Student Seminars

Student Seminars are interdisciplinary not-for-credit classes designed and run by students to explore experimental topics of their choosing.

Seminars draw students from across the academic disciplines. In 2013-14, participants joined from the following areas of study: Anthropology, Astronomy, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Classical Culture and Society, Cognitive Science, Comparative Literature, Economics, English, Environmental Studies, Film Studies, History, History of Art, Linguistics, Mathematics, Philosophy, Physics, and Religion.

Students are invited each spring to propose (individually or with a partner from a different major) a subject of interest that they would like to explore with a group of six or seven participants. The Student Seminar organizer(s) recruit(s) a faculty advisor, who helps develop the students' syllabus. Once the HCAH Steering Committee approves a proposal, the Hurford Center issues a call for applicants to the student body, selecting an intellectually diverse group of members. Seminars take place the following fall semester, generally meeting over five two to three-hour sessions.

All books, materials, and refreshments are funded by the Center, as well as a visiting speaker if desired. As Undergraduate Fellows of the Center, each seminar member is eligible for a generous stipend to purchase other texts or materials related to the topic.

Please contact Associate Director James Weissinger as soon as possible to set up a meeting and discuss your idea. Peruse the Archive for examples of past student seminars.

  • Photo: Lisa Boughter

    Since 2004-05, students from more than 40 disciplines and areas of study have organized 27 interdisciplinary seminars.

    View Past Seminars

Seminars for Fall 2014

  • "Decoding the Videogame: Reading and Writing in New Media"

    Seminar Leader: Daniel Fries '15 (Comparative Literature, French, Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies)
    Faculty Advisor: Markus Baenziger (Fine Arts)
    Seminar Participants: Rachel Baron '15 (English); Marissa Gibson-Garcia (Fine Arts); Olivia Jacocks '17 (undeclared); Aaron Lowe '15 (Computer Science and Mathematics); Whitney Mueller '15 (French and Greek)

    In 1962,Steve Russell built Spacewar! on MIT’s PDP-1. Videogames became tech demos, then the new pinball machines, then household toys, and now the American film industry sees them as heavy competition. Over the last five to ten years, videogames have become a staple of modern entertainment, but what are they really and how should we look at them? The plan for this seminar is to examine closely the videogame as its own art form alongside literature and film and dance and sculpture and conceptual work.

    Recently, the medium has become more democratic and the number of gamic works (and good and great gamic works) has skyrocketed. But looking at these games as if they’re “the new movies” or “better than books” or “a painting you control,” doesn’t let us understand the full scope of what they do,or what they can do. This seminar will go in depth to begin to find out what games are, what they can be, how they are made, and how we can make them even better.

    Photo: Ordinateur DPD-1 (qui faisait tourner Spacewar! en 1962) (Nicolas Esposito) / CC BY 2.0

    Download Seminar Description

  • "Beyond the Reals: An Exploration of Mathematics in Fiction"

    Seminar Leader: James Faville '17 (Probable Linguistics and Classics Major)
    Faculty Advisor: Elizabeth Beazley (Mathematics and Statistics)
    Seminar Participants: Jonathan DeWitt '16 (Mathematics & Computer Science); Henri Drake '15 (Mathematics, Physics & Computer Science minor); Alec Johnsson '15 (English, Anthropology minor); Tiancheng Liu '16 (Mathematics); Yabin Lu '17 (undeclared); Ziyue Schuai '15 (Mathematics/Statistics & French); Caleb Wroblewski '15 (Economics and Mathematics)

    Perhaps the most fundamental component of mathematics is its loyalty towards truth. From a set of well­ defined axioms follow plethoric theorems, and any conjectures must ultimately stand the test of rigorous proof before full acceptance into the proper mathematical canon. Fiction might appear to be contrary to this approach, since it revels in the nonfactual and imaginary, but mathematicians will be the first to admit that any resemblances to the real world in their work are merely coincidental: it is the axioms that determine truth, and the internal consistency that matters.

    When mathematics and fiction are intimately brought together–when an author, whether with the intention of using fiction as a pedagogical device to elucidate a mathematical concept, or using mathematical concepts as a literary technique to enrich his or her fiction, interweaves the two disciplines–of what form is the result? It is my hope that this exploration will not only be fascinating of its own accord, but also probe into the nature of mathematics and fiction, from both theoretical and cultural standpoints.

    Download Seminar Description

Propose a Seminar


Friday, March 20, 2015
Open to rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors from all majors

Be sure to read the Seminar Leader and Faculty Advisor Guidelines, as well as look at past seminar syllabi to help in writing your own.

Propose a Seminar

Join a Seminar


Wednesday, April 15, 2015
Open to rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors from all majors.

Here's an example of a strong student seminar application.

Join a Seminar

Seminar Leader and Faculty Advisor Guidelines

  • Seminar Guidelines
    • Groups should be comprised of leader(s) plus five or six students from a variety of departments.
    • All seminar participants will meet as a group FIVE times during the fall semester. Full participation is essential, and the student seminar leader(s) will work with students at the beginning of the fall semester to create a schedule of meetings amenable to all members of the group.
    • The Seminar’s student organizer(s) have a faculty advisor who will assist the undergraduate fellows in choosing reading materials and organizing a speaker, if so desired. This advisor will also serve as an engaged mentor throughout the process and will attend a) a spring planning meeting and b) one of five seminar meetings during the fall semester. Details on faculty obligations provided below
    • As soon as the reading list is finalized, the Hurford Center will send the texts to students so that they will be able to read them over the summer break.
    • All seminar participants will meet with the faculty advisor and Programs and Administrative Manager Emily Cronin, who will work with you at the beginning of the Fall semester to set a schedule of meetings and review responsibilities and processes.
    • Participants will provide a final assessment of the seminar experience in a form determined by the group. Final assessments usually come as individual reflections on the seminar but other forms may be used.
    • All books/materials/refreshments will be funded by the Hurford Center. In addition, each student receives a $150 book allowance to purchase materials related to the seminar topic. The allowance will be paid as a reimbursement at the end of the Seminar once the final assessment is received. Reports are due by February 1, 2014.
    • The Center may also fund a visiting speaker who will address both the seminar group and the campus as a whole.
  • Procedures and Resources
    Films and Texts for the Seminar

    If ordered through the Haverford College Bookstore, these items may be charged directly to the Hurford Center. If student leaders need to purchase items from an off-campus vendor see Emily Cronin.

    • Seminar leaders(s) may use the Xerox machine in Stokes 103.
    • Seminar leader(s)may take materials to Digital Print Services and get reimbursed.
    • Seminar leader(s) may ask the Library to scan individual articles which the leader(s) could then email to individual students as PDFs.

    The Center will provide up to $25 per Seminar meeting for food. Leader(s) should save receipts for the duration of the Seminar, and submit them to Hurford Center Administrative Assistant and Bookkeeper Kerry Nelson in Stokes 103 by February 1, 2014. If for some reason, the leaders cannot afford to wait that long for reimbursement, please let us know. Receipts must submitted by February 1.

    Closing Dinner

    The budget allows for a closing dinner ($30 per person for each seminar participant and the advisor) at a local restaurant. We can arrange for direct billing of the meal, at a discount, at a number of local restaurants, or can reimburse a leader or advisor for the cost of the meal.


    The Hurford Center can help with travel, lodging, and publicity arrangements for a guest speaker. Programs and Administrative Manager Emily Cronin can show you a sample of the invitation wording. We will handle the required paperwork for the honorarium, cover travel expenses, arrange for a Campus Guest Room, etc. It is a good idea for the faculty advisor to make sure that the speaker understands the character of this visit, and what will be covered during the stay. In order for Haverford to release the honorarium check, speakers must fill out a W-9 form. For reimbursement of travel expenses, we must have receipts. Just let us know how we can help.

    Note: Seminar meetings may be scheduled to take place in the Hurford Center Seminar Room, Stokes 102. These sessions must be scheduled in advance with Emily Cronin or Kerry Nelson. Leaders may need to arrange for access to a key if meetings are scheduled in the evening or on weekends.

    Reports & Undergraduate Fellow Book Allowance

    Each student receives an individual $150 book allowance once the Seminar report has been completed and turned in. Students should save receipts for their purchases and the Center will reimburse them. If for some reason, an individual student cannot wait for reimbursement, he or she should speak directly with Emily Cronin. We can arrange for direct purchase of the items by the Hurford Center in such cases.

    Summary of Faculty Advisor Obligations:
    • Meet with the Seminar Leader(s) during the Spring prior to the seminar to explain obligations of each participant: full attendance and preparation, individual narrative report by February following the semester; provide support for Seminar planning – structure, syllabus, etc.
    • Meet with the Seminar Director(s) and Participants at the outset of the fall term to discuss schedule and a/v requirements, as well as pedagogical issues.
    • Choose one meeting to attend (among the early meetings, 1, 2, or 3).
    • Help with choice and vetting of guest speaker.
    • Submit a final report about the Seminar.
    Faculty Stipend

    The stipend for the Faculty Advisor ($1000) will be added to a paycheck at the conclusion of the Seminar once all the obligations have been met.