First Year Seminar Courses

The course titles and descriptions below are being offered in the Fall of 2021.

The Journey from Platform Nine and Three Quarters

Each of us is on a journey. Whether we have travelled to Augustana from afar or are a resident of Camrose, each one of us—at one time or another—decided to pursue a university education. Journeys, however, need not involve outward movement; many of the greatest works of literature focus instead on a spiritual or intellectual quest that takes place within the protagonist. Our examination of this theme will be broad as we explore different concepts of the journey within the humanities, social sciences, and sciences. Our discussions will focus on such topics as quest narratives in ancient and modern texts, the anthropology of travel and tourism, and the migration of human and nonhuman animals across continents. Whereas the thematic focus of the course is the quest, we will consider this topic across a range of disciplines—from literature and religion to anthropology and environmental biology. Our investigations into the phenomenon of the journey will range from reading Harry Potter to visiting the Royal Alberta Museum.


Food for Thought

Twentieth-Century culinary enthusiast James Beard said, “Food is our common ground, a universal experience.” But what makes food, well, food? This course examines the nutritional value of food and considers its different uses and how it is processed in order to check the health claims of natural and organic produce. Also, we will learn how to determine the energy content of food and consider why the same weight of different foods produce dissimilar amounts of calories. We will also discuss the historical uses of food and how the food we purchase today is processed, as well as the ethical issues regarding food production, consumption, and wastage. Ultimately, the food we eat impacts our ability to grow, move, and enjoy life. This course will use chemical, biological, and sociological perspectives to explore how you are what you eat.


Wolves: Representations and Realities

Since ancient times, wolves have served as a source of fascination and inspiration to people and have had a profound impact on the human imagination, as seen in narratives ranging from “Little Red Riding Hood” and werewolf legends to contemporary works of fiction. In this seminar, we will look at representations of wolves in literature, visual art, film, and the popular press, focusing on the ways these images and portrayals intersect with and reflect economic, environmental, and cultural realities and debates. A course highlight will be a virtual and/or physical visit to a wolfdog/wolf sanctuary , and during the “World Wolf Forum” at the end of the course, you will be asked to step outside of your cultural context while taking part in a public debate surrounding wolf management and environmental and economic issues. Together, we will reflect on the interplay between these representations and “realities” of wolves while examining their place in a variety of cultures and eras.


Rise of the Machines

“Oh, my goodness! Shut me down! Machines making machines. How perverse!”

Self-driving cars. Drones delivering packages to your doorstep. R2D2. Star Trek’s Data. Robots are everywhere, but did you know that the word “robot” was only added to the English language about a century ago? A robot is defined as “a machine resembling a human being and able to replicate certain human movements and functions automatically” (Oxford English Dictionary), but what happens when the line between human and machine starts to blur? In this course, we will explore issues of gender, morality, law, and socialization related to automation, humanoids, androids, and more. We will use LegoTM robots, movies, stories, research papers and news articles to better appreciate what robots are, what they do, and how they impact our world. Students will work in groups to “make” an artificial robot do a task, with the goal of understanding robotic operation. Our goal is to better understand not only what makes a robot, but what makes us human.


Unmasking the Superhero

Superheroes are a cultural phenomenon and big business. While many of us can easily list a range of superheroes and their powers, have you ever wondered what their powers represent? Is there a deeper meaning to superheroes? Origin stories help us understand what makes a superhero “tick” while also allowing us to dissect complex issues such as loss, trauma, and fear. This course begins by tracing the historical roots of superheroes starting from Gilgamesh in 2100 BC to those depicted in modern comic books, graphic novels, or motion pictures. Next, we will examine the origin stories of four superheroes to understand their motivations, values, and conflicts, as well as the broader political, social and cultural context that shape who they are. This course will conclude by exploring the impact superheroes have on real people such as fans or vigilantes. Students will have an opportunity to research a particular superhero, participate in class discussions, read comics and short articles, and watch and breakdown movies.


Protest! Why Bother?

What do Autumn Peltier, Greta Thunberg, Joshua Wong Chi-Fung, Jonathan van Ness, Malala Yousafzai, Sophie Scholl, Harvey Milk, 2017 NFL players, AVAAZ, and the German pop band The Donots have in common? They are protesters who are trying to change their world. Why did they bother? This course will examine protests in diverse realms, such as education, music, science, architecture, literature and politics. We will look at what the activists are protesting, how they protest, and why, while also examining the role of activism in society and the crucial elements of successful protest movements. We will analyze diverse methods of protest, including the role of the media, and evaluate their effectiveness. The course will feature visits with local activists in Edmonton and Camrose. These topics will force us to confront issues of race, gender, LGBTQ2S+, religion, politics, etc., while challenging us to examine our own standpoints in respectful conversation with others.


Democracy: Power to the People?

Democracy, derived from the Greek demokratia, is a form of political governance that literally means “rule by the people.” It’s a simple and widely endorsed idea that is, at the same time, incredibly complex and contested. Plato believed giving political power “to the people” was a terrible mistake, the founders of most contemporary democracies worked to ensure only a select group of “people” were granted power, and today, it is common to hear claims that the current system fails to truly “listen to the people.” Engaging with a diverse array of materials including works of literature; ancient, popular and scholarly texts from various fields; and depictions of democracy in media and film, this course will explore these issues while considering some seemingly straightforward questions: What is democracy? Just who are “the people”? And, above all, what makes a state truly democratic?


Witness: Memory and the Self

Memory shapes everything we know, feel and think, and also aids us in new understanding. Memoir, the act of recording one’s own experience, is as old as cave-paintings and as new as TikTok, Instagram, and the latest FPS game. Writing in the first person—a prose selfie—may bring illuminating perspective, or can be self-indulgent and sentimental. But pivotal events in human history come down to us in their most vivid versions as eye-witness accounts from people who were there. By writing and reading first- person accounts (fact/fiction, text/spoken word) ranging from residential school survivors to recent immigrants, from childhood to old age, we will trace our understanding of the self and examine how we look at others. Renowned Canadian writers working in memoir and the first person will visit the class. As well as a memoir, students will write a critical biography, researching a public figure whose life tallies with their own ideas of human worth, or contrasts sharply with those ideas, to reflect and resonate with their own autobiographical project. Primary sources (diaries, letters, historical records and journalism) are fodder for this examination of how the eye looks at the world, and how the world looks back at us.


Horizons of Landscape

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, contexts, and artistic styles influence the concept of landscape, and as a result, our relationships to nature and our surroundings.


Gods, Monsters, and Myths

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.


High Times: Cannabis, Normalization, and Stigma

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.



Chocolate: To Eat or not to Eat?

Aphrodisiac, comfort food, antioxidant, anti-depressant, dark, milk or even white... rare are those who remain indifferent to chocolate. In this course, we will explore the origins of chocolate, voyage through time and regions to discover how chocolate financed religious communities, helped families start anew, or developed into major conglomerates. We will also explore the science of chocolate by investigating its therapeutic attributes.


Artificial Intelligence: W hat's T he F uture?

Can computers out-think us? Out-feel us?  Even replace us?  This course looks into the world of artificial intelligence to gauge how society is changing and will continue to be changed by technology.  We can hardly turn on a TV, stream a video, or read a news story without seeing a reference to AI. It is transforming business, medicine, gaming, manufacturing, and employment opportunities at an astonishing speed—it may even influence elections!  But is it all hype? Can AI really follow through on the promises we’ve imposed on it, or is it merely the next big “trendy tech” craze? In this course, students will approach concepts like machine learning, deep learning, and neural networks from a variety of vantage points as we think about ways in which AI is impacting the world around us, and what it might mean for the future of humanity. We will explore its impact on culture, politics, and science, and students will even develop their own chatbots as part of an assignment.


Cyber Ethics (Offered online only)

Should owners and designers of electronic entertainment, such as social media, video games, and online pornography, be held liable for their products' effects on consumers or our culture? Advances in information technology, especially social media, have led to many social and ethical concerns spanning misinformation and disinformation to information privacy and threatening democracy. This course explores a variety of controversial issues related to information technology from an ethical perspective. Students will study several ethical theories and learn how to apply them to make moral decisions. Topics include information privacy and security, surveillance, freedom of expression, data mining, intellectual property and copyrights, and computer crime and abuse. The course is intended to be for students interested in how information technology is changing our lives.


Murder in the First (Year's) Degree (May be offered in-person or online)

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 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.


Stop and Smell the Roses: Making Sense of Smell (Offered online only)

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?