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First-Year Seminars

7. First-Year Seminars. Vary by term.

Note:  First-Year Seminars may not count toward any major or minor 

Guns! The Politics and Law of the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

There is probably no other issue in America that has generated quite so much political passion and journalistic ink, yet so little accompanying academic analysis as that of guns and the 2nd Amendment. What does the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution establish? A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. On the one hand, there is a collective view, well-articulated by political groups such as the Brady Campaign and Handgun Control, Inc., that the Amendment does not establish an individual right to keep and bear arms. There is the rival claim, let's label it the individual view, most vigorously represented by the National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America, that the Amendment establishes just such an individual right to gun ownership. The collective view has long been, in fact, the conventional view? of sociologists, political scientists, and most law faculty. A revisionist view? has grown in recent years that is fueled by a number of scholars in the above disciplines, as well as economists and historians more supportive of the views of those in the NRA and GOA.

In the seminar, we will examine the origin and history of the Amendment, the legal consequences of its adoption as played out in U.S. Federal Courts, current legal challenges to law and policy, the arguments for and against the individual vs. collective view of the Amendment, and the debate between conventional and revisionist scholars. We will examine some of the analyses of the consequences of the widespread distribution of arms in America. We can rely on many local sources of information Vermont has the most individualistic gun public policies of any state in the Union, followed closely by New Hampshire and Maine. Dist: SOC; WCult: NA/W.

Love, Friendship, and Marriage

In this course, we will attempt to understand the complex meanings of love, friendship, and marriage by reading an discussing the classic texts.  The course will be structured around three main Greek words for love:  eros (romantic love), philia (love of family and friends), and agape (self-sacrificing love).  Do these three kinds of love capture the full range of human love?  Can they be combined in a single relationship?  What kinds of love do we find in friendship and in marriage?  Is the human experience of live universal or does it differ by culture?  Is ancient love different from modern?  Is Western love different from Eastern?  Is homosexual love essentially different from heterosexual? Dist: TMV; WCult: W.

Immigration, Asylum and Politics

This course examines the topic of immigration and asylum from a political, social, legal and public policy perspective.  As a nation of immigrants, much of our self-identity is bound up in the idea that we are forever the "unfinished" nation.  What does this mean?  How are our views and policies on immigration different from those of other nations with different identities and histories?  How do we address the problems of security and the need (both in law and philosophy) to provide a safe haven to those who seek asylum from persecution elsewhere? Dist: INT/SOC; WCult: NA, CI.

Invitation to Struggle: Presidents, Congress and U.S. Foreign Policy

The U.S. Constitution set up "an invitation to struggle" in the realm of foreign affairs in which the legislative and executive branches share power.  The course examines the prerogatives of each institution, the historical evolution of contemporary executive dominance and the political and security consequences of the current state of imbalance.  Readings draw widely from political theory, constitutional law, history, and contemporary political science scholarship on political institutions. Dist: SOC

Political Leadership

Why did men follow Joan of Arc into battle?  Why did the British reject Winston Churchill in 1945, voting instead to replace him with a man he had famously derided as "a sheep in sheep’s clothing"?  Why was Gandhi so effective?  What if Nelson Mandela had died on Robben Island?  What is leadership?  What is political leadership?  Can it be taught?  Can it be learned?  Are some settings more likely to produce remarkable leaders than others, and if so, why?  In what ways does leadership matter?  What, if anything, can political science add to the understanding of leadership we might derive from other disciplines—from, for example, literature, history, or psychology? Dist: INT; WCult: NA/EU, CI

The Politics and Culture of Cuba. 

What does the future hold for Cuba? In order to answer this question, this class plumbs the past for clues. We evaluate the creation and persistence of myths about Cuban history, focusing on the War of 1898, the First and Second Republican periods, and the many phases of the Revolution. As one of the world’s few remaining socialist regimes and the only surviving socialist regime in Latin America, Cuba is unique.  But Cuba is also subject to many of the forces that have shaped other countries in Latin America and the third world: a heritage of Spanish colonialism and slavery, a geography that contains a limited array of natural resources and a system of government that has evolved under the constant shadow of the United States. To that extent we can learn something about Latin American politics—and politics more generally—by studying Cuba. 


Terrorism has recently become a major preoccupation of U.S. foreign policy. However, terrorism is as old as organized government. The question is whether there is something new afoot that portends a change in the balance of power between states and their opponents. Answering that question requires going beyond current events to tackle the issues that are at the core of this seminar: 1) what terrorism is; 2) why individuals and groups use terrorism; 3) how the phenomenon has changed over tine; and 4) how states best deal with terrorism. In this seminar, you shall read extensively on each of these topics, and you shall be required to write papers on each. Only then will you address the final issue: a critical analysis of the U.S. government's current campaign against terrorism. Dist: INT or SOC.

The Virtues of Teaching and Learning

This course will present classic and contemporary readings about the aims of education: Is it more important to acquire information or skills?  What role ought the school to play in one's overall education?  What is the relation of academic to moral education? Ought schools attempt to make us good students, good citizens or good persons?  What kind of education is appropriate in a democracy? Dist: TMV.

Last Updated: 2/6/09