often seems about elemental, irresolvable conflict. Is such conflict inevitable? Can there be just solutions to tragic situations? Offered as part of the JustBooks program.
Ms. Quinney (English)

FYS 45a JustBooks: Divine and Human Justice
[ hum ]
Explores the different conceptions of justice found in the Bible and other ancient Near Eastern texts. Are the concepts of divine and ancient justice overlapping? Should concepts of biblical justice inform modern discussions of justice? Offered as part of the JustBooks program.
Mr. Brettler (Near Eastern and Judaic Studies)

FYS 46b JustBooks: La justice sociale Issues of Social Justice in the French and Francophone World
[ fl hum wi ]
Prerequisite: A 30-level French and Francophone Studies course or the equivalent. Taught in French.
Explores literary texts, art, and film from the French and Francophone world that address issues of social justice while they improve their writing and speaking skills. All readings are in French. Offered as part of the JustBooks program.
Ms. Harder (Romance Studies)

FYS 47a JustBooks: Justice, Self and Society in Jewish Film and Fiction
[ hum ]
Examines film and fiction for competing concepts of justice, loyalty, autonomy, and citizenship. How is social justice attained when individuals want different things? How can personal fulfillment and communal needs be balanced? Offered as part of the JustBooks program.
Ms. Fishman (Near Eastern and Judaic Studies)

FYS 48a JustBooks: Voicing the Outrage of Silence, Social Justice and the Mafia
[ hum ]
Examines the Mafia and issues of social justice in contemporary Italy. We will take an in-depth look at both social reality and artistic representation in essays, novels, newspaper articles, and film. Readings will include Sciascia's The Day of the Owl and Saviano's Gomorrah. Offered as part of the JustBooks program.
Ms. Servino (Romance Studies)

FYS 49a JustBooks: Justice, Truth, Enlightenment
[ hum wi ]
Examines works from different historical periods depicting the journey of an individual from ignorance to enlightenment, from sin to redemption, from suffering to joy. We explore novels, a tragedy, epic poetry, lyric poetry, ironic modern fables, and ask such questions as: What is free will? What are good and evil? What does it mean to be human? What is the nature of the self? How is it possible to love and be loved? How does one achieve self-knowledge and self-liberation? What is the meaning of God in human experience? Offered as part of the JustBooks program.
Mr. Kaplan (Romance Studies)

FYS 51b Assumed Identities
[ hum wi ]
From antiquity to the present, writers have been fascinated by the protagonist who achieves selfhood by means of adopting an assumed identity. Characters disguise their identities, dissimulate, and masquerade as others, sometimes imitating models but often employing deception as a means of realizing self-change, thereby raising ethical questions. Each of our texts explores issues of masking and character imitation. Readings include selections from Dante, Boccaccio, Cervantes, Soldati, Lardner, Conrad, and others.
Mr. Lansing (Romance and Comparative Literature)

FYS 53a Between Conflict and Cooperation: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Medieval Spain
[ hum ]
An examination of social and intellectual interaction among the three religious communities of medieval Spain, focusing on literature, philosophy, and religion (including mysticism). Will study how the interaction of the three faiths helped produce a unique culture.
Mr. Decter (Near Eastern and Judaic Studies)

FYS 61b Stigmatized Identities
[ oc ss ]
Society creates stigmas that can stain one's reputation. Examines sources and forms of stigmatization and managing stigmatized identities, focusing on deviance, disabilities, and the Hollywood "blacklist." Investigates stigma through text, film, and firsthand interviews.
Mr. Conrad (Sociology)

FYS 62b How Science Is Really Done
[ sn ]
Science is seen by many as the "culture of our times," yet popular misconceptions about science abound. This course examines a variety of discoveries to learn how scientists actually go about their work and how ethical issues and competition affect discovery. The required readings explore ways in which science as a creative activity is linked to pursuits in the humanities. A genuine interest in science is required.
Ms. Cohen (Biology)

FYS 70a Desires and Awakenings: The Search for Identity in Modern Drama
[ ca ]
Engage in the search for personal, social, and national identity through great dramatic literature of the modern era. Theater is a mirror through which we can see ourselves and our world. These classic works, reflecting the ideas of the pioneering playwrights who created them, have shaped not only the nature of theatre and art, but thought and behavior in the last 100 years. Discussions will focus on the plays as literature, history, psychology, and performance while examining their relevance in today¿s society and our lives. Explores a range of topics including family, religion, politics, economics, race, gender, death, sexuality, cultural assimilation, and the concept of "modernity."
Mr. Edmiston (Theater Arts)

FYS 71b Exploring Dark Matter and Dark Energy in the New Universe
[ qr sn ]
Prerequisite: Familiarity with pre-calculus mathematics is required. Some knowledge of physics is recommended.
Dark matter and dark energy make up 96 percent of the universe but we know very little about them. This course explores what we know and don't know, and what we hope to find out with new experiments and observations. Usally offered every second year.
Mr. Wardle (Physics)

FYS 76a Law and the Search for Authority
[ ss ]
Examines how societies seek to justify their basic legal rules. Readings drawn from political, historical, and philosophical works that search for ultimate legal principles in written constitutions, totalitarian authority, custom and tradition, or the fallible capacities of human reason.
Mr. Gaskins (American Studies)

FYS 83b Science in Art
[ sn ]
How do we know whether that painting or that sculpture is "genuine"? Usually, it's because we take the word of the museum or the art dealer. But many works of art are discredited every day as new methods are applied to determine the "fine structure" of a particular artifact. Art objects are looked at critically, from the point of view of the conservator, who has to determine a piece's value before it is bought or displayed.
Ms. Ringe (Chemistry/Biochemistry)

JustBooks

FYS 43b JustBooks: Visions of the American Environment, Images to Action
[ hum ]
Explores the role of the natural environment in the North American vision through the lens of books and selected readings, films and art. We focus on the 1800's to present as we consider how these works reflect our relationship with the environment over time and shape our treatment of natural resources as we address daunting environmental challenges. As we examine a series of broad environmental themes and issues, including environmental justice concerns and the meaning of "place" and "home" in the American vision, our field trips and hands-on work with local groups help bring our studies to life and meaning. Offered as part of the JustBooks program.
Ms. Goldin (Environmental Studies)

FYS 44a JustBooks: Tragedy, Right vs. Right?
[ hum ]
Most stories are about good vs. evil. Even if they end unhappily, we know what the happy alternative would be. But tragedy often seems about elemental, irresolvable conflict. Is such conflict inevitable? Can there be just solutions to tragic situations? Offered as part of the JustBooks program.
Ms. Quinney (English)

FYS 45a JustBooks: Divine and Human Justice
[ hum ]
Explores the different conceptions of justice found in the Bible and other ancient Near Eastern texts. Are the concepts of divine and ancient justice overlapping? Should concepts of biblical justice inform modern discussions of justice? Offered as part of the JustBooks program.
Mr. Brettler (Near Eastern and Judaic Studies)

FYS 46b JustBooks: La justice sociale Issues of Social Justice in the French and Francophone World
[ fl hum wi ]
Prerequisite: A 30-level French and Francophone Studies course or the equivalent. Taught in French.
Explores literary texts, art, and film from the French and Francophone world that address issues of social justice while they improve their writing and speaking skills. All readings are in French. Offered as part of the JustBooks program.
Ms. Harder (Romance Studies)

FYS 47a JustBooks: Justice, Self and Society in Jewish Film and Fiction
[ hum ]
Examines film and fiction for competing concepts of justice, loyalty, autonomy, and citizenship. How is social justice attained when individuals want different things? How can personal fulfillment and communal needs be balanced? Offered as part of the JustBooks program.
Ms. Fishman (Near Eastern and Judaic Studies)

FYS 48a JustBooks: Voicing the Outrage of Silence, Social Justice and the Mafia
[ hum ]
Examines the Mafia and issues of social justice in contemporary Italy. We will take an in-depth look at both social reality and artistic representation in essays, novels, newspaper articles, and film. Readings will include Sciascia's The Day of the Owl and Saviano's Gomorrah. Offered as part of the JustBooks program.
Ms. Servino (Romance Studies)

FYS 49a JustBooks: Justice, Truth, Enlightenment
[ hum wi ]
Examines works from different historical periods depicting the journey of an individual from ignorance to enlightenment, from sin to redemption, from suffering to joy. We explore novels, a tragedy, epic poetry, lyric poetry, ironic modern fables, and ask such questions as: What is free will? What are good and evil? What does it mean to be human? What is the nature of the self? How is it possible to love and be loved? How does one achieve self-knowledge and self-liberation? What is the meaning of God in human experience? Offered as part of the JustBooks program.
Mr. Kaplan (Romance Studies)

Second Year Seminar

SYS 1c How Do We Know What We Know?
This multidisciplinary seminar for second-year students in the Lerman Neubauer Fellows program will explore how different disciplines choose what questions are important; how they accumulate evidence; how that evidence is argued and tested; and how conclusions are drawn.
Ms. Cadge (Sociology), Mr. Jaffe (Economics), Ms. Kamensky (History), Mr. Katz (Psychology and Neuroscience), and Mr. Kryder (Politics)