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Columbia College Chicago
Topics and Texts
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Topics and Texts

Students in the First-Year Seminar practice the Learning Goals of the course by studying several topics with a variety of texts, then generating their own Topic Studies and accompanying Rationales.

Students explore a series of topics over the course of the semester. Currently, instructors select from the following topics for their classes:
  • Self and Identity
    • Guiding Questions: This topic explores where we come from and what lenses or filters we bring with us. We explore questions that are at once basic but confounding: What is the relationship between self and identity? Who are we? How do we see ourselves? How do others see us? In what ways are we connected to other people and communities? While we will begin by thinking about our own selves, we will be pushed to consider the ways other selves, other identities, are composed, and how we perceive them. We will examine the assumptions underlying the categories that we create and impose on others and ourselves as a means of navigating our communities. What kinds of labels do we generate? Why do we apply them to certain people? How do we identify and think about ourselves? How do we find a balance between our private selves and our public selves?  How do we negotiate between our individual freedoms and our communal responsibilities? How do we imagine ourselves as individuals and as collectives, and how do those images influence our individual and collective dreams, responsibilities, beliefs and actions? 
  • Ethics in Community
    • Guiding Questions: Our earlier explorations of self and the ways individuals coexist within larger communities—considerations about what is the case—give way to questions about what should be the case: “What ought I to do?” “How ought we to act?” The difficult task of making tough decisions is part of the process of discovering our own individual and collective identities, for values—which reflect where we come from, who we are now, and our vision of the future—are embodied in our behavior. We ask, therefore, not only, “What should I do? “ but also “How will I make this decision?” “Where does my ethical code come from?” “How will this decision change who I am and who I aspire to be?  In what ways are our individual moral habits influenced by (and how do they influence) our communities, cultures, or social conditions? How does a community develop ethical systems that allow it to sustain a vision for an indefinite future together? 
  • Manifesting Vision
    • Guiding Questions: Manifesting Vision, the final section of the course, forges connections between previous topics through an investigation of the relationship between creating and changing. How do we know if we are changing and creating in ways that matter? What is your vision of the future you wish to inhabit, and what empowers you to make that vision manifest? What are the obligations of creators to their creations? What are the obligations of the educated to their knowledge? What are the potential repercussions of misguided vision? What are the potential repercussions of misguided action, or of inaction? How shall we best articulate and advocate our vision for the kind of work that matters?


Students explore each topic using a variety of texts in different media. In additional to supplemental texts that instructors bring to their classes, the First-Year Seminar has a set of core texts that help to frame our discussions. These include:
  • Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart (1959)
  • Elizabeth Barret, Stranger With a Camera (2000)
  • Niki Caro, Whale Rider (2003)
  • Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street (1984)
  • Paul Haggis, Crash (2004)
  • LeAlan Jones, Lloyd Newman, and David Isay, Our America: Life and Death on the South Side of Chicago (1999)
  • Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis (2004)
  • Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (1818)
  • Sophocles, Antigone (ed. Grene, 1991)
  • Agnès Varda, The Gleaners and I (2000)