First Year Seminar Courses

The course titles and descriptions below are being offered in the Fall of 2020.


Seminar of the Living Dead

Alex Carpenter
Zombies are everywhere these days: in movies, television, literature, and graphic novels. Surprisingly, they are also the subject of serious academic study in universities--you can find zombies in the humanities, the sciences, mathematics, and social sciences. In this course, students will examine the history and significance of zombies in contemporary culture through a series of films, guest lectures, readings, research, and creative projects. Zombies are not simply ghoulish cannibals, but rather they serve a wide variety of functions and roles in our world. They are metaphorical vehicles for criticism and satire, allowing us to focus on class, race, and other social issues, and on modern technology and the environment. Zombies feature in contemporary biological models, from bee behaviour to management of contagious diseases, and in philosophy and psychology as pseudo-humans, allowing us to speculate the nature of perception and consciousness. Zombies have their own music, which emphasizes their “uncanny” qualities. But perhaps most importantly, zombies invite us to question our basic assumptions about ourselves: What does it mean to be alive? What does it mean to be human?


Horizons of Landscape

Andrea Korda
Picture a view of outdoor scenery. What comes to mind? Rugged mountains or open fields? Wildflowers or haystacks? In this course, we will examine varying representations of both historical and contemporary landscapes, and also make some of our own landscapes. Engaging with scholarly texts and artistic practices will prompt discussion of how changing technologies and artistic styles influence the concept of landscape, and as a result, our relationships to nature and our surroundings.


Who's Watching You?: Surveillance in Everyday Life

Tara Milbrandt
We live in a world where we are increasingly visible to others, from social media platforms to state surveillance systems, but do we have any control over who’s watching us, and does it matter? In this First Year Seminar, we will consider privacy and surveillance in a time where we are all online. We will engage with concepts of surveillance using key texts and theories as we explore how different forms of surveillance impact our lives and world. We will focus on government surveillance of citizens, as well as peer-to-peer surveillance, consumer surveillance, and more. Students will develop critical thinking, reading, and writing skills as they engage with diverse representations of modern surveillance from scholarly texts, novels, films, policy statements, and popular media.


Let's Talk About Sex, Baby

Sean Moore
The topic of sex and sexuality is one of the most thought-provoking, emotionally evocative, and paradoxical topics in all of our lives. It's something that affects everyone but is seldom talked about in public. Moreover, in 21st century pop culture, sex seems to be everywhere and is instantly available at the swipe of our fingertips. So why do so many sexual myths, misconceptions, and misunderstanding persist? The answer to this question lies in understanding that human sexuality is a complex, multi-faceted topic that is influenced by multiple factors including (but not limited to) our biology, neurochemistry, psychology, socialization, and cultural values. In this course, we will begin by openly talking about human sexuality and identifying gaps in our common understandings of sex. We will then work towards compiling a public document that attempts to dispel common sexual myths and promote positive, healthy sexuality on our campus. Assignments will focus on researching myths/misunderstanding of sexuality and the myth-making process as well as engaging directly with some hotly debated topics pertaining to sex.


Stop and Smell the Roses: Making Sense of Smell

Stephanie Oliver
Whether it’s the rich smell of coffee in the morning, the enticing aroma of your favourite meal, the lingering scent of a romantic partner, or the nagging odour of dirty laundry, our sense of smell plays an important, yet often unacknowledged, role in our daily lives. Often difficult to capture, quantify, or classify, scents have both fascinated and frustrated artists, writers, scientists, philosophers, historians, psychologists, and other major thinkers for centuries. Western culture has historically reduced smell to a “lower order” sense associated with the body, memory, and emotion. As a result, smell is not often considered a topic for serious study. But what might we learn from turning our attention to smell? What can scent tell us about ourselves and the world around us? Exploring smell from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, this course asks: how do we make sense of smell?


High Times: Cannabis, Normalization, and Stigma

Geraint Osborne 

Weed, pot, Mary Jane, grass, ganja, bud, call it what you will, cannabis remains the most widely used illicit drug worldwide, and has been a part of the human experience for centuries. This course begins with studying the cannabis plant itself and understanding its pharmacological properties, followed by a historical and cultural analysis of cannabis. Our focus will then change to understanding how cannabis use became illegal, how ineffective the war on drugs has been in reducing drug use, and how such use is shaped by class, race, and gender. We will also focus on the normalization of cannabis and its consequences for various segments of society.  Additionally, the course will study cannabis in a legalized environment with an emphasis on analyzing cannabis myths and explaining the consequences they have for stereotypes, stigma, and, regulation. Besides introducing you to important university skills, the course will introduce you to key concepts that you will encounter throughout your university degree, such as culture, stereotypes, stigma, intersectionality, and ethnocentrism, to name but a few.  


Gods, Monsters, and Myths

Janet Wesselius 

The Ancient Greeks developed a system of belief based on mythological gods and ethereal monsters, and these otherworldly beings have become ingrained in our understanding of history and culture. However, we don’t believe in superhero gods or evil monsters anymore…or do we? It is commonly thought that gods and monsters are the stuff of myths, but why is it that myths continue to inform our understanding of history? Further, why did our ancestors create and tell myths? And is it really true that we no longer have mythologies today? In this course, we will look at myths, with their heroic gods and terrible monsters, to see what purpose they serve in our own lives. We will also discover how gods, monsters, and myths are still used in contemporary society as we explore media such as novels, films, TV shows, podcasts, and art. By the end of the course, you will have created your own “myth” from which to interpret your own truths.


Dinosaurs, from Aardonyx to Zuniceratops

Joseph Wiebe
What's your favourite dinosaur? Odds are, you have an answer to this question, and even if you don't know the name of the specific species that you "dig," a clear image at least comes to mind. Since the "Dinosaur renaissance" in the 1970s, where researchers embarked on a fury of paleontological study focused on dinosaur histories, Western culture has been enraptured by the "terrible lizards" who walked the earth some 66 million years ago. From Godzilla to the Jurassic Park franchise to Disney's multiple representations of the prehistoric reptiles, dinosaurs seem to have something for everyone. In this course, we will investigate the place of dinosaurs in a number of human frameworks, and will consider their roles in cultural, historical, and scientific capacities. 


Being Human, from the Bible to Blade Runner

Ian Wilson
The common English term “human being” implies that to be human is to exist in a certain way. In other words, humans have a way of being. That said, how exactly we, as humans, define this way of being is up for debate. The question of what it means to be human has fascinated thinkers for thousands of years. In this course, we will explore possible answers to this question, focusing on materials as diverse as ancient myths, medieval and modern understandings of anatomy and biology, and contemporary works of science fiction. We will examine how different people throughout history have imagined humanity’s place in the world, our relationship with our environment, with the natural and even supernatural, and with technology of our own creation. By thinking on the question of what it means to be human, and how different humans have approached the question over time, we will critically reflect upon life in today’s global world.


Murder in the First (Year's) Degree

Shauna Wilton
Murder has the power to both horrify and fascinate us. The deliberate taking of another life is often seen as one of the worst crimes a person can commit. At the same time, murder acts as a window on society, often revealing the nature of violence and authority within a particular culture. As such, the study of murder-from true crime TV, to mystery novels, to CSI, policy and police practice-offers us a way to understand human behaviour, social norms, and social organization. This course begins and ends with a murder. Students will have to find the murderer before the course ends, using the materials, skills, and perspectives presented in the class to help them understand the crime and the killer.