Williams in Class

Glendening Hall 230

First Year Seminars for Fall 2014

Click here to learn about Registering for the Seminars

Monday/Wednesday/Friday 12:00-1:10pm

Concepts and Controversies in Nutrition

Culture and Madness

The Digital Age

From Page to Screen: Memory, Gender and Identity in Asian American Imagination

Genes, God and Goodness

Government Growth

Jane Austen and the Dating Game

Marriage, Family and Religious Values: A Multicultural Perspective

Mythbusters: Exploring the Common Misconceptions about the Human Mind and Behavior

Pimp My Ride: Materialism in Human Life(for DeSousa-Brent Scholars)

A Shanghai Story

Tuesday/Thursday 12:00-1:50pm

Creativity as a Force in Social Change (for DeSousa-Brent Scholars)

Energy Options: Nuclear and Otherwise

The Ethics of Global Aid

The Evolution of Altruism

Food for Thought: Edibles in Art, Literature, and Film

Morals vs. Markets: An Inquiry into the Nature of Greed in Economics

Musical Masterpieces

Navigating the Politics of Difference (for DeSousa-Brent Scholars)

Picturing Stories

The Psychology of Media

Relationships 2.0

Science and Religion

A Softer Footprint


Tuesday/Thursday 6:00-7:50pm

Japanese Arts and Ways

Radioactive Ants Meet the Crab Robots: Soviet and American Science Fiction during the Cold War

Seminar Descriptions:

Monday/Wednesday/Friday 12:00-1:10pm


Concepts and Controversies in Nutrition (with Prof. Pamela Mertz)

Is organic food really better for you? What are GMOs and should we worry about them? Should we avoid gluten and high fructose corn syrup? What is the Mediterranean Diet? These questions and more will be discussed in this seminar class, which is based on the science of nutrition. We will cover the chemistry of the different types of nutrients needed by the human body: carbohydrates, lipid, protein, vitamins, minerals, and water. We will also discuss common misconceptions about nutrition so that students will be better equipped to make informed decisions.

Email: psmertz@smcm.edu



Culture and Madness (with Prof. Debbie O’Donnell)

The course will focus on cross-cultural comparisons of ideas surrounding “deviance,” “abnormality,” and “madness.” How do different cultures define “normality” and “abnormality”? What strategies do a variety of worldviews use to control those who deviate from normal? What are the symbolic, experiential, and social-cultural aspects of healing practices in the world today? The impact of gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status on the construction of, explanations for, and interventions developed to treat illnesses will be explored from a global perspective.

Email: daodonnell@smcm.edu


The Digital Age (with Prof. Katsunori Mita)

We live in the digital age, surrounded by all kinds of digital gadgets: smart phones, tablets, laptops, computers, MP3 players, CD players, DVD players, digital TVs, sound recorders, cameras, video recorders, and, of course, the Internet. Digital technology enables us to stream music and movies and whatever information we want to transmit to each other. But what does the word “digital” mean? “Digital” as opposed to what? To answer that question, we have to explore the nature of information technology before the onset of the digital age. Then we will understand why digital technology, by comparison is so powerful. In this course, we will explore how each of these things works, and try to understand the underlying framework of the Internet. This exploration will be done in a way accessible to anyone interested in the subject. Every fundamental technology that appeared in human history changed the way people lived and the structure of the society as a whole. The digital technology, too, is not an exception to this. This newest technology has been transforming the world in a profound manner. We will explore the social implications of the digital technology.

Email: kmita@smcm.edu



From Page to Screen: Memory, Gender and Identity in Asian American Imagination (with Prof. Yu-Min Chen)

How could one imagine a past or homeland that one has never lived in? Could one construct a past from a mother’s story telling or from books? What are the cultural and gender stereotypes that could be engendered and misrepresented by the first generations of Asian Americans due to the discrepancies of time and space? How can memories be embellished, omitted, or selected? To what degree is memory reliable? How do Asian Americans build up their identity through this partial construction? How can one understand the past in order to position the present through story telling, travel and imagination or writing? This course will explore the impressions of China constructed in Asian American narratives and examine the Chinese oral story telling tradition and the accountability of one’s memory as well as to analyze various traditions and stereotypes prevalent in Asian American texts.



Genes, God and Goodness (with Prof. Rachel Myerowitz)

Is there a God gene? Are we hard wired to believe in God? If so, then how and why did this occur? Have humans evolved a universal moral instinct that is separate from our gender, education and experience? On the other hand, perhaps we begin life as amoral animals and through the development of rational thought acquire the capacity to makemoral judgments. Analysis of these questions will be the focus of this first year seminar.

Email: rmyerowitz@smcm.edu


Government Growth (with Prof. Russ Rhine)

This seminar covers the contrasting philosophical arguments on whether a country should have a large national government or a small national government. We also discuss important historical events and how they relate to the debate on the size of government. Lastly, we analyze the current trend in the size of the U.S. federal government and cover recent economic research on the subject.

Email: rmrhine@smcm.edu



Jane Austen and the Dating Game (with Prof. Robin Bates)

Novels in the 18th and early 19th century were like twitter accounts and facebook pages today—which is to say, communication mediums loved by young men and women and viewed with incomprehension and even alarm by their parents. Thus, the courtship novels of Jane Austen speak directly to the challenges that young people were encountering during the Regency period, including ineffective or tyrannical parents, uncertainty about the future, sexual urges, peer pressure, and identity confusion. The equivalent of throwing a wild party while your parents are away was putting on a home production of Elizabeth’s Inchbald’s salacious melodrama Lovers’ Vows, as occurs in Mansfield Park. It makes sense, then, that a novel like Emmawould lend itself so readily to a modern teenpic version (Clueless). We will read five of Austen’s novels and look at the world that the young people had to negotiate. Expect a full immersion in early 19th century English social customs. We will also look at the Jane Austen “industry” of the past two decades and figure out why she is currently as popular as she has ever been.




Marriage, Family and Religious Values: A Multicultural Perspective (with Prof. Betul Basaran)

In this class we will explore some of the fundamental beliefs about marriage and family in selected “western” and “non-western” cultures, and the different roles assigned to women in these contexts. Many studies focus on prescriptive literatures, especially religious and legal documents which interpret marriage and family as a set of normative rules. In addition to exploring descriptions of marriage and family as ideal or normative institutions, this class will include less normative perspectives, such as those reflected in stories, films, and narrated life experiences in various religious and cultural traditions. Emphasis will be mostly, but not exclusively, on Islam and Hinduism in addition to a brief discussion of Judeo-Christian traditions.

Email: bbasaran@smcm.edu


Mythbusters: Exploring the Common Misconceptions about the Human Mind and Behavior (with Prof. Anna Han)

Is it true that we only use 10% of our brains? Can subliminal messages persuade us? Do dreams possess symbolic meaning? Do opposites attract? People often use their personal experiences and common sense to develop beliefs about the human mind and our behaviors, yet many of these beliefs are not supported by scientific evidence. In this seminar, we will debunk the most common myths in psychology and examine why people believe in such falsehoods. We will analyze these myths in the context of psychological research, learn what counts as scientific evidence and how it is produced, and sharpen critical thinking. In the end, we might realize that truth can be even stranger than myths!

Email: hahan@smcm.edu


Pimp My Ride: Popular Culture and Consumption [for DeSousa-Brent Scholars] (with Prof. Iris Ford)

The unprecedented scale of contemporary materialism and consumption raises disquieting questions about wealth and poverty, character and equality, and collective and individual identities built on ethnicity, class, and gender. This seminar will address complex issues of materialism and consumption—through space and time—to reveal cultural, political, and ethical consequences. Students will explore a brief history of early Western attitudes towards commerce and consumption that continues to influence thinking today, an overview of the many and diverse claims and critiques of capitalism and consumption, and a synthesis and analysis of materialism and cross-cultural consumption practices from a contemporary context. Why *do* we wear our bling on our sleeves? Do the things we make and own, make and own us? The lamentation of materialism and its minion conspicuous consumption is loud indeed—but is it all bad?

Email: icford@smcm.edu


A Shanghai Story (with Prof. Charlie Musgrove)

“On the eve of the twentieth century, few places were as exciting as Shanghai. Once a wilderness of swamps, Asia’s ‘Sin City’ evolved into a dazzling modern-day Babylon: redolent with the sickly sweet smell of opium; teeming with illicit sex, crime, and poverty; rife with corruption and glamorous wealth.” This quote comes from the back of a recent book on Shanghai (by Stella Dong) and reveals the allure that this city’s history has in the imaginations of many today. This course will use historical texts, novels, films and other media to analyze the history of this city from the mid 1800s to the present in order to understand the myths and realities of this important cosmopolitan metropolis, long considered China’s window to the world, and vice versa.



Tuesday/Thursday 12:00-1:50 pm   

Creativity as a Force in Social Change [for DeSousa-Brent Scholars] (with Prof. Jose Ballesteros)

In this seminar we examine creative written work and other forms of popular expression (including essays, films, music, and TV shows) that have as an obvious aim the promotion of social change while dealing with the complexities of race, class, disability, and/or gender and sexuality in the US. Analysis of these works will lead students to develop and present their own creative portfolio during the semester. Student work will explore the distinctive experiences, challenges, and opportunities of marginalized populations in US culture.

Email: jrballesteros@smcm.edu




Energy Options: Nuclear and Otherwise (with Prof. Walter Hill)

One feature of the 20th century was the accelerating increase of technology. Rapid change had major effects on the political and social world.  One icon image relates to the discovery of nuclear fission in the first half of the century, but there were others. The course will look at topics related to the advance.

Email: wwhill@smcm.edu


The Ethics of Global Aid (with Prof. Michael Taber)

Our world is shrinking with increasing globalization of economies, communication, entertainment, pollution, and even disease vectors.  The shirt you are wearing was probably touched by those of many lands, and each day we (or our spam filters) receive messages from Nigerian generals and Moldovan crime syndicates.  The fact of actual relation gives rise to the possibility of moral evaluation of those relations.  Hence, we can now ask whether this government policy or that consequence of our lifestyle is morally justified in terms of its impact on those in other nations.  These questions become especially significant when asked of those in the economically developed world, since so many of the fruits of a developed lifestyle are grown in the hardscrabble soil of poor countries.  In this seminar we will explore some of the ways in which lifestyles in one country affect the well-being of those in other countries, and we will discuss various frameworks for how to provide the clearest moral evaluation of those effects.  The readings will range from the areas of economics, history, journalism, literature, philosophy, and public policy.

The Evolution of Altruism (with Prof. Jordan Price)

Why do animals do things that appear to be against their own self interests? For example, why do individuals risk their lives to warn others of danger or forego reproduction themselves in order to help others raise offspring? Such striking examples of altruism have long puzzled evolutionary biologists. In this seminar we will explore the mechanisms underlying these and a variety of other interesting animal traits, with a particular focus on the wildlife we see regularly here on the St. Mary’s College campus. In the process, we will cover a range of topics related to the processes and consequences of biological evolution, including the evolution of humans.

Email: jjprice@smcm.edu


Food for Thought: Edibles in Art, Literature, and Film (with Prof. Jessica Lustig)

There is an adage “eat to live, don’t live to eat,” but food is for far more than nourishment of the body. Its presence in art, literature and film has a rich history of symbolic, cultural, and historic significance. In this course we will explore the role of  food in the arts through the viewing of artworks, films, and literary works.  We will analyze those works through traditional academic research, writing, and discussion, as well as by less conventional means such as preparation of  the foods and creative projects. Through these exercises, students will practice core collegiate skills, as well as develop a deeper and richer way of looking at the arts. 

Email: jtlustig@smcm.edu


Morals vs. Markets: An Inquiry into the Nature of Greed in Economics (with Prof. Don Stabile)

For over a century in the U.S. opponents of the market economy have attacked it for the immoral behavior its stress on greed has allegedly generated.  From this perspective,  a moral economy is one whereby economic decisions are made with an attitude of doing what is right and fair in order to achieve social justice; markets need to be regulated or supplemented by government programs.  In contrast, advocates for the market approach focus on economic incentives, that is, doing what leads to higher profits for business and higher pay for managers, workers and other employers.  To them, the stress on morals as embodied in government  programs assumes that the government's behavior is more moral than business.  In this course we will examine critically both sides of this debate over greed. 



Musical Masterpieces (wit Prof. Sterling Lambert)

The term "masterpiece" is greatly overused, yet this is not the case with the four musical masterpieces to be studied in this course: Monteverdi's opera L'Orfeo, Mozart's Requiem, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony and the Beatles' album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.  We will consider the ways in these four works, spanning four centuries, represent their own time and culture yet also transcend these specific circumstances in order to speak to us today as clearly and powerfully as they did when they were written.

Email: jslambert@smcm.edu


Navigating the Politics of Difference (for DeSousa-Brent Scholars) (with STAFF TBD)

Let’s face it: the rural liberal arts honors college comes as a culture shock to most students, but it poses unique challenges to students from urban environments (“Is there anything to do here?”), those who are the first in their families to go to college (“What the heck is …?”), those from ethnic minority groups (“Am I really the only Latino/Asian/Native American/Black student in this class?”), and students from other underrepresented groups.  In this seminar, we examine the complexities of race, class, gender, and other forms of difference in America and how they may impact your college experience. The springboard for our discussions are narratives by advanced students, professors, psychologists, social theorists, public figures, screenwriters, and, most importantly, you!  You will discover how you, like those who have gone before you, can maximize the benefits of your liberal arts education by cultivating self-understanding, developing critical skills, managing relationships, and much more. In this way, you become a campus leader making a difference at St. Mary’s.



Picturing Stories (with Prof. Carrie Patterson)

One of the oldest forms of communication is storytelling without words. From the child’s picture book to the adult graphic novel, from painting to photography, we want to communicate our histories, cultures, desires, sorrows, and hopes by making images. Picturing Stories will explore how artists from different times and cultures tell stories. What makes a Picture Story powerful? Why do we remember some and not others? What happens when words are added to images? Through a series of experiential classes based on looking, thinking, and making narrative art, students will learn the craft of telling a good story without words.

The content of the course is organized under three sections: Wordless Books, Understanding Images, and Graphic Novels with text.  Our goal is to think critically and creatively about narrative art while also introducing you to best practices for social and academic success in college. Projects will include oral presentations, written assignments, a fieldtrip, and group art projects.

Email: ccpatterson@smcm.edu


The Psychology of Media (with Prof. Jennifer Tickle)

Most of us are frequent consumers of mass media, including television, movies, music, print media, and electronic communication. This course will explore a variety of psychological and communication theories about the effects of media on attitudes and behavior and how we process those messages. In particular, we will critically examine controversies and current issues in the literature on media effects, including the influence of media violence on aggression and the effects of online media on how we think, interact, and feel. Other topics explored may include the effects of media on stereotypes, norms, health behavior, and consumer behavior. Students will gain an understanding of how media effects are studied, and how to be more critical consumers of mass media.

Email: jjtickle@smcm.edu


Relationships 2.0 (with Prof. Lin Muilenburg)

Has Facebook changed friendship? Can you experience real love through online dating? Does increasing screen time harm family life? Can kids develop interpersonal skills and healthy relationships through virtual school? Does constant connectivity distract us from relationships or make us closer? How much is too much? In this course we will consider such questions as we examine the effects of digitalization on social interaction and relationships in contexts such as friendship, dating and marriage, family, school, and workplace. Through a study of web-based media, film, written works, and our own observations and experiences, we will explore the implications of using interactive technologies on the ways in which we behave, on norms and values, and on mental and physical health.

Email: lymuilenburg@smcm.edu


Science and Religion (with Prof. Alex Meadows)

Is religiosity compatible with scientific exploration?  What can science say about the value of religious life?    What can we know with certainty?  In this course, we will explore the possible tensions and cohesions between scientific and religious world-views.  We will read perspectives from philosophers, scientists, theologians, and popular media.  We will learn thinking skills for analyzing arguments and producing our own answers to deep questions.  Along the way, we will survey historical conflicts like the Galileo affair, scientific theories like the big bang theory and biological evolution, and the relation between science and non-Western religions like Buddhism.  

Email: ammmeadows@smcm.edu


A Softer Footprint (with Prof Andy Koch)

We all lead interesting and full lives, taking in so many resources that most of us fail to even think about as we go through our daily lives.  When asked to consider these resources, we usually think we are paying for them, but that might not be the full story.  In this seminar we’ll read a series of books designed to shed light on the implications of our living style.  Students will work in small groups and individually to find evidence and present data to either support common beliefs or refute them. 

Email: askoch@smcm.edu


Tuesday/Thursday 6:00-7:50pm

Japanese Arts and Ways (with Prof. Bruce Wilson)

When polled, contemporary Japanese overwhelmingly identify their spirituality as lying within the practice of a Way, or Dō, rather than within what we might usually term a religion. These Ways can range from things like Chadō, the Way of Tea, to Shodō, the Way of Calligraphy, to Budō, the Way of the Martial Arts.  Drawing upon readings from a wide range of disciplines, we’ll begin by gaining a fuller understanding of the ideals that underlie the general concept of the Way and the Japanese perception of Nature, and then move fairly quickly to hands-on instruction and practice in Kadō, the Way of Flowers.  Throughout the course, we’ll be asking ourselves how the practice of an art can reveal the art of living.

Email: bmwilson@smcm.edu


Radioactive Ants Meet the Crab Robots: Soviet and American Science Fiction during the Cold War (with Prof. Tom Barrett)

This class will examine international and domestic themes in science fiction novels, short stories, and cinema from the 1940s through the 1960s in the United States and the Soviet Union.  In both countries, science fiction could be a means of criticizing the cold war enemy, but it was also a mirror for examining domestic threats such as conformity, lack of freedom, and the potential dangers of technology.  Although science fiction in both countries shared some concerns about mass society in the future, it also developed quite different themes, which is unsurprising given the different social and political contexts.  A major purpose of this class will be to examine the similarities and differences of science fiction in both countries and why science fiction was so important to both cultures.  Why did American science fiction so frequently imagine invasion, dystopia, and apocalypse, while Soviet science fiction presented instead mutual coexistence and peaceful evolution?   And why was science fiction able to approach controversial themes, on both sides of the Iron Curtain?