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.

What Is Freedom?
Dialogues Ancient and Modern
To raise the question “What is freedom?” could hardly be more necessary today. Why have so many people in so many times and places identified freedom as a self-evident value, but have also excluded many around them from its benefits? How have different civilizations defined freedom at different times? What does freedom mean in a democracy, an empire, or a totalitarian regime? How do we understand the difference between “freedom to” and “freedom from,” between rights and responsibilities? These are just some of the questions we address in First-Year Seminar. In the fall semester, we ask “What is political freedom?” We read thinkers from Socrates to Gandhi and Hannah Arendt. In the spring semester, we consider “What is personal freedom?” in the company of authors from Aristotle to James Joyce and Malcolm X. By studying these texts, discussing their ideas in small seminars, and writing critical papers on them, students establish a foundation for their learning experience at the college and acquire a shared basis for conversation with fellow students, faculty members, and the world beyond.