Students in classroom

First-Year Tutorial

The First-Year Tutorial is your academic and social introduction to Grinnell. It’s also technically the only class required for all students, but calling Tutorial “required” doesn’t quite do it justice.

Before you arrive on campus, you’ll get to choose from a list of 30-40 Tutorial options, with topics like Kendrick Lamar, Coping with Climate Change, and Exploring the Magical World of Calvin and Hobbes. They’re taught by expert faculty all across campus.

Tutorials are small, writing-intensive, discussion-based classes that teach you the academic skills you will need to succeed at Grinnell. You’ll have 10 to 14 classmates, all fellow first-year students.

  • Professor Jon Andelson with student

    Tutorial Professor/Adviser

    Your Tutorial professor is your faculty adviser until you declare a major. So the small class size will not only help you get to know your classmates, but your first professor and faculty adviser, too. From your first class, your adviser will know you well and can recommend courses based on your strengths, interests, and areas for growth.

  • Students gather in Faulconer Gallery for a tutorial discussion

    The Tutorial Community

    All Tutorials are granted a small entertainment budget, which can enable the class to feel connected even outside the classroom. The entertainment budget funds activities like pizza nights at your professor’s house, local field trips, or social gatherings.

Fall 2020 Tutorials

Tutorial offerings change every year — here is the list of options for the Fall 2020 term.

Faculty: Charvann Bailey

As a female, do you shave your legs and/or your armpits? Have you ever thought about why women often go through painful procedures (shaving with a razor, electrolysis, or waxing) to remove body hair? There are a variety of reasons why women shave their body hair. However, often times a hairless woman is seen as “feminine,” whereas the presence of body hair on a woman (no matter the reason) is perceived as “masculine.” Where do these “beauty” standards come from and why do these rules seem to only apply to women? In this tutorial students will explore the answers to these questions from a historical, psychological, and sociological viewpoints. We will use these different perspectives to discuss how hairlessness forms western society’s idea of what defines a “feminine woman.” Students will also have an opportunity to explore how these concepts intersect with topics like gender identity, sexuality, health, race, and/or socioeconomic status.

Faculty: Jennifer Brown

The invention of opera in the early 17th century finally made it possible for women to pursue professional careers in music. Although opportunities for women composers and directors were practically non-existent (and remain limited even today), female singers quickly established a central presence in opera. In the ensuing four centuries, countless women singers have become international superstars, commanding top salaries and riveting the attention of composers, fans, and scholars alike.

This course will take a two-pronged approach to the topic, focusing both on the singers and the roles they have sung. Students will build biographies of selected prime donne — their training, career paths, and personal lives — working to separate fact from fiction while assessing different sources of information. We will also examine the ways in which composers, librettists, and stage directors have represented women characters on stage. We will analyze selected dramas and their literary sources as written texts (in English translation), study the music and stage action (through videos), and read commentary from critics and scholars. As a final group project, the class will create and stage their own contemporary spoken adaptation of one of the operas we have studied, performed at the end-of-term party. No musical experience necessary.

Faculty: Vance Byrd

This Tutorial examines how commemorative traditions in Germany and the United States of America have been invented and contested since the 19th century. We will discuss why certain events in the past and not others have been the object of commemoration; what these creations stood for originally; how their meanings have changed over the time; and the lessons these commemorative practices continue to teach us today. We will examine the way in which states, protest movements, artists, writers, and the public have told and called into question stories about empire, enslavement, the founding of nations, freedom and progress, military battles, and genocide. Some of the topics we will discuss include racism, ethnic conflict, Antisemitism, settler colonialism, guilt and victimhood, cultural appropriation, as well as gender and sexuality. The course is based on the close analysis of a diverse set of primary and secondary sources, such as architecture, films, graphic novels, literature, paintings, photography, public sculpture, reenactments, and tourist sites. You will practice speaking about and listening to the opinions of others on controversial topics, and then conduct research and write original essays to take a stand on these issues, objects, and sites related to commemorative culture.

Faculty: Jeremy Chen

The art critic Thomas McEvilley stated in Art & Otherness, “art’s primary social function is to define the communal self, which includes redefining it when the community is changing. Its images, however varied, arcane, or abstract, coalesce in the communal mind into a kind of face hovering in a mirror.” This tutorial researches the manifold ways visual artists represent identity and position identities within local, regional, national, global or cyber contexts. Our focus is on artists working in the United States but transnational comparisons can be made with artists working outside of a U.S. context. Some of our working questions include: What tactics do visual artists use to envision and represent identity? In what ways do artists conceptualize and visualize the self and/or “the Other?” How do artists describe multifaceted, intersectional identities based on categorizations such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, class, ability, politics, geography, culture, or history? When and how are these categorizations effective, slippery or problematic? How does representation of identity work to include, exclude, connect, separate, categorize or define? What is the reception of these images by various constituencies?

Faculty: Edward Cohn

Many champions of the liberal arts say that a broad education can help students not only to become better readers, writers, and thinkers, but to become better people. Another view holds that a liberal arts education can actually make evil people more effective in achieving their goals. This tutorial will be an introduction to the meaning and purpose of the liberal arts, focusing on several questions related to the relationship between morality and education. When does a liberal arts education lead not just to knowledge, but to wisdom — and when can it lead to overconfidence, arrogance, and other unintended consequences? Does a college education really make people more liberal, and if so, is this something that liberals should be happy about? Has the decline of the English language made us more vulnerable to repressive politics, as George Orwell argued, and if so, is learning to write clearly a moral imperative? Does reading literature make people more empathetic? And is making people more empathetic a good idea anyway? (Sociopaths, by some definitions, are among the most empathetic people around...) This tutorial probably won’t help you achieve your most nefarious goals (unless your most nefarious goal is to get a broad liberal arts education), but it will help you delve into themes central to your education at Grinnell and beyond.

Faculty: W. Joseph Cummins

This tutorial will be an introduction to the liberal arts through reading, discussing, and writing about several classic works which stand at the beginning of the liberal-arts tradition. More specifically, the course will be an introduction to poetry, history, and philosophy by way of some of the most famous works produced in ancient Greece. We will begin with epic poetry, reading both the Iliad and the Odyssey. Then we will turn to three examples of tragic drama: Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, Sophocles’ Oedipus the King, and Euripides’ Bacchants. We will also study Aristotle’s analysis of epic and tragedy in his Poetics. The History of the Peloponnesian War, by Thucydides, will be our example of historical writing in prose. Our last writer will be Plato, who illustrates philosophical questioning, reflection, and dialogue in his Defense of Socrates, Crito, and Drinking-Party. Although our texts are chosen to illustrate different types of literature, they are linked by their cultural context, by some common techniques of composition, and by many common themes, such as the fragility of human life, the basic impulses of human nature, and the question of what makes human life meaningful and worthwhile. In sum, the course is about literature and the course is about life.

Faculty: Barry Driscoll

Chocolate connects Ghanaian farmers to Grinnell’s consumers, via manufacturers in Holland and financiers in New York. It started asxocolātl (“bitter water”) about three millennia ago in Central America, and today it is a global commodity worth billions of dollars and employing millions of people. But why, if the industry is highly profitable, are Ghana’s cocoa farmers so poor? Why, if Ghana produces so much of the world’s cocoa, does processing — turning cocoa into candy — happen outside of Africa? Why, if chocolate brands are global, do KitKats in Grinnell taste different than in London? In this Tutorial, we will discuss what we learn — and how we learn — about the world through the study of one thing: the flow of cocoa from rural Ghana to Grinnell. Our themes will include colonialism, consumerism, global finance, child labor, market power, and political participation. We will eat chocolate.

Faculty: Christopher French

Numbers are at once among the most familiar and the most mysterious of things. In this tutorial, we will discuss the beginnings of numbers: how we as infants and children learn about numbers, and how early civilizations developed their abilities to manipulate them. We will look from both a historical and mathematical point of view at how and why various number systems were developed, and examine how these developments have shaped history. We will consider the growing impact of numerical data on how decisions are made, and we will try to ascertain how much faith we should put in such quantitative reasoning. We will look at how musicians, artists, and writers have incorporated numerical concepts into their works. Finally, we will examine some of the most intriguing numbers, like e and π, the prime numbers, and the Fibonacci numbers, and we will see some of the surprising ways they are interrelated and some of the ingenious ways they are used.

Faculty: Andrew Hamilton

During the 20th and into the early part of the 21st century, the growth of sport in American society created many opportunities for athletes to participate. In the early 1900’s the group of professional athletes was racially comprised of whites. Over time however, as barriers for black athletes were broken down, more black athletes slowly gained access to different sports. At the same time American society underwent significant change which allowed for blacks to access civil rights which typically were only afforded whites. In this tutorial, students will explore the question whether participation by black athletes helped fuel 20th and 21st Century societal change or whether societal change occurred first, thereby allowing access to sport for the black athlete. Students will be asked to employ concepts from the disciplines of sociology and history during course work.

Faculty: Keisuke Hasegawa

We tend to take energy for granted. But do you know where the energy comes from when you turn on a light switch or take a hot shower? In this tutorial, we will explore technological, environmental and social issues associated with energy generation and consumption. We will discuss various methods of energy generation and consider the financial as well as environmental costs and benefits of each. Although this is a writing-intensive course, we will do some quantitative work, like simple activities to understand how much energy we consume every day and how we can convert one form of energy to another. No prior training in science is required.

Faculty: Kelly Herold

This tutorial takes an intertextual approach to the study of literature, using Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials as its primary focus of study. Some writers acknowledge their literary and philosophical influences; Pullman cites Milton’s Paradise Lost and William Blake’s poetry as major sources for His Dark Materials. In this tutorial, we’ll study Pullman’s trilogy and his interpretation and transformation of the canonical sources as well as the generic structures that inspired his work in The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. We will also discuss issues of narration, audience or readership, and medium over the course of the semester. Finally, we will consider Pullman’s latest novels — La Belle Sauvage and The Secret Commonwealth — and the role The Book of Dust plays in Pullman’s intertextual world.

Faculty: Carolyn Jacobson

In this Tutorial, we will explore the terrors and pleasures that inhabit the provocative, unsettling, and decadent Victorian writing of the 1890s. Toward the end of the 19th century, questions about the limits of human identity motivated early science-fiction writers like H. G. Wells. At the same time, both male and female writers grappled with the growing enthusiasm for and backlash against the early feminist movement, often represented in literature by the figure of the New Woman. In the midst of this end-of-the-century turbulence, readers looked to be unsettled by horror stories and ghost stories (including many written by women) but also reassured by professional expertise such as that offered by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s masterful detective Sherlock Holmes. These late Victorian works of fiction — both haunted and haunting — will serve as our subject matter as we develop our abilities to discuss, research, analyze, present, write, and revise.

Faculty: Philip Jones

Learn about the past, present, and future of Iowa, your adopted home for the next four years, by exploring its rich, surprising literature. Through study of historic documents, short fiction, a play, memoir, film, and two acclaimed contemporary novels, we will consider questions such as: What distinguishes the literature of Iowa? Are there common literary elements — themes, characters, or settings — found across Iowa’s literary history? And what can these texts teach us about our state, our community, and ourselves? We will also seek out diverse voices sometimes omitted from Iowa’s literature and learn from their stories. By the end of this tutorial, you will have established yourself as a college-level writer, discussion participant, academic researcher, and an honorary Iowan.

Faculty: Shuchi Kapila

In this course, we will study ghosts and literary ghost stories. Do such fantasies provide an escape from an oppressive reality into a wish-fulfilling world or do they present an exaggerated or distorted version of the “real” world? What are literary ghosts and monsters? Are they particular to the historical moment in which they appear? Texts for the course will include Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat,” and The Turn of the Screw by Henry James.

Faculty: Leslie Lyons

We will read, write, and talk about food from a multi-disciplinary perspective. Novels and films elevate food well beyond the mundane necessity of caloric sustenance. Yet, the forms food take vary from person, place and time and, in many ways, provide for connections and differences between people. Improving and understanding food at a molecular level are goals of scientists, but do technical achievements really impact food choices and food quality? With increasing reports of food borne illness, is our food safe and what are the governmental policies that protect consumers? How do these policies respond to new food technologies such as genetically modified foods or nanoparticles in food? We’ll feast on these topics.

Faculty: Kelly Maynard

This tutorial is about stuff — about the physical objects and environments that surround us. At a superficial level, this is a course about consumerism and accumulation, about the habits we have developed in an early 21st-century world driven by interconnected global markets. But we also consider waste, deprivation, and the vast inequities rooted in historical encounters that these more recent habits have perpetuated. Further, we ask what does stuff mean? How do our individual, physical bodies actually interact with things through our senses? What is the relationship between form and function in the objects we choose and use? How have the collection and curation of objects over time contributed to hierarchies of value? How does our stuff help us shape deeply personal narratives, identities, and memories? What symbolic roles do things play in our communal lives, in our shared rituals? How do we think about stuff in relation to environmental crisis, sustainability, and a global community? Through the lens of stuff, then, we encounter the material world in a digital age.

Faculty: Tamara McGavock

In 1707, more than 2,000 British sailors died in a single accident just because no one knew what time it was back home. Scientists raced to produce hand-drawn star maps for a prize from the Queen, but an uneducated carpenter won by making a better clock. A now-debunked linguistic theory of relativity proposed in 1940 that native speakers of Hopi did not understand time as a flow from future to present to past because they lacked the necessary grammar. Workers at McDonald’s and Amazon learn their hours only days before, making childcare difficult or impossible to plan, and ensuring that teams are always slightly understaffed to keep workers pushing the limits of their productivity. In Ethiopia today, farmers call the sunrise midnight, the current year is 2012, and there are 13 months to a year. In tutorial, we’ll explore a deceptively simple question: How do we tell time? Even as scientific discoveries push the answer ever forward, our conceptions of time shape — and have been shaped by — the human experience in ways that may determine the very future of our universe. But what even is the “future”? We’ll also explore our personal relationships with time and procrastination and develop strategies for managing in college and in life.

Faculty: Johanna Meehan

What is democracy and what is its relationship to the norms of liberty and equality? What does freedom look like and why did so many liberal thinkers link ideals of democracy with property rights? Are the inequities of wealth that capitalism gives rise to compatible with democracy’s demand for equality? Does Trump’s election signal a retreat from the norms that were embraced by the founders of the United States? This tutorial will consider these questions beginning with our study of the classic texts of Western liberalism, turn to the neo-liberal ideas articulated in the 1970s and then consider the current threats to the post-World War two liberal political order that dominated the West until recently. Our readings may include texts by Rousseau, Condorcet, de Gouge, Marx, Hayek, Fukyama, Habermas, Sunstein, Brown, Levitsky, and Ziblatt.

Faculty: Angelo Mercado

As you depart from home and make a new one at Grinnell, we take the opportunity to explore the stories of the sons of Pāṇḍu and of Odysseus, heroes of Indic and Greek epic known the world over who journey to find home or found a new one. We will read the Mahābhārata in a prose retelling and the Odyssey in translation, along with scholarly articles on various aspects of the epics, to examine how from such heroes' journeys we construct our individual and collective identities.

Faculty: Deborah Michaels

How has the Covid-19 pandemic thrown into question how and why we “do school?” That is, how is this historic moment presenting opportunities to rethink our pedagogies, curriculum, and goals of education in K-12 and college settings? What do we do with the knowledge of unequal access to technology — and, therefore, to education — that the move to distance learning during the pandemic has blatantly revealed? In this tutorial, we will consider these questions from multi-disciplinary perspectives, including a comparative historical analysis of the 1918 flu pandemic and the bubonic plague of the 14th century. The words of philosophers of education such as Paulo Freire, bell hooks, Nel Noddings, and Bettina Love will guide our inquiries. Significantly, our course will provide a space to make sense of our own personal journeys during the Covid-19 pandemic through class discussions and journaling and through opportunities to represent our experiences in a variety of audio, visual, and textual genres.

Faculty: Celeste Miller

In this tutorial we will explore embodied writing practices, and conversely applying writing methods to other creative practices. We will explore embodiment from the perspective of philosophers to revolutionaries, athletes to choreographers, scientists to social scientists. We will try out the methods of those who explore embodiment as a legitimate approach to thinking and being. We will write and engage in creative “making.” We will pivot, to use a popular word at this time, between writing and dancing (in all the forms that dancing takes). No previous arts or dance experience, or proclivity, required. What is required is a willingness to explore with open hearts and to build community with one another in a supportive creative space. As we navigate a radically changed world, one that has set “social distancing” and “sheltering in place” as new vocabulary and new norms, we still communicate through our bodies — whether virtually or in the intimate spaces of approved gatherings. We still live in our bodies, we contain knowledge in our embodied experiences, as human bodily selves. Maybe now more than ever we feel the impact of the realities of being in our lived bodily experiences. In this active/doing creating tutorial we will ask questions like: How does intentionally being “in our bodies” impact our thinking and our writing? From mindfulness exercises, to somatic practices, to dance/theatre-based movement explorations — how can being “in our bodies” make us better thinkers and writers? And conversely, can approaching writing in this way, give us new perspectives and inspiration in other creative practices – whether dance, theatre, film, music or visual art? This is an active “hands on, body in” tutorial – even in an online format. (All types of physical ability are welcome in this class.)

Faculty: Philippe Moisan

Before the 1960s, cinema in France was not an art form but rather a form of entertainment. If it did have artistic pretensions, they were usually to replicate literature or theater — many films were either adaptation of masterpieces, while others employed traditional narrative structures. Between 1958 and 1973, the French New Wave revolutionized the way we look at cinema. Young directors, critics turned directors, such as Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol, Resnais, and many others, transformed cinema into an art form in its own right, not only by using new montage, sound, and lighting techniques, but also in its self-referentiality. That is, this New Wave no longer referred to great works of literature but to cinema itself; this was an enormous cultural revolution. This tutorial will explore this revolution examining films from before and during the New Wave.

Faculty: Wayne Moyer

This tutorial will analyze the global effort to address human-induced climate change. Students will conduct an inquiry into the current state of scientific knowledge about climate change and address how this knowledge combines with other factors in developing policy in the United States and the international arena. What are the forces that promote and inhibit effective action? How do concerns for equity, justice and human rights play into the debate? Attention will be given to the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change, the 2007 Kyoto Protocol, the 2009 Copenhagen climate change conference, the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, the role of civil society and the waxing and waning of climate change in U.S. national politics.

Faculty: Anthony Perman

“Hope is a good thing,” says Red in The Shawshank Redemption; “maybe the best of things.” It is unique among positive emotions in that it often emerges during times of struggle, trauma, and hardship. But hope doesn’t just happen. It must be cultivated and nurtured. Historically, music has played an important and productive role during times of personal and social crisis in shaping feelings of hope and realizing its aspirational desires. Whether massive crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, the Holocaust, South African apartheid, and the United States Civil Rights movement, or personal ones tied to grief and depression, songs of hope help shape change for the better. In exploring the relationship between music and hope, students will examine the kinds of research that can be done and questions that can be asked. We will address the psychology of the brain, anthropological studies of successful social responses to crisis, or creative explorations of the power of music and artistic practice to projects of human flourishing, Students will shape the content of the course as they examine their own interests and experiences in how music can make us hopeful and hope can help us thrive.

Faculty: Samuel A. Rebelsky

Many American colleges and universities promise their students experience in the liberal arts, a liberal education, and the rewards of both. But what are these forms of education? The answers have changed repeatedly and in significant ways. Even today, people of good faith may disagree on details, small and large. In this Tutorial, we will explore structures, meanings, goals, and promises of the liberal arts and liberal education, reflecting on how they may or must change in the 21st century. Along the way, we will consider how Grinnell’s unique approach contributes to these forms of education.

Faculty: Tyler Roberts

Popular music rooted in blues, gospel, and folk traditions has had an enormous impact on American culture. This tutorial will explore the music’s history, consider the different ways we listen to and live with it, and inquire into modes of cultural analysis that illuminate its powers, pleasures, and politics. Where did the music come from? How has it shaped us as individuals and as a society? How do we think, talk, and write about the ways it moves us? What do we learn, and how does our relationship to the music change, when we examine it through the lenses of race and gender?

Faculty: Javier Samper Vendrell

This tutorial explores Germany’s history from 1918 to 1933. The Weimar Republic, as this period is called, is characterized by economic turmoil, political violence, and extremism that resulted in Hitler’s rise to power and the Third Reich. At the same time, this period also represents one of the most productive periods in artistic and intellectual terms in the 20th century. The “golden twenties” are often portrayed as a time of increasing gender equality and sexual freedom. Throughout the semester we will discuss some of the key issues of the time as we watch the popular TV series Babylon Berlin (Netflix, 2017). Eric D. Weitz’s Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy will provide an engaging overview of the Republic’s political, social, economic, and cultural history. Nevertheless, we will not only rely on history writing or a television show to paint a coherent picture of the Weimar Republic. You will write original essays based on detailed analysis of primary sources. Newspaper articles, literature, pamphlets, songs, and other visual sources will help develop your own historical arguments and improve your information literacy skills as you learn about one of German history’s most fascinating periods.

Faculty: Eiren Shea

This class approaches the Silk Road(s) from the point of view of material culture, art, and history. In it, we will see how the material legacy of East, Central, and West Asia helps us understand the complex interactions that took place between different peoples during the height of the Silk Road(s), from about the 1st century CE – 14th century CE. We will look at excavated material from the deserts of Central Asia, learn about the dynamism of nomadic groups such as the Mongols, and get to the bottom of whether Marco Polo really introduced pasta to Italy. As part of this class you will learn to incorporate archaeological evidence, art historical material, and primary source texts into your research.

Faculty: Jennifer Snook

What is the difference between a piece of “art” and a “craft”? Who designates “art” — and how does making something inform the social world? How does craft bring people together? What happens when craft intersects with activism? In this tutorial, we will investigate these distinctions as well as the role that creativity plays in the human life-world. Crafting can also be a powerful component of self-care and identity-making. We will theorize about human creativity, craftivism, capitalism, identity, community, politics, social change, and engage in some hands-on crafting.

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