Seminars

Seminar Offerings Link

Fall 2022 - Spring 2023 Seminars

Browse Seminars for 2022-2023!

Freshman Seminars are offered under the general supervision of the Standing Committee on Freshman Seminars. They are designed to intensify the intellectual experience of incoming undergraduates by allowing them to work closely with faculty members on topics of mutual interest.

Freshman seminars are graded SAT/UNS and may not be audited. Only students in their first-year in the College may take a seminar in either or both of the terms. Each seminar is worth 4 units of credit. Enrollment is limited to 12-15 students.

Is Privacy Dead? Privacy, Surveillance, and Freedom in the Digital Age

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2022

Lowry Pressly (Committee on Degrees in Social Studies)
Freshman Seminar 72W 4 credits (fall term) Enrollment: Limited to 12

Suppose that someone is listening to your phone calls and reading your emails, but you never find out and your life is never affected. What reason do you have to complain? Does it make a difference if it’s a neighbor, a lover, the state, or an algorithm listening in? What if you are the one posting the information on Facebook? Do we have a right not to be tracked, photographed, or surveilled in public? In this...

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Knowing Cicero

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2022

Jared M. Hudson (Department of the Classics)
Freshman Seminar 62L  4 credits (fall term)  Enrollment:  Limited to 12

Note: No prior knowledge of Cicero, Latin, or the ancient Roman world is assumed or required in order to take this seminar. The seminar will include a visit to Houghton Library to examine some of the library’s rare manuscripts of Cicero’s works.

More than any other...

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Language and Prehistory

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2022

Jay H. Jasanoff (Department of Linguistics)
Freshman Seminar 34X   4 credits (fall term)   Enrollment:  Limited to 12

It was discovered around 1800 that the major languages of Europe, along with the ancient languages of India and Iran, were descended from an unattested parent, formerly known as “Aryan” or “Indo-Germanic,” but today usually called Proto-Indo-European. The identification of the Indo-European family raised many questions, some purely linguistic (e.g.,...

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LGBT Life Stories

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2022

Linda Schlossberg (Committee on Degrees in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality)
Freshman Seminar 62R     4 credits (fall term)     Enrollment:  Limited to 12

In this seminar we'll read a range of classic LGBT life stories (memoirs, journals, diaries, essays, and autobiographies), beginning in the 1800s and ending in the present. We will study them as products of their specific historical moment, paying close attention to changing ideas about race...

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Looking for Clues. Ancient and Medieval Art @ Harvard

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2022

Eurydice Georganteli (Department of History of Art and Architecture)
Freshman Seminar 64I 4 credits (fall term) Enrollment:  Limited to 12

Objects are essential primary sources for the study of the past. They are imbued with tales of their makers, of societies in which they took shape, of customs and beliefs that lent them meaning, and of routes that facilitated their dissemination. In this interdisciplinary and highly interactive Freshman Seminar,...

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Major English and American Poets: Human Predicaments and Resolutions

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2022

Neil L. Rudenstine (Department of English)
Freshman Seminar 62I  4 credits (fall term)  Enrollment:  Limited to 12

This seminar will concentrate on poems that reveal or dramatize difficult human predicaments and individual responses to them. In the first week, for instance, we will discuss Hamlet’s “To be or not to be”; John Donne’s “Canonization”; Tennyson’s “Ulysses”: and T.S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock...

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Measurements of the Mind: The Creation and Critique of the Psychological Test

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2022

Marla Eby (Harvard Medical School)
Freshman Seminar 49N       4 credits (fall term)     Enrollment:  Limited to 12

This seminar will introduce students to the history of psychological tests, both from the point of view of the psychologists using them and the people tested. We will examine the creativity within psychology in the making of such tests, as well as the drawbacks and dangers...

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Media in American Politics

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2022

Matthew A. Baum (Harvard Kennedy School)
Freshman Seminar 41R  4 credits (fall term) Enrollment:  Limited to 12

This seminar considers the degree to which Americans' political opinions and actions are influenced by the media as well as the role of the media in contemporary politics and public policy. Topics to be covered include the role of the media in society, recent trends in the media, the question of how much influence the media “should” or “does” have on individuals and politics, the...

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Memory Wars: Cultural Trauma and the Power of Literature

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2022

Nicole A. Suetterlin (Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures)
Freshman Seminar 63L 4 credits (fall term) Enrollment:  Limited to 12

Note:This seminar includes a movie night and a visit to the Harvard Art Museums.

How do we respond to a traumatic event? Denial, acceptance, blame, reconciliation… there are many stances we can take toward a harmful act we have experienced or committed in the past. When entire populations have suffered or perpetrated...

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Metamorphoses of Life

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2022

(CANCELLED)
Daniel Carranza (Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures)
Freshman Seminar 64S     4 credits (fall term)     Enrollment:  Limited to 12 

If trees could speak, what would they say? How does that annoying fly buzzing around perceive the room you both inhabit – perceive you? And what kind of traumatic shock could transform you into a mute tree? Or lead you...

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Microbial Symbioses: From the Deep-Sea to the Human Microbiome

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2022

Colleen Cavanaugh (Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology)
Freshman Seminar 24Q     4 credits (fall term)     Enrollment:  Limited to 11

This seminar examines the remarkable diversity of microbial symbioses, ranging from giant tubeworms and lichens to the human microbiome, exploring their ecology, evolution, and roles in human health and disease, agriculture, and biotechnology. Microbial associations with animals (including humans...

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Migratory Identities

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2022

David Damrosch (Department of Comparative Literature)
Freshman Seminar 64O 4 credits (fall term) Enrollment:  Limited to 12

The world is being reshaped by waves of migration, as millions of people seek new social and economic opportunities, often fleeing war, political or religious oppression, or environmental degradation. Writers and filmmakers too have often migrated or gone into exile, and a wide range of modern and contemporary writing probes the...

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Models of the World: Explaining the Past and Predicting the Future

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2022

Nina Zipser (Department of Mathematics)
Freshman Seminar 51H  4 credits (fall term)  Enrollment:  Limited to 12

This freshmen seminar explains the concept and practice of social and natural science modeling. The seminar will address four fundamental questions: (1) What is a model? (2) How are models related to data? (3) How are models used to explain and predict events in the world, including counterfactuals? (4) How do models evolve over time? The course answers these questions with numerous case...

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Natural History Museums and the Anthropocene

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2022

Charles C. Davis (Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology)
Freshman Seminar 51S 4 credits (fall term) Enrollment:  Limited to 12

Natural history museums have inspired us for centuries and represent our best resources for understanding nature. They have been central to the development of countless scientific principles, including the theory of evolution itself. Yet the more inward facing missions of a museum are unfamiliar...

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Physics, Math and Puzzles

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2022

Cumrun Vafa (Department of Physics)
Freshman Seminar 23P     4 credits (fall term)     Enrollment:  Limited to 15

Physics is a highly developed branch of science with a broad range of applications. Despite the complexity of the universe the fundamental laws of physics are rather simple, if viewed properly. This seminar will focus on intuitive as well as mathematical underpinnings of some of the fundamental laws of nature. The seminar will use...

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Political Legitimacy and Resistance: What Happened in Montaigne’s Library on the Night of October 23, 1587, and Why Should Political Philosophers Care?

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2022

Arthur I. Applbaum (Harvard Kennedy School)
Freshman Seminar 48K    4 credits (fall term)   Enrollment:  Limited to 12

Note: All required reading will be in English.

After Henri of Navarre’s brilliant defeat of a Catholic army at the Battle of Coutras, the presumptive but contested Protestant heir to the French throne spent the night at the chateau of Michel...

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Political Violence and Power

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2022

William P. Whitham (Committee on the Social Studies)
Freshman Seminar 72O 4 credits (fall term) Enrollment:  Limited to 12

You were likely born after September 11th, 2001, the day of one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in world history. Since then, publics have often perceived terrorists as shadowy jihadis striking across state borders, armed with high-tech weapons and encrypted messaging apps. Yet political violence...

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Race, Science, and the Law: Knowledge and Power in the U.S. and Beyond

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2022

Sebastian Jackson (Committee on Degrees on Social Studies)
Freshman Seminar 72V          4 credits (fall term)       Enrollment:  Limited to 12

How have the natural and social sciences contributed to the cultural invention of “race” as a social fact of modernity, and to the historical development of structural racism? How has seemingly “objective” scientific knowledge concerning the diversity of...

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Reading the Novella: Form and Suspense in Short Fiction

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2022

Jonathan H. Bolton (Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures)
Freshman Seminar 61U     4 credits (fall term)     Enrollment:  Limited to 12

Short enough to read in a single sitting, but more complex and absorbing than short stories, novellas give us some of our most intense reading experiences. Indeed, many of the enduring classics of world literature, from Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilich to James Joyce’s The Dead,...

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Recent Experimental Architecture From AutoCAD to Ziggurat

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2022

Andrew J. Holder (Harvard Graduate School of Design)
Freshman Seminar 64Z 4 credits (fall term) Enrollment: Limited to 12

There is a paradox in contemporary architecture. It is designed using tools of astounding digital sophistication by architects grappling with a world of social inequities and impending environmental catastrophe. And yet, surveying the work of these architects, you would be forgiven for thinking it looks, well, ancient: ziggurats, stacks, rock piles, and...

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Religion and the Black Protest Tradition

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2022

Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham (Department of History and Department of African and African American Studies)
Freshman Seminar 72S     4 credits (fall term)     Enrollment:  Limited to 12

This seminar explores the long tradition of Black protest against racial discrimination and oppression in the United States by focusing on the role of religion, as represented by selected individuals, institutions, and movements for social change during the pre-Civil War Era, the Civil...

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Research at the Harvard Forest—Global Change Ecology: Forests, Ecosystem Function, and the Future

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2022

David Orwig (Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology)
Freshman Seminar 21W 4 credits (fall term) Enrollment:  Limited to 12

Note: Due to the course format of 3 weekends and a final symposium, students must be able to attend all class dates.
(Sept 9-11; Oct 7-9; Nov 4-6; Dec 4-5, Sun. evening to Monday afternoon)
Transportation, accommodations, and meals at the Harvard Forest will be provided at no cost to the student.

 

The seminar will...

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Rituals and Living the Good Life

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2022

Michael I. Norton (Harvard Business School)
Freshman Seminar 71Y     4 credits (fall term)     Enrollment:  Limited to 12

Why do we knock on wood for good luck? Why do we put birthday candles on cakes? Why do some cultures use black at funerals while others use only white? Why do teams perform team cheers before games? This class will explore the psychology of rituals – those odd, seemingly meaningless...

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Sea Monsters

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2022

Peter R. Girguis (Department of Organizational and Evolutionary Biology)
Freshman Seminar 50V  4 credits (fall term)  Enrollment:  Limited to 12

Note: If circumstances allow, there may be required field trips related to the sea. There will be no cost to the student.

There have always been tales of sea...

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Skepticism and Knowledge

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2022

Catherine Z. Elgin (Harvard Graduate School of Education)
Freshman Seminar 31J   4 credits (fall term)  Enrollment:  Limited to 12

What can we know and how can we know it?  Skeptics argue that knowledge is impossible.  Some non-skeptics dismiss skeptical arguments as idle.  But the motivation for Descartes' Meditations is his realization that, although he had received the best education in the world, much of what...

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Skin, Our Largest, Hottest, and Coolest Organ: From Cancer to Cosmetics

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2022

David E. Fisher (Harvard Medical School)
Freshman Seminar 51M 4 credits (fall term) Enrollment:  Limited to 12

Skin provides a protective barrier that is vital to survival of all multicellular organisms. Its physical properties have been exploited for centuries, from clothing to footballs, and yet skin is a vibrant and dynamic organ that responds to environmental signals in myriad ways. Skin protects humans from toxic exposures, but can also be an...

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Broadway Musicals: History and Performance

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2023

Carol Oja (Department of Music)
Freshman Seminar 34V  4 credits (spring term)  Enrollment:  Limited to 12

Note: Student musicians and actors are welcome in the course, as are students who love to watch shows but not necessarily perform in them. Ability to read music is desirable but not required.

This seminar will explore a core group of Broadway musicals. Historical, musical, and...

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Caravaggio, Outrageous

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2023

Peter J. Burgard (Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures)
Freshman Seminar 64R  4 credits (spring term)  Enrollment:  Limited to 12

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, known simply as Caravaggio, is widely held to be one of the greatest painters of all time. He painted primarily religious subjects. And yet he was in his own time (turn of the 17th century) and remains one of the most controversial of all painters, many...

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Changing Perspectives: The Science of Optics in the Visual Arts

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2023

Aravinthan D. T. Samuel (Department of Physics)   
Freshman Seminar 51X     4 credits (spring term)     Enrollment:  Limited to 8

Renaissance artists began to create stunningly realistic representations of their world. Paintings started to resemble photographs, suggesting that artists had solved technical problems that escaped their forebears. Our brains effortlessly deduce three-...

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Democracy and Education in America

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2023

Robert B. Willison (Committee on Degrees in Social Studies)
Freshman Seminar 72D    4 credits (spring term)     Enrollment:  Limited to 12

Cheerful illusions and wish fulfillment have dominated both popular and scholarly thought about democracy for two centuries. Democratic theory has sailed along as if no iceberg had struck and the engine room were not taking on water…Our view is that conventional thinking about democracy has collapsed in the face of modern social-scientific research.
(Achen and Bartels, Democracy...

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Fun With Writing

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2023

Phillip Howze (Department of Theater, Dance, and Media)
Freshman Seminar 64Q 4 credits (spring term) Enrollment:  Limited to 12

Writing can be fun. By “writing”, we don’t only mean the act of putting pen to paper, or fingers to computer keys to type. Writing is the ancient, conscious act of choosing words or texts or images and composing them in such a way to create an intended effect. Yes, writing is an intentional process… but not one which has to be necessarily painstaking. What...

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Generating Biodiversity: Hands-On Research Experience in Speciation Biology

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2023

Robin Hopkins (Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology)
Freshman Seminar 51R    4 credits (spring term)   Enrollment:  Limited to 12

Note: The goal of this seminar is to provide an authentic research experience to students fascinated by biological diversity. Most classes will be held at The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. Transportation will be provided at no cost to the student.

What is a species and how do they evolve? How do we, as scientists, study the process of speciation and the generation of...

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Genesis of Stars and Life in the Universe

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2023

Abraham Loeb (Department of Astronomy)
Freshman Seminar 21G    4 credits (spring term)    Enrollment:  Limited to 15
(This seminar will have two separate sections.)

Since the Universe is expanding, it must have been denser in the past. But even before we get all the way back to the Big Bang, there must have been a time when stars like our Sun did not exist because the Universe was denser than they are. Since stars are needed to keep...

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Holding Politicians Accountable

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2023
 Julie Anne Weaver (Department of Government and Committee on Degrees in Social Studies)
Freshman Seminar 71O  4 credits (spring term)  Enrollment:  Limited to 12

Across the world, massive street protests and growing disdain for politics not only suggest high citizen dissatisfaction with politicians’ performance—from poor public services, high corruption, and increasing crime—but highlight the difficulty of holding politicians accountable to the voters who put them in office....

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Insights from Narratives of Illness

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2023

Jerome E. Groopman (Harvard Medical School)
Freshman Seminar 23K     4 credits (spring term)     Enrollment:  Limited to 12

A physician occupies a unique perch, regularly witnessing life’s great mysteries: the miracle of birth, the perplexing moment of death, and the struggle to find meaning in suffering. It is no wonder that narratives of illness have been of interest to both physician and non-...

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Is There Cancer on Mars?

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2023

Giovanni Parmigiani (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health)
Freshman Seminar 52J     4 credits (spring term)       Enrollment:  Limited to 12

In 2021, a special committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) convened to “review and assess NASA's processes for long-term risk assessment and management for currently anticipated...

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Legacies of a Powerful Woman: The Life and Afterlife of Empress Theodora

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2023

Alexander Riehle (Department of the Classics)
Freshman Seminar 64W         4 credits (spring term) Enrollment:  Limited to 12

One of the most controversial women of ancient and medieval history is Theodora, wife of Justinian I and empress of the Roman Empire in the 6th century CE. She has been variously portrayed as a hypersexual prostitute and power-hungry, vindictive manipulator, or as a saint,...

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Lyric Poetry: East and West, Then and Now

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2023

Gordon Teskey (Department of English)
Freshman Seminar 64P     4 credits (spring term)     Enrollment:  Limited to 12

An introductory seminar on lyric poetry, with close reading of poems from four continents: Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. Poetry not in English will be translated but students with competence in foreign languages are welcome to work with the originals. 

We start...

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Narrative Negotiations: How do Readers and Writers Decide on What are the Most Important Voices and Values Represented in a Narrative?

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2023

Homi K. Bhabha (Department of English and Department of Comparative Literature)
Freshman Seminar 63N    4 credits (fall term)     Enrollment:  Limited to 12

Narrative Negotiations explores narrative “voice” in a wide range of literary and cultural texts. Narrative voice is a lively dialogue between the author and the reader as they engage in the experience of determining the value and veracity of the narrative: whose story is it anyway? The writer...

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Science and Technology Primer for Future Leaders

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2023

Hongkun Park (Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology and Department of Physics)
Freshman Seminar 52E 4 credits (spring term) Enrollment:  Limited to 12

We live in a world that is shaped by science and technology. As a modern citizen who will lead the U.S. and the world in the coming generation, we should be aware of the rapidly changing landscape of science and technology and be ready to participate in the decision-making processes for deploying these...

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The Amazing Brain

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2023

(CANCELLED)

John E. Dowling (Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology)
Freshman Seminar 22M  4 credits (spring term)  Enrollment:  Limited to 15

Prerequisite:  High school science.

Note: The class will run only 2 hours within the time block. Professor Dowling especially...

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The Creative Work of Translating

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2023

Stephanie Sandler (Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures)
Freshman Seminar 36G   4 credits (spring term)   Enrollment:  Limited to 15

Prerequisite: The seminar will require some knowledge of one language besides English. Please feel free to contact Professor Sandler (ssandler@fas.harvard.edu) if you are unsure about this. If circumstances permit, there will be at least one required field trip to the Isabella...

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The Evolutionary Transition from Dinosaurs to Birds: Fossils, Genomes and Behavior

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2023

Scott Edwards (Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology)
Freshman Seminar 21R    (spring term)       Enrollment:  Limited to 12

The transition of dinosaurs to birds is quickly becoming one of the most complete records of evolutionary change in the vertebrate fossil record. Additionally, it is an excellent model of science building on incremental discoveries and undergoing paradigm shifts as new data are collected. In this seminar we will...

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The Grail Quest of Marcel Proust

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2023

Virginie Greene (Department of Romance Languages and Literatures)
Freshman Seminar 60K 4 credits (fall term) Enrollment:  Limited to 12

This seminar is an introduction to literature, the visual arts, the Harvard campus, and the Boston area.

We will read entirely Chrétien de Troyes’ Tale of the Grail (c. 1190), and excerpts of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time (1913-1922). Students will be invited to reflect on young Perceval's adventures coming to Camelot,...

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The Heart of Medicine: Patients and Physicians and the Experience of Serious Illness in the Age of COVID-19

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2023

Susan D. Block (Harvard Medical School)
Freshman Seminar 71O 4 credits (spring term) Enrollment:  Limited to 12

Note: If circumstances permit, additional field learning opportunities (e.g., participation in hospital-based teaching rounds) will also be available outside of class.

Sickness and death are universal human experiences.  Although the COVID-19 pandemic has brought this reality home, in many difficult ways, to all of us over the past 2 years, thinking about our own losses and vulnerability and...

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The Life Project

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2022

Carrie Lambert-Beatty (Department of History of Art and Architecture and of Visual and Environmental Studies)
Freshman Seminar 30X  4 credits (spring term)  Enrollment:  Limited to 12
                                    

Note: This seminar is for anyone interested in...

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The Role of Government

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2023

Oliver D. Hart (Department of Economics)
Freshman Seminar 42C  4 credits (spring term)   Enrollment:  Limited to 12

Economists have a very positive view of the role of markets. The intellectual foundations of this are the first and second theorems of welfare economics. The purpose of the seminar is to introduce the students to these results but also to their limitations....

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The Seven Sins of Memory

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2023

Daniel L. Schacter (Department of Psychology)
Freshman Seminar 23S 4 credits (spring term)      Enrollment:  Limited to 12

How do we remember and why do we forget? Can we trust our memories? How is memory affected by misinformation such as “fake news”? Do smartphones and the Internet help our memories or hurt them? Are traumatic experiences especially well remembered or are they poorly remembered? What are the best ways to study for exams? This seminar will... Read more about The Seven Sins of Memory

Vegetal Humanities: Paying Attention to Plants in Contemporary Art and Culture

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2023

Carrie Lambert-Beatty (Department of History of Art and Architecture and Department of Art, Film, and Visual Studies)
Freshman Seminar 63W 4 credits (spring term) Enrollment:  Limited to 12

This class invites you to practice a new kind of plant-consciousness. Our guides will be contemporary artists and thinkers who are encouraging new relationships between human and vegetal life, or recalling very old ones. Suddenly, we have plant protagonists, gardens...

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More Questions?


Hours: Monday-Friday, 9:00AM-5:00PM
1414 Massachusetts Avenue, 3rd Floor,
located in the Bank of America building next to the Coop
(use HUID to access the elevator)
Email: seminars@fas.harvard.edu
Tel: 617-495-1523