• First-Year Seminar

  • FY Seminar


    First-Year Writing and First-Year Seminar will introduce you to the vibrant intellectual community you'll be a part of at Yeshiva College and support you as you find your own way in the classroom, throughout campus and around New York City. Students in these courses will develop their ability to think critically; communicate effectively; and find, synthesize and share important information. Each class will utilize the process of inquiry to challenge, interpret and contextualize different points of view.  Some of the Seminar courses offered are detailed below. Please check back here for our upcoming offerings.

    FYSM Course Descriptions

    Carin White, Exploring Hamlet

    This course has two aims. One aim is to examine Hamlet as theater, touching upon its historical context and looking at its resonance today. The second, but no lesser aim, is to look at how research is employed in the field of theatre. Through the study of the play Hamlet, students use their understanding of research in the theatre discipline and form their own research projects.  Film, visual art, visiting artists, and outside texts will be used to supplement the course.

    Elizabeth Stewart: City Comedies and Fantasies

    Requirements:  2 short (2-3 page papers), 1 research oral presentation, 1 research paper (15-20 pp.), leading class discussions, final exam.

    Comic and fantastic treatments in literature and film of the human experience in cities. The course will examine four categories of representations: 1. The Young and the Historical City: Dickens’s comic and sentimental treatments of 19th century industrial London and Salman Rushdie’s comic and parodic treatment of Dickensian London in his post-modern work, The Satanic Verses; 2. The Modern and Futuristic City: Charlie Chaplin’s comic and critical treatment of industrial urban life in Modern Times; and Metropolis (film), the 1927 urban dystopia representing the City as social crisis; 3. The Phantasmatic City, the City-Mindscape, the City invading the human mind and sensorium itself; this section of the course investigates the ways in which individual perception has been transformed by new orders of urban reality and in which humankind has come to regard the city as an extension of itself, an enigmatic living organism to be explored; works by Calvino, Bely, Pynchon, Auster, as well as the film The Matrix; 4. The Apocalyptic City: focus on apocalyptic science fiction (William Gibson, Greg Bear, J.G. Ballard) and works about post-9/11 New York City. Excursions within NYC will complement our readings and discussions.  

    Joanne Jacobson:  Telling American Selves 

    “Autobiography is a necessity, or almost a necessity … to say who we are and where we’ve been.”  (Robert F. Sayre, “Autobiography and America”)

    What drives writers toward the first-person; to create narratives in which they tell themselves?  Are there particularly American conditions that feed this hunger to write—and to read—personal narrative?  Can a writer’s construction of her/his own life in writing be true? In this course we will be “interrogating” autobiography as we read together personal narratives written in the United States since the end of the seventeenth century.  We’ll be thinking together about why human beings are drawn to remember their own lives and to give them shape in narrative. We’ll be exploring the cultural conditions especially amenable to the emergence of autobiography as a form.  And we’ll be examining autobiography as an arena in which diverse versions of “American” lives, experience and values that have been—and continue to be—written, tested, challenged, and re-written. We will also have the opportunity to do some autobiographical writing of our own; to act as editors and critical commentators on another person’s “self-story”; and to visit a museum exhibition to see how some contemporary visual artists expand our notion of “autobiography.”

    Manfred Weidhorn, The Cult(ure) of Individualism 

    Modern society destroys or diminishes traditional loyalties and leaves the individual on his own; it concurrently adopts the rule of “one person, one vote.” The divinely ordained  “way for you to go” is replaced by the secular “go your own way.” Instead of duties and responsibilities, one has rights and choices. That change results in tension, whether it be between the individual and society or  the individual and God (or universe). Korach in the Bible embodies both forms of rebellion: against Moses’s leadership and, by extension, God’s will. From a traditional perspective, he is a traitor, an arch-rebel deserving of extermination. But from a modern perspective, he merely is what would now be called (in England) Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition or (in America) a rugged individualist.    

    Confining ourselves to the golden age of the literature of individualism—the second half of the nineteenth century, when writers were brimming with the joy of discovery and liberation—we will focus on landmark expressions of this early modern idea, by blending theory with application, lecture with experiment, expository prose with fiction, philosophic inquiry with dramatic portrayal. We will grapple with such questions as: What in the new outlook sounds reasonable and what is potentially corrosive or even destructive; what is feasible and what unrealistic; and, above all, how does this new view help shape “modern” culture? The aim is, of course, not to convince the reader of the legitimacy of the claims made but to have him understand the presentations. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the ideas, one has to come to grips with them, for they are foundation stones of our world.


    Johanna Lane, Immigrant Fiction 

    In this course, you will closely study a variety of authors who write about what it is to leave their home country and encounter a new one. “Immigrant Fiction” aims to give you a glimpse of the work fiction writers do, from how they locate themselves within their cultural presents and pasts, to how they go about putting the nuts and bolts of their work together. This course aims to prepare you to write college research papers, so the majority of your writing will be expository (i.e. analyzing and making arguments) and the course will culminate in a research paper on an immigrant fiction text.

    Chaviva Levin, Jewish Travelers and Travel Narratives 

    In this First Year Seminar we will examine Jewish travelers and travel narratives. The course will begin with the experiences of medieval Jewish travelers, asking questions about the role of travel in medieval Jewish life and the conditions and contexts of such travel.  We will then turn to the narratives composed by medieval and early modern Jewish travelers, considering what questions can be asked of medieval Jewish travel narratives and what those narratives reveal about their authors and their authors’ concerns. We will consider these travel writings in context, comparing them to travel writings by Muslims and Christians. Finally, we will consider some instances of modern Jewish travel, raising questions about their similarities and differences to the medieval and early modern context. Writing is a critical component of this First Year Seminar; will approach writing both as a tool for learning and as a skill to be learned.

    Raji Viswanathan, Our DNA: Influence on Health and Society 

    This course will introduce you to key scientific breakthroughs beginning with Gregor Mendel’s discovery of the laws of heredity and their rediscovery, recognition of the DNA as the hereditary material, the elucidation of the structure of DNA by Watson and Crick in 1953, the Human Genome Project, and the current status of our understanding of the human genome over five decades after the Watson and Crick’s discovery.  We will see how this has revolutionized our understanding of the cell, the fundamental unit of a living organism, and how this has influenced and continues to influence the world of medicine, from diagnosis to drug design, and our society, from tracing our ancestry to solving crimes.  This course does not assume any college background in the sciences and will be presented in an understandable way to students with limited knowledge in the biological sciences. Students without any college level background in the sciences are particularly encouraged to take this course.

    Michael Strauss, Business Communications 

    This course asks students to think about business and professional communication in an academic context.  By examining and participating in real-world writing and speaking situations, students will learn about rhetorical context, audience, collaboration, outcomes, and self-evaluation.  The communications skills covered in this course include sentence-level writing, report writing, organization, PowerPoint, oral communication, and professional presentation.  Students will also practice email, cover letter, memo, and resume writing in preparation for future professional situations and as a means to self-discovery.  Two sections of this course are being offered, and while each is slightly different because of the different styles of the instructors, both courses use the same textbook, require the same assignments, and cover the same material.  The material covered in this course can be relevant to students of any major or intended profession, but it is particularly designed for students in the Syms School.

    Utku Sezgin, Ethnicity and New York City 

    This is a course about New York. We will, however, always keep in mind the bigger picture as well: namely, the issues of American identity, immigration into the United States, and the assimilation process of immigrants and their children in the United States.It is about how these newcomers and their children (the second generation) settle down and try to incorporate themselves into the city’s social, political, and economic life. The assimilation of immigrants is a two-way street. The result of migration is not just an alteration in the culture, habits, and identity of immigrants. Migration also results in a change in the nature of the receiving society: in our case, New York City. New York (like America) has made and remade itself repeatedly throughout its history as a result of immigration. After all, there was a time in New York history when a bagel was an exotic food. We will be discussing the history and the present of the “peopling of New York.” We will compare the new immigrants and their children to their predecessors. Thus, one of our aims will be a comparison of multiple eras of immigration to New York.

    Another one of our learning goals is to ascertain how migration changes the migrants, their children, and the receiving society socially, politically, economically, and culturally. How is the first generation of immigrants different from their children? How does New York receive immigrants? Does the city adapt to the immigrants just as the immigrants adapt to the city? What kinds of links are maintained by the immigrants with the “home country?” How does that affect their acculturation?  Our special focus will be on the second generation (the US born children of immigrants). The future consequences of immigration cannot be determined by an analysis of the immigrants alone. It is the children of immigrants who will determine the fate of the city and the receiving country. They will differ from their parents and merge into the receiving society, while remaking that receiving society in their own image.
    Another question is, will they do better than their parents and the native born children of native New Yorkers/Americans, socio-economically speaking? Or will they get left behind? Will they come to be involved in New York politics just as heavily as previous generations of immigrants did? Or will they be excluded? 
    We will also conduct a class project where you will do basic and simple but hands-on research, write a term paper detailing your methods and findings, which you will also present to your fellow students. I will help you along in this process. The aim is to provide you with a learning process that is creative and academic. You will learn how to conduct interviews in the process and relate that material to the literature. This will be a valuable experience where you hone your research skills. But these will still be basic and informal. No prior knowledge of research or social science is required.

    Will Lee, East/West 

    We will focus on Western and Eastern works that helped define their societies, relying on an interdisciplinary approach that combines literary, historical, and anthropological perspectives.  We will begin with the ancient world:  Mesopotamian Gilgamesh, Homer’s Odyssey, and Chinese poetry, then move on to Kalidasa’s Sakuntala and the Ring of Recollection, T’ang poetry, Dante’s Inferno, Machiavelli’s Prince, and Shakespeare’s Hamlet.  Can we make meaningful overall distinctions between early Eastern and Western masterpieces?  Do these works reflect their cultures or help construct them or both?  Clearly we can interpret any text without any cultural or historical knowledge, but in what ways is such an interpretation valid?

    Barbara Blatner, Family Dramas on Stage and Page 
    Family is origin: what and how we learn in family life is a large part of the blueprint of who we are as adults in the world. Family relationships are sometimes the most conflicted and often the most intensely meaningful ones we have. The story of our “life-unison” with our family and our particular rupturing of that unison is at the heart of many of our stories and resonates far beyond childhood. Writers write about family because these core relationships, these “long, strange rapport[s],” are perennially transformative.

    This semester we will explore how selected poets, playwrights and fiction writers portray dramas of family life. This course is writing-intensive, so you will write essays related to the families we read about and to your own family or families close to you.  Because this course fulfills a literature requirement and will introduce you to the analysis of literature as an academic discipline, we will derive this term’s activities - discussions, exploratory and inventive writing, development of written and oral arguments, investigations of primary and secondary source materials – from our readings and from your research.  

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