Shared Passages

The Shared Passages Program is a curricular thread that integrates features of the K-Plan. Required in the first, sophomore, and senior years, Shared Passages courses provide a developmental, pedagogical, and intellectual arc to the liberal arts experience and create a "backbone" to an effective, flexible liberal arts education in which the whole is greater than the sum of its component parts.

First-Year Seminars

First-Year Seminars constitute the gateway to the K-Plan and to college life for entering students and serve as the foundation of the Shared Passages Program. Offered in the fall quarter, these Seminars are designed to orient students to college-level learning practices, with particular emphasis on critical thinking, writing, speaking, information literacy, and intercultural engagement.

First-Year seminars

SEMN105FYS: Music and Freedom This course will interrogate the complex yet tantalizing relationship between music and freedom. What does freedom in music mean? Is liberation found in lyrics that express a challenge to oppression? Can transcendence be summoned from sound and improvisation? Are artists emancipated when they follow their own voice at the expense of profit and even their own fans? Has freedom been extinguished from music and replaced with a cheap illusion, as Theodor Adorno believed? On our search for answers, we'll talk about protest, politics, aesthetics, film, identity, spirituality, and other topics as we seek a richer, more critical understanding of the sounds and songs that allow us to feel free.
SEMN106Reinvented: Urban Space, Capitalism, Art The historical processes of urbanization and industrialization forever altered modernity's cityscapes; however, the effects of capitalism-consumerism, leisure time, publicness, and spectacle-also worked to reshape experiences of everyday life. This course examines the relationship between urban space, capital, social relations, and works of art that try to negotiate these rapidly changing sites of modernity. Taking late-nineteenth-century Paris as our case study, we ask questions about how Impressionist artists attempted to "picture" the anonymity and ennui of modern boulevard life-its rapidity and relentless newness-and how their radical pictorial vocabularies mediated the uncertain gender, sex, and class relations in Paris, "the capital of the nineteenth century." As we consider works of art that challenge capitalism and its bourgeois morality, we will study paintings by Manet, Degas, Cassatt, Caillebotte, Monet, and Lautrec, among others and ask difficult questions about the imbalances of power in modernity's urban playground. Along the way, we will reflect on how representations of urban life and space itself can become sites of living memory. Finally, the course will ask students to rethink their own spatial and social experiences in urban geographies under late capitalism and urban renewal. How do we re-member and attempt to "fix" or "picture" the fluctuations of our everyday lives in digital representations and social media?
SEMN109FYS: Imagining the American West With its iconic landscape, wagon trains, buffalo, gunslingers, tepees, and saloons - the idea of the American West looms large in our cultural memory and the country's identity. This seminar explores the myths and legends of the West in comparison to the historical record. Emphasis is given to popular culture narratives, including Dime novels, paintings, photographs, films, and oral traditions. While exploring the topics of racism, migration, the role of women, religion, spirituality, and technology, we discover how these narratives became the stories we tell.
SEMN110FYS: What's the Universe All About? Is the universe infinite? Is there life elsewhere in the universe? How did the universe begin? How did our moon form? When will our Sun die out? In this course you will write and talk about our current understanding and lack of understanding of the biggest questions about the universe and the things in it such as galaxies, stars, black holes and our own solar system. The focus will be on what we know and how we know it, and on how to communicate this information to a variety of different audiences such as children, people with no scientific background, people from different cultures, and your fellow students. We will also explore to what degree culture informs what questions we ask and how we think about them.
SEMN111FYS: Small Stuff, Big Questions Temple foundations, charred seeds, buried gold, bog bodies: archaeologists use the physical remains of ancient worlds and ancient peoples as a window into ancient cultures, ancient societies, and ancient minds. But how are people reflected in their material worlds? Can examining 'stuff' help us understand actual people - and what kind of questions can we ask of 'stuff' - ancient and modern - and what sorts of answers will it give us about ancient people (and ourselves)? In this seminar, we will try out different archaeological and anthropological methods to see how we can use material evidence - "stuff" - to help us think up, ask and answer the Big Questions we have about identity, culture, patterns of thought and patterns of behavior in human history. Using case studies from the Roman world and from our own physical and digital environments, we examine how everything from the layout of our streets to the images we choose to 'put up' (digitally or physically), from the contents of our sewers to the remains of human bodies themselves, can tell us a story about ancient and modern society and ancient and modern 'selves.' Each week, we'll look at the self and cultural identity through a slightly different lens, and we'll examine how different approaches to culture and material culture can open up new ways of understanding both ancient and modern identity.
SEMN117FYS: We too are Americans A look via fiction, film, and other readings at those who contribute to our communal life in this country and how they are excluded from the definition of "being American": Hispanic, African-American, Muslim, and Asian. Through class discussion, a variety of writing assignments, and class presentations, students will consider aspects of American identity more deeply.
SEMN118FYS: Inventing Democracy Just like the printing press and cold medication, democracy had to be invented. In this class we will explore the origins of our own democratic principles by examining the culture of the ancient Greeks, who were the first to experiment with rule by the people. We will spend the first half of this course investigating the origins of democratic rule in Athens (reading works by historians like Herodotus) as well as looking at dramas, biography and civic monuments that showcased or critiqued democratic institutions. The second half of the course we will devote to a role playing game, in which students acting as members of the Athenian Assembly will debate the value of democratic ideals, pass legislation and put one of Athens' most famous citizens on trial.
SEMN118FYS: There and Back Again Humans have been writing about journeys and returns for nearly as long as we have been writing down our own stories. Though such tales are found in nearly every time period and culture, it's curious the way that many deal with similar kinds of questions: Why do we think about leaving home as an adventure? Why do we often romanticize "home"? Why is coming back home sometimes so hard? We'll begin our own journey by reading Homer's Odyssey, using it as a model for our exploration of these questions. Through a series of readings, films and songs (and conversations with modern-day heroes) we'll work to understand why tales of homecoming have such resonance and why we keep telling them.
SEMN119FYS: Holy War In a world where conflict seems apocalyptic and struggles between religious groups over contested territory appear constant, the only hope is to travel through time. This course examines the crusading and jihadist movements of the middle ages so that students can better understand how religious change and social anxiety culminated in massive and complicated movements to contest territories of major cultural significance. The first half of the course will survey the history of the crusade and jihadist movements of the long twelfth century (c.1050-1250), culminating in an independent research project. The second half of the course utilizes a (prototype) student-driven role-playing exercise to engage with the lived realities of crusaders at a pivotal period in the history of crusading.
SEMN121FYS: Unraveling DNA Despite being discovered nearly six decades ago, DNA research continues to have profound impacts on all of our lives and promises to become even more important in the future. We will examine the history of DNA and attempt to answer the following questions: How was DNA discovered? Who deserves credit for the discovery? What tools were needed? What information is stored in DNA? What is DNA fingerprinting? How should it be used? How can we use DNA to explore ancestry, especially for groups with no other means to do so? Do your genes determine who you'll become? What is genetic testing? How do we handle unintended consequences such as sex determination of embryos or employment discrimination based on your genes? We will begin by retracing the events that lead to the publication of the seminal paper "A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid" by Watson and Crick. We will learn about the roles that Rosalind Franklin, Maurice Wilkins, James Watson, Francis Crick and Linus Pauling played in the discovery of the structure of DNA and the complex story surrounding it through reading their biographies and public interviews. We will examine how gender affects our perception of science and scientists. We will also learn about the tools used to discover DNA, and what modern approaches are used today. Warning we will discuss several deeply sensitive topics in this course, including sex selection and genetic disorders.
SEMN125FYS: Telling Queer Stories This course analyzes the history of various queer social movements and the stories that people have constructed about them. More specifically, the class interrogates a number of queer movements that have taken shape in the last fifty years, and compares how documentary filmmakers and literary authors have sought to represent these struggles for justice and greater equality. The course begins by looking at the rebellions at the Stonewall Inn and Compton's Cafeteria in the 1960s, and looks at how these uprisings paved the path for the modern LGBT movement in the United States. We will then move on to the queer activism that arose in response AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s and then look at the same-sex marriage movement of the early twenty-first century, asking how the radicalism of the former transformed into the assimilationist politics of the latter. Finally, we will end with the emphatically intersectional approach undertaken by Black Lives Matter movement and its queer-identified founders. Throughout our course discussion and across several writing assignments, we will use these movements and the various texts that have narratively represented them to learn about the history of queer people and to envision our own roles in making a more just future.
SEMN128FYS: Artists, Practices & Process How does a first-year student develop their own academic/artistic voice while immersed in the stimulating and challenging new environment of K? Contemplative practices can help. Meditation, walking, stream-of-consciousness writing, and observational drawing can help to cultivate present moment awareness, learn to quiet our inner critic, and create a space conducive to creative thinking. These practical methods and tools are used by many scholars and artists to connect to their singular voice. In this course, we'll experiment with several contemplative practices and study the creative processes and exemplary work of artists and writers including Anne Truitt, Bill Viola, Bell Hooks, and Rainer Marie Rilke. What strategies will help you to build a structure that will support you academically and personally as you traverse your challenges at K?
SEMN133FYS: Drama Usa: Against the Current This course uses works by American playwrights to study issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, and social class in American society, with particular attention to dramatic authors who have sometimes struggled "against the current" to make their voices heard in the mainstream values of the dominant culture. We will read works from among Diane Glancy, David Henry Hwang, Moisés Kaufman, Cherrie Moraga, Marsha Norman, Clifford Odets, Luis Valdez, and August Wilson. Along the way we will discuss such trends in the American Theatre as realism and political theatre, including feminist theatre, African-American theatre, Hispanic theatre, Asian-American theatre, Native American theatre, and gay/lesbian theatre.
SEMN135FYS: Cultivating Community Novelist and environmentalist Wendell Berry has written, "A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one's accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes. . . . Eating with the fullest pleasure-pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance-is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world." And yet, in today's world of fast, processed food, many of us have lost of our connection to where our food comes from. Is it possible to rebuild relationships between those who grow and harvest food and those who eat it and gain an accurate consciousness of the connection between plate and planet, cuisine and culture? In this seminar, we will learn about the industrial food system and explore the ways that people today are developing alternatives that use food as an instrument of social justice and a way to build strong communities. We'll read Michael Pollan's influential exposé The Omnivore's Dilemma as our starting point in our exploration of food justice, but we will study this issue from a variety of perspectives. We will talk with local farmers, community organizers, farm workers' advocates, entrepreneurs, and anti-hunger activists and get to know the Kalamazoo community by experiencing its harvest. We will also engage in a service-learning project that will work to provide information about and access to just, local, and sustainable food for everyone in our community. Academic service-learning combines classroom study with real world experience, allowing students to apply what they are learning to everyday life in a way that addresses community-identified needs.
SEMN136FYS: Crossing Borders: Autism and Other Ways of Knowing For the past ten years, the diagnosis of and attention to autism has grown exponentially. More public awareness and debate, however, does not guarantee a more complex understanding. In this class, we will explore autobiographies, essays, clinical studies, and films about or by those with autism or Asperger's in order to gain an informed understanding of this widely-diagnosed spectrum disorder. We will move outside the borders of the class to see students within AI (autistic-impaired) classrooms and participate in service-learning work in the Kalamazoo community. For this work, groups of students will be matched and spend time with a person on the spectrum and his or her family. In an effort to understand this way of knowing, we will consider how expectations about communication and social relationships "impair" and/or enhance an ability to live in a "neurodiverse" world. If you have a reason for wishing to take this seminar (i.e., if you have a sibling with autism, worked with or befriended someone on the spectrum, etc.), please contact Bruce Mills at as soon as possible. Though it will not guarantee a place in the class, this contact will enable us to consider specific interests or circumstances more closely. Academic service-learning combines classroom study with real world experience, allowing students to apply what they are learning to everyday life in a way that addresses community-identified needs.
SEMN137FYS: Co-Authoring Your Life: Writing Your Self in the Context of Others The autonomous, self-made individual is a powerful American myth. But no person is entirely self-made; all of us are embedded in various families and communities and ideologies, and we also find ourselves marked by cultural conditions such as our race, class, religion, gender and sexual orientation, all of which influence who we are in various ways. The clash between the desire for autonomy and the shaping power of these social conditions makes the process of coming up with an identity extremely difficult and complex. How can we maintain a sense of autonomy while acknowledging influences? How can we be ourselves while learning from others? How do we write our own lives when so many other hands seem to hold, or to want to hold, the pen with us? Through novels, stories, autobiographies, essays and films, this course will explore different situations in which people struggle to form identities under intense "co-authoring" pressures. You will write analytical essays about the texts of others and personal essays about yourself.
SEMN139FYS: Our Shakespeares, Ourselves Cultures often retell stories from the past as a way of thinking through the present: perhaps because using already existing material makes it easier to explore difficult issues, perhaps because we feel the need to "talk back" to the writers who have so deeply inflected our culture. In this course, we'll be focusing on how modern cultures have reworked Shakespeare's plays into a 1950's sci-fi film, an MTV inspired movie, Afro-Caribbean drama, rock and rap music, and a Julia Stiles movie set in the Deep South. In exploring how Shakespeare has been adapted to these radically different contexts, we'll also be exploring the difficult issues these adaptations focus on--race, gender, sexuality, colonialism and class. What a culture does with Shakespeare's plays can tell you a lot about that culture; so we'll be asking a number of questions: Why is Shakespeare so popular in the United States today? What does he mean to us? What are we doing with his plays and why? What do our adaptations of his work tell us about our own views about racism or sexism in America, for example?
SEMN140FYS: Religion & Empire This course explores the role of religion in the expansion of political regimes such as the British Empire of the 17th through 20th centuries and the contemporary United States. We also examine the shifts that religions undergo as political regimes shift, as we saw the crystallization of Muslim and Hindu identities during the period of partition in India during the 1940s. Finally, we look closely at the ways in which political reformers have utilized religion as a resource to catalyze political resistance to empires, primarily in the work of Mahatma Gandhi. Authors we read include Arundhati Roy, Bapsi Sidwa, and Amitav Ghosh.
SEMN141FYS: One in Three Diagnosis and treatment of cancer provides an unintended journey for one in three individuals in developed countries. While cancer is not a modern disease, cases of cancer have risen in modern times. Is that due to environmental changes or population changes? How can we know? What is cancer and what have we known about it in history? What is the psychological and financial impact of cancer? How does this differ in various parts of the world? How is cancer used as an analogy in literature, film, and speech? Through reading and analysis of short reviews, newspaper articles, books, and book chapters this course will examine different aspects of cancer as a disease, modern affliction, and personal or political cause. Other readings will explore the experiences of cancer survivors in biographies and autobiographies. Students will also interview a local cancer survivor and prepare a mini-biography.
SEMN144FYS: Truth, Lies & Politics Are truth and politics friends or foes? Does your answer differ depending on the kind of truth in question? In political matters, is it always wrong to lie? Political thinkers have been asking such questions for millennia, but in an era of echo chambers, "fake news," and conflicting accounts of what's true, they have presented themselves with renewed urgency. In this course, we will examine the relationship between truth and politics within the political theory tradition as well as in the contemporary context. We will focus in particular on strategies for navigating the bewildering terrain of our so-called "post-fact" context, in which it seems as though politics has become a contest over reality itself.
SEMN145FYS: Creativity The psychology of creativity is as complex and mysterious as it is intriguing. Whether brushing paint on a canvas, composing a poem or piece of music, launching a new advertising campaign, or making a breakthrough at the frontiers of science, some form of creative thinking is involved. In this seminar, we examine how creativity is expressed in domains such as art, music, film, literature, science, business, and invention-with a special focus on the topic of film music. Classic and contemporary theories and research findings will provide the materials for discussions, essays, and projects. Students will also apply imagination and creative problem-solving skills to a variety of puzzles and exercises. This seminar will challenge your basic assumptions about the nature of creativity, and expand your horizons to encompass the richness and diversity of creative expression in its many forms.
SEMN146FYS: Africa and Globalization Globalization is viewed differently by scholars and policy practitioners. Humanists and Social Scientists agree that globalization is the precipitous movement of people, goods, free market and capital flows among countries. Sub-Saharan Africa's experience with globalization started in the 13th century. Since the 1990s, diasporan Africans have largely influenced public policy through tools of globalization. What is the direct impact of this phenomenon on Africa's economic development? What is the effect of globalization on the socio-cultural lives of Africans in the 21st century? This course addresses these questions and seeks to explore the influence of tools of globalization, such as communication equipment, automobile, computer services, transnational corporations (TNCs), among others in African societies. We will use primary and secondary sources, such as newspaper articles, government records, UN reports, journal articles and scholarly monographs to probe the above questions.
SEMN152FYS: Roots in the Earth Even in the most densely populated cities, we are connected to nature. As essayist John Burroughs wrote, "We are rooted to the air through our lungs and to the soil through our stomachs." In this seminar we'll examine our relationship with the natural world. What belief systems have influenced human interactions with nature throughout history and across cultures? Is our current relationship to nature serving us as individuals and as members of a global community or could we envision new relationships that might be both more sustainable and more satisfying? We'll grapple with how the answers to these questions affect our responses to environmental problems such as climate change, pollution, and dwindling biodiversity. Readings include Bill McKibben's American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau and Robin Wall Kimmerer's Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants. This course will ask students to reflect on their own experiences with nature as they engage in a service learning project in collaboration with Kalamazoo College's Lillian Anderson Arboretum.
SEMN154FYS: Who Are the Samurai? On a dark, chilly night in the city of Edo, Japan in 1703, 46 men broke into the home of a government official and murdered him. The story of these men, best known as the 47 ronin (and yes, you read the number correctly), has been retold countless times since that night. Outlaws to some and heroes to many, the 47 ronin have often been lauded as exemplars of true samurai. But what exactly is a "true samurai"? When you think of the samurai, what do you imagine? Is the image you have in mind the product of fact or fiction, or perhaps a little of both? Did you know, for instance, that the samurai included both women and children? Since most people are not familiar with the history of Japan's famous warriors, in this seminar we will begin by drawing from a variety of sources to explore how this warrior class-men, women, and children-lived, and how they have been viewed both within and outside Japan. We will combine our historical examinations of the emergence, evolution, demise, and reinvention of the samurai with analyses of representations of "samurai" in literature, film, sports, and business in order to gain a better sense of who the samurai are, how they have been portrayed, and why the samurai-and especially the 47 ronin -have become such an enduring and popular symbol of Japan.
SEMN155FYS: The New World Order The seminar will study recent analyses of the New World Order in the context of theories of "globalization," focusing on causes of social strife and debates about what makes for a just society. It will examine the culture of the investment bankers who are the New Order's main architects, the ideology of "neoliberalism" that is its blueprint, the fate of American workers whose jobs are disappearing, and the New World as lived by some of the two billion people in shantytowns, bidonvilles, and favelas. Students will write brief review-style essays and a case study of a city or region.
SEMN156FYS: Almost Human We will explore what it means to be human, by first looking at fictional accounts of those that are "almost human," namely--robots. Karel Capek, considered to be the greatest Czech author of the first half of the twentieth century, was the first to use the word "robot," which appears in the title of his play "R.U.R." (Rossum's Universal Robots). Capek explores a host of philosophical and social issues in this play and his short stories and essays. Fast forward to the 1960's, and we have Philip Dick's novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which explores similar issues. This story is the basis for the 1982 movie Blade Runner. Today, robots are fast becoming more common, and a host of contemporary movies explore the relationships between humans and `artificial' life. Other readings will discuss a variety of relevant philosophical issues, the cognitive differences between humans and other animals, and the role of culture. Our goal is to explore the essence of being human. Is it love, empathy, free will, emotion, consciousness, intelligence, or something else? Or maybe there is no essence!
SEMN158FYS-Humans and Other Animals This course will look at just a few of the many facets of animal-human interaction. Many societies have long assumed and enforced the singularity of the human being, placing our species in a position of superiority, and all others at our disposal. However the uniqueness of humans is an idea that has long existed intension with phenomena and discourses that complicate and enrich our coexistence with other animal species. The course will include historical and literary perspectives with which students would already have some familiarity. The class will also look at modernization and industrialization to focus on problems and challenges (habitat "management," factory farming and fisheries, and research test subjects). The last section will consider how animal-human interactions are proposing new disciplinary intersections: the limits of consciousness and cognition in animals and humans; interspecies communication; new moral debates on the treatment of other animals; and new spaces for co-operation.
SEMN159FYS: History Repeats This course will explore the recent resurgence of the 19th century in novelistic adaptations and fictionalized biographies of the 21st century. Crucial to this course will be an understanding of major literary texts and authors of the 19th century, which will allow for an investigation as to why the 19th century serves as a vital literary inspiration for the 21st century, specifically how these textual re-imaginings might provide a particular insight into the contemporary national moment. Why does the 19th century continue to persist? What fuels this return to the past? Is this resurgence merely a nostalgic literary trend, or does it reveal a larger significance, both for American literature as a field of study, as well as for an American nation-space we presume to be so markedly different from that of the 19th century. This course begins with "The Emancipation Proclamation," one of the formative historical texts that shaped and defined the U.S., and will be read in tandem with Seth Grahame-Smith's Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. In many ways, these texts introduce the main thematic trajectory for this course: the Civil War and slavery. As such, we will also read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain's satire of antebellum southern society which focuses on Huck's journey to "free" a slave, and Jon Clinch's Finn, told from the perspective of Huck's father, Pap. Likewise, Louisa May Alcott's Little Women finds the March women at home, waiting for their patriarch, Mr. March, to return from his role in aiding the Union's war efforts; while that novel only presents letters about Mr. March's activities, Geraldine Brooks's March presents Mr. March's story, those never relayed in his letters home. In addition to reading these novels, we will also investigate the socio-political underpinnings of race and "freedom" in the 21st century, specifically how the social and political spectrum of both terms function in the contemporary U.S.
SEMN160FYS: Visions of the End Plague and hellfire; crumbling cities and avenging angels; a heavenly kingdom, golden and eternal-these apocalyptic images are among the most stirring moments in the Bible. They have inspired countless works of art with their devastating portrayal of the world's end. They have also maintained a constant, pervasive influence on theology, philosophy, political theory, and popular culture. In this seminar, we will carefully read the biblical apocalypses and consider how these foundational texts have been interpreted by Jewish and Christian theologians over the years. We will then explore a range of literary works such as Spenser's Faerie Queene and the Poetic Edda which deliberately mimic the style of the biblical apocalypse. And finally we will turn to some contemporary "post-apocalyptic" works such as Ridley Scott's Blade Runner and Cormac McCarthy's The Road in order to reflect on how current events and anxieties have radically transformed our modern visions of the end.
SEMN164FYS: Building Kalamazoo The city of Kalamazoo serves as the textbook for this seminar, as we survey the built environment of the 20th century via the architecture of this post-industrial Midwest city. Beginning with turn-of-the-century Victorian-era homes and ending with Kalamazoo College's dramatic new building, the Studio Gang-designed Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, Building Kalamazoo surveys this dynamic period through site visits, primary readings, and individual research. Throughout, the seminar will seek to understand how site and space have shaped diverse experiences of a rapidly changing modern world.
SEMN165FYS: Stalin & the Art of Fear From the 1920s until his death in 1953, Joseph Stalin wielded an extraordinary amount of control over the newly-created Soviet state. He interpreted the proper implementation of Socialist economic policy, he silenced his critics with unimaginable savagery, and he took an especially keen interest in dictating the terms by which art should be made. To whom does art belong? What was it like to create art in an atmosphere of censorship? Could artists -- like poet Anna Akhmatova or composer Dmitri Shostakovich, for example -- navigate these treacherous waters without sacrificing their creativity and artistic integrity? We will examine these and related questions through reading memoir, fiction, and historical accounts of the time; watching films; and closely listening to the music that spoke to and reflected this tumultuous time.
SEMN167FYS: The Immigration Debate People often say they are either for or against greater levels of immigration. But immigration is a broad concept. In simply saying "yay" or "nay" we neglect to address a lot of important, nuanced questions. This course examines some of these questions. What is the difference between a regular immigrant and an asylum seeker or refugee? Do we owe different kinds of treatment to individuals in these categories? What happens when someone is attempting to immigrate but is stopped en route (e.g. in international waters)? How do concerns of "internal" equality and the preservation of culture impact immigration? Is it permissible for wealthy countries to actively encourage doctors and nurses from poor countries to immigrate--even though this will lead to a shortfall of skilled healthcare workers in poorer countries, thereby intensifying basic health issues? What tensions are created by the conflict between social and global justice as applied to immigration? We will investigate these questions and many more through readings in political philosophy, documentaries and short films (all documentaries and short films will be screened outside of class).
SEMN168FYS: Salem Possessed: the Salem Witch Trials and Their Legacies In 1692, the people of Salem, Massachusetts grew terrified when a small group of girls accused an enslaved woman, an impoverished woman, and a scandalous woman of bewitching them. Ultimately, twenty men and women were hung or pressed to death with stones and over a hundred others found themselves imprisoned. Historians have long considered the Salem Witch Trials a pivotal moment in American history. Countless works have offered countless reasons for the strange happenings in Salem, trying to explain why a small community in Colonial America would succumb to witchcraft hysteria long after it had died down in Europe. The Salem Witch Trials have haunted American culture. Starting in the nineteenth century and continuing into the present, writers and artists have grappled with the various meanings of the witch hunts and the persecution of innocent persons, seeing connections between "the furies of fanaticism and paranoia" of 1692 and their own time. Most famously, Arthur Miller in The Crucible used the trials to examine the persecution of alleged Communists in the 1950s. This course will examine and seek to understand the events of 1692 and the subsequent legacies of the trials in American culture through the actual documents from the trials, the writings of historians, and the imaginative works of novelists, playwrights, poets, and film makers.
SEMN171FYS: Social Bee-ings Honeybees and humans are supremely social. But what does it mean to be social? Why are some species social while others are solitary? Do social group members work for the common good or to fulfill selfish interests? Perhaps they can do both, but what happens when these goals conflict - how is social order maintained? We will explore the origins and maintenance of social living across the animal kingdom and ask to what extent human societies represent larger scale models of other animal societies -- insects and non-human primates in particular -- and to what extent humans are unique. We will explore the political, economic, biological, cultural, sociological and philosophical elements of social life through a variety of media and genres. In doing so, we will inevitably explore the human condition.
SEMN172FYS: Life with Two Languages Almost half of the world's population uses two or more languages as they go about their daily lives. In this seminar, we will explore what it means to be a bilingual or multilingual person - how this effects our ways of communicating and our perspective on the world. We will also investigate how different societies organize life with two or more languages. Topics include: code-switching, language attrition, language & identity, bilingual children, bilingual education, super-bilinguals, bilingualism & politics, the "English-only movement" in the USA, and minority languages in the USA. Yookoso -Bienvenido- Bienvenue- Hwan-yung-hahm-ni-da - Chào m?ng This course is designed for students from a multilingual household or community or those whose primary residence is outside of the United States.
SEMN173FYS: Migration, Community, & Self Going to college and immigrating to a new country have much in common. Moving to a new place presents many challenges. The immigrant (or first-year student) can experience loneliness and displacement, a yearning for home, and bewilderment at his/her new surroundings. Yet, a new environment also offers opportunities for personal growth that force immigrants to reconcile "Old" with "New." Through reading, writing, and discussion, students will seek to relate their own "migration" to Kalamazoo College to the experiences of European Jews moving to the United States. Along the way, the class will explore many of the universal questions raised by relocation. What motivates people to pick up their lives and move to a new place, and what happens to them when they arrive? How does the migration experience shape their view of the world they left behind and their view of their new environment? How do immigrants construct communities for themselves? Do women and men experience migration in similar or different ways? Finally, how does moving to a new place shape one's sense of self? We will explore these questions using historical and cultural sources, fiction, and film.
SEMN176FYS: Managing Across Cultures Suppose you have an opportunity to live and work (study) in a foreign culture, what will you need to know in order to get along and be effective? How will the locals think and act? How will you feel and react? How will you resolve a conflict, or negotiate a favorable outcome? What will you do if you need to give a presentation? What if you had a leadership role, how will you motivate your team? How will you manage team members that are different from you? Will you one day be an effective global citizen and, perhaps, a global manager? This seminar explores your assumptions about the best way to think and behave as we learn about ourselves and about others from different backgrounds. A good choice for anyone who has an interest in living and working abroad.
SEMN181FYS: The Paradox of Human Desire: Philosophy and Psychoanalysis In this course, we examine how 20th-century critics challenge and reject the traditional rationalist Enlightenment ideal of human reason. Traditional "Enlightenment" or rationalist models of subjectivity assume that a person is conscious of feelings and desires, rational in planning and executing actions, and responsible for explaining and justifying one's conduct - both to oneself and to others. In short, rationalists uphold the Enlightenment ideal of knowing ourselves, acting autonomously, and controlling our own lives - in a word, of mastering our fate. Against this view, critics - philosophers and psychoanalyists - demonstrate the fragmented, unconscious, wild, strange, and often chaotic nature of human desire, action, and self-understanding. The so-called "dark thinkers of Enlightenment" unmask the ideal of rational agency as a comic pretense, naïve illusion, or, worse still, deranged delusion. In the first part of the course, we examine a sophisticated account of rational agency as the activity of locating oneself in history, the history of one's own ability to learn about oneself, others, and the world we share. Such autobiographical narration would be, at once, the history of reason and reason of history, the rationality of freedom and freedom of rationality. In our first reading - Time, Narrative, and History - we familiarize ourselves with Hegel's argument that the history of human reason is the history of freedom, a freedom that can only be secured and exercised by agents socialized to recognize and respect others. In subsequent readings, we explore Friedrich Nietzsche's and Sigmund Freud's critique of this rational model of agency by examining their views on the paradoxical nature of desire, time, action, and embodiment. More specifically, we will examine how subsequent figures such as Jacques Lacan and Maurice Merleau-Ponty have identified four famous paradoxes of human life: the paradox that we understand something only when it's over (time); the paradox that we first know our prior intentions only through our subsequent deeds (action); the paradox that our desires are the source of our worst nightmares (desire); and, finally, the paradox that what is closest and most familiar to us, our bodies, is often what is most distant, alien, and perplexing (body). Movies such as Memento; Apocalypse Now; la Femme Nikita; Sex, Lies, and Videotapes; and The Pervert's Guide to Cinema will be shown.
SEMN184Fys: Slang A Discussion of Informal English Slang is the ever-changing use of informal language that is reflective of culture and society. Though slang is most common in spoken language, modern dictionaries have long embraced slang and recorded its usage. Notable examples include the Oxford English Dictionary new entries of 'vape,' 'selfie,' and 'GIF.' In this class, we will discuss, research, and write about the informal use of slang and its role in social interactions as well as what slang represents in the lives of English speakers. We will trace American slang from its separation from British English up until the current age and identify the purpose of slang in a community of speakers. An important distinction will be made regarding the environment of informal and formal language and how English speakers navigate the cultural requirements of spoken and written language in academic settings. Through readings, videos, discussion, and writing, we will explore the fun and function of slang. This course is designed for students whose native language is not English.
SEMN188FYS: Imagining Possible Worlds Is there a difference between science fiction and fantasy? When asked to explain the difference, the great American 20th-century sci-fi writer, Isaac Asimov, replied "science fiction, given its grounding in science, is possible; fantasy, which has no grounding in reality, is not." But according to the famous 18th-century Scottish philosopher, David Hume, "nothing we imagine is absolutely impossible." So, we have a philosophical puzzle: on the one hand, it seems that fantasy stories set our minds on imaginative adventures, and the very fact that we can imagine such stories suggests that they are possible. But on the other hand, science fiction stories are set within the framework of science, which provides them with a foundation in reality that is missing in fantasy. Our main question, therefore, will be: are science fiction and fantasy equally possible, or is there a sense in which science fiction is more possible than fantasy? The answer to this question has surprisingly far-reaching implications for science, literature, and philosophy. To attempt to answer the question, we will explore contemporary science fiction and fantasy in the form of short stories, films, and even games. We will read such notable writers as Margaret Atwood, Stephen King, Michael Chabon, Ursula K. Le Guin, T. C. Boyle, and Gregory Maguire. We will use these experiences as the foundation for our study of possibility, which will include thinking hard about many important philosophical matters such as God, evil, freedom, knowledge, person identity, and zombies. That's right; I said zombies!
SEMN189FYS: The Art of Revenge The desire for revenge is only human. But there is a risk that the actual performance of revenge will initiate a chain reaction of violent reprisals whose consequences will quickly prove fatal to social life itself. The revenger understandably wants to restore the natural order of things, to right a wrong, but his or her desire threatens to work an even greater harm. This fundamental paradox helps to explain why revenge is so prominent in our collective, cultural imagination from the theatre of ancient Greece to the popular cinema of modern Hollywood. This seminar addresses the important and often vexing questions raised by tales of revenge: What is the difference between revenge and justice? Does revenge amount to a social responsibility or a slip into self-destructive narcissism? What role does revenge play in current moral and political dilemmas such as ethnic nationalism, capital punishment, and terrorism? To explore these issues, we will study a variety of works including tragedies by Euripides (Medea) and Shakespeare (Titus Andronicus), a novel by Thomas Pynchon (The Crying of Lot 49), and films by Clint Eastwood (Unforgiven), Quentin Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds), and others. Warning: This seminar obviously deals with violent subject matter. The films in particular may be too graphic for some students.
SEMN190FYS: Science and Society This course is designed for those who are curious about the natural world. We aim to engage and enhance that curiosity by exploring science in the world around us. We will observe with wonder, thoughtfully hypothesize, methodically test, and conclude with deeper knowledge and more questions. We will discover roles we can take to contribute to building scientific knowledge. We will work to understand developing science. We will design and carry out experiments, read about scientific discovery, and join others on citizen-science projects. This course is intended for anyone who is excited about understanding the natural world, no science background is needed.
SEMN191FYS: It's Only Rock and Roll Mick Jagger said the song "It's Only Rock 'n Roll (But I Like it)" was a response to the pressure he and the band felt to continually exceed their past accomplishments. Who could have imagined how rock and roll (and all of its children) would succeed, exceed and change the world? In this seminar we will explore some of the fascinating relationships between current events, social, cultural and political developments, and rock music, as expressed through the music, lyrics, art, philosophy and fashion of rock and roll. Through generous listenings, viewings, readings, discussions, and writings, we will gain a well-rounded view of the history of rock music and a deeper appreciation for the complex and evolving part rock and roll and has played and continues to play in the social, cultural, political and, of course, musical evolution of our lives and the world.
SEMN192FYS: Sports, Religion, & American Life This course examines the long-standing, complex, and surprising connections between religion and sports in American culture. At first glance, the reflective solitude of a house of worship and the raucous atmosphere of an athletic arena may seem worlds apart. Yet both function as sites of negotiating basic questions about American identity. In that process of negotiation, the spheres of religion and sports intermingle in significant and unexpected ways. From the invention of baseball, basketball, and football in the late 1800s through present-day responses to Black Lives Matter, this class uses the interaction between religion and sports as a lens through which to understand how our beliefs and pastimes inspire, critique, and shape our ideals.
SEMN193FYS Banned: Censorship & Art Politics Art is a ubiquitous part of our society, but how exactly do we define the word "art" and what do we expect from it? Some might say art is solely for aesthetic enjoyment and to make us feel good, but what happens when art becomes part of the culture wars? What social conditions drive controversy around art? This course will explore art's seemingly unparalleled ability to outrage and offend. We will discuss and dissect a wide variety of historical cases where art has been deemed dangerous and/or objectionable. Through a variety of readings and discussions we will explore such topics as: Is censorship ever okay? What can controversies surrounding art tell us about those who are offended? And, what does being offended mean in a democratic society? In this course we will learn how to unpack the context of controversial art and self-examine our personal values and what it means to have those values challenged.
SEMN194FYS: Shape of Things: Molecular Arch. That matter is composed of atoms and molecules is one of the most profound ideas in the natural sciences. This model has been developed in depth for two hundred years and now pervades chemistry, physics, biology, geology, and other fields. Today in our environment we worry about the effects of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in trapping heat in Earth's atmosphere and causing worldwide temperature increases, consequences of their molecular structures. In this seminar we will explore how we describe the structure of matter at the molecular level as an application of the scientific method. To approach this question we will use readings in the sciences, including accessible original research papers and more general articles, and will explore some experimental methods for molecular structure determination. To appreciate that scientific investigation is strongly influenced by personalities we will read a science fiction novel and see its film version and read the scientific autobiography of a prominent scientist and watch the film biography of another.

Sophomore Seminars

The sophomore seminar is the second component of the Shared Passages and comes at a critical moment of challenge and opportunity in students' journeys through the K Plan. They provide a vital link between students' entry to the K experience and their other landmark K experiences - advanced work in the major, study abroad, and a SIP.

Sophomore seminars

SEMN202Who Is 'the other'? This seminar will focus on how we create and label others in our societies. Students will explore the various ways in which this occurs and along what lines: race, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, socioeconomic circumstances, and others. The reading of the seminar will be novels from across global cultures and our own: South Africa, Australia, India, and others. There will also be theoretical readings on the creation of others, including "whiteness". The work of the course will consist of student discussions of the novels and readings, presentations by students on the background of the various readings, student journals on their readings and own reflections on otherness, and papers of analysis and reflection on the readings.Prerequisite: Sophomores only.
SEMN/CLAS203Romans R Us: Identity & Empire Young men and women who came of age during the heyday of the Roman Empire in the second century CE faced many of the same challenges now confronting Kalamazoo College sophomores as they prepare for study abroad: how can you best harness the transformative potential of international, experiential education to become productive citizens and leaders in a global, multicultural world? What theoretical foundations can help you negotiate issues of self-definition and representation that emerge from encounters with cultural diversity? How will performing rites of passage into adulthood on a world stage, while learning new dialogues of national, ethnic, class, gender and sexual politics, affect your own sense of public and private identity? This course is designed to interrogate the impact of international education on personal identity by fostering reflective connections between the lived reality of 21st-century American students and their academic study of the Classical past.Prerequisite: Sophomores only.
SEMN/ARTX204Drawing Today: Uncommon Visions Drawing Today introduces current themes in drawing and provides an innovative approach to basic skill development required to produce images in a contemporary context. Students will read and discuss issues related to art and visual culture from around the world. Class time will be divided between discussion of important issues in contemporary art and hands on drawing instruction. Homework will include daily readings and weekly drawing projects that will allow students the opportunity to reflect upon theory and their assumptions of what drawing is and who it is that produces it. This course is a Shared Passages Sophomore Seminar.Prerequisite: Sophomores Only
SEMN/ARTX205/RELG 201Religious Art and Material Culture This course explores the relationship between religion and art. The arts, whether in the form of painting, sculpture, architecture or kitsch, are often vehicles for religious devotion and expression. At the same time, devotion to a divine figure has inspired some of the world's most beautiful pieces of art. Religion and art form a symbiotic relationship which can simultaneously be in tension and/or cohesive. Looking at various primary and secondary sources from a variety of religious traditions, we explore this tension and cohesion, which can be a window into larger societal and cultural issues. Given that we live in a mechanical age, special attention will be paid to the material production of religious kitsch and the place of religious art in the market. This course is a Shared Passages Sophomore Seminar.Prerequisite: Sophomores Only
SEMN/ARTX206Ceramics: World Pottery World Pottery is a hands-on studio course with significant research and reflection components. Class time will be used to introduce students to a variety of clay bodies and clay-forming techniques from historical and regional perspectives (wheel-throwing will not be taught). Creative assignments ask students to consider and critique the role of cultural exchange and image appropriation within historical ceramics and in their own creative work. Projects will also investigate the roles of different types of pottery within contemporary American society, as a point of reference and departure. Each student will propose, execute, and present a research project. Lectures, critiques, and discussions will focus on individual and societal assumptions about pottery. This course is a Shared Passages Sophomore Seminar.Prerequisite: Sophomores Only
SEMN207Infection: Global Health & Social Justice This course is first and foremost a Shared Passage Seminar. As a sophomore level writing class,it will build upon the First-Year Seminar goals. Through readings and discussions, the class will explore the world of infectious agents and the use of antibiotics as they affect global health. By studying current and historical cases of infections, we will try to address the spread, containment and eradication of select infectious agents. With each of the cases we study, we will discuss race, genes, and human history, through the lens of social justice.Prerequisite: Sophomores Only
SEMN/ENGL208Food and Travel Writing In this writing-intensive class we will study the possibilities of journalism and creative nonfiction through the various forms of food writing and its relationship to place. Through reading and writing, we will explore food as sustenance, as a route through memory, as a reflection of culture and place, as both personal and public, and as history and politics. This course is a Shared Passages Sophomore Seminar.Prerequisite: ENGL-105 or ENGL-107 and Sophomores Only.
SEMN209/POLS 231Politics of Rights and Immigration According to the UN Charter of Fundamental Rights, one has a fundamental right to leave one's country of origin (1948, Article 13), yet there is no corresponding right to enter another country. This sophomore seminar considers the consequence of this tension with attention to normative questions of who should be allowed entry to and citizenship within (other) states. In addition, we explore the empirical complexities that inform and result from these judgments. This seminar privileges states, laws (domestic and international) and actual policy over the last sixty years, with particular attention to North America and Western Europe - key destinations for migrants and thus crucial laboratories to investigate the myths, realities, policies and consequences of immigration. At a time when there are growing pressures for increased immigration in Western Europe (e.g., most recently the Arab Spring), we conclude by noting recent developments within the European Union to harmonize asylum and immigration policies. We ask - what are the ethical challenges and what might the future look like?Prerequisite: Sophomores Only
SEMN210/MUSC 207Listening Across Cultures What does it mean to be a knowledgeable music listener? An expert listener? A native listener? Hip hop has its "heads," French opera had claqueurs, and Syrian tarab has the sammi'a (expert listeners), but is the act of listening the same across cultures, or is there something to the local perception of music that goes beyond style and genre? Questioning the adage that "Music is the universal language," this course will examine how people assign meaning and power to music. Analyzing music from around the world, we will attune our ears to the ways in which people across cultural borders conceptualize music, sound and the act of listening. No music reading or basic theory knowledge is required. Prerequisite: Sophomores only
SEMN211Crossing Cultures: How It Works We are generally unaware of ourselves as cultural beings until our own cultural values and practices "clash" with someone else's. By studying various aspects of Intercultural Communication, by reading books and seeing films about intercultural encounters, by learning techniques for observing and interpreting other cultures, and, finally, by reflecting on these experiences, we can better understand culture and anticipate how our own cultural products and behaviors might be perceived by members of other cultures - whether abroad or at home. Sophomores Only.
SEMN/RELG213Christianity & the Family This course critically addresses contemporary debates about the centrality of the family in Christian teaching through a historical and cross-cultural survey. What is the relationship between Christianity and the various approaches to kinship and family in different cultures in different historical contexts? Where did our contemporary ideas about the family come from and what are Christians saying about new forms of kinship? From the Bible to present day debates about divorce, sex, and same sex marriage, Christians have never embraced a single understanding of the family, but rather have been influenced by broader cultural shifts in how kinship is donePrerequisite: Sophomores Only
SEMN/ARTX214Framing Difference This course will combine research and studio components, split more or less evenly. The research topic, broadly painted, will be fine art documentary practices, grounded with an entry-level hands-on studio component (using both film and digital photography). There are two motivations for this course: to give students creative control of photographic tools (technical, formal, conceptual) prior to their leaving for study away, but also to explore the issues and ethics of photographic documentary practice. While the broad research topic is documentary practice (theory/tradition), this course will place particular emphasis on the ethics of photographing outside of one's own group. This course is a Shared Passages Sophomore Seminar.Prerequisite: Sophomores Only
SEMN/PHIL215Human Rights & International Law People often invoke human rights and international law in the course of debate. However, these are highly contested concepts. This course introduces some theoretical clarity with respect to their conceptual grounding, history and contemporary practice. Our primary focus will be on different philosophical theories of human rights, with secondary attention to international human rights law. We start with an orientation on human rights practice and try to move past some of the so-called "challenges" to human rights. This is followed by a look at the main contemporary approaches for conceptualizing human rights: the basic human-interest approach, the capabilities approach and the newer "political" approach (among others). We will spend a few weeks on various debates within the human rights literature as well: Whether there is such a thing as "group rights", whether and how there is a distinction between civil and political human rights on the one hand versus social and economic human rights on the other, when human rights violations might trigger external, international intervention, etc. Prerequisite: Sophomores Only
SEMN/CLAS216Making History? We will examine various cinematic interpretations of the ancient Romans. Students will explore the historical, social and cultural differences between ancient and modern accounts of Roman history and examine our modern desire for "watching" the ancient world. Readings by Roman writers and secondary source material will be paired with film screenings. Special attention will be given to why we retell some stories (i.e. Cleopatra), as well as to the way that this form of "Roman history" encourages us to visit difficult cultural topics, such as political imperialism, slavery, sex and gender difference, and racism.Prerequisite: Sophomores Only
SEMN/ENGL217World Indigenous Literatures: The People and the Land A selective study of the literary traditions and contemporary texts of indigenous peoples around the world, focusing on indigenous communities in regions where Kalamazoo College students study and with a particular emphasis on texts that explore the complex relationships between indigenous communities and the land they claim as their own. This course is a Shared Passages Sophomore Seminar.Prerequisite: Sophomores Only
SEMN/ENGL219Magical Realism Magical realism is a genre that combines elements of the fantastic with realism often in order to imagine utopias or resist restrictive aspects of society. This course will examine the genre, interrogate its relationship to other genres of fantasy, and consider the relationship between the aesthetic patterns of the genre and its potential for social advocacy. This course is a Shared Passages Sophomore Seminar.Prerequisite: Sophomores Only
SEMN223The Inward Journey: the Science, Practice, and History of Meditation This seminar will explore the meditative experience from historical, experiential, and biological perspectives. Meditation-the cultivation of a state of thoughtless awareness that can generate profound peace and inner transformation-has deep historical roots and plays a role in many cultures and religions. Modern neuroscience has made great strides in understanding the meditative experience and documenting the physical and neurochemical changes that result from meditation. Students in this course will undertake a personal journey of active practice of meditation, primarily from Buddhist perspectives. This experience will be underpinned with study of the neuroscience and practical health benefits of meditation. Finally students will delve into the historical, cultural, and religious dimensions of meditation. Prerequisite: Sophomores Only.
SEMN/ENGL227Opium & the Making of the Modern World This course traces the social and literary history of opium across the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. In addition to exploring the drug as a trope of the "exotic East," this course also understands opium as an important catalyst of imperial development and global domination. Analyzing autobiography, poetry, and fiction, the course focuses on depictions of travel and circulation to understand how opium has activated anxieties about gender, sexuality, and race over the last two centuries and to recognize how the illicit drug trade continues to shape current patterns of diasporic movement and global exchange.Prerequisite: Sophomores Only
SEMN230/RELG 202Same Sex, Gender, and Religion This sophomore seminar explores the intersection of religions, same-sex affection/love/relations, and the category of gender. At the most basic level we examine what different religions have to say about sexuality, in particular, non-heterosexualities. We look at the role that gender plays in these constructions of these sexualities, and we return to our starting point to analyze the role of religions in these constructions of gender and same-sex sexualities, affections, love, and/or relations. This course is a Shared Passages Sophomore Seminar.Prerequisite: Sophomores Only
SEMN231/ANSO 232Nature & Society: Intro Pol. Ecology This course will introduce students to the sub-discipline of political ecology, a field broadly concerned with the relationships between nature and social power. In other words, this course will focus on developing an understanding of how social relations and politico-economic systems produce environmental problems, structure access to natural resources, the resulting struggles over 'nature' and how and in whose interests these may or may not be resolved.Because the field is broad, the course has been structured into themes that we will explore each week.Prerequisite: Sophomores only.
SEMN232/HIST 233Christians, Muslims and Jews in the Mediterranean World This course examines social, cultural, political, and economic interactions among the cultures of the Mediterranean World between 500 C.E and 1500 C.E. Rather than offering a chronological overview, this course explores multiple perspectives on cross-cultural contact, conflict, and exchange. We examine specific geographic areas of contact - the Crusader States, medieval Iberia - as well as more fleeting encounters through travel and trade.
SEMN234/HIST 236End of Christendom: Piety, Ritual, and Religious Upheaval in the Sixteenth Century This course examines the complex social, cultural, religious, and political repercussions of religious reform over the course of the long sixteenth century, from the earliest glimmers of discontent among Hussites and Lollards to the violent wars of religion that characterized the seventeenth century. Topics include lay piety and religious ritual, the reform of daily life, confessional antagonism, print culture and propaganda. Primary sources on this topic are plentiful, and we pay particular attention to the exceptionally rich visual sources of this period. This course is a Shared Passages Sophomore Seminar.Prerequisite: Sophomores Only
SEMN/HIST235Traders & Travelers in Early Europe In this course, we examine the narratives of traders, travelers and pilgrims in Early Europe (c. 800 BCE - 1400 CE) in order to better understand the ways in which the peoples of Europe understood other regions and the peoples that inhabited them. In doing so, we explore ideas about geography, boundaries, cultural differences, stereotypes, and the construction of identities (both internal and external to societies). These explorations help expose us to the ways in which we might construt similar kinds of knowledge in contemporary societies by providing us with a reflection point in earlier European cultures.
SEMN/ECON240Economics for Global Travelers This Sophomore Seminar examines how economics can contribute to a better understanding of the world and our place in it. We will look at differences, similarities, and linkages among the economies of various nations. We will study flow of money, products, people, technologies, and ideas across national borders. The approach will be non-technical with an emphasis on understanding economic ideas. We will spend more time writing and discussing than on models or equations. Does not count towards economics or business major. Prerequisite: Sophomores Only
SEMN241/GERM 202Reading European Cities: Istanbul, Vienna, Berlin This course addresses the questions of how we may understand a culture by learning to "read" its cities. Texts range from maps, histories, architecture, theories of urbanism and urban ecology, to films, documentaries, memoirs, and music - an array of genres that highlights the status of the modern city as both a physical place and an imaginary construct. The broad aim of course is to provide students with conceptual tools for "reading" a city as well as a new culture critically, and thus to facilitate their intercultural competency. Berlin, Vienna, and Istanbul will serve as case studies for the practice of interpreting urban narratives, and the course will culminate with student research projects and presentations on the cities in which they plan to study abroad, or a city of their choice. This course is a Shared Passages Sophomore Seminar.Prerequisite: Sophomores Only
SEMN/JAPN242Contested History This course will examine two major sites of contested history: the controversies surrounding the proposed exhibit of the Enola Gay at the Smithsonian and those related to Yasukuni Shrine, which enshrines the war dead in Tokyo Japan. Our goal is not to arrive at a definitive judgment on any of these events or sites, whether on political, military, or ethical grounds. Instead, we will interrogate various perspectives, placing them in the context in which they operated and critically analyzing their argumentation. By doing so, we will achieve not only a complex view of the events and sites but of the frames of understanding through which people -- participants and witnesses, scholars, politicians -- arrive at their conclusions. This course is a Shared Passages Sophomore Seminar.Prerequisite: Sophomores Only
SEMN/ANSO255You Are What You Eat: Food and Identity In a Global Perspective The goal of this course is to examine the social, symbolic, and political-economic roles of what and how we eat. While eating is essential to our survival, we rarely pay attention to what we eat and why. We will look at the significance of food and eating with particular attention to how people define themselves differently through their foodways. We will also study food's role in maintaining economic and social relations, cultural conceptions of health, and religion. Finally, the class examines the complex economic and political changes in food systems and the persistence of food's role as an expression of identity, social and ethnic markers. This course is a Shared Passages Sophomore Seminar.Prerequisite: Sophomores Only
SEMN256/MUSC 205Music and Identity Music serves multiple roles: a force for social transformation, a flag of resistance, a proclamation of cultural identity, a catalyst for expressing emotion, an avenue to experiencing the sacred. Students will look at identity through the lens of contemporary and traditional American music and will consider how race, ethnicity, age, gender, national identity, and other factors express themselves in and are shaped by music. The ability to read music or understand basic music theory is not required; a love of music and an interest in American culture are essential. This course is a Shared Passages Sophomore Seminar.Prerequisite: Sophomores Only
SEMN/ENGL264Global Shakespeares Shakespeare is the most translated, adapted, performed, and published Western Author. Just what this means to Western and non-Western cultures is at the heart of this course. What does it mean to think of Shakespeare as a colonizing force? What additional ways are there to see the influence of his works? Many cultures have written back to Shakespeare, addressing race, sexuality, gender, and religion from their own cultural perspectives. What do exchanges between differently empowered cultures produce and reproduce? We'll tackle such questions as we read works by Shakespeare and literary/film adaptations from around the globe. And, closer to home, how do different communities in the United States receive and write back to Shakespeare? How do issues of race and class, especially, affect access to Shakespeare? A service learning project with the Intensive Learning Center of the Kalamazoo County Juvenile Home will allow your students there, and our class, to consider those questions. As we work with these students to write their own adaptations of Othello, we'll all consider how writing back to Shakespeare might be a good way to empower students to question the assumptions his plays make. This course is a Shared Passages Sophomore Seminar.Prerequisite: Sophomores Only
SEMN/THEA265First Theatres This sophomore seminar will survey the "first theatres" of many different areas of the pre-modern world -- including the Abydos Passion Play of ancient Egypt, Yoruba ritual, ancient Greek & Rome, Japanese Noh Theatre, early Chinese music drama, Sanskrit theatre of India, and European Medieval theatre. Through research, discussion, and critical thinking exercises, students will be encouraged to view performance as an intercultural and continually developing phenomenon in both art and daily life. This course is a Shared Passages Sophomore Seminar.Prerequisite: Sophomores Only
SEMN/RELG/HIST268Jews on Film It will examine themes in Jewish history and culture as expressed through the medium of film. Through readings, lectures, and class discussions, students will explore issues such as assimilation and acculturation, anti-Semitism, group cohesion, interfaith relations, Zionism, and the Holocaust. We will consider questions, such as: How are Jewish characters portrayed on film? Which elements of these portrayals change over time, and which remain constant? How do these cultural statements speak to the historical contexts that produced them? What choices do filmmakers make regarding the depiction of Jewish life, and how do those choices influence perceptions of Jews in particular, or minorities generally?Prerequisite: Sophomores Only
SEMN/AFST/HIST271Nelson Mandela & the Anti-Apartheid Movement There are times when specific people, places and moments in history capture the imagination of the world. This occurs when that specificity speaks volumes to the human condition and offers lessons that we all sense are important. Such has been the case with Nelson Mandela and anti-apartheid movement. This course will use Mandela and the evolution of, and struggle against, apartheid as a window into some of the 20th century's most complex issues. Prerequisite: Sophomores Only
SEMN274/AFST 275/HIST 275African Christianity This course explores the complex and disparate trends of Christianity in Africa since the first century C. E. It highlights Africa's role in the development and growth of Christianity as a global religion. Prerequisite: Sophomores Only
SEMN/HIST287What If: Alternate Pasts This is a class about what might have been. Taking history itself as an object of analysis, this seminar will ask us to reconsider how we understand the past by thinking and acting in counterfactual ways. We will explore debates for and against counterfactualism and examine diverse counterfactual writings. We will also experience counterfactualism by participating in two role-playing activities, one set in a critical moment of reform in 19th century Korea, and the other set in Japan in the months before Pearl Harbor. As we seek to achieve the goals associated with specific roles, we will gain insights on the contingent, complex, and often messy reality of the past.Prerequisite: Sophomores only
SEMN/ANSO292Development and Dispossession This course takes a critical approach to the study of development, focusing particular attention on the displacement and dispossession of local populations. Using contemporary case studies, we examine how neoliberal policies and practices play out in various development sectors, including agriculture, infrastructure, and the extractive industry, in both rural and urban spaces in the U.S. and around the world. Prerequisite: Sophomores only.
SEMN/ENGL295Poetic Justice This course will examine the treatment of law and political order in historically and culturally varied literary texts as part of a broader consideration of the relationship between art and social justice. We will explore how literature addresses "questions that matter," including personal ethics, the purposes and manners of criminal punishment, and racial and gender equality. Students will consider how literary texts, like legal texts, have the power to influence politics and society. Readings will include such texts as Antigone, The Faerie Queene, The Merchant of Venice, Kafka's The Trial, Philip K. Dick's Minority Report, and Shirley Jackson's The Lottery.
SEMN295Principles of Civic Engagement This course for sophomore Civic Engagement Scholars and other sophomores with experience in service-learning will enhance their skills, knowledge and attitudes as effective social justice leaders and deepen their understanding of the processes and outcomes of critical service-learning as a tool for social change. Students will explore the structures, history, and intersections among the social justice issues that our programs address -educational and heath equity; immigrant rights; mass incarceration; reproductive rights; sustainability and food justice; and others - and will trace connections from the local to the global. Students will expand and apply the learning they derive from working with communities by examining the rationale for and best practices in experiential education and higher education initiatives to link personal and political commitments, public action, and democracy. They will study, design and lead structured reflection, a key component of community engagement for social justice.

Senior Seminars

Senior Seminars are the culmination of the Shared Passages Program. Disciplinary senior seminars integrate students' experiences inside and outside a particular major, while the interdisciplinary senior seminars listed below provide a liberal arts capstone experience, allowing students from a variety of majors to apply diverse aspects of their Kalamazoo College education to an interesting topic or problem.

Senior seminars

SEMN/ENVS401Energy & Environmental Policy Worldwide National patterns of energy use and approaches to environmental policy vary over a wide range around the World. A grand experiment, with unfortunate consequences, is being conducted before us, as some large nations pollute with reckless abandon, and largely ignore environmental issues, while others, mostly in Europe, have made significant changes in behavior, seemingly to everyone's benefit. Who should pay for all this? Should the United Nations intervene on the big polluters? What policy should the U.S. follow? An intelligent discussion of these issues needs input from the fields of Science, Political Science, and Economics, and is also informed by international experiences. The course is designed to bring together viewpoints from several different majors, and personal perspectives gained through international experiences are also valuable. Possible careers involving environmental science, engineering and politics/policy will be discussed. Personal environmental impact and various choices/options will also be discussed. Prerequisite: At least three courses in either natural science, economics, or political science, with a major in one preferred.
SEMN407The Quest for Happiness: Living the Good and Gracious Life This course will draw on Psychological principles to explore how people can make their lives more fulfilling and meaningful. The course will focus on discussion and development of important life skills, including gratitude, resilience, and optimism, that are important for emotional well-being. Course assignments and discussions will emphasize reflection about one's own experiences at K as well as one's own goals for life post-graduation. Prerequisite: Seniors Only
SEMN408Slow Farming: Resilient, Just, and Joyful Agriculture In this senior capstone course, students will explore solutions to problems created by our current food systems. We will critically examine recent movements in organic, local, and sustainable agriculture and discuss how we might each personally engage in transforming our individual, institutional, community, and political relationships with food and farming. This course includes a practicum in "slow farming" at Harvest of Joy Farm, LLC. Students should attend an informational meeting or speak individually with Professor Amy Newday prior to enrolling in this course.Prerequisite: Seniors Only
SEMN432Steal Like an Artist The aim of this senior capstone is to create a space in which artists across disciplines may collaboratively and individually prepare for life beyond the balance of safety and creative tension embodied in the studio, rehearsal space, and workshops central to their K education. What happens to the artist's creative life once set free from the structure and discipline of apprenticeship? Through self-designed projects, service-learning partnerships with local makers, lively discussion and reflective writing, we'll thoughtfully consider, define, and begin practicing what is required to sustain a joyful creative life beyond K.Prerequisite: Seniors only
SEMN/ENGL435American Indian Literature & Law
SEMN491/ENGL 495Building the Archive: Baldwin & His Legacy In February of 1960, James Baldwin delivered an address, "In Search of a Majority," at Stetson Chapel which he later included in his collection of essays, Nobody Knows my Name. This seminar will approach this visit (and Baldwin) as a site of analysis. As an actual event, the occasion left artifacts (correspondence, publicity, newspaper accounts, published essay). The event also can be read within the legacy of other Civil Rights era visitors to the college, including Charles V. Hamilton (co-author of Black Power: The Politics of Liberation) and others. Moreover, as a writer who addressed national and international identity, racial politics (personal and cultural), and sexuality, Baldwin's various writings remain relevant even as they locate themselves within particular historical moments. Through close attention to Baldwin and his milieu, this course will invite students to engage their own experiences and disciplinary knowledge in their reading, writing, and archival research. Students will also document (in film and transcript) oral histories of participants in the Civil Rights period as part of their course work. This course is designated as a Senior Seminar for the 2015-2016 academic year. Prerequisite: Seniors Only
SEMN/JAPN495Thinking About Nature, East and West This course is designed to be the senior seminar for the East Asian Studies major and also a Senior seminar course for other seniors. We will look at how the West (mostly the US) and Asian cultures have thought about nature and the human-nature relationship. Prerequisite: Seniors only
SEMN499Special Topic Senior Capstone Senior Shared Passages Capstone special topics course. Topics will vary from course to course. SEMN-499 courses may be added to the curriculum throughout the year.Prerequisite: Seniors Only
SEMN499Social Justice & the American City This class undertakes a critical examination of American city spaces, using Chicago, Detroit, and Kalamazoo as its key cities. Placing literary texts alongside works of history, sociology, and urban studies, the course investigates how race and class structures shaped the formation of Chicago in the early twentieth century and how the undergird the multiple issues facing contemporary Detroit. Throughout, the class examines how artists, musicians, writers, and activists have responded to social inequalities and worked for social justice. These readings will provide the raw materials for helping students use the course as a working laboratory and studio, in which they undertake self-led projects of creative and critical intervention. in so doing, students will not only theorize their relationships to and within these urban spaces, but become both informed scholars and active agents of social change.Prerequisite: Seniors only
SEMN499Being... While acknowledging the magnitude of the task, over time and across cultures, participants in this Senior Capstone will explore many endings to the title of the course and the means by which those ends can be attained. Though not limited to a short list of possible endings (and ends?) - such as aware, human, responsible, in transition, of use, green, a community, present, or good enough - explorations will be prescribed by time available and who is participating in the course. That said, two parts of being aware will entail learning to identify common bird songs and trees in our local environs. And, being situated at a threshold, this course will include the Janus-like endeavors of reflecting on experiences and anticipating possible futures that will become part of narratives explored.Prerequisite: Seniors Only
SEMN499Historical Reading on Ferguson This course draws students into a critical engagement with police violence in the United States and the mounting resistance to it. Sparked by killings in Ferguson Missouri, many people are questioning how, why and to what extent such violence occurs. While the professor suggests readings, students will select texts, articles and blogs for the class and will lead discussions. Students will do reflections on how their liberal arts education at K has prepared them to take on this topic and how their education and this seminar might impact their life choices after graduation. Among other assignments, students will also write their own booklet on "a contemporary history of the police." The areas of research for this project will be decided upon, framed, developed and written by the students.Prerequisite: Seniors Only
SEMN499Exploring Stigma: Verbal & Visual Narratives Social stigma exists. It may be associated with perceptions toward mental illness, HIV/AIDS, socioeconomic status, gender identity, body image, race and religion. Engaging their own experiences and disciplinary knowledge, students from all majors will be invited to explore the existence of stigma in their lives-on campus and in their communities. Stories help humanize issues and are invaluable as educational and awareness-raising tools across multiple sectors and disciplines. Through the creation of multimedia digital stories, and utilizing art-therapy-based approaches, students will build a narrative of self and others relating to discovered stigmas. Reading works of psychology, art therapy, and sociology; viewing multimedia artwork; and interacting with community members, students will examine how the digital story plays a role in social justice and in eliminating stigma.Prerequisite: Seniors Only
SEMN499Crafting a Life: Living the Liberal Arts This course is based on the liberal arts idea of educating the whole person. It will help students define and refine a contextual understanding of their own identity, a direction based on values, purpose and passion, and a personal philosophy upon which they can build a life. It will seek to explore and support integration of students' social, emotional, physical, cultural and ethical development and consider psychological well-being, the value of a rich and thoughtful interior life, articulated core beliefs, social engagement and openness to the unexpected as elements of a well-considered life plan.Prerequisite: Seniors Only
SEMN499Digital Passages: Personal & Public Narratives Digital storytelling stands out for its directness of emotional expression and voice. In this course, students will help bring to life the reality of their individual experiences-past, present, and conceivable future-through digital storytelling of various means. Students will reflect on their lives prior to college as well as what they've experienced while in school. They will look inward, but also outward, since students at Kalamazoo College have developed strong interests in a field of study and/or causes of social justice. We will look to see how their personal experiences have coalesced to influence their deep interest in a discipline-possibly interwoven with a practice of a being a socially constructive human being. Stories will begin with personal, factual evidence that grows outward-from the specific to the universal. Students then will make small pieces that relate their story using image and text or video and sound (utilizing easily accessible tools). The works may range from straight reportage to the experimental, from non-fiction to the allegorical. Their creative works will be designed primarily for, and dissemination through, social media. By imparting their story to an audience, it is hoped they will make meaningful connections between themselves and others.Prerequisite: Seniors only.
This Academic Catalog is current as of Feb 25, 2018

An official catalog is produced each summer for the following academic year and stored in the Archives section of this site. These versions are used for degree audits. Throughout the year, approved changes are incorporated immediately. Updates that have been submitted and approved by early summer will be included in the archival catalog for the next academic year in mid-summer.