Bard College Student Handbook

First-Year Seminar

All first-year students are required to take the two-semester First-Year Seminar, which introduces important intellectual, artistic, and cultural ideas that serve as a strong basis for a liberal arts education as it develops in subsequent years at the College, regardless of the field in which a student decides to specialize. These fundamental ideas are presented in the context of a historic tradition and on as broad a scale as feasible within a framework that emphasizes precise, analytical thinking through class discussions and frequent writing assignments. The heart of the seminar is a series of core texts (which may include a painting or a symphonic work) that focus on a common theme. Whatever the theme, the spirit of the course is exemplified by the observation that in our daily lives we frequently encounter (and ourselves invoke) ideas and concepts drawn from the texts studied in First-Year Seminar; but without a concrete historical and critical context, we risk allowing others to define such ideas and concepts for us.

The current theme of the First-Year Seminar is “Studies in Human Experience”. Whether through philosophical inquiry into what constitutes the person, scientific debates about when life begins, theological disquisitions on where the self ends and the soul begins, or the literary construction of the autobiographical persona, thinkers and artists throughout history have explored the moral and ethical dimensions of self-representation while gesturing toward its unsolvable mysteries and productive tensions. In this yearlong seminar, students read a core of texts that, individually and collectively, engage in a vigorous dialogue over such questions as: What are the claims that political and social responsibilities make upon an individual’s quest for self-understanding? At what point should the conscientious citizen sacrifice such a quest in the name of a collective identity? How does scientific inquiry into the nonhuman natural world implicate what are felt to be deeply human issues? How does this relationship between a private and public understanding of the self implicate spiritual exploration of identity’s nether realm, especially the question of the eternity of the soul or the lack thereof? Finally, how do study and close reading, the foundational activities of First-Year Seminar, shape those personal and public narratives that are the focus of our attention? Core texts for the year include works by Euripides, Plato, Augustine, Ibn Tufayl, Michel de Montaigne, Martin Luther, Rene Descartes, John Milton, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Mary Wollstonecraft, Olaudah Equiano, Immanuel Kant, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, and Ralph Ellison. Guest lectures, panel presentations, and films supplement readings and discussions.