Skip to main content

Freshman Seminars, Spring 2014

For enrollment information, please check the USC Schedule of Classes at


Bob Dylan, the 60s, and You
Eric Trules
Thursdays, 2-3:50
Section 34614

Bob Dylan, the 60s, and You, will be a musical and cultural  investigation of the tumultuous decade of the 1960s when "the times they were a changin'", through the lens of Dylan’s recorded songs, from his first Columbia album, Bob Dylan (1962) through John Wesley Harding  (1967), including The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A’Changin’, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blond On Blonde, and more.  Each week of the 10 week of the Seminar, students will listen to an entire Dylan album, as well as other related music, and be asked “interact” with it, sharing their ideas and feelings with the rest of the class.  In this way, we will all be listening to, studying, and learning about the music, the artist, and the era together. Bob Dylan is arguably the greatest poet and song writer of the 20th century, and as such, massive amounts of material have already been posted and published on him.  But this class is not designed to "analyze" Dylan and his music, but rather to reflect on the 1960s generation and to see how and why students today are both similar and different from their 1960s peers... both individually and collectively.                      

Eric Trules is an Associate Professor of Practice at USC’s School of Dramatic Arts (28 years), and he has been a Fulbright Senior Specialist in American Studies, an Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award winner, a professional modern dancer and clown, and a USC Phi Kappa Phi Faculty Recognition Award winner.  His specialty is solo performance and he believes that college can be more than merely the acquisition of knowledge and the preparation for a vocational career, but also about the discovery of oneself, one's voice, and one's passion.


Bread and Vodka: Food and Community in Russia
Ayse Rorlich
Mondays, 12-1:50
Section 34600

Food has long played a prominent part in the construction of national identity; what people eat is universally a potent ingredient of national stereotyping.  This course aims to provide an introduction to the cultural history of food and diet in Russia.  Because culture is learned, shared, and transmitted, this course will focus on the study of the cultural implications of food and diet in Russia, while investigating the evolution as well as transmission of food culture.

We will identify the socio-economic conditions which made possible the emergence of certain staple foods and then move on to discuss the cultural elaboration that took place.  We will look at the importance of social competition, new raw materials, the relationship between town and country, state and society, as we will attempt to identify the forces of differentiation which have shaped the food culture marked so uniquely by the importance of Bread and Vodka.

Azade-Ayse Rorlich is Professor of Russian and Eurasian History and Slavic languages and Literatures. She teaches in the History Department of Dornsife College of the University of Southern California.  She received the Social Sciences Division Distinguished Teaching Award in 1983 and the General Education Teaching Award in 2001.  Her research focuses on the study of the Muslims of the Russian empire with a particular emphasis on the investigation of the ways in which culture and religion interface and determine religious practice and identity construction.  She has conducted archival and library research in many cities of the former Soviet Union and  has traveled extensively through the Russian Federation  and Central Asia.


Creativity and Self-Expression
Chris Freeman
Tuesdays, 2-3:50
Section 34606

Slowing down, paying attention, being thoughtful and deliberate about our work, our intentions …. In this seminar, we will spend time on a variety of artists (poets, musicians, painters, filmmakers) and think about how their creativity manifests in their work. We will also spend time on ourselves and our own creativity, choosing work for the seminar to examine and consider, creating our own new material and sharing it.

Artists will include Mary Oliver, David Hockney, Lucille Clifton, Richard Linklater, Langston Hughes, Keith Haring, Seamus Heaney, and many others.  Texts will be available on Blackboard and in a course reader. We will read, watch, and learn.

Chris Freeman teaches English and Gender Studies at USC. He holds a PhD in English from Vanderbilt University. He has lived in Los Angeles for eight years and works on LA-based writers such as Christopher Isherwood and Paul Monette.


Foundations of Self
Broderick Leaks and Jody Armour
Mondays, 7-8:50
Section 34615

University and faculty mentors will be paired with freshman students as they explore African-American identity development, hip-hop culture, academic rebranding, leadership, and redefining masculinity.  Classes will include facilitator–led lectures as well as a guest speaker series that will focus on collegiate athletics, university life, and career development.  Special emphasis will be placed on the analysis of culture and its impact on the worldview and development of the student athlete.

Broderick Leaks received his Ph.D in Clinical Psychology from Fuller Seminary Graduate School of Psychology.  Broderick currently serves a Senior Staff Psychologist at the Engemann Student Health Center.


Musical Subcultures of the Sixties
Bill Biersach
Wednesdays, 4-5:50
Section 34619

During the sixties, due to circumstances within the music industry peculiar to the time, various popular musical styles developed which expressed the social, cultural, religious, political and sexual changes in our society.  While the music of this period survives today and enjoys considerable popularity, much of the meaning behind it has been lost because the context has largely been forgotten.

In this seminar, students will pair off to do research projects involving various aspects of the sixties and how they found musical expression.  Together we will sift through the lyrics, musical styles, facts, tall tales, and contrived myths surrounding various influential people, events, and movements.  We shall read the uncensored thoughts of David Crosby, Timothy Leary, Abbie Hoffman, Bill Wyman, John Lennon, and others.  In so doing we will try to arrive at an understanding of what was really going on in the music business, the drug scene, the pop culture, political and social trends, and the minds of the youth during those turbulent years.

William L. Biersach has been teaching electro-acoustic media and recording technology in the Thornton School of Music since 1975.  His class, The Beatles: Their Music and Their Times was voted one of the top ten courses at USC by Student Affairs.  In 1997 he received the USC Gamma Sigma Alpha Professor of the Year Award.  As a studio musician and synthesizer programmer he composed the score for the Japanese cartoon series, Dan Cougar, and the musical theme for the USC Campaign for Leadership into the 21st Century.  His courses on the Beatles and Classic Rock have attracted the attention of Rolling Stone Magazine, CNN and Prime Time Live.


The Myth of the West
Jeffrey Chisum
Mondays, 2-3:50
Section 34604

The rugged and lonesome West continues to haunt the American imagination: from the red-tinged rock formations in Monument Valley, to the blindingly white stretches of Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats, to the deserted ghost towns dotting the peaks of the Sierra Nevada, this landscape has served as an epic stage where classic themes of violence, heroism, destiny, redemption, division, success, and loss and continue to play out in dramatic fashion in novels, movies, TV shows, and music.

This seminar will allow students to explore and examine many of the themes and iconography of the American West--which, after all, is home to the gunslinger, the surfer, the 49er, of nuclear testing, aliens at Area 51, and numerous new and evolving kinds of mysticism--and we'll reflect on the reasons why this largely mountainous and rain-starved region continues to occupy such a powerful place in our popular culture.

Jeffrey Chisum received a Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing from USC in 2007, and currently he teaches the full range of courses for The Writing Program.  His literary scholarship has focused on the American West, with a special emphasis on the Great Basin--especially Nevada--and his fiction has appeared in L.A. Weekly, The Mississippi Review, and in the anthology, Literary Nevada.


Seinfield is Life
James Brecher
Wednesdays, 2-3:50
Section 34611

Seinfeld, which aired on NBC from 1989-1998, became one of the most successful situation comedies in television history.  The self-described “show about nothing” really was about something: it presented the lives of its four main characters facing their everyday problems as individuals relating to each other and the world around them.  These situations mirror the problems we “real people” face each day, and the solutions the show presents through the characters’ reactions provide guidance in how we should live our lives.

This seminar will look at these situations, the characters’ responses, and their – often disastrous – results as a guide to learn how more appropriately to respond to the situations we face in our own daily lives.  This is not a class about the creation and the mechanics of the show, but an examination of what these situations faced by the characters can teach us. We will accomplish this examination and personal growth through academic and popular readings, class presentations based upon particular episodes, and the occasional guest.

James Brecher, J.D., Ph.D., has practiced law, worked in the business world, and for the past nine years has taught advanced composition to pre-law and arts and humanities students and leadership and writing to occupational therapy doctoral students here at USC.  He has been awarded the USC College Outstanding Teaching Award in Advanced Writing, the John R. Hubbard award for fraternity and sorority service, and two “Tommy” awards for the development of leadership skills and attributes in students.


Sensual Science
Margo Apostolos
Tuesdays, 3-4:50
Section 34616

Sensual Science is a way of looking at the world, a thought process that merges scientific inquiry with artistic creation.  An objective of this course is to foster the growth of creative thinking by providing alternative approaches to problem solving which integrate art and science.

The course will follow a lecture/discussion format.  The lectures will provide a philosophical, historical, and sociological basis.  That is, readings and discussions will vary from aesthetics to the philosophy of science; industrial design will frame a historical view; and relevant ideas in today’s society will comprise the applications of creative thinking to current issues.

Margo K. Apostolos is an Associate Professor and Director of Dance in the School of Theatre at USC.  She earned her Ph.D. from Stanford University and holds a M.A. in Dance from Northwestern University.  Her research includes the exploration of an aesthetic dimension to robotics movement and the use of robots by the severely disabled in rehabilitative settings.


Writing to be Read
Richard Fliegel
Thursdays, 2-3:50
Section 34612

"No one but a blockhead ever wrote except for money," said Samuel Johnson, but that's not the end of the story.  There is after all a reader or an audience, expecting something.  This is a seminar for writers or for people who are trying to be.  We will focus on the question, "How does it change what I write when I'm determined to affect my readers?"  Writing to express yourself accurately is hard, but it's like falling off a log compared to writing things that succeed in stirring other people's emotions.
Students will be expected to read other writers' work in several genres and to share with the class what they themselves have written, sometimes on the spot.  We promise not to laugh unless it's funny -- and if that isn't scary, the devil knows what is.

Richard Fliegel is the Director of the Freshman Seminar program and Associate Dean of Undergraduate Programs in USC Dornsife College.  He has published detective novels and tried his hand at some other forms, from poetry to episodic television.