Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2023

Course Description

Be yourself! This is a strange imperative. Can you not be yourself? What could stop you from being yourself? And where should you look to find yourself so that you can be yourself? If the exhortation to “be yourself!” is paradoxical, we nonetheless hear it all the time in advertisements, films, music, literature, and even mission statements for liberal arts colleges. Why do so many people think that “being yourself” is a very important ethical ideal?

Or is it? Why isn’t a life of self-discovery, self-realization, and self-fulfillment simply a narcissistic, egocentric, and selfish way to live? Our seminar will try to tackle these questions about what it means to “be yourself” by tracing the history of this modern ethic of authenticity. We’ll track the idea that each one of us has our own way of realizing our humanity by closely reading works from Augustine, James Baldwin, Joan Didion, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Herman Melville, and others.

As a first-year writing seminar, this course also has a very strong writing component. To write well you must read well, and in our class you will learn how to be active readers. We will ponder, question, poke, and prod our texts by discussing and writing about them. The close attention we will be giving to the choices writers make—especially our own choices—will empower us to see not only how writing can be a tool for thinking but also how language shapes us and our apprehension of the world. The course aims to make it possible to experience college writing not as a perfunctory and instrumental exercise but as an exploratory, liberating, and powerful tool for imagining and thinking.

Student Outcomes

Student Learning Outcomes
Students will be able to:

  • think more clearly about the value of “being yourself” as an ethical ideal
  • interpret better
  • write better