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 First-Year Student's 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 2021)


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.

CL1099: PARENTING IN THE PATRIARCHY with Professor 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.

SC1099: THE SCIENCE OF SEX with Professor 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.


By approaching math and literature as imaginative and conceptual games, this course gets you to think in original, out-of-the-box ways. Together, we ask: Can we see math and literature as systems of rules? What happens when we bend, break and reinvent these rules?  We will see that both fields arrive at some of their most exciting discoveries when they trespass the limits of their systems. No intellectual baggage in math or literature is required as we, like Alice in her wonderland, plunge down this rabbit hole of the bizarre problems and beautiful conceptual solutions that changed the course of both disciplines. 


In mathematics, different sets of rules give rise to different mathematical architectures. But do these mathematical structures have any limits? What happens when we push the underlying rules to the extreme? Focusing on "pathological" (e.g. autoreferential) and paradoxical scenarios, we will discover that mathematical matters can be approached as games that stimulate our problem-solving skills and creativity. In particular, we will discuss Gödel's incompleteness theorems - important metamathematical results that establish the inherent limitations of the majority of mathematical structures, and which make us question what mathematics is and what it is really capable of.


Seeing a literary text as a “system” with its own “rules” is one of the major developments in contemporary literary criticism. But do literary architectures have their limits? What happens when we push these conventions to the extreme? We will investigate the supernatural in Russian fairy tales, mind-bending paradoxes in Zen poetry and science fiction, cubist juxtapositions in French literature as well as Alice in Wonderland, where mathematical logic and madness run wild.


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 Management 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.

BA 1099: Holding Out for a Hero with Professor 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) as well as other books, films, and series.

CL 1099: You Are The Hero with Professor 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.


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 diverse languages and cultures, cities and landscapes. In this First Bridge, students discover the region’s societies through literature, cinema, and other materials. They also study the Middle East’s urbanism and architecture, examining cities as diverse as Mecca and Médina, Cairo and Istanbul, Fès, Tunis and Diyarbakir, along with the capsular metropolises of the Gulf emirates. With these twinned classes, students find out how several disciplines, including cultural geography, urban planning and architectural history, as well as literature and cinema, construct knowledge. Paris, city of migrants, offers us museums and neighbourhoods to visit that are important to Middle Eastern diasporas. Fieldtrips outside Paris are planned, the public-health situation allowing.


David Tresilian’s CL1091 course on Modern to Contemporary in the Arab World uses literature and film to introduce students to a region which is often poorly understood by outsiders. Providing sound foundations in twentieth-century literature from a range of Arab countries, the course brings students right up to the present. What is the situation in the Arab World, ten years after the uprisings of spring 2011? What are the current debates on identity and culture in the region? Where is cultural life at its most dynamic? How is this culture seen in the students’ home countries? The study of a diverse range of texts, films, and digital materials gives students a basis on which to reflect critically on these questions and use them as a basis for a final project.  


Bringing together urban planning, architectural history and political geography, course ME1091 looks at cities in 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 region from 1800 until today. After looking at the specificities of the region’s cities we explore the interaction between rapid social change, political power and professional planning. Today, uprisings fuelled 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. Students will reflect on issues related to the management, planning and design of extensive city regions, historic centres and poorly serviced self-built areas. Essentially, this course is an introduction to the challenges facing cities located at the critical meeting point of Africa and Eurasia.  


This FirstBridge considers the implications of self-analysis for the mediums of literature and art. Students study authors who have used autobiographical narrative to examine the essential question of identity—“Who am I?”—from Saint Augustine to the present. Concurrently, they interrogate the relationship between words and artworks as expressed by the interviews, documentaries, and theoretical texts of and about visual artists. These inquiries are complemented and reinforced by biweekly visits to some of Paris’s most celebrated museums (Louvre, Musée d’Orsay).  

CL 1099: AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL WRITING with Professor Medin

In this class we consider authors who have used narratives, essays, journals, correspondence, and playfully inventive forms to explore different aspects of self-knowledge. The course has critical and creative components. Critical, since students develop skills of reading analytically and learning how to situate a text within a particular historical context. Creative, since students practice autobiographical writing in the forms deployed by their assigned authors. By learning how others have documented their experience across different genres, students become better readers of themselves and the world around them. They moreover enhance their ability to articulate this understanding in writing with greater clarity. Authors studied may include Saint Augustine, Michael de Montaigne, Madame de Sévigné, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Frederick Douglass, Vincent van Gogh, Franz Kafka, Alejandra Pizarnik, Joe Brainard, Lorna Goodinson. 


"Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?" asked, with some irony, art historian Linda Nochlin in a seminal 1971 essay. Part of the answer, she replied, lies in in a common misconception of what art is: the naive idea that art is the direct, personal expression of individual emotional experience —a translation of personal life into visual terms. The class will rely on an extensive selection of films (old and new, mainstream, documentary and experimental ones) to examine both the cultural construction and perpetuation of the myth of the “Great” artist and its rebuttal. 


We hear and read about struggles in many regions in the world, but how much do we know about the origins and causes of these struggles and about the cultural and linguistic richness of the societies in these regions? This FirstBridge will examine this question through the perspectives of history, politics, and linguistics. The history and politics course will examine the Middle East and its contemporary politics, including the evolution of Arabic through political and social developments and its relation to other languages in the region. The region’s rich array of languages and their histories, as well as languages in other parts of the world, will be the focus of the linguistics course. Excursions that investigate historical, political and linguistic relations between Europe and the Middle East through European, French and Parisian environments will also be a part of the course, as well as external speakers, film screenings, and individual and group research projects based on relevant questions identified together during the semester.

LI1099: LANGUAGES OF THE WORLD with Professor Rast

What is a language? How many languages are there in the world? How do we go about counting them? How are languages traced to language families? Is there one prehistoric proto-language from which all languages evolved? In this course, we will investigate the diversity of languages and language families around the world, the structural characteristics of these languages, and how languages change over time.

Benefiting from the FirstBridge link to the course “Struggles, Cultures, Identities, and Revolutions in the Modern Middle East”, this course will include an exploration of languages from the Middle East, both spoken and written, from antiquity to modern times. Finally, through collaborative projects, we will consider the issues of linguistic diversity and endangered languages.


Following the decline of the Ottoman Empire during the First World War, five founding moments have marked the history of the Middle East.
The first is the one of European promises, betrayals and establishment of maps and borders (1915 - 1920).
The second moment is that of the creation of Israel in 1947, followed by the First Arab Israeli war (1948-49), and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.
The third moment, 1973, is the one of the last Arab-Israeli war (in terms of State to state actor), the end of Nasserism, the oil boom and the rise of political Islam.
The fourth moment is that of the Iranian revolution in 1979 followed by the devastating Iraq-Iran war. It happened at the same moment when the Afghan jihad started against the Soviet army.
The fifth is the one that started in 2011, when revolutions against dictatorships erupted in many Arab countries. Conflicts, counter-revolutions and foreign military interventions followed and led to the series of crises that the Middle East (and the world) continue to witness today.

The course will explore these moments and will examine how the evolution of languages and dialects affected them culturally and politically.


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.


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.

AH1099: ART AND HUMAN ORIGINS with Professor Slavkova

In 1898, the famous French painter Paul Gauguin finished a large canvas entitled Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?. Influenced by Polynesian culture, to the point that he settled in Tahiti and the Marquise Islands for the last decade of his life, Gauguin was preoccupied with finding a visual equivalent to some fundamental questions: what are the origins of humanity, what is the goal of our existence, what is our place in the universe, what happens to us after we die, what will remain behind us? In his attempt to answer these questions, the artist confronted diverse religious references, from Adam and Eve to pagan totems and Buddha, as well as diverse artistic traditions, from his native Western to Polynesian and Japanese. Gauguin’s work was not an exception; at the end of the 19th century, with the progressive recognition of prehistoric art and non-Western art and cultures, artists embraced essential ethic, scientific, philosophical interrogations revising their own beliefs and stereotypes.

This course will explore how important questions such as what makes us human and why we are here are reflected in or expressed through visual representation. We will go back to prehistoric art and what it tells us about our ancestors, the first men and women; we’ll look at representations of the creation of the world and of humans in different cultures (Egyptian, Greco-Roman, Christian medieval in Western Europe, Polynesian); we’ll see how artworks reveal social attitudes towards the “other,” people of different cultures and color, from the Renaissance to Gauguin; finally, we’ll look at how art was used by the Nazis to answer these big questions through simplified images of the purity of the race suggesting the possible rebirth of a pure race and eventually justifying genocide.


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? 


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?


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.


In this FirstBridge, students will have a chance, both to act out the revolutions and debates of mid-nineteenth-century France, and to read texts by Victor Hugo, whose writing shaped and reacted to many of those debates. Having come to know Napoleon’s legacy by arguing over its virtues and shortfalls, students will be able to evaluate the ways that Hugo uses that recent past in Les Misérables. Efforts to abolish slavery and capital punishment were advanced (and in some cases slowed) by both politicians and writers, several of whom we will get to know. Nineteenth-century debates over the relationship between church and state, which remain relevant today, will also serve as context for Hugo’s efforts to motivate renovation of Notre Dame Cathedral in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Of the nine distinct forms of government that ruled during Hugo’s lifetime, he wrote about, and we will study, four of the most lastingly influential ones.


Largely inspired by Barnard College’s award-winning Reacting to the Past role-playing games, this course plunges students into the intellectual and political currents that shaped nineteenth-century France, from the fall of Napoleon’s First Empire to the repression of Paris Commune. Students assume a diversity of roles in French society and practice critical thinking, primary source analysis, and argument, both written and spoken. They will engage in power struggles and reflect on contradicting meanings of “citizenship” and “liberty” in an imperial and colonial nation-state. They will fight for their rights as aristocrats, clergymen, bankers, workers, or slaves, following France’s history but possibly changing its outcomes: in this game, depending on students’ activism, Napoleon II may rule France for a while, or the abolition of slavery may be hastened or delayed by a decade.

The course is primarily taught in English. However, by the end of semester, students will know some French phrases and will be able to name some places and historical characters the French way.

CL1099 - HUGO'S PARIS with Professor Hollinshead-Strick

By the age of thirty, Hugo had begun writing his own myth. One of his poems begins with the year of his birth: “This Century was two years old! Rome was replacing Sparta/ Already Napoleon was visible in Bonaparte…” While Hugo was hardly modest, he did live through a momentous time in French history, and he wrote poems, plays, and novels that mattered a great deal to his contemporaries. His Romantic plays caused highly publicized brawls in Parisian theaters. His Hunchback of Notre Dame rescued Notre Dame cathedral from decrepitude.  In Les Misérables, perhaps his best-known work today, Hugo tried to address some of the causes and effects of increasing disparities in wealth.  By studying Hugo’s work in parallel with the time in which it was written, we will consider more broadly how literature and politics have interacted and try to determine what the legacy of Hugo’s humanitarian megalomania is now.


This course asks how anthropology and literature can allow us to interpret cultures and navigate forms of difference. What are the conceptual tools these disciplines give us to liberate ourselves from hierarchies and imagine new ways of being? You will discover that being an enquiring ethnographer can impel you to become a better writer, just as being a questing writer can spark your ethnographic creativity to imagine more equitable and empowering social worlds. We will also explore cafés, museums and neighbourhoods in Paris as spaces of belonging and artistic production.

AN1099 - OTHER WORLDS with Professor Elder

In order to create new worlds, we must understand the world we live in.  In this course students will explore the cultural diversity of human expressions across the world. Using ethnographic readings on kinship, identity, ritual, religion, beauty, politics and the environment, the course will provide students with the opportunity to engage with other cultures, people and places.  Applying the anthropological perspective and participatory observations, students will reflect on their own cultural background and be invited to imagine and explore new possibilities and ways of being.  This course will use science fiction and work of Ursula le Guin to guide students in their exploration. Blending fiction, anthropology, and visits to different sites in Paris, this course seeks to create a space for other worlds.


Whether it is elves or aliens (or a hybrid species combining both), fantasy and science fiction stage encounters with forms of Otherness. We will explore the blend and blur of literary fiction and ethnographic observation to depict “primitive” or “advanced” societies as well as to mirror forms of discrimination and diversity in our own world. In its infinite potential to push the boundaries of our imagination, speculative fiction empowers us to rename and reimagine difference.


This FirstBridge looks at how the human species sees itself and how we envision categories. How do the processes of science, art and history contribute to our understanding of who we are? How does our societal context influence what we do and how we see both the world and each other? How do our depictions of humans in their myriad environments shape our understanding of ourselves and others? 

AR 1099: Visual and Environmental Studio with Professor Shimony

This studio course introduces the basic ideas and techniques needed for the comprehension and construction of the built environment. Starting with elemental design concerns, students will be asked to use what they learn in order to create ever larger and more complex entities. Site-specific assignments making use of Paris and its history will oblige the students to engage in the “conversation” of the urban world.

HI 1099: Science, Society and Human Origins with Professor Martz

The available evidence indicates that our species, Homo sapiens, emerged in Africa, and then migrated across the planet, where its DNA occasionally intermingled with that of other human species that then disappeared, leaving Homo sapiens as the only human species, the only human race, on the planet. Why then do we talk about ‘race’ as if something fundamental distinguished, for instance, people of one skin color from people of a different skin color? After starting with a brief overview of what science can say about human origins, we will look at some aspects of the emergence of thinking about human difference. As we become more aware of our own connection to the very distant past, we will learn how the more recent past has been impacted by how people have told that story, sometimes making honest mistakes influenced by their own cultural constraints and sometimes to achieve political objectives. Then we will look at how “science” has been manipulated to create distinctions and hierarchies among different groups of people, to dehumanize and isolate them, and we will look into the faces of witnesses to the ultimate dehumanization by classification, genocide. This is primarily a history course, but we will come in contact with a whole range of ways of approaching these questions, including paleontology, philosophy, psychology, and sociology. 


This is a critical maker’s FirstBridge, comprised of two complementary courses: Bad Robot and Glitch! The first course focuses on digital creations that come to interrogate (and possibly ‘disrupt’) their social, cultural and political contexts. The second course will begin by exploring the history of disruptive media forms while examining how they contribute to the development of creative cultures and civil society. How does human creativity cultivate itself through a range of emergent media tools? How does creativity challenge digital systems of control and compliance? How can we make use of various media tools to engage in creative problem-solving, particularly in terms of social justice?  We will dive into a range of critical making and problem-solving challenges, guided by a study of workflow in solution design and prototyping. Case studies include: the ethics of artificial intelligence; human and machine bias; the manipulation of behavior, perception, and opinion; surveillance, privacy, and consent. The course will also include site visits to museums and installations in Paris. From pinhole paper cameras to facial detection systems, we will tangle with light leaks, flares, short circuits, errors, jams, flickers, stutters, feedback to explore the breaks, ruptures, ‘happy accidents’ that not only fashion a new ‘disruptive’ aesthetics but also assert a singularly human relationship to our material and digital world.


In this part of the FirstBridge students will acquire skills to create ‘disruptive’ digital objects. We will start by creating simple static objects and films (from 2D pictures to 3D artifacts) that express, challenge and interrogate human identities and our social conditions. We will then move on to interactive visualizations, apps, games, starting with simple markup languages and progressively advancing to programming and 3D design software. We will also work with Lego Mindstorms to create physical interactive robots, wearables, and various prototypes and conceptual installations.


What’s a ‘glitch’? A disruption, a system failure, a mechanical break? Or is it a blip of our humanness, a ‘happy accident,’ an emergence of our unique singularity? In an age of automation, digital conformity and compliance, how do we use media tools and platforms to capture, frame and shape our world in a human way? What does it mean to see, think, and communicate creatively in an age of digital formatting? While undertaking an exploration of the nature of the ‘accidental’ and its relation to human freedom, creativity and inventiveness, we will trace the history and emergence of media tools and platforms.  Students will study and practice digital counterculture in all its disruptive creativity.