First Year Seminar Courses

The course titles and descriptions below are being offered in the Fall of 2024. Once you find a topic of interest, find the AUIDS 101 section listed in Bear Tracks.

food for thought

Instructor: James Kariuki

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.


Unmasking the super hero

Instructor: Rebecca Purc-Stephenson

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? In this course, you’ll learn what superheroes can teach us about humanity and complex issues such as trauma, loss and resilience. This course begins by discussing what is a hero, and then tracing the historical roots of superheroes starting from Gilgamesh in 2100 BC to those depicted in modern comic books, graphic novels and motion pictures. We also explore “superheroes” in the natural world such as bats, spiders and honeybees, and discuss how their traits have been integrated into the personas of many superheroes. Next, we examine the origin stories of three superheroes to understand their motivations, values and conflicts, as well as the broader political, social and cultural context that shape who they are. Students will have an opportunity to research a particular superhero, participate in class discussions, read comics and articles, and watch and breakdown movies.


Who’s watching you? Surveillance in Everyday Life

Instructor: Tara Milbrandt

We live in a world where we are increasingly visible to others, from social media platforms to state surveillance systems, but how much control do we have over who’s watching us, and does this matter? In this First Year Seminar, we will consider surveillance and privacy during a time in which we are increasingly connected through digital media technologies and information tracking systems. We will explore different aspects of surveillance through a close engagement with a selection of key texts, theories and cases. Topics we will address include government surveillance of citizens, peer-to-peer surveillance, consumer surveillance, workplace 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.


First Beer Seminar

Instructor: Geoffrey Dipple

Beer and other forms of alcohol have been around almost as long as human civilization. As a result, alcohol is a key component in many kinds of human interaction in a number of societies. Yet, alcohol is also a source of many problems for both individuals and society as a whole. This course examines elements of alcohol use and abuse through the specific example of beer. We will look at the science of fermentation and how the body metabolizes alcohol, as well as investigate the physical, mental and social consequences of alcohol abuse and addiction. We will also look at the relative rights and responsibilities of the consumers and producers of beer in the context of the need for society to ensure the safest environment possible for its citizens. On an individual level we will reflect on what, how and why we drink, if we choose to drink and how these decisions shape our experiences and worldviews


The Pursuit of Happiness

Instructor: Felix Fandoh

Are the “university years” the best years of your life? If the pursuit of happiness is so important to us, why do we subject ourselves to the stress and challenges of a university education? Are there ways to identify daily stressors and navigate a stress-free path? We humans spend much of our lives, deliberately and unconsciously, searching for ways that make us happy. In this course, we explore key concepts and determinants of happiness relevant to academic success, as well as stress buffers and management techniques. We will draw on scholarly texts in positive psychology, neurochemistry, physiology and then consider the pursuit of happiness from the perspective of the Canadian legal framework. Students will research and present their findings on various determinants of happiness and its relationship to academic success, participate in small group discussions and prepare a variety of written works on stress management and pursuit of happiness.


Being Human:The Bible to Blade Runner

Instructor: 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 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.


Stop & Smell the Roses

Instructor: 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?


I, Witness: Memoir & the Self

Instructor: Marina Endicott

Memory shapes everything we know, feel and think, and allows us to find new understanding. Memoir, the act of recording one’s own experience, is as old as cave-painting handprints and as new as TikTok and Instagram. Writing in the first person can be self-involved or bring illuminating perspective — pivotal events in human history come down to us in vivid life through eye-witness accounts from people who were there. In fact/fiction, text/spoken word, ranging from residential school survivors to recent immigrants, from childhood to old age, we will trace our selves and examine how we see others. Renowned Canadian writers working in memoir visit the class, and students research a public figure whose life tallies or contrasts their own ideas of human worth, to resonate with their own memoir project. Memory contests from Virgil to the police codes and a final TikTok tournament enliven our examination of how the I looks at the world, and how the world looks back at us.


Are we missing a chapter in the history of human civilization? 

Instructor: Michael Omoge

Archeologists have, for decades, maintained that human civilization has a relatively short history, dating back only to about 6,000 years ago, when our ancestors stopped being hunter-gatherers, developing agriculture and trade, which allowed them to have surplus food and economic stability, and effectively build societies. But recent evidence from Egypt, Turkey, Russia, the Amazon and so on thwarts this archaeological postulation. Together, the evidence pushes human civilization back to at least 12,000 years ago, suggesting that there is some 6,000-year gap. Does this gap imply that we are missing a chapter in the history of human civilization? Register to my FYS and find out!


Wolves: Representations & Realities

Instructor: Ingrid Urberg

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.


Protest! Why Bother?

Instructor: Kim Misfeldt

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.


We are all Migrants

Instructor: Glen Hvenegaard

“In the final analysis, we are all migrants, armed with a temporary residence permit for this Earth, each and every one of us incurably transient.” — Gazmend Kapllani

Arctic terns, caribou, monarch butterflies, pilgrims, snowbirds and refugees: what do they all have in common? Migration, of course! Migration is the movement of people or animals from one area to another. While some migrations are voluntary, some are forced; some occur regularly and some are sporadic (or even singular). Migration requires significant investments in time, money and/or energy to accomplish a goal: usually a better life. However, sometimes it’s not the destination that’s most meaningful: it’s the journey. This course examines both the natural and human examples of migrations, with a focus on their patterns, causes, timing and impacts. We will use social, economic, environmental, political and literary perspectives to explore the nature and meaning of migration. Our investigations will involve personal accounts of migration, as well as banding at the Beaverhill Bird Observatory.


Gods, Monsters, and Myths

Instructor: 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 truths.