CU Boulder faculty member leading a discussion with a small group of students

Have you ever wondered if we can connect with the cosmos? Or what exactly "fake news" means? Or about the connection between physical and mental fitness? The First-Year Seminar series answers these questions by approaching critical thinking and academic curriculum on a completely new level. We asked our inventive professors to develop courses that focus on unusual topics (e.g., Batman, morality and fairy tales), and then to structure the topics to meet our rigorous academic standards. The below courses in the First-Year Seminar series are available to all current CU Boulder first-year students. The First-Year Seminar courses are held in small, interactive classes—limited to 19 students in each course.

First-Year Seminars are a great way to explore topics that can help you discover the academic path that’s right for you.

To register for a First-Year Seminar class:

1. Search FYSM 1000 in myCUinfo. You’ll see that each topic has its own section number. 

2. Enroll in the topic that interests you most or schedule an appointment with your advisor through MyCUHub to learn how a First-Year Seminar course fits into your academic plan.

Spring 2019 First-Year Seminars

The Art of Storytelling

Elspeth Dusinberre, Classics

How did people in the ancient world tell stories? How did they manipulate time, characters, the place or pace of telling to increase the impact of a tale? This first-year seminar considers story-telling in the literature, art and architecture of ancient Mesopotamia, Greece and Rome, exploring the ways in which narratives and audiences interact to create vibrant stories.

Science Under Siege

William Adams, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Facts, truth, critical evaluation of evidence. All seem to be increasingly under fire from those with a particular mind-set, political persuasion, set of religious beliefs or sense of belonging to a group that is believed to espouse a particular position. In this class, students will explore the evidence and counterclaims pertinent to a range of scientific topics. These may include: genetically engineered crops, vaccines and autism, nuclear power vs. coal, climate change, stem-cell research, the age of the earth and the evolution of life.


Fall 2018 First-Year Seminars

Asia Travels: Perceptions of Self, Constructions of Other

J. Colleen Berry, Center for Asian Studies

Does travel create more understanding and bring people closer together? Or does it just reinforce stereotypes and generate negative feelings? This course examines how travel by both Asian people and non-Asian people shapes and reflects our views of ourselves and of others. This course will challenge your assumptions and deepen your travel experiences throughout the world.

Designing the Renaissance

Anja Lange, Engineering—Herbst Humanities

Why do we need to see the dark before we appreciate the light? How does conflict contribute to the striving for order and balance? This course is an interdisciplinary approach to the Renaissance, exploring the beautiful and ordered worlds of  Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo, and the darkness and chaos of Dante’s Divine Comedy and Hieronymus Bosch. From ancient Greek tragedy, to the great cathedrals, to Shakespeare, we’ll explore the darkness and light woven together throughout this tumultuous epoch of history.

Latinos in Colorado History

Fredy Gonzalez, History

From early Mexican migration, to the rise of white nationalism and the KKK, to the Chicano movement of the 1960s, Latinos have contributed to Colorado's rich history. However, their voices  have often been silenced and many of their stories are unknown. We will use the findings of the Boulder County Latino History Project to rescue and bring to light local Latino history.

Theatre for Children

Kevin Rich, Theatre and Dance

This hands-on course is a great way for new students to engage with the off-campus community!  Students at nearby University Hill Elementary are so excited to write stories for our class. We’ll then write and develop them into plays, direct and act for them at the end of the semester.   Even if you’ve never been involved with theatre before, this class will provide a fun, low-stress way to try it out while making a positive impact on students in the Boulder community.

America at the Movies

Karen Auvinen, Arts RAP

This course examines depictions of femininity, masculinity, sexuality, class, ethnicity and race on film. We begin by exploring the formulaic Hollywood film and its massive influence by first examining the kinds of stereotypes it circulates about specific people or groups, and then by examining films that shatter these stereotypes and seek authentic expressions of human experience. Students will learn the ways in which film influences our perceptions about each other and will expand the range of each student’s understanding of the experience of individuals and groups who have been marginalized.

Living the Heroic Life, From Beowulf to Batman

Vicki Hendrickson Grove, Slavic and Germanic

There are many kinds of heroes, but what they tend to have in common is a desire for betterment—for themselves, but more often for the world around them. Many models of heroes have been created through mythologies and literatures of various people from ancient through modern times. These heroes have similarities that reflect fundamental themes of strength and hope. In this class, we look at what it means to be a “hero” and the kinds of codes by which heroes live and act. These heroic models will enable students to develop an original concept for their hero in this assignment. The goal of the class is not merely to engage in the discussion of heroic literature, but also to get students to see that they, too, can live a heroic life, as the qualities of such a life apply to everyday living: integrity, persistence, sacrifice, reliability—these are all valuable life skills for succeeding in college, achieving career ambitions and succeeding in life. This course will present a variety of media through which to analyze the hero, including classical through contemporary literature, graphic novels and film.

The Origin of Everything

Michael Klymkowsky, Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology

Have you ever wondered about the origins of the universe, the solar system, life on earth, human civilization and modern society? This course offers instruction from world-class experts in each area, as guest speakers from multiple departments will share the latest research in their fields. We’ll think about what all these origins may have in common, what we can and can't know about the past, and how understanding these origins can help us be better thinkers about both the past and the future.

The Power of Fairy Tales

Suzanne Magnanini, French and Italian​

Did you know that the Italian Cinderella murdered her stepmother? Or that Sleeping Beauty had twins before marrying the prince? Or that the cats in Italian Puss-in-Boots stories were female?  While Walt Disney’s animated fairy tales are familiar to most American children and adults, few people realize that Disney’s most beloved characters (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Pinocchio) descend from an Italian and French fairy tale tradition that dates back to the 16th century. To make these tales acceptable for American children, Disney and the authors of children’s books drastically changed these stories by removing scenes of sex and violence, censoring adult language, and removing any scenes that challenged the dominant social and political beliefs of Disney's day. In this class, you will study how fairy tales have changed through time and across cultures by studying different tale types (Cinderella, Dragon-Slayers, Puss-in-Boots) from the Italian and French traditions from the 1500s to the 1700s and contemporary, popular culture (films, television, comics, advertising and art). You will ask yourselves how the same tale type might be retold for different purposes in different cultures, and you will work in groups to build digital fairy tale webs that show the relationships among different versions of the same tale type. We will also meet in Norlin Library's Special Collections department, to study rare fairy tale books and illustrations printed between 1500-1900. Finally, you will write your own fairy tales that address your own political, social, and moral concerns. The course goals include gaining an appreciation for the flexibility of the fairy tale and the power of storytelling; improving written and spoken communication; and sharpening your analytical skills.

Investigating Art, Media, Culture and Visual Literacy Through Drawing 

Tyler Alpern, Arts RAP

Teaches basic drawing skills, mechanics of two-dimensional space, and deconstructs the kinds of artistic images students commonly encounter in social media, street art, graffiti, advertising, comics and tattoos as a basis for understanding how complex visual language communicates profound meaning. Experiential learning activities introduce the practices of design thinking, idea production, the creative process and critical thinking.

Boxing: The Original Greek Mental and Physical Fitness Program 

Murray Cox, Applied Math​

In this course we investigate the origins and practices concerning the connections between physical and mental fitness. We will work with modern Olympians and Olympic/world-class coaches each week. Students will be part of a team that is responsible for understanding how to properly train their bodies and minds for top performance. This requires a high degree of time management skills in order to reach difficult goals. In addition to working under a coach’s eye in a boxing gym environment, participants will also choose from a variety of additional activities including: judging a boxing match, analyzing athlete mechanics, working with at-risk youths and Parkinson’s patients, managing the business of a gym, and the organization of an Olympic-style boxing match. Participants will participate in an interval-style, bi-weekly workout, and practice research and writing skills pertinent to their field of study.

Toxic Chemicals in Our Environment: Health Impacts and What We Can Do About It

Shelly Miller, Mechanical Engineering 

In this course we will learn what is an environmental toxic chemical, the adverse health effects associated with exposure, and everyday actions we can take to reduce our exposures to toxic chemicals. A toxic chemical is a substance that causes, directly or indirectly, harmful effects. We will discuss how society creates, regulates and perceives the effects of environmental toxic chemicals. We will emphasize the complexity of the issues and the difficulty in resolving them. This is a diverse topic and combines the fields of toxicology, exposure assessment, epidemiology, environmental engineering, environmental science, medicine, public health, sociology and chemistry with politics, lobbying, economics, marketing, law, media and human behaviorism. Unfortunately for you, your professor is not an expert in all of these topics! You will have to help me fill in the missing pieces. A goal of this course is to create an experience-oriented learning environment in which you have a more interactive role in the day-to-day classroom activities. We will use our computers regularly, so bring a laptop. Activities will include multimedia presentations, computer exercises, homework with real-world data analysis, readings and discussion groups. We will also use social media to communicate what we are learning with the world.

Good Men Are Hard to Find: O’Connor, McCarthy and the Coens

Jan Whitt, Journalism 

The class is for anyone who loves film and literature and who doesn't mind a dose of creepiness and mystery. Although literary characters are often innocent, some of them remind us of the protagonist in a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” who thoughtlessly shoots an albatross and unleashes the wrath of God. Longing for redemption, the mariner tells and retells his story to whomever will listen. Like the protagonist in a Coen Brothers film, A Serious Man, the mariner understands that “even though you can't figure anything out, you will be responsible for it on the midterm.” Our class examines several themes: 1) the concept of “grace” in short stories and a novel by two Catholic writers, and films by the Coen Brothers; 2) the fusion of comedy and horror, and the role of dark humor and farce, in what we will explore as examples of the “Theater of the Absurd,” and 3) the prevalence of the grotesque in Southern literature, especially in the work of William Faulkner, Carson McCullers and Flannery O'Connor. We will read O'Connor's “The Displaced Person,” “Good Country People,” “A Good Man Is Hard To Find,” “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” and “Revelation.” We also will read Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men. For individual or group presentations, students will select from nine Coen Brothers films, including The Big Lebowski, Fargo, Raising Arizona and True Grit. The class will screen No Country for Old Men together. 

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Stratospheric Explorations

Cora Randall, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences

This course immerses students in active learning about the Earth's stratosphere, which is known more commonly as the ozone layer. Explorations include such topics as the ozone hole, the polar vortex and climate change. Students are introduced to the fundamental physical and chemical principles that govern pollution, weather and climate while also studying the history of atmospheric science, relevant policy and communication of controversial topics. Students engage in hands-on measurements of the stratosphere as well as analysis of NASA satellite data, and practice thinking critically and creatively about the observations and their implications. Students emerge from the class with a better understanding of some of the most profound aspects of the Earth's atmosphere, an appreciation for how scientific research is conducted, and a heightened awareness of how the media portrays scientific issues related to the Earth's climate system.

Our Geologic Dependencies

David Budd, Geological Sciences

Globally, modern society is heavily dependent on mineral, energy and water resources derived from the Earth. Whether grown or manufactured, natural geological resources are required. Even the switch to renewable “clean” energies in response to global climate change will require massive amounts of resource exploitation. This seminar will use an inquiry-based approach to explore the issues related to society’s dependence on geological resource. Questions to be pursued include: What are the energy, mineral and water resources used in the modern world? How much do we need? Where and how do we acquire them? What geologic factors control their location, quality and production? How do we minimize the impact of obtaining them? Students will help shape the focus, research these questions, and collaboratively build an informed understanding of the issues around use and dependence on geologic resources.

Gandhi and Meditation: Practicing Peace Inside and Out

Cathy Comstock, Farrand RAP

Gandhi stunned the world by showing that nonviolence can at times be a force more powerful than violence. For this class, we’ll learn about his inspiring story and his theory of nonviolence. We’ll especially focus on the power and impact of language, including nonviolent communication. We will then analyze how the principles we’ve studied might be applied to major issues today, from global conflict to mass incarceration, from the ecology to its animal inhabitants, as well as to your own life. Gandhi and other great peacemakers have also demonstrated the importance of meditation for inner calm and focus. This insight is supported by studies in neuroscience that suggest that meditation can decrease stress while increasing well-being and academic performance. We will also get to know each other and the community through your choice of group service for the environment, animals or human communities in need. 

Liberty: Political Revolution in Colonial American Society

Jim Hodge, Military Science

The course will examine the 25 years before the American Revolution that developed the intellectual and moral change in Colonial America leading to the desire for independence. We will come to appreciate the impact and result of the British government’s legacy of European conflict in the New World. As described by J. Mercierca, “Colonial Americans had once been content with their role within the empire—content with the knowledge that they were British subjects, living ‘under the best national civil constitution in the world.’” In this interactive course, we will examine the events and outcomes of what John Adams termed the true revolution, and how events abroad and domestic guided the “Founding Fathers” to a decision to abandon reconciliation and seek separation and independence.

Building Sustainable Communities

Lupita Montoya, Civil Engineering 

This seminar will demonstrate how engineering design can be used to solve technical or scientific problems as well as societal challenges. The process includes: problem definition, background research, requirement specification, brainstorm solutions, solution selection, prototype, test and redesign.  These steps will be applied to problems recognized and discussed in class. The goal will be to contribute our efforts to building sustainable and resilient communities in the U.S. and abroad. Dynamic multidisciplinary teams with diverse intellectual, social and academic backgrounds will tackle real problems in these communities. Students will explore concepts such as resilience, grit, growth mindset, diversity and justice to deliver the best solution to the problems we set out to solve. Our goal will be to use this effective tool in new ways to serve society. Students in the course will learn to work in teams and communicate across disciplines in written and oral forms.

Why Be Moral?

Robert Pasnau, Philosophy 

One of the oldest and most important questions about life is the question of why we should care about doing the right thing. Although discussions of this topic go back to the beginnings of philosophy, there remain to this day the fiercest of disagreements about how to answer the question. This seminar will look at some of the variety of answers that have been given over the centuries, looking at philosophy, literature and film. Students will be asked to think analytically about the question, but also to reflect honestly on the question from within their own lives, so as to seek an understanding that is both intellectual and personal.

Immigrants and Refugees in Literature and Culture, Ancient and Modern

Lauri Reitzammer, Classics 

In this class, we will examine the representation of immigrants, foreigners and refugees in ancient and modern literature and culture. We will begin by tracing Archaic Greek conceptions of the traveler (e.g., Homer’s Odyssey) and continue through the Classical period with a look at immigrants and travelers in Athenian tragedy and comedy. We will consider ancient Greek gender constructions—±the traveler as male (e.g., Odysseus) contrasted with the immobile female (e.g., Penelope)—as well as exceptions to these norms (e.g., Helen of Troy, whose body is marked by mobility; the ancient Greek conception of the “wandering womb”). Having explored Classical Athenian metaphors related to immigration, we will turn to a very different cultural context: Rome during the Age of Augustus (e.g., Vergil’s Aeneid). We will close with an examination of 21st-century debates on immigration, and modern representations of travelers in literature and film.

Readings in Applied Mathematics: Intro to History and Math of Social Networks

Jim Curry, Applied Math

As the global community increases its awareness of the integral role that mathematics and computing play in every area, the political, ethical and scientific boundaries of computing and math become entangled with legal and technical constraints. Topics at this interface include the origins and future of Facebook, cybersecurity with global implications and, more generally, network science. After an introduction to the discrete math of networks, we will examine recent articles about emerging topics that are demanding and shaping our data futures. In addition to reading and presenting on the history of Facebook, cybersecurity and network science, we will take a look at “algorithms” as discussed in the book Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy. It speaks to some of the concerns that the analysis of large data sets is forcing us to think about.

Playing Politics: Violence, Institutions and Memory

Michaele Ferguson, Political Science 

Why just study politics when you can play politics? In this course, we will play three immersive role-playing games simulating the American, French and Mexican revolutions. Have you always wondered what it was like to be Alexander Hamilton, Gen. Lafayette or Pancho Villa? Ever thought about what the world would be like if the Colonies had not declared independence, if King Louis XVI had not been executed, if Francisco Madero had not been assassinated? Now's your chance to try and find out. As their characters, students will work together in factions to try to foment or stave off revolution. While the simulations are grounded in our study of historical documents, events may take a very different path from the one we know from history as students strategize, connive and reason their way to victory. Along the way, we will develop skills in critical thinking, persuasive writing, public speaking, political organizing, leadership and teamwork. Do not throw away your shot at making history—enroll today.

Evil, Illusions and Androids: Uncertainty in Literature, Philosophy and Film

Lauren Stone, Germanic and Slavic

In this course, we will investigate how literature, philosophy and film have responded to fundamental questions such as: How can we know what is right? How do we know what is real? How can we say for sure what it is to be human? We will discuss some of the many ways that this idea of uncertainty influences how we view and describe our world: from why the existence of evil might challenge the assumption that there is a benevolent, divine creator, to how our consumer culture defines what we see as “real,” and how the rise of technology and artificial intelligence has made it increasingly difficult to distinguish humans from machines. By engaging with a variety of theories, literary genres and films (from ancient and modern philosophy to 19th-century Romanticism and 20th-century science fiction), we will be able to see how definitions of morality, reality and humanity have been shaped by the limits of our knowledge.

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Mountains of the World

Lon Abbott and Peter Molnar, Geological Sciences 

The University of Colorado once used a slogan: “Minds to Match our Mountains.” Our seminar will center on geologic processes that build mountains, but also place mountains in historical, religious or social contexts, as exemplified, for example, by Hannibal’s crossing the Alps, aspects of Mount Kailas that make it sacred to Buddhists and Hindus alike, or the importance of East African mountains as “water towers.”

Introduction to Contemporary Issues in Inequality

Anthony Abiragi, Program for Writing and Rhetoric

More than two centuries ago, Jean-Jacques Rousseau outlined the dangers of excessive socio-economic inequality: As a society divides starkly into two classes, shared values begin to wither, public goods are neglected, class resentments fester, and the structures of democracy fall into disrepair. In addition to a historical overview of topics in inequality, including the rise of human rights, the course will concentrate on the same points as they apply to today’s society. Polls consistently indicate that inequality is the major social issue of our time, often articulated as the divide between the 1 percen and the remaining 99 percent. While there’s truth to that distinction, the problem of inequality manifests in many areas of social life adjacent to the “purely” economic spheres of employment, income and wealth. In addition to economic inequality, this course will focus on the following adjacent arenas: race, gender, education, environment and health.

Introduction to Political Dialogue

Vanessa Baird, Political Science

The First Amendment prohibits criminalizing offensive speech based on the importance of the marketplace of ideas. If we value the marketplace of ideas, then we ought to learn how to speak so that others can hear what we are saying. And how to listen even to perspectives that bring up hard emotions. In this class, we will learn how to engage in dialogue about difficult and controversial topics, using the research from political psychology to understand what works when we talk to one another about our perspectives.

How to Think (Philosophically) About Sex

David Boonin, Philosophy

Are violent sexual fantasies immoral? What about playing video games that feature sexual violence? Peeping in on a fellow student while they’re in the shower? Hiring a prostitute? Engaging in incest? Plain old sexual promiscuity? And what should we say when a person’s consent to sex is compromised because they’ve been given false information? Or because they’re moderately intoxicated? Or because they’re quite young? Is it wrong to be a sperm donor? To pay someone to carry a pregnancy to term? To pay someone to terminate a pregnancy? Sex raises a lot of important and difficult ethical questions. This introductory-level, discussion-oriented seminar will provide a critical survey of what contemporary philosophers have said about many of these questions, and help students learn how to think, talk and write about such questions clearly, critically and constructively.

Ethical Person, Ethical Engineer

Leland Giovannelli and Christy Bozic, Herbst Humanities

How can you become an ethical engineer if you are not already an ethical person? This course will explore ethical dilemmas through literature, philosophy and history.  These texts will illuminate issues fundamental to the ethical practice of engineering, such as power, privilege, respect, fairness, partiality and responsibility. In the process of studying these issues and texts, “Ethical Person, Ethical Engineer” will create a close-knit, supportive and ethical community.

Technology as a (Black) Mirror of Society

Christopher M. Carruth, ATLAS Institute

This seminar examines our modern technological climate, particularly with regard to the unanticipated consequences of new technologies using, among other content, the BBC/Netflix anthology series Black Mirror as a pedagogical tool for discussion and analysis. From the 35,000-foot vantage, we seek to instill in students a critical-thinking mindset regarding technology's increased role in our lives. Virtual reality, artificial intelligence, extreme surveillance, evolving forms of warfare, digital afterlives, hacking, and social media addiction are a sampling of the topics to be discussed. As futuristic as some might sound, these technologies are here, and, if we're clumsy and cavalier in our understanding and use of them, the future depicted in Black Mirror might be the one we find ourselves soon navigating. In short, technology mirrors people’s aspirations; therefore, we do ourselves a service when we know full well what we're looking at.

Art, Public, Site: Imagining Place and Making Worlds

Yumi Roth and Brianne Cohen, Art and Art History

What role does art play in a contemporary public sphere? In recent decades, we have witnessed a vast increase in the production of what artists and art historians term “socially engaged” or “participatory” art. Such art often purports to create more “democratic” spaces or even aims to enact concrete social change. A critical debate remains how to judge such projects: according to purely aesthetic criteria or more within an ethical-political realm? In this seminar, we will grapple with works and texts by art historians, critics and visual culture thinkers concerned with a rising tide of artistic-social engagement. Students will look at the production of artworks outside of the traditional studio, museum and gallery that engage the public in new and unconventional ways. Projects will be designed to interrupt, intervene, co-opt, provide a service, exist for a defined amount of time or engage a site, community or situation.

Don't Be Fooled by "Fake News" 

Doug Duncan, Astrophysical & Planetary Sciences

For about 15 years, I have included in introductory astronomy courses for nonscience majors assignments that ask students to tell good from bad science on the Internet. Astronomy vs. astrology. Climate change vs. climate change denial. Conventional vs. unconventional medicine. How does a nonscientist make wise choices among real and fake sources of information? This seminar would allow me to broaden the curriculum from astronomy-based to more general scientific and critical thinking. The “fakes” are fun—but instructive and important. I believe these are the critical thinking skills we should teach students!

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Media Literacy

Rick Stevens and Nabil Echchaibi, Media Studies

Explore the expanding nature of literacy in a digital world, and changes in the meanings and practices of literacy over time. Media literacy encompasses the ability to strategically access, analyze, evaluate, promote and produce communication in a variety of modes. Students will expand their understanding of the role of media literacy in social engagement, and will apply their competencies to help external communities engage important issues through group projects and mediated public interactions.

Project Manage Your University Experience

Elizabeth Gibson and Michael Readey, Engineering Management

College is more than completing a set of courses; it's the start of your adult life. Learning and applying project management skills can smooth your transition into college life. Projects have a life cycle with a beginning and an end. They are unique and filled with uncertainty about what to expect. Each project shares a common framework that includes five process groups: initiation, planning, execution, close, and monitoring and control. The focus of this course is to learn and apply project management knowledge skills as students identify, initiate and develop a plan for a successful CU Boulder experience.


Jason Gladstone, English

What does it mean to live on the Earth? How does this change when humanity gains the power to change the planet and explore outer space? This seminar focuses on a range of post-World War II works of fiction and nonfiction, art, film and media that confront these questions. We will read texts ranging from mainstream comics to experimental postwar novels. Students will also consider works of land art, Hollywood films and video games. We will explore how postwar efforts to transform the terrestrial environment and conquer outer space raise questions about humanity, technology and nature. We will also study how Earth and space serve novelists, artists, and filmmakers as environments to confront large-scale questions about culture, identity and power. Assignments will include both traditional and nontraditional academic writing along with a nonsite investigation and an off-world media project.

Being Human: The Anthropology of Dystopia

Christian Hammons, Anthropology

What does it mean to be human? What can fictional worlds and imagined futures tell us about the actual worlds we live in today? This course addresses questions about the human condition by exploring the imagined worlds of dystopian cinema—films set in an alternative time or place that is worse than the here and now, yet recognizably familiar.

Anthropological concepts and theories are applied to films such as Blade Runner, Planet of the Apes, Ghost in the Machine, and The Handmaid's Tale.  Many of these films revolve around problematic relationships between humans and animals or humans and machines, suggesting that the human condition is determined in part by nonhuman entities. By learning the anthropology of dystopia, students will learn to think critically about the taken-for-granted and to approach big questions, like what it means to be human, by focusing on the details of lived experience.

Immigrant Colorado

Vilja Hulden, History

The present is not the first time that immigration has made the news. A century ago, more than 1 in 3 Americans was born overseas or had foreign-born parents. They were not always welcome: To many, immigrants from places like Italy or Poland seemed “too foreign,” and World War I raised fears about immigrant loyalty. In this class, we complete a project that takes us to that century-ago moment through focusing on immigrants in specific Colorado localities. We will analyze census population data to see who lived in these places, where they were born and how they made their living. We will examine historical documents, newspapers and immigrant letters to understand the Colorado and national context of their lives. Our end product is an online exhibit with data visualizations, document analyses and maps that illuminate the immigrant history of these places and show how it ties into a broader discussion of what it means to be an immigrant in America—and what it means to be American.

Life on Mars: Past, Present and Future 

Bruce Jakosky, Geological Sciences

Did Mars’ climate allow life to exist in the past? Could life exist there today? Will humans travel to Mars in our lifetime, and can we “terraform” Mars to make it more Earth-like? We’ll explore these questions by looking at the science of the Red Planet and its environment. We’ll also examine how NASA’s Mars exploration program is addressing these questions and why Mars gets so much interest from the public. We’ll look beyond the science and examine how the potential for life on Mars crosses the boundaries into areas such as the philosophical issues regarding life elsewhere, religious implications (if any) and the societal impact of finding or not finding life on Mars. Our larger goal will be to use issues about Mars as a way of exploring the interplay among science disciplines and the relationship between science and society.

How Mountains Made Modern America

Craig Jones, Geological Sciences

History lessons start by assuming the world as we find it, but this can miss recognizing just how the way the earth was built influenced that history. The California Gold Rush changed everything in the western U.S., but historians rarely recognize that this was a very peculiar collection of gold deposits. Modern ski resorts, the national park system, Las Vegas and Colorado water law all arose from geologic peculiarities present in the mountains of the West. We will explore some possible examples of geologic impacts on America through readings and discussion before students will identify an aspect of history or modern life, law and land use to explore on their own, looking to see what geology underlies these things.

Race and the University

Eileen Lagman, English

One of the defining elements of college life is the promotion of racial diversity—but how does this play out in the everyday life of the university and its students? By examining the university as a unique setting for the social construction and lived experience of race, this course will conduct first-hand investigation in CU archives and within CU communities to ask: What is the role of the university in shaping our understanding of race and the meanings of race in U.S. higher education? What are the challenges surrounding race and racism at the university? And what are the possibilities for cross-cultural exchange and racial justice at the university? Because knowledge doesn’t exist simply “out there,” but is actively produced by local actions and agents—including CU students—we’ll investigate how the university is not just a neutral place but a complex social institution communicating diverse missions, values and identities.

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Design and the Built Environment

Abbie Liel, Civil Engineering

This seminar will introduce students to factors that affect design of the built environment. Central questions to be discussed in the course are: What are our expectations for safety in the built environment? What are the impacts of buildings on the natural environment? How do disasters affect building and the built environment? What is the interplay among style, sustainability and safety in building design? We will apply concepts from architecture, urban development, structural, environmental and building systems engineering, economics, and public policy to holistically examine design of the built environment and its impacts. The class will involve field trips, laboratory activities and class discussion, which will strengthen students’ ability to analyze and communicate ideas about building and urban design across multiple disciplines.

Cultural Difference Through Hispanic Literature

Mary Long, Spanish and Portuguese

Cultural Difference through Hispanic Literature is taught in English. We explore the notion of cultural difference through works from the 13th century up to the present by authors from Spain, Peru, Argentina, Mexico and U.S. Latino literary traditions. We meet dynamic young characters: Lazarillo de Tormes, a rascal from 16th-century Spain who cleverly challenges the unfair structures of his era; Jesusa, a young woman who fought during the Mexican Revolution; Ernesto, a bilingual writer coming of age in the Andes of Peru, Santiago and Monse whose love stretches across 20 years from Barcelona, Spain, to the Western Sahara; and three generations of Cuban women living separated by revolution. We explore the historical, political and geographical realities of the worlds depicted, and how individuals and cultures define themselves in juxtaposition to Others in order to also appreciate the unique perspectives acquired through literature.

Comedy: Commedia and the Process of Creating the Classic Comedy

Tamara Meneghini, Theatre and Dance

The worldview of the ancient artform of commedia dell’arte lives in the series of detailed characters, complex relationships and life situations—revealing a kind of theater that composes an entire view of human life and is the heart of how comedy is crafted today. In understanding the world of Commedia, its relevance to modern professional theater practices and precise physical technique, one must surrender to the needs, drives and self-image of individual beings dominated by simple desires. Psychology plays an important part in the creative process, with an emphasis on what it means to be human rather than what it means to be a character. Students will learn that each of us is a composite of all of the Commedia characters. The purpose of the theater, unlike other mediums, is the enactment of the collective psyche, and Commedia is the most direct path to this.

Water for the World

Sarah Miller, Environmental Engineering

This course will explore the complex issues associated with water, global trends and sustainability. Topics will range from sources to meet current water needs for human consumption, industry, agriculture, recreation and ecosystem services, and the state of these sources under future scenarios of status quo, global warming, population growth, and the industrialization of developing nations. The course will also cover the fundamentals of water chemistry, the current design of water and wastewater treatment and distribution systems, an analysis of these designs through green engineering, and innovations for future designs including providing services without significant infrastructure. Elements of the course focus on water policy, environmental justice and the economic valuation of water globally.

Impossible or Implausible: Paradoxes and Puzzles

Sean O'Rourke, Math

In this course, we will immerse ourselves in a series of paradoxes and puzzles that mystify and perplex one’s reason. We will explore how mathematical thinking can improve our reasoning and decision-making skills, and allow us to understand the world in a deeper, more meaningful way. Topics include: sudoku, social networks, Friday the 13th, traffic congestion, common knowledge, tennis tournaments, cryptography, the television show Let’s Make a Deal and wild-card poker.

The Origins of Racism: European Encounters with the Americas

Andres Prieto, Spanish and Portuguese

Have white people always been white? Were there Native Americans before Columbus? Is Latino a race or an ethnicity? As racism is being normalized in media and public discourse, it is important to remember that, while races might seem natural, they have a history. In this class, we will explore how European men developed and imposed their own racial categories on the native peoples of the Americas and on the African slaves they imported in the 16th and 17th centuries. We will study how different populations reacted to the new labels applied to them. What did it mean for someone to suddenly be “black,” “Indian” or “Mestizo”? How did these populations adopt, resist or try to subvert the new racial classifications and policies? By focusing on the colonization of Spanish America and the U.S., we will try to understand how certain ideas about race came to be, and the similarities and differences between early modern attitudes and our own. Ultimately, we will see that race is not a biological category but a cultural and historical one.

Art & Diversity

George Rivera, Art and Art History

This course examines the impact of race and ethnicity on the art world in the United States. We will review the art of Native Americans, Chicanos, Puerto Ricans, Latin Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, and others of ethnic and cultural mixing. The course is grounded in critical multicultural theory and postcolonial theory.

Fighting Fascism From Mussolini and Hitler to the KKK and Neo-Nazis

David Shneer, Religious Studies

This seminar will trace the history of fighting fascism globally from the rise of Benito Mussolini in the 1920s, where the term “fascism” was coined to the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white nationalists were chanting, “Jews won’t replace us.” We will tease out the differences among fascism, Nazism, white suprematism, and then organizations that espouse those ideologies like the Nazi Party, or here in the United States, the Ku Klux Klan, which ruled Colorado in the 1920s and 1930s. We will learn about tactics of violence and nonviolence as manifested in 1930s Europe and in the 1950s and ’60s United States. We will engage the services of such organizations as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League, who do this work every day.

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Astronauts & Astropolitics: Topics in Space Exploration From the Cold War

Galina Siergiejczyk, Global RAP

This course surveys topics in space exploration, beginning with the history of spaceflight, through present-day dilemmas of commercial, military and scientific space activity, and concluding with an examination of trends in current and future innovations across a variety of fields such as space tourism, medicine, commerce and law. The course goals are two-fold: (1) examine the evolution of human activity in space, including such disciplines as astropolitics, international space law, space commerce, space mining, and space cleanup; and (2) equip the learners with fundamental college-learning skills: critical analysis, close reading, professional communication, conducting independent research and creatively approaching the production of an original academic work. In this course, students engage in discussions, video logging, creative presentations, interviewing, design projects and more. Come learn how to craft an extraordinary college experience by design, widen your horizons, boost your confidence, and build skills of becoming better leaders, collaborators and innovators.

Bones, Stones and Monkeys

Matthew Sponheimer, Anthropology

The fundamental questions covered in this seminar are: Where do humans fit in the economy of nature? What is the story of human origins? How can we answer such questions? We will explore these topics through various lenses including paleontology (bones), archaeology (stones) and primatology (monkeys). The primary course materials will be popular books and the never-ending stream of discoveries/studies shared in popular and social media. Projects will include journaling, blogging and/or wiki creation.

Human Rights: Rites of Passage in Film and Literature

Masano Yamashita, French and Italian

Children and young adults are not allowed to vote, yet they dispose of fundamental human rights, including, according to the United Nations Convention of the Rights of child, the right to play. Rights are understood to be natural, self-evident and equal for everyone. Yet everyday experience shows us that this is often not the case. In this course we will first undertake an in-depth analysis of the figures of the child and the teenager. By examining films and fiction that showcase various types of youth (the child runaway, the refugee child, the transgender child, feral children), we will try to understand the intersection of childhood and politics. How do human rights take into account human development and flourishing, in other words, the right to a personal narrative? Themes pertaining to children’s rights, family law, race and gender identity will be a particular focus of this semester.

Heroism: Troy to Afghanistan

Hardy Fredricksmeyer, Engineering—Herbst Humanities

This course will take an in-depth and sustained look at female and male heroes in fiction and nonfiction. We will combine classical readings with award-winning, modern works of literature and film, and class visits. Such combinations will include: (1) Odyssey with a focus on Odysseus’ violent employment of cunning and technologies such as metallurgy; (2) a discussion of the ethics of war with Col. Mike Gough, ex-commander of the Marine Attack Squadrons in Iraq and Afghanistan; (3) Winter’s Bone, about a young woman’s heroic journey through a criminal underworld to save her family; (4) Children of Men (winner of 41 film awards), a post-apocalyptic journey to save the world’s first newborn in 18 years; (5) The Thin Red Line (winner of 20 film awards), a tension-filled and deeply philosophical film about the Battle of Guadalcanal in World War II. Because heroism was a central motif in Greek and Roman architecture, the class will include a scavenger hunt for elements of Classical architecture on the CU Boulder campus.


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