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Meliora Humanities Seminars

Going to college provides students with the opportunity to take courses that address important issues and explore new disciplines that are not typically covered in high school. At Rochester, the Meliora Seminars are small, selective courses that allow first-year students to study fascinating questions about being human in a complex world: What is the nature of democracy? How do we communicate with one another? What can art, literature, and film teach us about climate change?

The goal of the Meliora Seminars is to create a collaborative and rich intellectual experience for students as they begin their academic careers at Rochester. The Meliora Seminars are designed for incoming first-year students, and do not presume prior experience in the field.

Each Meliora Seminar is unique, but common features of the seminars include:

  • Explicit attention to the relevance of the course material to contemporary social issues
  • Community engagement through on-or-off campus dialogue with individuals or groups working on issues addressed in the seminars
  • Reading-and-discussion small class formats of twelve to fifteen students

Every one of the Meliora Seminars, which count as regular, graded 4-credit courses, can be used in clusters, minors, and majors. In collaboration with the College’s Writing, Speaking and Argument Program, the Meliora Seminars are also acceptable alternative options for students who petition out of WRT 105.

Course Descriptions

Fall 2018—EHU 167M "Climate Futures"

Instructor: Leila Nadir

Glacier ruins, extreme weather, rising sea levels, an ice age, and no polar bears. As artists, writers, filmmakers, and journalists work to make the often imperceptible transformations wrought by climate change visible to the public, they deploy imagery, narratives, frames, and aesthetic strategies. This course examines visions of the future produced by climate change through studies of literature, film, art, and pop culture. Topics to be studied include philosophical approaches to the Anthropocene (a new geologic era proposed by scientists), strategies deployed by documentary and Hollywood film, and a new works of "climate fiction." A central concern of this course is the relationship between science and the humanities in the understanding the environment. What are the roles of memory and imagination in the struggle to deal with the warming of the earth? Can the humanities save the planet? If climate change is unstoppable, how do we imagine what comes next?

Fall 2018—DAN 167M "Ecolinguistics: Language and Movement"

Instructors: Anne Wilcox, Solveiga Armoskaite

This new course is a combined investigation of linguistics and movement. In the context of sustainable living, the course will examine how verbal and non-verbal expression manifest and shape overall well-being. Every year, a different theme will be addressed. The themes for this year is: Knowledge and Expertise. The course will address questions such as: What aspects of language create credibility? What does it mean to know something physically? How does movement lead to knowledge? How is expertise evident in language or in movement?  What role does verbal and non-verbal language play in epistemology? The course is cross-listed to bring students from each discipline together to deepen their study of human expression by offering additional perspective to the mutually fascinating subject of language.

Fall 2018—CLA 167M "Who Owns The Past?"

Instructor: Elizabeth Colantoni

As the recent destruction of the archaeological site of Palmyra in Syria and the removal of Confederate statues in New Orleans show, historical objects, monuments, and sites are not relegated to the past; instead, they are the building blocks of modern identities and politics. This course examines current issues concerning the ownership, protection, and presentation of cultural heritage, including particularly archaeological and historical objects, monuments, and sites. The course begins with introductory information about archaeology, museum studies, and cultural heritage law. We then consider such questions as: Who decides what cultural heritage is significant? Who should determine how archaeological and historical sites are presented to the public? Should private individuals be allowed to purchase objects of historical or archaeological significance? What moral and ethical responsibilities do museums have?  Who owns cultural objects taken in the context of warfare?

Spring 2019—CLA 167M "Democracy: Past and Present"

Instructor: Nick Gresens

What would “a government of the people, by the people, for the people” really look like? Is the right to vote sufficient to make a society democratic? Is majority rule any better than tyranny? Can people be trusted to rule themselves? In this course, we examine the first democracy--that of ancient Athens. We will trace the historical development of democracy and explore the social factors and big ideas that shaped it into the form of government that almost every society in the world now looks to as a model. You will learn about the various institutions that allowed Athenian society to function and discover what the Athenians thought about their great experiment, even if they thought it was a very bad idea. We will also observe and discuss some of our own government institutions so that we can better understand our system of government, both in what it shares with ancient Athens and how it differs.

Spring 2019—ENG 167M "The Outlaw Robin Hood: Resistance, Violence, and Social Change in Popular Culture"

Instructor: Tom Hahn

Drawing on resources from numerous disciplines, in this course we will examine questions about what drives or even justifies acting against or outside the law. In what ways does official culture bring the outlaw into being? Why and how do mainline popular culture and commercial entertainment celebrate defiance of the law? We will examine the central issue of whether the outlaw hero enlarges the possibility of social change and reform, or whether such fantasies impede change and actually affirm the status quo. Secondary readings will include contemporary political and social theory as well as historical and literary criticism that addresses specific assigned texts. We will inevitably address these concerns from our own current perspective, exploring the cult of the outlaw over the last half millennium and in post-Trump America. A crucial feature of the course will be opportunities for hands-on interaction with the actual artifacts that recorded and enshrined Robin Hood’s celebrity from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries: chap books, ballad collections, boys’ and girls’ weeklies, sensational series, “serious” children’s literature, plays and pantomimes, musicals, and, more recently, young adult, fantasy, and literary fiction.

Spring 2019—REL 167M "Love and Justice"

Instructor: Joshua Dubler

Speaking in the tradition of Martin Luther King, activist scholar Cornel West likes to say that "Justice is what love looks like in public." It feels encouraging to see love and justice as complementary facets of the same ethical impulse, but does this claim check out? If "all is fair in love and war," then love would appear to sometimes lend itself to more brutal outcomes; and if "justice is blind," then whatever love might animate justice must necessarily be tempered by more dispassionate forces. In intimate dialogue with touchstones of western philosophy, literature, and cinema, this seminar will critically explore the nature of love, the nature of justice, and the tangled relationship between them.

How to Apply

These selective seminars are by application. To apply, please submit the following brief application no later than July 27, 2018. Students will be notified no later than August 17, 2018.

Please provide an explanation as to why you are interested in each of the two courses selected above.


(200 words or less)
(200 words or less)


For questions, contact Sarah Van Munster in the College Dean's Office at