First-Year Seminars

First-Year seminars are designed to introduce you to a field of study by way of a special topic, issue, or problem of interest to you. You will have the challenge of exploring the course material in depth with a faculty member and a small group of peers. These topics are accessible to all students either with no prerequisites or with prerequisites first-years should have completed, such as the writing requirement. Limited to 15 students, these seminars will be reading and discussion-based with an emphasis on papers, projects, studio work, or hands-on field experience rather than exams. All of the first-year seminars are regular courses, worth either 3 or 4 credits, and most fulfill an FDR requirement. In some cases, these seminars may serve as a prerequisite or satisfy a requirement in a major.

More than three-quarters of first-year students at Washington and Lee fulfill their FDR FW requirement in WRIT 100, Writing Seminar for First Years. 24-26 sections taught by professors of Classics, English, Journalism, History, Religion, and Philosophy are offered annually in fall and winter. These Writing Seminars for First-Years emphasize the development of argumentative writing skills in topical courses  on a variety of subjects, from "Faith and Doubt" to "I See Dead People." See the course offerings for more information.

First-Year students who have been exempted from FDR FW because they have an AP Literature or Language score of 5 or an IBE score in specific areas of 6 or 7 should still consider taking a First-Year Seminar (though they should not take WRIT 100).  These FYS courses nearly always qualify for FDR credit (check the 5th column in the Course Listings).

First-year students may take both the Writing Seminar for First-Years (WRIT 100) and a First-Year Seminar, unless they have already fulfilled FDR FW as described above.

Please take this opportunity to review these exciting course offerings. For full descriptions of the seminars follow the links.

Fall 2014

See complete information about these courses in the course offerings database. For more information about a specific course, including course type, schedule and location, click on its title.

General Geology with Field Emphasis

GEOL 100A - Rahl

The study of our physical environment and the processes shaping it. The materials and structure of the Earth's crust, the origin of the landforms, the concept of geologic time, and the nature of the Earth's interior are considered, with special emphasis on field study in the region near Lexington. No credit for students who have completed GEOL 101. Offered on occasion as a First-Year Seminar. Contact the instructor for additional information. Laboratory course.

GEOL 100A: FS: General Geology with Field Emphasis (4): First-Year Seminar.

FS: First-Year Seminar

HIST 180 - Luo

Topics vary by term and instructor.

HIST 180-01: FY: Popular Culture and Everyday Life in Modern China (3). First-Year Seminar. Prerequisite: First-year class standing only. This course surveys the development of Chinese popular culture during the modern era. Popular culture is the key to understanding the economy, politics, and people of a society. It sheds light on art in the everyday and renders the mundane with sensual textures. The course examines different forms of Chinese popular culture, including popular literature, material culture, rituals and religions, fashion, film, etc., from the perspective of their social, political, ideological, and cultural functions. We focus on the 20th century, the formative historical period for contemporary China, though attention is also given to the early modern era. (HU) Di Luo. Fall 2014 HIST 180-02: FY: Fashion in Global History (3). First-Year Seminar. Prerequisite: First-year class standing only. This course uses fashion as a way to explore economic, social, and political changes throughout the globe from antiquity to the French Revolution. By placing clothing and ornamentation within its historic context, we explore how different peoples have used adornment as a marker of status, conformity, and resistance. Topics include: the historic demand for luxury, the role of ornamentation in empire and colonialism, and the way fashion contributed to modern globalization. This course also offers students the opportunity to engage sources about fashion in global history through digital humanities projects. (HU) Stillo. Fall 2014

FS: First-Year Seminar

HIST 180 - Stillo

Topics vary by term and instructor.

HIST 180-01: FY: Popular Culture and Everyday Life in Modern China (3). First-Year Seminar. Prerequisite: First-year class standing only. This course surveys the development of Chinese popular culture during the modern era. Popular culture is the key to understanding the economy, politics, and people of a society. It sheds light on art in the everyday and renders the mundane with sensual textures. The course examines different forms of Chinese popular culture, including popular literature, material culture, rituals and religions, fashion, film, etc., from the perspective of their social, political, ideological, and cultural functions. We focus on the 20th century, the formative historical period for contemporary China, though attention is also given to the early modern era. (HU) Di Luo. Fall 2014 HIST 180-02: FY: Fashion in Global History (3). First-Year Seminar. Prerequisite: First-year class standing only. This course uses fashion as a way to explore economic, social, and political changes throughout the globe from antiquity to the French Revolution. By placing clothing and ornamentation within its historic context, we explore how different peoples have used adornment as a marker of status, conformity, and resistance. Topics include: the historic demand for luxury, the role of ornamentation in empire and colonialism, and the way fashion contributed to modern globalization. This course also offers students the opportunity to engage sources about fashion in global history through digital humanities projects. (HU) Stillo. Fall 2014

FS: First-Year Seminar

MATH 180 - McRae

Fall 2014 topic: MATH 180: FS:Close Encounters with the Impossible (3). First-Year Seminar. Prerequisite: First-year class standing only. The Russian mathematician A. N. Kolmogorov wrote that, at any given moment, there is only a fine layer between the 'trivial' and the impossible." Students receive a brief history of mathematical ideas from the viewpoint that many of the greatest ideas in mathematics are the result of flirting with seemingly absurd notions. Topics include: irrational, imaginary and transcendental numbers; perspective; curved space; the fourth dimension; infinitesimals; ideals; periodicity; the infinite; and the Banach-Tarski paradox. (SC) McRae. Fall 2014

FS: First-Year Seminar

PHIL 180 - Smith

A seminar for first-year students.

Fall 2014 topic:

PHIL 180: FS: Race and Justice in America (3). First-Year Seminar. Prerequisite: First-year class standing. Over the last four decades, there has been a great deal of discussion and debate over the proper role that considerations of race should play in the formation of public policy and in related efforts on the part of individuals and institutions to achieve a more just and fair society. While some argue that we have transcended race and should aspire to ideals of color-blindness, others argue that race is still a significant determinant of unjust social and economic outcomes and that we cannot adequately deal with these injustices without addressing issues of race. The main goal of this course is to make sense of and to critically evaluate moral and political ideals of color-blindness, and to see what practical implications these ideals would have in our non-ideal world. (HU) Smith. Fall 2014

Poverty and Human Capability: An Interdisciplinary Introduction

POV 101A - Brotzman, Pickett (Multiple Sections)

An exploration of the nature, scope, causes, effects and possible remedies for poverty as a social, moral, political and policy, economic, legal, psychological, religious, and biological problem. The course focuses on domestic poverty but also considers poverty as a global problem.

Fall 2014:

POV 101A: FS: Poverty and Human Capability: An Interdisciplinary Introduction (3). First-Year seminar.

Brain and Behavior

PSYC 111A - Lorig

An introduction to behavioral neuroscience, including the physiological bases of sensation, learning and memory, motivation, cognition, and abnormal behavior.

Fall 2013:

PSYC 111A: FS: Brain and Behavior (3). First-Year seminar. Prerequisite: First-Year students only. Lorig

FS: First-Year Seminar

REL 181 - Marks

. Fall 2014 topic:

REL 181-01: Death and Dying (3). First-year seminar. Prerequsite: First-year standing. A comparison of ways in which various religious traditions, as well as modern secular writers, describe and conceive of  death and the meaning of life in the face of our human mortality. Students study memoirs, philosophy, poetry, novels, scripture, essays, and film, and write a journal and essays. Includes guest speakers and visits to a funeral home and cemetery. Marks

FS: First-Year Seminar in Anthropology

SOAN 181 - Jenkins

SOAN 181: FS: Culture in Contemporary Africa: Beyond the Dark Continent (3). First-Year Seminar. Prerequisite: First-year class standing. This seminar examines the diverse groups of people within the African continent and how anthropologists have approached understanding this diversity, in the context of an increasingly interconnected world. Students first explore the dynamic history of the continent, with particular focus on colonialism and anthropologists' role in colonialism, in order to examine the politics of representation and social change. We also explore several pertinent topics in specific social and historical contexts, such as the construction of personhood, gender, ethnicity, religion, and politics, and we examine the experiences, idioms, and structures of social inequality in relation to international development and clientism, with particular attention on popular discourses about wealth and power in the media and local idioms of witchcraft, vampires, and the occult. (SS4) Jenkins. Fall 2014


Spring 2014

See complete information about these courses in the course offerings database. For more information about a specific course, including course type, schedule and location, click on its title.

FS: First-Year Seminar

LIT 180 - Pinto-Bailey

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Spring 2014 topic:

LlT 180: First-year Seminar: The Female Self and Society: Latin American Women Writers (4). First-year Seminar. Prerequisite: First-year class standing. A historical overview of Latin American women's writings, from the early 1900s to the present day. Students read, discuss and analyze literary works by some of the most important Latin American female authors, among them Victoria Ocampo (Argentina), Maria Luisa Bombal (Chile), Clarice Lispector (Brazil), Elena Poniatowska (Mexico), and Julia Alvarez (Dominican Republic and U.S.). All literary genres are studied: poetry, narrative fiction, essay, and drama. (HL) Pinto-Bailey.


Winter 2014

See complete information about these courses in the course offerings database. For more information about a specific course, including course type, schedule and location, click on its title.

FS: First-Year Seminar

JOUR 180 - Brisbane

Winter 2014 Topic:

JOUR 180: FS: Revolution and the Written Word (3). First-Year Seminar. Prerequisite: First-year class standing. This seminar builds an understanding of how written works, transmitted by evolving technologies, can catalyze revolutionary change and also shape outsiders' understanding of revolutions in progress. Through study of the works themselves, students explore the animating ideas and historical conditions that produced these revolutions, helping to establish a general literacy in modern political development. Class discussion concentrates on the role of the writer, the character of the writing itself, and the impact on intended audiences and others. (HU) Brisbane. Winter 2014 only

Fall 2013 Topic:

JOUR 180: FS: Politics, the Press and the Public (3). First-year seminar. Prerequisite: First-Year standing. The news media have been intertwined with elections since our country's founding. In the 21st century, though, media messages bombard us around the clock from myriad new devices and sources. In this highly interactive seminar, first-year students examine these messages through real-time monitoring of advertising and campaign coverage of the 2013 Virginia's governor's race (and other fall races) and, after Election Day, close analysis of the outcomes. (HU) Finch

FS: First-Year Seminar

PHIL 180 - Renault-Steele

A seminar for first-year students.

Winter 2014 Topic:

PHIL 180: FS: Philosophers, Sophists and Other Liars (3). First-Year Seminar. Prerequisite: First-year class standing. Plato targets Sophistry as classical philosophy's most sinister adversary. Our course begins at the crux of this bitter dispute: the problem of the nature of reality and its relationship to appearance. We track this debate as it manifests in pre-Socratic and classical Greek philosophy, right up to its resurgence in contemporary French thought. Throughout, we ask how this problem of reality and appearance might matter for the political, cultural and aesthetic dimensions of our own time? Given that our world is shaped by continually developing virtual possibilities, Plato and the Sophists have laid the groundwork for a discussion that is all the more pressing today. (HU) Renault-Steele. Winter 2014