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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.

Course Descriptions

Fall 2019—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 2020—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?

Spring 2020—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 26, 2019. Students will be notified no later than August 16, 2019.

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 the College Dean's Office at