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First-Year Seminars

Professor Elizabeth Cohn instructs her first-year seminar students in her course

Professor Elizabeth Cohn instructs her first-year seminar students in her course "Reflections: U.S. in a Mirror."

A First Year Seminar at SIS is a seminar-format course capped at 20 first year students; it is an opportunity for students to begin to develop critical intellectual skills and habits of mind that will prepare them to get the most out of their college experience, while studying a special topic that the professor has chosen because it genuinely excites her or his passions and piques her or his scholarly interests. This is an opportunity for students to get to know professors on their home turf, so to speak, and really dive into a subject that they are especially excited about.

Fall 2017 First Year Seminars

Newly Added Course

SISU-106-019 Culture and Power in International Education
Monday 8:10AM to 11:00AM
Prof. Amanda Taylor

Around the globe, education is becoming recognized as a fundamental human right key to the development of individuals, communities, and nations. Indeed, education can help empower, open opportunities, combat poverty, support innovation, and spur economic growth. But at the same time, the educational process can, and does, also serve to disempower people, further marginalize communities, and more deeply entrench existing social inequalities. This course looks at how and why this happens and what can be done about it. Using multimedia case studies from international educational development initiatives, the course critically examines these twin powers of education and considers their impacts on global educational initiatives.



SISU-106-002 Reflections: United States in the Mirror
Thursday 11:20 AM - 2:10 PM
Prof. Elizabeth Cohn

This course examines the values and interests of the United States and how they are, or are not, reflected in U.S. foreign policy. Analyzing historical as well as current trends, the course explores how American ideology and interests have been represented in U.S. policies such as war, humanitarian intervention, democracy promotion, and immigration. The class looks at what Americans think it means to be an American, and how that compares with the perspectives of others. On immigration, the course explores questions such as why people migrate to the United States; how different constituencies in the United States view migrants; what factors determine current U.S. immigration policy; and how immigrants' conceptions of the United States, as well as their national and cultural identities, change while living in the United States.

SISU-106-003 Global Cities
Thursday 8:10 AM - 11:00 AM
Prof. Victoria Kiechel

This seminar explores the nature, as dynamic spaces, of fourteen global cities. The class examines their social, political, and economic processes through considerations of urban form and culture and the disruptions of climate change, migration, and social transformation. The seminar prepares students to make an informed choice by focusing on potential study abroad sites including Beijing, Chengdu, Mumbai, Tokyo, Seoul, Nairobi, Cape Town, Cairo, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Copenhagen, and London, as well as Washington, DC.

SISU-106-004 Diplomacy in Practice
Wednesday 8:10 AM - 11:00 AM
Prof. David Banks

This course discusses questions such as: How do states mediate their relationships with one another and with other actors? How has this changed over time? What do current trends tell us about the future? This class combines theoretical and historical readings to allow students to better understand the origins, evolution, and purpose of diplomatic practice over time. Topics covered include: the evolving role of ambassadors, the bureaucratization and professionalization of diplomacy, summitry, multilateral and bilateral diplomacy, the expansion of diplomacy to new domains and actors, and the processes of diplomacy such as negotiation, mediation, rhetoric, persuasion, and symbolic politics.

SISU-106-006 Democracy, Demagogues, and Dialectic: Reading the World through an Ancient Lens
Thursday 11:20 AM - 2:10 PM
Prof. Laura Field

In this course we will engage with several foundational ancient texts, including two tragic plays by Aeschylus and Thucydides' gripping account of the Peloponnesian War. Ancient thought is especially attentive to human psychology; these authors illuminate the diversity of human passions as they are manifest in political life, which is an essential first step to understanding both the sweep of history and contemporary events. Aeschylus shows us, for example, how anger and resentment can thwart our greatest efforts to establish justice, and Thucydides illustrates how the noblest hopes can become threatened by fear and ignorance - as well as (occasionally) saved by human endeavor. By bearing witness to the sheer complexity of human relations, these ancient works allow us to exercise and test our political acumen. As such, we will approach them not just as crucial documents for our understanding of a distant age, but as works that still speak directly to contemporary concerns.

SISU-106-007 Bean to Brew: The International Myths, Methods and Power of Coffee
Thursday 11:20 AM - 2:10 PM
Prof. Shawn Bates

This course is an exploration of one of the most popular beverages in the world--coffee. A tool of diplomats, workers, and students, coffee has been a staple underlying international discourse from halls of the Ottoman Empire to the coffee houses that became the first stock exchanges in Amsterdam, to the wood-paneled refuge of Starbucks. The course examines the life-cycle of coffee from the bean that is picked to the brewed cup, looking at the human rights, international law, trade, social, and economic impacts of one of the most ubiquitous commodities in the world.

SISU-106-008 Guerrillas, Insurgents, and Paramilitaries
Monday 11:20 AM - 2:10 PM
Prof. Carolyn Gallaher

This course focuses on non-state combatant groups. Students will examine how these groups are formed, what their goals are, how they are organized, and how they intersect with civilian populations.

SISU-106-009 Gross National Happiness
Thursday 2:30 PM - 5:20 PM
Prof. Robert Kelley

What makes a nation happy? This seminar explores the defining, the determining, and the significance of happiness in world politics. From surveys to social engineering, students enter an active space for discussing the means and ends of national fulfillment.

SISU-106-011 Weak and Fragile States

Wednesday 8:10 AM - 11:00 AM
Prof. William Belding

This First Year Seminar focuses on nations that cannot adequately govern themselves or secure their own territory. As havens for terrorism and incubators for regional conflicts, these countries are studied from the perspective of U.S. foreign policy and as opportunities for international development.

SISU-106-012 Game Changers
Thursday 11:20 AM - 2:10 PM
Prof. Matthew Taylor

Good models, concepts, and theories in the social sciences provide us with new ways of thinking about perplexing, puzzling, or previously unnoticed aspects of social behavior. Ideally, they also make us better thinkers, both in our daily lives and as students and practitioners in international affairs. This course introduces students to "game-changing" theoretical ideas drawn from sociology, political science, and international relations. Each week, students encounter a new idea as well as several ways in which it applies to different topics in international affairs and to social phenomena more broadly. Rather than focus in-depth on a single school of thought or discipline, the theories featured in this course span the breadth of what social science has to offer. Students encounter ideas derived from game theory and computational modeling, as well as traditional sociology, symbolic interactionism, and constructivism. The aim is to offer a broad introduction to a variety of approaches for building knowledge, all of which may provide useful heuristic models for evaluating human behaviors, predicting potential outcomes, or improving policy.

SISU-106-013 Why Do They Love and Hate Us?
Monday 2:30 PM - 5:20 PM
Prof. Sally Shelton-Colby

This course examines a number of global issues from a non-Western perspective, including societal values (free speech vs. religious rights, gender equality vs. gender inequality, etc.); environmental degradation; human rights; food security/insecurity; civil liberties vs. internal security; use of force (what concepts of justice govern the use of force and how they vary across cultures); development (is it imperialist of the West to assert that much of the world is not developed?); and human security.

SISU-106-014 When Worldviews Clash: Navigating Constructively Across Identity Fault Lines
Thursday 2:30 PM - 5:20 PM
Prof. Wanda Wigfall-Williams

This first year seminar will explore the complex and dynamic configuration of identity with respect to the social constructions of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual expression and class within a historical, theoretical, and practice oriented framework. A racial, ethnic or gendered understanding of one's identity in relation to others is neither exhaustive nor inherently correct. No one descriptor captures the essence of one's identity. A person's worldview can block understanding of alternatives, and even blind a person from understanding the basis of their own perspectives. This restrictive scope creates opportunities for misunderstandings and stereotypes, which invariably lead to conflict. Throughout the semester, students will draw from readings, experiential activities, analyses of relevant articles, examine case studies, engage in constructive dialogue, and other activities as appropriate. Identity issues are complex, and as such, this first year seminar is intended to provide students with the necessary skills and information to navigate effectively across different worldviews and belief states.

SISU-106-017 The Global and Local HIV Epidemic
Thursday 8:10 AM – 11:00 AM
Prof. Thespina Yamanis

The Global and Local HIV Epidemic (3) In this course we will consider the public health and policy issues surrounding HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), the infectious disease responsible for the most deaths in modern history. Students will consider the social and structural dimensions of the HIV epidemic, with a specific focus on populations living in sub-Saharan Africa and the United States. We will discuss current debates related to HIV prevention policies and the funding of HIV treatment. Students will have the opportunity to visit and observe organizations working on the HIV epidemic in Washington, DC.