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Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty of Arts
April 26, 2015
Canadian Excellence

First Year Seminars in Fall 2014 and Winter 2015

Interested in a small, thought-provoking and engaging class? Try one of our First Year Seminars!

First Year Seminars provide an intensive and collaborative, small-group learning experience in which students develop core academic skills in research, critical thinking, writing and communication.  Topics or themes vary among seminars and instructors, but all seminars promote the acquisition of skills necessary for academic work in the humanities and social sciences.  Available only to first-year students in the Faculty of Arts. (*Note: First year Arts students are only able to enroll in one (0.50 credit) First Year Seminar course during their first year of study). 

  • No more than 22 students per class
  • Counts as 0.5 elective credits towards your degree
  • Interactive, thought-provoking and engaging!

Fall 2014 First Year Seminar offerings:


AF101C Battle: A History.  W 9:30 am - 12:20 pm

Instructor: Dr. Darryl Dee

Course Description:

In this seminar, we will explore eleven of the most famous  battles in world history. We will study these battles not only as important episodes in military history but also for what they can tell us about thestates, societies and cultures that fought them. Through weekly readings and discussions, we will examine such topics as the experience of battle;leadership and generalship; courage and cowardice; injury and trauma; morality in war and war crimes; and memory and commemoration. Finally, we will learn that history is not just “facts”; it is interpretation, analysis and argument.Students in this course must also be enrolled in HI123 Great Battles in History 


AF101D Imaginings of Disaster.   TR 2:30 - 3:50 pm

Instructor: Dr. Penelope Ironestone

Course Description:

For many of us, disasters are fortunately not things we experience first-hand. Instead, they are events we hear about, read about or see in mediated ways, be it in newspapers, movies or books, or on television or the internet. In this interdisciplinary course, which will combine the development of critical readings, writing and thinking skills with critical media literacy skills, we will explore the ways that disasters are mediated for us and the meanings we make of these representations. We will look at the ways that natural disasters, such as earthquakes and tsunamis, and so-called human made disasters, such as large-scale nuclear accidents or smaller-scale accidents of planes, trains and automobiles, are made sense of in a variety of media and critically reflect on the effects they have for notions of personal and collective risk and security, and for what has come to be known as “panic culture” “disaster culture” or “security culture.”


AF101E Imaginative Writing.  T 9:30 am - 12:20 pm

Instructor: Dr. Tanis MacDonald

Course Description:

This course is designed to introduce students to the practice of creative and rhetorical writing through readings of reading short fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction as models and as catalysts. The course will include an ongoing discussion of how to read like a writer, how to explore a wide variety of styles and methods, and in addition, will offer opportunities for writing practice in short assignments designed to broaden students' skills and abilities. The dual guiding principals of the course will be the examination of how language works in written forms and the experimentation with a variety of literary styles.


AF101H My Life Among the Apes.   M 9:30 am - 12:20 pm

Instructor: Brooke Pratt

Course Description:

This particular first year seminar is organized around My Life Among the Apes by Cary Fagan, which is also the book chosen this year for the Faculty of Arts Common Reading Program.  All incoming students will have received a copy of this book over the summer, and this seminar will allow students to learn about and appreciate the short stories in this collection, as well as critically engage with them in a course context.


AF101J Finding Jack the Ripper.   MW 1:30 - 2:50 pm

Instructor: Dr. Amy Milne-Smith

Course Description:

"Jack the Ripper: is probably the most famous serial killer in history.  The crimes committed in 1888 were never solved, there were few clues, and no one was ever charged with the crimes. Even the name "Jack the Ripper" came from a letter sent to the Central News Agency that was widely dismissed as a hoax. The graphic murder of part-time prostitutes in the East End of London terrified residents for years to come, and it continues to haunt our popular imagination.  The killings in Whitechapel, while horrific, were neither the most graphic, numerous, or unusual the world had ever seen - so why does this mystery continue to resonate?  In this course we will see why the very lack of real information allows this case to stand in for a society's deepest fears and anxieties.  Because of enormous popular interest in this event, students will have the opportunity to examine a range of materials from the case including letters, police reports, and newspaper articles.  The course will study the history of Jack the Ripper in Victorian London, and we will also examine popular representations including film, graphic novels, criminal copycats, and even video games.


AF101T Memory, Imagination & the Self.   R 8:30 - 11:30 am

Instructor: Dr. Ute Lischke

Course Description:

What do we mean when we say that we "remember" something about the past?  What is meant by "collective memory" and how does this remembering shape our identity in the present? Memories and imagination from the stories we tell and affect the selves that we become. This seminar will explore the nature of memory and its relationship to imagination and the "self" through story and storytelling. We will explore a variety of narratives and employ a range of sources, including texts, visual images and observations n order to study issues such as the relationship of identity to power, and address the question of how re-considering memory and identity might open up new imaginative spaces in global contexts. Our inquiry will include novels, essays, poetry or memoirs by authors such as Louise Erdrich, Susan Sontag, W.G. Sebald, Oscar Wilde, and Maxine Hong Kinston. Films may include Polley's Stories We Tell and Nolan's Memento. We will write descriptively and critically, drawing on memory and imagination as well as analysis to develop and revise our understanding about memory.


AF101X Understanding Power and Conflict through Film F 11:30 am - 2:20 pm

Instructor: Dr. Christopher Alcantara

Course Description:

Everyday, Canadian citizens are bombarded by media reports documenting a variety of conflicts and power struggles between different individuals, groups, organization and governments from across the world. These struggles take a variety of forms, including violent and non-violent clashes over resources, lands, lifestyles, and the rights and freedoms, among other things. This course provides students with the analytical tools to make sense of the political world in which they are embedded. To accomplish this goal, students will read selected academic literature, follow current events, and watch six full-length feature films on the following topics: anarchy and the state of nature, rational choice and game theory, structure and agency, institutions, class, colonialism and indigenous peoples, and market versus non-market solutions to contemporary policy problems. Particular emphasis will be placed on helping students develop critical thinking and writing skills and to apply course related ideas and concepts to the political events that surround them.

Monsters we imagine (ETy)_1.jpg

AF101Y The Monsters We Imagine.  TR 1:00 - 2:20 pm

Instructor: Dr. Eleanor Ty

Course Description:

From the earliest myths to the latest big-budget action film, monsters menace the innocent and frighten the reader/viewer. Monsters are pivotal to folk tales, myths, fantasy and horror novels and films. In this seminar, we will look at a number of examples from classical literature, the 19th century novel, children's literature, Disney and science fiction thriller to understand the cultural fascination and repulsion with the monstrous. Often, these "abnormal" or monstrous bodies enable us to examine and question our own social values and the boundaries of the 'normal'. Our fantasies of the monstrous are related not only to historical and cultural changes, such as fears of industrialization, post World War II atomic bombs, racial and gendered others, and technology, but also to fears of becoming "other" through the breaking down of boundaries between inside/outside, self/other.

Winter 2015  First Year Seminar course offerings:


AF101A Religion, Psychology and the Individual.   MW 1:00-2:20 pm

Instructor: Dr. Chris Ross

Course Description:

We will explore together the social and psychological factors that may draw some individuals to certain kinds of religion, and those that deter others. This will involve learning about common social factors at play in many religious groups, and about personality factors that influence what people look for in religion or its equivalent. Individuals will have the chance if they wish to understand and appreciate their own personality and explore the implications for how they may approach the themes and methods of the course as well the process of becoming an egaged and successful university student.


AF101B Lives of Peace and Conflict: Jews and Arabs in the Contested Land of 'Palestine" 1882-2014    M 8:30 - 11:20 am

Instructor: Dr. Gavin Brockett

Course Description:

What is it like to walk in the shoes of Arabs and Jews whose lives are shaped by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?  When did this dispute begin and why has it continued for so long?  We will explore this critical subject through memoirs, historical fiction, short stories and film.  We will meet Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish as well as members of Ontario’s Jewish community in person.  Whatever our own sympathies and personal commitments we will engage in thoughtful and mutually respectful dialogue as we work together to understand a conflict that has impacted the lives of millions and promises to do so for the foreseeable future. 


AF101G Animals & Society    F 8:30 - 11:20 am

Instructor: Dr. Eva Plach

Course Description:

Have you ever thought about why we dress up some animals in funny costumes and eat others? When did societies begin to legislate against cruelty to animals, and why? Did you know that the Nazis - who murdered millions of people in World War Two - had a special interest in protecting animals? In this course we will examine the various ways that humans have interacted with and thought about animals throughout history. We'll look at the emergence of pet keeping; the history of zoos; animals as sources of food; animal diseases and their effect on human health; the use of animals in scientific research; and animals as entertainment. This class requires writing a number of short assignments and active participation in the weekly seminar discussions.


AF101P  Mic check! Media Movements & Messages   T 1:30 - 4:20 pm

Instructor: Dr. Herbert Pimlott

Course Description:

This course examines forms of public communication by news media and social movements, including the representation of social movements via dominant institutions, such as corporate or public media (e.g. newspapers, broadcast outlets). The course emphasizes both the processes of producing messages from within dominant organizations (e.g. corporate and state media) and by social movements (e.g. alternative media).  Contrasting the differences in media forms of representations helps students to recognize that the messages that circulate within and about society are such that we are subject to representations that provide partial and particular perspectives of the world that come to influence how we know the world and what we know about it.  Students will learn how to both analyze and produce different types of media texts.


AF101U History "Whodunits"  T 8:30 - 11:20 am

Instructor: Dr. Susan Neylan

Course Description:

 An 18th century slave in New France was charged with arson and after a brutal interrogation, she was executed.  But was she really guilty of the crime? Were the killings of a road-construction crew by an Indigenous group in the 19th century colony of British Columbia an act of murder or a war? In 1924 the charismatic leader of an immigrant religious sect was killed when the train on which he was travelling suddenly exploded.  What this a terrible accident or an assassination (and if so, by whom?). Using a problem-based approach and the Great Unsolved Mysteries in Canadian History website as our 'textbook', this course explores historical "cold cases" in depth. Students become detectives, working with a vast digital archive of texts, maps, images, and multimedia, learning how to weigh evidence, assess all the possibilities, and unravel (or at least, explain) some of the great unsolved mysteries in Canadian History. As a Faculty of Arts first-year seminar, this course also strives to develop some student expertise in not only historical thinking but also the kinds of academic skills that will serve them in other courses they might take while at university. Through our assignments, required readings, class discussions and other activities, students will learn how to construct arguments, use evidence, and create interpretations. Students will acquire and hone their critical assessment, communication, research, and writing talents through both group and individual assignments and presentations based on both primary and secondary materials.


AF101W Humans, Monsters and Machines: Culture and Identity, Medieval to Modern  R 9:30 am - 12:20 pm

Instructor: Dr. Renee Ward

Course Description:

This course examines representations of monstrosity, particularly those that represent the often blurred and fraught relations between humans, other living creatures, and man-made machines. There will be a particular emphasis throughout the course on various understandings of identity and on the resultant cultural tensions that arise when different understandings or definitions of identity clash. The chosen primary materials, which range from Beowulf to Star Trek, demonstrate and explore identity markers such as gender, race, class, and religion, as well as understandings of what constitutes, in different historical periods, man, woman, myth, monster, and/or animal, and machine. We will also examine a number of key philosophical and theoretical texts which shed light on the concept of monstrosity, and we will examine the representation of the monstrous in other, related media such as medieval manuscripts, newspaper reportage, and modern television and film. [Image: The Luttrell Psalter, f. 70r, BL Add. MS 42130, c. 1320-1340, Lincolnshire, England]