FirstBridge is discovery

FirstBridge is the hallmark of your first year at AUP. This dynamic, innovative learning experience provides a solid foundation for the rigor of future academic work at AUP and allows you to gain new knowledge and skills that you will use outside the university and beyond in your professional life. By taking two paired courses in two different disciplines, you will explore a range of interdisciplinary issues and questions, and complete individual and team projects while improving vital skills in writing, public speaking and information literacy. It will connect you with the people and resources at AUP that will help you chart a critical pathway to academic and personal success. It is both an introduction to university life at AUP and an introduction to the cosmopolitan city of Paris.



FirstBridge from a Freshman Perspective

FirstBridge and Paris—a combination essential to your learning

Paris is a city known for its beauty, its exquisite museums and monuments, its avant-gardism – and more recently for its new urban developments, global communications and edgy demographic and linguistic shifts. AUP is proud to be at the center of the City of Light and the FirstBridge program embraces this richness. We link the adventurous learning experiences of entering AUP students first to the cutting-edge events of the city, then to the challenges of a global context. Eventually, we bring all explorations back into our multicultural classroom for analysis and project building.

Choosing a FirstBridge

You may be arriving at AUP with a strong sense of your intellectual interests and desired educational and career path, or you may not. FirstBridge is designed to help you confirm interests and explore new ones, to go outside of your comfort zone and take risks. If you have decided on a major or minor, we encourage you to choose a FirstBridge that is outside of this field. The following descriptions will help you to decide which FirstBridge is right for you. Follow the link that accompanies each FirstBridge, read the course descriptions carefully and let them spark your curiosity.

FirstBridge learning communities are paired courses taught by two different professors. The two courses each meet twice a week and are carefully designed for you to make connections between two disciplines. A reflective seminar will help you to discover how one course informs the other. FirstBridge will make up half of your course load during your first semester, for a total of eight credits.

A Selection of FirstBridge Courses (Fall 2020)


In this First Bridge, we explore the economic and political mechanisms that hold society together. Given how selfish we think humans are, isn’t it astonishing how individuals manage to cooperate on such a gigantic scale every day? Hundreds of millions of people are ferried rapidly across distances unimaginable a few centuries ago just to get to work in the morning, doing jobs that allow you to turn on the light, drink a coffee and text your bestie! At the same time, we accept, as if it were fate, vertiginous inequalities and structural injustice for certain people as part of that cooperation. Can humans do better in organizing society?


Prof. Maria Bach

This course is an introduction to key economic concepts and instruments that make up our modern economy. The course will focus on money, debt and tax in an attempt to understand when these things were invented and why. Our exploration will help us understand how our economy works and doesn’t work. We examine how money, debt and tax came about through an historical analysis of old and new texts, some well-known, others hardly at all. The kinds of questions you will be able to answer by the end of the course include: why does money, of all things, have the ability to exchange all goods? When was money first invented and how does it help our economy function? How can you just invent a new kind of money like a cryptocurrency? What is debt and what role does it play in society? Is debt good, bad or something else? When and why were taxes invented? Have you ever thought about how taxes can (or doesn’t) keep society together?


Prof. Oliver Feltham

This course is an introduction to political philosophy via the exploration of two classic texts, Aristotle’s Politics and Plato’s Republic. Our exploration will be guided by two fundamental questions that are as alive for us today as they were back in the heyday of the birthplace of democracy: how does a political collective come together? What are the dangers for a political body? These questions will lead us on a journey of discovery through rich and fascinating questions about the nature of justice, political friendship, how to construct the common good, the difference between a good and a bad education, what it means to be a citizen, the subversive role of poetry and the arts in politics, the relation between ideas and reality, the prevention or provocation of revolution, and the question of who leads the best life, the rich, the politician or the philosopher? By the end of the course you should be able to defeat all adversaries in arguments about these topics, and you will also possess two of the most solid definitions of happiness that can be found in Mediterranean philosophy.


What does it mean to be a hero in 2020? What does it mean to be a villain? When does a hero become a villain, and vice versa? In Fall 2019, the sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg crossed the Atlantic in an emission-free sailboat, to address a climate summit at the United Nations, lauded by environmental activists worldwide and described as a "heroine" by some sections of the media. More conservative voices see her as a villain who spreads fear, despair, and panic. In many circles, whistleblower Edward Snowden has been described as a "villain", for the privacy and data protection movement, he is clearly a hero. Yet more controversial figures like Julian Assange where once generally regarded as heroes but have since turned evil. This FirstBridge course, using the approaches of the disciplines of Psychology and Comparative Literature, will interrogate representations of heroic and villainous archetypes from history and fictional works from the Classical era to the present day. We will think hard about superheroes and supervillains, Superman and Wonder Woman, saints and serial killers, broken characters and psychopaths. We will read, discuss and analyze TV series and films, essays and comic books, theory and clinical research. Students will think analytically and creatively, write research essays and have the opportunity to explore Hero-Villain phenomenon using digital media.


Prof. Russell Williams

How are heroes and villains explored in literary and popular culture? This course will see students explore, discuss and analyse a series of depictions of heroic and villainous behaviour drawn from novels, poems, and essays but also from comic books, TV series, journalism, pop music and computer games. We’ll also consider the different experiences, and the implicit politics, of reading, playing, immersing in, interacting and working with this material. Amongst other things, we’ll be reading and thinking deeply about Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Alan Moore’s Watchmen (1987).


Prof. Gail Hamilton

In this course we will explore business “heroes” and “villains” in contexts that include strategy and leadership, human resource decisions, as well as the nuts and bolts of companies’ sales or service operations.  Students will study historical and current business leaders such as Marshall Field and the Boucicauts, Bill Gates, or Jeff Bezos, along with their fictional counterparts, analyzing their decisions, the reasons for success or failure, and the aftermath.  We will examine sectors such as retail with its apocalypse, sports and its data-driven transformation, and finance with its traditional “villains” by using the work of Michael Lewis:  Moneyball (2011) and The Big Short (2015) along with Breaking Bad (2008-2013) and other films and series.

FirstBridge 3: MASCULINITIES 1984/2020

What would we learn about ourselves, our societies, and our technologies, by imagining ourselves back in time? What is the value of historical imagination in our attempts to invent the present and the future? In this First-Bridge pairing, we will be concentrating on the year 1984. Through the study of popular culture, archival information, intellectual history, and media technologies, we will build an ‘archaeology’ of discourses of masculinity in that year, and a ‘genealogy’ of ways in which people related to those discourses. We will discover how events and processes in that year led to our present world, and we’ll excavate possibilities that were not realized. We will explore those areas in analytical work, interviews with people across the world who lived through that year, and exercises of creative reconstruction.  We’ll bond during study trips across the city of Paris, looking for traces of 1984, and experiencing the new possibilities for discourses of masculinity emerging in 2020. Across all of these sites and practices, we will ask how discourses of masculinity infiltrated bodies, styles, actions, and ways of thinking in 1984, and what traces remain in 2020.


Prof. Geoffrey Gilbert

What happens when we try to understand and inhabit historical identities, to write from within the lives of the past? This course will mix analysis, creative reconstruction, and cultural-materialist methods to explore the lives of 1984 (with a special focus on masculinity). We’ll be searching through the archives for what the German anti-fascist philosopher Walter Benjamin called ‘dialectical images’: powerful images of human lives that speak to us urgently from the past. These images, for Benjamin, show us the historical and social and political limitations that constrained lives in the past; but they also contain the seeds of possibility, of hopes and futures that did not come true, and which can serve as an inspiration and a resource for us. In coordination with Professor Payne’s course, our work will proceed in three phases. First, we will establish and explore a repertoire of representations from 1984, looking at images, artworks, television, newspapers, film and literature from across the world (our choices will depend on the languages and interests of students) – we’ll concentrate particularly on the way that poetry registers and disrupts ambient representations. At the same time, we will develop our theoretical tools and methods of analysis. When we have a sense of 1984, we will work on creative exploration, as we inhabit the lives we are researching and starting to understand, writing fictionally from within the constraints and possibilities of 1984. The closing section will take us to the history of the present: we’ll look for dialectical images of masculinity in 2019. How do we intervene in the institutions, social forms, and material practices that are constraining our lives or opening up rich prospects for us, so that we can enable or build the masculinity of the future?


Prof. Robert Payne

Masculinity has come under increased critical scrutiny recently, with particular attention being paid to the relationship between social, sexual and political norms of masculinity and changes in media and popular culture. This course aims to interrogate this relationship in several ways. First, we will analyse how various masculinities are represented and constructed in media and popular culture and establish theoretical foundations for our study. Second, we will explore the gendering of media forms and formats and consider media technologies and institutions as technologies and institutions of gender. Third, we will reflect on our own historical positioning as gendered subjects in order to give more complex accounts of masculinity’s current formations. Media and popular culture of the year 1984 will provide a lens for the first two parts of the course, before we turn our critical gaze back to the present to challenge claims of the inevitability of masculinity and media technology in 2020.


We will be answering all the questions you never dared ask your mother: why do human beings have sex? Why are there males and females and what is gender anyway? How do bodies get pregnant? Does female orgasm have an evolutionary biological purpose? Get frank, scientifically grounded answers to these questions and more from interspecies and intersectional perspectives as a biologist and feminist scholar debunk the idea of maternal instinct because what it means to be a mother depends on what animal you are and where you are.


Prof. Elizabeth Kinne

When women are still encouraged to embrace “having it all,” maternity remains central to social constructions of femininity. This class will explore the connections between reproduction, motherhood, and sexuality through a feminist lens, refuting the fallacy of “maternal instinct” and considering the global political, economic, and racial inequality in normative heterosexual reproduction. In order to better understand the cultural, social, and economic implications of contemporary motherhoods, we will talk about contraception, abortion, reproductive technologies, adoption, surrogacy, the global outsourcing of childcare and affective labor, the mommy wars, queer maternities. This cross-listed course will explore contemporary maternities through literature and provide an introduction to feminist theory with readings, including The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson, selections in feminist science fiction, and non-fiction or theoretical texts.


Prof. Elena Berg

In this course, we will investigate how motherhood is shaped by evolution and by the human mating and social systems in which we live. We will learn about the biology of sex, sexuality, and mating systems and our notions about motherhood and the role of men, women, and parents in society. What does biology have to say about the roles of men and women, challenging assumptions about how men and women are different? This class will explore the notion of cooperative breeding in human mating systems and how we evolved in the context of other primate species.


In Spring of 2020, we suddenly found our public life was moved indoors and online in response to a global pandemic. Times of crisis present challenges for democratic participation: governments use emergency measures to make decisions, elections are paused, and traditional modes of association, like meetings and protests, are stifled. Can digital tools respond? What are the perils and promises of online participation for democracy? Life online transforms our political world: bots are “stealing” elections, hackers who leak government secrets are alternately hailed as heroes or traitors, protests are organized as Facebook events and Twitter threads turn into impassioned debates that span remote locations. This course studies emerging technology and current events, but asks old questions about what it means to participate in a public. It addresses problems of access, safety, literacy, and inequality that reemerge in new forms. This course brings together key concepts in media studies and democracy theory to think about our roles as citizens in the digital age: as we come of age in a networked society, what new opportunities and responsibilities do we have as globally connected citizens and political actors? 


Prof. Jessica Feldman

Life online increasingly effects our political world: bots are “stealing” elections, hackers who leak government secrets are alternately hailed as heroes or traitors, protests are organized as Facebook events and twitter threads turn into impassioned debates that span remote locations. How has the growth of networked communication changed politics? What are the perils and promises of online participation for democracy? This course studies emerging technology and current events, but asks old questions about what it means to participate in a public. It addresses problems of access, safety, literacy, and inequality that reemerge in new forms. This course brings together key concepts in media studies and democracy theory to think about our roles as citizens in the digital age: as we come of age in a networked society, what new opportunities and responsibilities do we have as globally connected citizens and political actors?


Prof. Julian Culp

Democracy, which means government by, for and of the people, is an intriguing idea that raises many questions: Who belongs to the people? What is the will people? Who can speak in the name of the people? In this course we survey classic and contemporary theories and practices of democracy, ranging from direct democracy in ancient Athens to modern day democratic protest in Tahrir Square and Zuccotti Park. We pay special attention to the ways in which processes of digitalization such as the use of social media transform local, national and global forms of democratic life.


The goal of this FirstBridge course is give an introduction to the fundamental concepts of design and programming. The students will acquire a variety of skills while building a number of models and prototypes. The stress will be on the creative process behind the artifact production.  

Questions that will be explored: 

  • What is design?  
  • What is a model?  
  • How can the making of prototypes help us better understand the built environment?  
  • How can we use different materials “properly?”   
  • Models and simulations as mental tools.  
  • How do we develop models in different media?   
  • What can be modeled?  
  • What are the limits of design? 
  • Creativity and how we might be able to increase it? 

Our pair of courses explores two complementary ways of creating stuff. The first one (in AR1091) is by using different materials (clay, wood, carton, pen and paper) to produce abstract and representational sculptures and drawings. In CS1091, we will be designing virtual objects (movies, web pages, computer programs). We will then go on to compare the two approaches by analyzing the creative processes, writing narratives about them, and identify similarities and the differences.  

This FirstBridge will culminate in merging the “material” and “virtual” approach by learning to design engaging interactive machines or robots using Lego Mindstorms robotic kits as a starting point. These robo-sculptures will move and interact with humans or among themselves in order to do things that are useful, funny, beautiful, or all of the above! 


Prof. Georgi Stojanov

In this part of the FB students will acquire skills to create digital objects. We will start by creating simple static objects and movies (from 2D pictures to 3D artifacts) to interactive games and engaging and entertaining ones. Starting with simple programs (like Excel and Word) we’ll continue with 3D design software and finally Lego Mindstorms to create physical interactive sculptures, wearables, and various prototypes and conceptual installations. The stress will be on originality and the engagement rather than utility.


Prof. Jonathan Shimony

The goal of The Studio Class is to introduce incoming students to the fundamental concepts of 3-D design. Experimentation and discovery are at the heart of this course, with exercises that stress the creative processes needed for the production of prototypes. The product development process, beginning with brainstorming and sketching, followed by sketch modeling, aesthetic evaluation, final maquettes, and ending with written, visual, and oral communication is used for each assignment. The students will acquire a multitude of design skills by building a variety of models from various materials. The last few projects will be “brought to life” by incorporating the technologies learned in the other half of this FirstBridge. The critical skills needed to assess objects designed by others and an appreciation of the intersection of art and science are further learning outcomes of The Studio Course.


The cultures of the Middle East and North Africa are plural. Though marked by monotheism, this region, running from the Atlantic Ocean in the West to the Arabian Gulf in the East, is home to multiple languages, lifestyles, and forms of architecture. This First Bridge offers an introduction to cities as diverse as Cairo and Istanbul, Fès, Tunis and Diyarbakir, along with the expanding capsular metropolises of the Gulf emirates. Discovering the region’s societies through literature, film, and social media, students will be introduced to theories drawn from cultural geography and urban planning. With Paris home to numerous Middle Eastern diaspora groups, visits to museums and other sites in the city are planned.


Prof. David Tresilian

David Tresilian’s CL1099 course on Modern to Contemporary in the Arab World introduces students to the literature and culture of the modern Arab world, using this as a way into understanding this still sometimes poorly understood region. Providing sound foundations in twentieth-century literature from a range of Arab countries, the course brings students right up to date to the aftermath of the Arab Spring Revolutions and contemporary debates about the region's identity and direction. Literature, film, and other materials are studied, providing opportunities for reflection on the societies from which they come and helping students to reinforce their critical thinking through careful analysis and discussion.

This First Bridge pairing draws upon the accumulated expertise of its instructors and makes ample use of the Paris and French environment, notably planning visits to sites in Paris, in Marseilles, an important crossing point for European and Arab identities. A longer study trip is planned to the United Arab Emirates, a growing urban centre in the contemporary Arab world.


Prof. Justin McGuinness

This class in urban history and cultural and political geography covers the development of the city in the Western Asia and North Africa. It provides an overview of urban settlement in the Middle East from the beginnings of Islam to the eighteenth century, before focusing on the processes of urbanization in the MENA region from 1800 until today. After defining the specificities of the region’s cities, the emphasis shifts to the interaction between rapid social change, political power and professional planning. Today, uprisings fueled by demands for social equity and democracy, major conflict driven migrations and the needs of capital all mark cities in the Middle East and North Africa. The course allows students to reflect critically on issues related to managing, planning and designing for extensive city regions, historic centres and poorly serviced self-built areas. Students will thus become aware of the major trends and challenges in cities located at the critical meeting point of Africa and Eurasia.


Since the nineteenth century, theories of race have frequently claimed legitimacy based on Charles Darwin’s The Origin of the Species, sometimes to violent and discriminatory ends. Literature has at times been complicit in such cooptation, and at times sought to correct for the damage it has wrought. What did Darwin really say, though? How could his ideas have been so useful to people intent on dividing communities?  The language of science has convinced generations that ‘race’ is a actual biological category, rather than the social construct that it is, justifying marginalization, slavery, and genocide. Writers have often engaged in the work of telling stories that were cut off through racist or genocidal practices. By looking at both the history of science and the reparative efforts of literature, we will consider such current issues as why it’s interesting to capitalize the terms Black and White when speaking of race, what contemporary science can and can’t say about the origins of our species, and whether the Darwin Awards are true to the ideas of their namesake. Reproducible science and effective literature will guide us through misconceptions about and misuses of evolution


Prof. Cary Hollinshead-Strick

What role does literature play in addressing historical and political wrongs? This class will read novels and poems and essays that offer connections and stories obscured by the usual sources of historical information. When, in Beloved, Toni Morrison uses a nineteenth-century newspaper article to imagine the experiences and motives of the formerly-enslaved woman named in it, or when Georges Perec, in W or the Memory of Childhood, integrates photographs of family members lost in the Holocaust into a memoir that flirts with amnesia, both authors make visible the holes in the historical record.  Does this kind of surfacing of lives lost or damaged by racism and genocide constitute activism? If so, what does such a project look like now?


Prof. Linda Martz

 Given that there is only one human species, Homo sapiens, why are some societies so obsessed with separating people into groups and referring to differences between groups as “racial”? Humans have always identified some people as “Us” and everybody else as “Other,” but the “scientific” discourse of race dates from the 19th century. After examining what science can say about the origins and evolution of our species, students will look at how racialized discourse came into use, how it came to justify slavery and imperialism, how it gave rise to eugenics, and how it can culminate in the ultimate denial of the kinship of humanity, genocide.