Your First Year

Course Descriptions

FYS 101-10  The Science Behind our Food

Prof. Betsy Moyer-Taylor, Chemistry

Just what is gluten anyway?  Will the Rawfoods and Caveman diets keep you healthier?  Why would you ever need to carbo-load?  And what, really, are those unpronounceable ingredients listed on the labels of processed food?  Global societies are becoming increasingly obsessed with discussing healthy food options.  But as the health food revolution continues to grow, so does the number of questions we have about what to eat, not to mention our waistlines.  As this debate becomes more complex, perhaps it’s time to get to know our food better.  In this course, we will investigate the science behind our global menus.  We will examine the basic chemical components that comprise a typical meal.  We will collect data to understand what happens when our food is cooked, cooled, blended, preserved, genetically altered and combined with other ingredients.  This data will be used to draw conclusions about the nature of food and unlock the mysteries of the food label.  We will use our scientific knowledge to examine how cultural diets and manufacturing processes impact the health of different societies around the world.  Research, writing, and presentation skills will be honed by doing innovative projects about what draws us to the dinner table every day.


FYS 101-11  Feminism and the #MeToo Movement

Prof. Jennifer Benson, Philosophy

In October of 2017 the project of preventing and healing from sexual assault went viral in the form of the #MeToo movement. The Me Too project had long been underway as community activism, especially activism undertaken by women of color working to address sexual assault and violence in the lives of children. In this course we will examine the feminist concepts that made the #MeToo movement possible and the ongoing effort to alter campus communities so as to prevent and heal from sexual assault. What do we mean by terms like oppression, sexual harassment, and rape culture? How has the Federal Title IX Policy made it possible for students to hold their colleges and universities accountable in the work to address and prevent harassment and assault? How can we be allies to those who are harmed in sexual assault and harassment? What must we do in order to promote healing? In this course we will examine the feminist foundations of the #MeToo Movement, the practical goals of the Movement, and consider how the #MeToo Movement may help us improve our own Washington College Community.


FYS 101-12  Consider the Tree

Prof. Benjamin Tilghman, Art & Art History

In many parts of the world, including the Eastern Shore of Maryland, trees are so common that people often don’t give them much thought. But trees also pervade our lives and culture in many ways, as crucial parts of the biosphere, as sources of raw material, and as symbols of ideas and institutions. In this course we will consider trees from many different perspectives, exploring how we can understand them better through such disciplines as history, economics, ecology, art history and anthropology. In the process, we will also explore the idea of a liberal arts education itself, developing an appreciation for how an interdisciplinary inquiry entailing careful reading, precise writing, and open dialogue can lead us to a richer understanding of any topic.


FYS 101-15  Personal Finance

Prof. Hui-Ju Tsai, Business Management

This course enables students to develop personal financial planning skills that help students achieve their financial goals and be freed from financial worries. Topics covered include taxes, consumer credit, house and motor vehicle purchases and financing decisions, life insurance, fundamental investments, and retirement planning. After taking this course, students should be able to apply learned skills to manage their financial resources and make sound financial decisions. All FYS courses introduce students to library research and information literacy; offer instruction on the writing process, rhetorical knowledge, and academic conventions; and include significant research, writing, revision, and presentation. FYS courses satisfy the W1 component of the Writing Program.


FYS 101-17  Schools on Film

Prof. Sara Clarke-Vivier, Education

Can a show like Glee really change the way students and schools think about singing (or sex education)? Did you suffer under a principal like Matilda’s Miss Trunchbull, or laugh at a beleaguered leader like The Simpson’s Principal Skinner? What does it mean when so many movies about teachers in inner cities depict white women as educators who save the day? This class provides an opportunity to think critically about the ways that classrooms, teachers, and students have been represented, misrepresented, or completely ignored in popular movies and television over time. By looking closely at these presentations, we can think about the way that popular culture shapes popular understanding about what does, can, and should happen in schools. By watching films and television, reading film critiques and social criticism and exploring visual culture studies we will begin to unpack how issues of sex, race, ability, class, and gender are transmitted through and reinforced in these visual mediums. Students can expect to watch, reflect, read and write on shared experiences, as well as to undertake and present on an independent research projects.


FYS 101-18  Science Fiction and Identity

Prof. Kimberly Andrews, English

Like most products of human activity, science fiction reflects the values of the culture in which it’s produced. But because it explores alternative realities, science fiction can oftentimes incorporate cultural change more quickly than other types of writing, and sometimes seems to influence how new ideas develop. In this course, we will track in particular how ideas about science and the future engage wider cultural conceptions of human nature and identity. How do new speculations about what humans can do, in other words, inform changing ideas about what we are? Students in this course will read authors ranging from Octavia Butler to Ted Chiang, watch and analyze movies such as The Matrix and Arrival, and will learn to close read texts and conduct research with secondary sources.


FYS 101-19  Jane Austen and Fan Culture

Prof. Katherine Charles, English

Upon the two-hundredth anniversary of the author’s death, the Jane Austen brand has never been stronger: her novels and the literary tourism, fan fiction, film adaptations, and associated merch they inspire, together generate some hundreds of millions of dollars annually. How did Austen help create the modern novel? And what factors contribute to her novels’ enduring popularity and adaptability? This course will combine an intensive study of selected Austen’s novels (Pride & Prejudice, Emma, Northanger Abbey) with a critical approach to the popular adaptations (Clueless, Pride & Prejudice and Zombies, Bridget Jones’s Diary, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries) that hook many of her new fans.


FYS 101-21  Food, People, & the Planet

Prof. William Schindler, Anthropology

Food.we all eat it, and without it we would die. But, have you ever stopped to consider how important food is to us beyond merely keeping us alive? Food is embedded within our culture; our food choices say a lot about who we are. The manner in which we select, prepare, and consume food is based upon culturally transmitted notions of taste, nutrition, social regulations, and religious meaning. This course will use food - and the many ways in which people utilize food for nutritional and cultural purposes - to better understand different societies throughout time and place. To accomplish this goal, students will make use of primary and secondary source materials from fields such as cultural anthropology, evolution, archaeology, and nutrition. In addition to group exercises, discussions, research, and writing assignments, the course will culminate in the preparation and presentation of a multi-course meal representing the research students completed throughout the semester.


FYS 101-22  Human Rights in the Hispanic World

Prof. Rebeca Moreno, Modern Languages

This course explores major debates about human rights in Latin America and Spain. We will examine different moments in which the rights of individuals and groups in the Hispanic World have been violated. We will discuss the historical, political, legal, social, and cultural aspects of each case, and will consider human rights as a tool for social and political activism. Through the study of a variety of texts (novels, short stories, music, journalistic accounts, and films), we will analyze the struggle of different social agents demanding human rights protections and social justice over time. The seminar will be divided into two main units: colonial times and modern times. As we examine human rights issues, students will also sharpen writing and speaking skills, and develop analytical abilities, needed for sustained collegiate success. The course will include a field trip to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.


FYS 101-24  Enemies, Terror, & Paranoia

Prof. Clayton Black, History

The modern world is a dangerous place, filled with threats both real and imagined. As if to compound that reality, modern societies seem to thrive on horror movies, murder tales, and representations of ghastly violence. What roles do enemies and terror play in the cultures of the modern world from the nineteenth century to the present? What are the connections between fictional representations of enemies, terror, and paranoia and the ways we perceive our actual world? This course will explore such themes through examinations of fictional works, films, and scholarly analysis. Students will hone their writing skills through a series of short papers and will give oral presentations based on original research.


FYS 101-25  Dystopia

Prof. Brendon Fox, Theatre & Dance

Merriam-Webster defines a dystopia as “an imaginary place where, people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives.” If it’s such a horrible place, why does it have such a tight grip on our imaginations? Before the books and movies of The Hunger Games and Divergent, there was Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil. Before, that, there was George Orwell’s novel 1984, and before 1984, there was the 1920 Czech play R.U.R., which contains the first known use of the word “robot.” In this class we will be exploring the many ways the idea of a future-gone-horribly-wrong takes shape in short stories, onstage, and in film. How do different writers, playwrights, and screenwriters over the last one hundred years each find ways to powerfully capture the fear, and fascination of a dystopian society? How do their different social, political, feminist, and geopolitical agendas come to light in different works for the public? Is the purpose of dystopian stories to frighten, enlighten, or provoke us into action? Or even at times make us laugh?


FYS 101-26  Queer Pop Culture

Prof. Martin Ponti, Modern Languages

This course will provide an introduction to Popular Queer Culture through the lens of humanities text-based cultural production. We will explore various texts, such as film, television, music, and fanzines, as a way to understand queerness in its full conception. That is, queerness, not only conceived as an identity, but also as an artistic aesthetic, a sociopolitical movement, and as cultural product.


FYS 101-27  Cultural Relativism and its Limits

Prof. Emily Steinmetz, Anthropology

Cultural relativism is a foundational concept in cultural anthropology. Through this lens, we view beliefs, behaviors, and values as part of a society’s system of meaning. According to a culturally relative framework, beliefs, behaviors, and practices should be understood in their cultural and historical contexts. Behaviors that are defined as criminal in the United States-female genital modification, drug use, domestic violence, and certain sexual practices, to name a few-are not necessarily viewed as deviant in other societies, and the inverse is also true. In other words, activities that are imbued with ritual or social significance within certain cultural, social, historical, and political-economic frameworks may be criminalized in others. In this seminar, we will read ethnographic texts that challenge us to think about morality and behavior in relativistic ways. In the process, we will examine our own cultural assumptions and biases. We will also explore some of the conflicts between non-Western practices and international laws and declarations, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is informed by Western philosophical and sociolegal traditions. Should local people and places have autonomy in deciding right and wrong, or should absolute rights exist for all people? What are the limits, if any, of cultural relativism?


FYS 101-28  Making a Living in Kent County

Prof. Joseph Bauer, Business Management

In this course we look at the past, present, and future of Kent County, Maryland through the prism of work and the ways of earning a livelihood in this smallest county in the state. We will begin with the European colonization that brought commercial agriculture to the Eastern Shore more than 300 years ago, and look at the ways in which Kent County residents have supported themselves since. We will explore the extent to which farming, harvesting the riches of the Bay, running small businesses, and other commercial pursuits have been inward-focused or outward-focused. Today’s Kent County combines a desire to preserve the pristine nature of Chestertown and its environs with the need for good jobs and an acceptable quality of life for all of its citizens. Does the county’s future depend on connecting with the larger world or can it remain more the isolated, insulated jewel? You will combine what you learn about the past and present of Kent County with research on other small locales experiencing similar challenges to propose recommendations for its future. Readings and class trips will survey the county’s history, present, and possible future; guest speakers may include local farmers, watermen, environmental and civic activists, regulators, and politicians. In addition to learning about the vibrant community and rich history that surround Washington College, students will learn fundamental library research techniques, and how to move from secondary research to primary research. Most importantly, students will deepen their ability to ask questions and think critically. 

FYS 101-30  The Apocalypse & Where We Go

Prof. Roy Kesey, English

For as long as humans have existed as a species, we have been obsessed with the notion of our own demise. Our scientists explore its most likely causes, from global warming to rogue biotechnology, in the hope of forestalling it; our artists make it the stuff of their poems and paintings and films, in the hope of understanding what it might mean. Students in this course will read deeply into six modern and contemporary novels involving apocalyptic events, and will explore the science underlying each book’s premise. They will hone their research, writing, and public speaking skills, expand their rhetorical knowledge and information literacy, and develop their capacity for critical thinking through a series of student-led seminar discussions and short written assignments. In addition, each student will research, write, and present a paper analyzing an apocalyptic event of his or her choice.


FYS 101-31  Abroad: The Literature of Travel

Prof. Roy Kesey, English

There are as many reasons for writing about one’s travels as there are for lying about what happened out there. Students in this course will read widely across and deeply into the literature of world travel, beginning with the ancients (Herodotus, Marco Polo) and continuing on through the still-pretty-old (Laurence Sterne, Lady Montagu), the not-all-that-long ago (Charles Darwin, Freya Stark), and the moderns (Beryl Markham and William Golding, among others). We will interrogate their texts to discover where they traveled and why, what they fictionalized and why, what they left out and why. Students will hone their research, writing and public speaking skills, expand their rhetorical knowledge and information literacy, and develop their capacity for critical thinking through a series of student-led seminar discussions and short written assignments. In addition, each student will research, write, and present a paper on one travel writer of his or her choice.


FYS 101-32  Writing Communities

Prof. John Boyd, Education and English

In popular media, reading and writing are often portrayed as individual, solitary activities, but in fact, they are essential ways of connecting with others, forming communities, and getting things done. Working from that assumption, this class will explore the ways that acts of reading and writing shape both our individual identities and the social networks we participate in. Students will gain rhetorical concepts that are critical to understanding human communication, and they will apply those concepts by investigating the reading and writing practices of a particular group. The class will also serve as an introduction to academic research and will provide students with strategies for adapting to the context of our own academic community at Washington College.


FYS 101-33  Boon or Boom? Nuclear Technology and Society

Prof. Derek Thuecks, Physics

With the development of nuclear technologies, humanity has been forced to confront the promise and peril that these technologies present. Energy harnessed from the nucleus of an atom has the potential to generate clean and nearly limitless energy. Conversely, bombs employing nuclear technology have the potential to decimate society. In this course, we will study the science associated with the nucleus and radiation, historical factors that influenced the early development of nuclear technologies, and the political and ethical issues surrounding proliferation and use of these technologies worldwide. Course topics will be explored through readings, student research, and in-class discussions. Students will develop skills in critical inquiry as they learn to communicate clearly, research effectively, and produce clear, reasoned, and well-supported arguments.


FYS 101-34  I Ain’t Gonna Study War No’More

Prof. Erica Fugger, C.V. Starr Center

“Peace is not passive”-and neither are you. We each make choices in our daily lives that are informed by the social conditions around and internal forces within us. But if “hate begets hate,” how do you choose a meaningful path that wages love and understanding? What approaches can help you seek perspective or inspire action that confronts ongoing violence and oppression? This course will teach you how to listen deeply to history, learning from activists across the global movements for peace. We will explore how to break through “fake news” and historical biases by arming ourselves with critical thinking, writing, and presentation skills. We will use research methods in oral and public history to foster compassionate dialogue, and examine techniques in conflict mediation and social justice to build capacity. If you cultivate peace within yourself and find clarity with the past, you can “be the change” the world needs most.


FYS 101-35  Neuroethics

Prof. Michael Kerchner, Psychology

The past several decades have been a period of extraordinary findings in the fields of neuroscience and psychology that have provided a much deeper understanding of the functions of the human brain and of their relation to human behaviors. But there also has been growing concern regarding the moral and ethical implications that are likely to be encountered when and how this knowledge may eventually be applied. These concerns emerge whether or not there may be a potential application that is universally regarded to be reprehensible, seemingly benign, or even apparently beneficial . For example, in what circumstances might we allow the use of a drug that could erase traumatic memories or others that might dramatically enhance cognitive abilities? What might be the unintended consequences of doing so? Should modern neural imaging methods be employed to determine guilt or innocence in the courts? If we could transfer our consciousness to a digital database, what is the moral status of that database? Required readings will include peer reviewed neuroscience research articles, and contributions by contemporary philosophers and ethicists. Some sources will focus on what evidence there is for cultural differences in moral and ethical reasoning.


FYS 101-36  Narrative in Revolution

Prof. David Hull, Modern Languages

Can literature save a dying people? This was the question that many Chinese intellectuals asked at opening of the turbulent 20th century. As it became more and more clear that the foreign Manchu (Qing) dynasty could not long survive under the dual threats of internal rot and external aggression, many Chinese people saw not the imminent collapse of one single dynasty, but a danger of the utter elimination of the Chinese state or, perhaps, even the Chinese race. And yet there might be a way to save China: if western science and technology could be imported and domesticated could they be used to defend China? What then, becomes of the old China? Must the Chinese people and society, be reformed in a “western” mold in order to take advantage of the new tools? Does China need to become less Chinese in order to avoid destruction? This course will explore these problems through Chinese literature of the period as well as works of western social theory that the Chinese intellectuals hoped could be used to save China. Students will develop reading, communication, research, writing, and editing/revision skills through multiple written assignments, presentations and student-led discussions. All class material will be presented in English. No foreign, language ability is required.


FYS 101-37  Fake News: Media Literacy in the Digital Age

Prof. Megan Grosse, Communication & Media Studies

Our contemporary digital media environment is rife with challenges. As audiences and as citizens, we deal with privacy concerns, misleading content, filter bubbles, fake news, false allegations of fake news, and terms and conditions that demand users agree to anything and everything to enter this media landscape. This course focuses on expanding media literacy in this environment — developing critical thinking, research, and writing skills to approach these issues. We will consider how to critically assess the quality of information we receive and the ways in which this relates to democratic practices. This class explores not just the explicit ways in which our notions of objectivity get challenged by media, but the more nuanced ways in which our media systems construct our sense of reality.