Seminars

Seminar Offerings Link

Fall 2020 - Spring 2021 Seminars

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.

Advice to Young Leaders

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020

David R. Armitage (Department of History)
Freshman Seminar 40J     4 credits (fall term)     Enrollment:  Limited to 12

Our current crisis has starkly exposed the strengths and weaknesses of leaders around the world and in local communities. Meanwhile, questions of leadership will be front and center as we head towards November's elections in the US. What makes a good leader has been subject to debate for at least two thousand years, especially in the many classic works of political and ethical theory in the western tradition that were written for young people about to enter public service... Read more about Advice to Young Leaders

All of Physics in 13 Days

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020

John M. Doyle (Department of Physics)
Freshman Seminar 23Y 4 credits (fall term) Enrollment: Limited to 8

Some claim that there are 13 ideas or principles that can form the bedrock for a pretty good understanding of our physical and technological world. These are: 1) Boltzmann factor and thermal equilibrium, 2) Turbulence, 3) Reaction rates, 4) Indistinguishable particles, 5) Quantum waves, 6) Linearity, 7) Entropy and information, 8) Discharges, ionization, 9)...

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American Presidential Campaigns and Elections 1960-2020

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020

Maxine Isaacs (Department of Government)
Freshman Seminar 41P         4 credits (fall term)      Enrollment: Limited to 16

For two hours each week, students will work to understand the history, forces and politics of American presidential campaigns and elections.  Each student will be “responsible” for one presidential election between 1960 and 2020, and, together, members of the seminar will develop some perspective on dramatic changes as well as enduring factors that have shaped our own times, issues...

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Americans at Work in the Age of Robots and Artificial Intelligence

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020

Benjamin M. Friedman (Department of Economics)
Freshman Seminar 71G  4 credits (fall term)  Enrollment:  Limited to 12

Where will the coming generation of Americans (say, today's 18-year-olds) find jobs? And will the jobs be worth having? People have worried about losing their jobs to technology at least since the Luddites 200 years ago. In the aggregate, they have been wrong. The automobile put lots of stable boys and saddle makers out of work, but it created vastly more...

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Asian American Literature

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020

Catherine H. Nguyen (Committee on Degrees in History & Literature)
Freshman Seminar 64E    4 credits (fall term)     Enrollment:  Limited to 12

What is Asian American literature? Recently, Asian American literature has been increasingly visible with the 2016 Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer and with the many New York Times best sellers by Asian American writers. Asian American literature is...

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Back to the Future: How the Past Imagined the Cities of Tomorrow

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020

Bruno M. Carvalho (Department of Romance Languages and Literatures)
Freshman Seminar 62Y     4 credits (fall term)     Enrollment:  Limited to 12

What will the cities of tomorrow be like? How did people in the past imagine our cities would be like? Our ability to foretell the future, it turns out, has a mostly poor record so far. And yet, predictions, visions and expectations can teach us a lot about how people make sense of their...

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Biology of Symbiosis: From the Deep-Sea to the Human Microbiome

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020

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

Symbioses–"living together" with microbes–are ubiquitous in nature, with powerful effects on the physiology, ecology, and evolution of all living organisms. The diversity of symbioses drives biological innovation, challenging us to think about life on earth at a different/new level.... Read more about Biology of Symbiosis: From the Deep-Sea to the Human Microbiome

Black Holes, String Theory and the Fundamental Laws of Nature

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020

Andrew E. Strominger (Department of Physics)
Freshman Seminar 21V     4 credits (fall term)     Enrollment:  Limited to 12

The quest to understand the fundamental laws of nature has been ongoing for centuries. This seminar will assess the current status of this quest. In the first five weeks we will cover the basic pillars of our understanding: Einstein’s theory of general relativity, quantum mechanics and the Standard Model of particle...

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Bob Dylan

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020

Richard Thomas (Department of the Classics)
Freshman Seminar 37U     4 credits (fall term)     Enrollment:  Limited to 15

“’Twas a dark day in Dallas.” So begins the nearly 17-minute song Bob Dylan delivered on March 27, 2020, a gift to a world in the grip of Covid-19. With its Shakespearean title “Murder Most Foul” is, in part, about the assassination of JFK, and...

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California in the 60's

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020

Kate van Orden (Department of Music)
Freshman Seminar 30M    4 credits (fall term)  Enrollment:  Limited to 13

This seminar examines American youth culture in the "long" 1960s through the lens of music in California. A range of popular and art music will be considered, from San Francisco psychedelia, L.A. rock-n-roll, surf rock, outlaw country, funk, and the ballads of singer-songwriters to the early minimalism of Steve...

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Challenges to International Monetary and Financial Stability in Historical Perspective

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020

Kenneth S. Rogoff (Department of Economics)
Freshman Seminar 40X     4 credits (fall term)     Enrollment:  Limited to 12

This seminar explores contemporary debates on the future of the international monetary and financial system drawing on both historical and recent experiences. Topics will include understanding the underpinning and aftermath of sovereign defaults, financial crises and high inflation over...

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Changing Our Mind: Evolving Thoughts on Brain Regeneration

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020

Paola Arlotta (Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology)
Freshman Seminar 26O   4 credits (fall term)  Enrollment:  Limited to 12

We will discuss current theories on brain regeneration in a dynamic setting that combines brainstorming of the literature with virtual experiences in the laboratory. Students will learn experiments that have shaped the field of brain repair and consider the newest theories on ways to regenerate the nervous system. We will also...

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CIA Operations in the Global Cold War

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020

Beatrice T. Wayne (Committee on Degrees in History & Literature)
Freshman Seminar BWX    4 credits (fall term)     Enrollment:  Limited to 12

What was the secret side of US foreign policy during the global Cold War? This seminar uses empirically grounded readings from across the Americas, Africa and Asia to understand the impact of the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) covert operations on governments,...

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Complexity in Works of Art: Ulysses and Hamlet

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020

Philip J. Fisher (Department of English)
Freshman Seminar 33X 4 credits (fall term) Enrollment:  Limited to 12

Is the complexity, the imperfection, the difficulty of interpretation, the unresolved meaning found in certain great and lasting works of literary art a result of technical experimentation? Or is the source of this extreme complexity psychological, metaphysical, or spiritual?  Does it result...

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Death and Immortality

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020

Cheryl K. Chen (Department of Philosophy)
Freshman Seminar 30Q  4 credits (fall term)  Enrollment: Limited to 12

In this seminar, we will discuss philosophical questions about death and immortality. What is death? Is there a moral difference between "brain death" and the irreversible loss of consciousness? Is the classification of a person as dead a moral judgment, or is it an entirely scientific matter? Is death a misfortune to the person who dies? How can death be a misfortune...

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Death: Its Nature and Significance

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020

Jeffrey Behrends (Department of Philosophy)
Freshman Seminar 60S     4 credits (fall term)     Enrollment:  Limited to 12

Here's a hard truth: you are going to die. That's nothing against you, of course. I'm going to die, too, and so is everyone else—it's just the way of things for creatures like us. Yet, despite the central role that death plays in our existence, it seems to remain deeply...

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Exploring the Infinite

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020

W. Hugh Woodin (Department of Mathematics and Department of Philosophy)
Freshman Seminar 23C 4 credits (fall term) Enrollment:  Limited to 12

Infinity captivates the imagination. A child stands between two mirrors and sees herself reflected over and over again, smaller and smaller, trailing off to infinity. Does it go on forever? Does anything go on forever?  Does life go on forever?...

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GeoSciFi Movies: Real vs. Fiction

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020

Miaki Ishii (Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences)
Freshman Seminar 23I 4 credits (fall term) Enrollment:  Limited to 14

Natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and volcanic eruptions have major impact on society and cause great tragedies. The participants in this seminar will examine one Earth-science related science fiction movie each week and discusses features that are real and fictitious based upon our current understanding of the science of disastrous...

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History, Nationalism, and the World: the Case of Korea

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020

Sun Joo Kim (Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations)
Freshman Seminar 43W     4 credits (fall term)     Enrollment:  Limited to 12

This seminar will explore the quandary that faces all historians: To what extent is the understanding of past episodes influenced by current politics and to what extent is current politics influenced by people's understanding of the past? In the study of Korean history, this question is particularly...

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Language and Prehistory

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020

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., what was Proto-Indo-...

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Language: The Origins of Meaning

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020

Gennaro Chierchia (Department of Linguistics)
Freshman Seminar 61Q    4 credits (fall term)     Enrollment:  Limited to 12

How do languages work? Why are they so distinctly human in the natural world? Is language a creation of our intelligence, i.e. we speak, because we are smart, or the other way around? Birds produce sophisticated songs. Do bird songs mean anything? They do, in some way. They serve, for example, as predator warnings or mating calls. Humans...

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LGBT Life Stories

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020

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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Literature of Epidemics and Pandemics: Tackling Oppression

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020

Karen L. Thornber (Department of Comparative Literature and Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations)
Freshman Seminar 64C    4 credits (fall term)     Enrollment:  Limited to 15

Wherever you live—whether in the United States, Asia, or anywhere in-between; whether in an isolated rural community, a booming megacity, or anywhere in-between—it is almost certain that your life has been affected...

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Making Places and Spaces in Modern America

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020

Lizabeth Cohen (Department of History)
Freshman Seminar 71P     4 credits (fall term)     Enrollment:  Limited to 12

How did a home in 1945 compare to one in 2000? Did the opening of shopping malls in the 1950s change people’s consumer habits? What made living in suburbs similar to and dissimilar from cities? How did various work and leisure settings alter people’s attitudes toward labor and play? In what ways was traveling by airplane from airports different from transit by train?... Read more about Making Places and Spaces in Modern America

Marvelous Markets: From Airbnb to Feeding the Hungry

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020

Scott Duke Kominers (Harvard Business School)
Freshman Seminar 72K  4 credits (fall term)  Enrollment:  Limited to 12

Markets are everywhere, but they don’t always work the way we want them to. While economists’ “ideal” markets are supposed to find their way to socially optimal outcomes, real-world markets often fall far short. Valuable goods don’t always reach the people who want to buy them; prices don’t always match up across venues; and jobs can be hard...

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Memory Wars: Cultural Trauma and the Power of Literature

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020

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

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 suffered or committed in the past. When entire populations have suffered or perpetrated crimes against humanity, the question of how to deal with this traumatic past can spark...

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

Semester: 

Fall

Offered: 

2020

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 (i.e., what would happen if we conducted military campaigns differently)? (...

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Water Rights in the Americas

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2021

James V. Mestaz (Committee on Degrees in History & Literature)
Freshman Seminar 64D    4 credits (spring term)     Enrollment:  Limited to 12

Water is life, but is it a human right? Water use is a contentious issue globally because we rely on water for nearly every productive activity, but it is often scarce and not distributed equally. In this seminar, we will examine the...

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What Is Avant-Garde?

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2021

Nariman Skakov (Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures)
Freshman Seminar 63T 4 credits (spring term) Enrollment:  Limited to 12

Avant-garde art sometimes seems to make a complete break from the art that precedes it. The very name, ‘avant-garde’ (from French, literally ‘advance guard’) carries military connotations that suggest a total, violent break with the past. Our seminar will look at another side of this radical...

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Why We Animals Sing

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2021

Brian D. Farrell (Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology)
Freshman Seminar 22T    4 credits (spring term)    Enrollment:  Limited to 12

We do not sing alone. On land, four kinds of animals produce songs or calls: birds, frogs, mammals, and insects. Some of these (and fish) also do so underwater. The principal sounds such animal species make are signaling behaviors directly related to mating success. They are of individuals, usually males, marking...

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Work: An Audio/Visual Exploration

Semester: 

Spring

Offered: 

2021

THIS SEMINAR HAS BEEN CANCELLED FOR SPR 2021.
 

Robb Moss (Department of Art, Film, and Visual Studies) 
Freshman Seminar 38X    4 credits (spring term)    Enrollment:  Limited to 10

What is work? Something we do to earn a living? Is rehabbing from a sports injury work? Raising your children? Mowing the lawn? Does intellectual work have the same quality as physical labor? What do we mean when we refer to a painting as a "work of art," or a...

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Hours: Monday-Friday, 9:00AM-5:00PM
Email: seminars@fas.harvard.edu
Tel: 617-495-1523