2016-2017 Freshman Seminars in Service and Civic Engagement

The Freshman Seminars in Service and Civic Engagement program is a unique curricular initiative offered by Whitman College in partnership with the Office of the Dean of the College and Princeton’s Community-Based Learning Initiative. Part of the Program of Freshman Seminars in the Residential Colleges, these courses allow students to combine deep academic inquiry and research with active engagement with communities beyond the university.  While these seminars are open to freshmen in all six of Princeton’s residential colleges, the faculty who teach these seminars are fellows of Whitman College and work closely with the College Staff to integrate these courses into the residential college experience and to offer opportunities for engagement to the broader Whitman community.

To apply to a Freshman Seminar in Service and Civic Engagement, please visit the Freshman Seminar program website.

Fall 2016 courses

FRS 165 Is Your Zip Code Your Destiny? Exploring the Social Determinants of Health SA
Heather Howard

Over the last century, the United States has made substantial improvements in health indicators, including increased life expectancy. Despite that progress, and even as we spend approximately one-sixth of our gross domestic product on healthcare (more than any other industrialized nation), we have significant, and persistent, healthcare disparities and gaps in health access and outcomes. We are beginning to understand that there is more to individual and community health than habits, healthcare, or even our genes. Indeed, the context of our lives — where we live, work, and play — helps determine our health status. This course will explore the social determinants of health, including economic opportunity (or lack thereof), environmental influences, educational resources, social capital, and public safety.

This course will examine the factors affecting health status from the unique perspective of Trenton. New Jersey's capital, Trenton is a diverse city with approximately 84,000 residents that has low home ownership rates and one of the state's highest rates of violent crime. One-third of Trenton's children live in poverty and nearly half are obese. Students will study various perspectives on the social determinants of health and, through a partnership with the Trenton Health Team (a community health improvement collaborative working to improve health outcomes and contain health care costs), engage with efforts to confront those conditions and improve health status in Trenton. The proposed partnership will allow students to explore the complex factors affecting the health of a community and the roles of community-based organizations, the government, and health care providers in addressing health inequities and improving health status.

A series of readings will expose students to the current academic literature. Students will then choose a topic for more in-depth research, write a paper on the topic, and present their findings to the class. For example, a student might choose to study the impact of access to transportation on health status. The student will produce a paper summarizing the research and investigating the issue using Trenton as a case study, and report those findings to the class. The various student papers will then form a report to the Trenton Health Team. (Wednesday 1:30 p.m.-4:20 p.m.)


FRS 167 Princeton, Slavery, and Historical Memory HA
Martha Sandweiss

This freshman seminar, based at Whitman College and in the University archives at Mudd Library, will focus on Princeton University's historical connections to the institution of slavery. Building on work done by undergraduate students for the Princeton and Slavery Project over the past four years, students will explore the meaning of historical memory at both the institutional and personal level. Together, we will think about what Princeton University might do to address its involvement with slavery. The focus of the class, however, will be on how the historical memory of slavery functions in the individual lives of Princeton students, alumni, staff, and faculty.

After doing extensive reading about Princeton and slavery, slavery and public history, and the theoretical debates about historical memory, students will work together and with filmmaker Melvin McCray to create a series of short film interviews about the burden of America's slaveholding past and its impact on individual Princetonians descended from slaveholders, slaves, and, perhaps, both. In preparation for these interviews, students will learn how to do genealogical research and navigate the Princeton University archives. Students will be responsible for finding interview subjects, preparing interview questions, and conducting face to face interviews that will: 1.) lead to short write-ups that will become part of an online exhibition on the Princeton and Slavery website; and 2.) serve as preliminary interviews for the film work to be done by McCray, a prize-winning filmmaker and 1974 alumnus who made the much-acclaimed film Looking Back: Reflections of Black Princeton Alumni. Students will also contribute to the film by doing transcriptions and picture research in University archives.

The film interviews produced by this class will become an integral part of the Princeton and Slavery website, set to roll out in fall 2017. This website will present the first full investigation of slavery's impact on Princeton, with dynamic timelines, maps, and exhibitions that track the slaveholding practices of early Princeton trustees and faculty; follow campus debates about slavery; explore Princeton during the Civil War; document slavery in the town of Princeton; and follow the lives of Princeton's Southern students. (Tuesday 1:30 p.m.-4:20 p.m.)


Spring 2017 courses


FRS 160 Remapping Princeton SA
Aaron Landsman and Alison Isenberg

This course combines historical research, ethnography, and studies of the built and planned environment, with strategies in contemporary live theater and other performance forms. Together, students and instructors will research the history and current cultural and political life of Trenton and Princeton, and create alternative campus walking tours using the results of our investigations. In addition to contemporary sources and ethnography, seminar participants will be able to draw upon a new archive of primary sources and interviews documenting the impact of 1960s social and political mobilization in Princeton and Trenton, including the civil rights movement, urban renewal, protest, and upheaval. Students will experiment with performance-making as a way of producing knowledge through community collaboration. Their fresh scripts will revise the understanding of Princeton's complex history around race and the region, as engaged in the built environment and geographical space. Course assignments bring together performance theory, history, and artistic practice to produce cogent, site-specific artworks (the walking tours) with the potential for long-term impact.

Core questions will include: What are the imprints of various, even conflicting histories, on a given environment? Can we reconcile those contradictions as we move through a space? Can the borders between the campus and surrounding communities be more porous through shared journeys? How can historical research and artistic interpretation work collaboratively to make a deeper, more affective, physical presence of history possible, even desirable? What is rigor when it comes to artistic interpretations of history? How are we affected by the past when we move through the present? How is Princeton's status as a community informed by the temporary nature of many of its residents, by the university's history as an institution, and by its interconnections with neighboring cities and towns? How does manifesting knowledge of the past in the built environment shape plans for the future? We are especially interested in exploring how physical engagement with space can alter our understanding of history and allow empathic responses to complex narratives.

In addition to seminar discussions of shared readings and viewings, class sessions include workshops on participant-observer ethnography, historical methods, and mapping; fieldwork in Trenton and Princeton; and collaborative "studio" sessions.