GLS 592: First Contact


Spring 1 (January 21 – March 10, 2019): Online
Graduate Liberal Studies Program
University of North Carolina, Wilmington

Video: Learn more about the course with Dr. Laursen.

Odjig-The Indian in Transition

Daphne Odjig (1919-2016), “The Indian in Transition” (1978),
displayed at the Canadian Museum of History, Hull, Québec. [Image Source: Will S.]

First Contact: Encounters with the Unexpected

First contact occurs when an individual or group of people initially encounter someone or something. This someone or something may be known to them, but they had not encountered it personally. Or it may be someone or something completely unexpected. The first contact brings unanticipated elements and results. The focus in this course is to combine a cultural and personal examination of first contacts and how they transform individuals, cultures, and societies.

To advance our thinking on first contact in this course, we will explore four themes that exemplify first contact narratives:

  • first contact between Indigenous Americans and Europeans;
  • first contact with fossils;
  • first contact with Marian apparitions; and
  • first contact with extraterrestrial beings.


First contacts are highly transformative for individual lives, on cultures and societies, but little work has been done by scholars to examine how these events unfold and how they change us. Our main goal is, working together, to theorize “first contact” events. We will do so through interdisciplinary discussions, debates, and in each student’s creation of a first contact project through a series of workshops.

We will work to better understand the human dynamics in first contact events, and how they affect cultures, consciousness, and ideas. How can we better understand human nature through first contacts? How can we better understand how our own lives unfold through first contact events?

First Contact Project

What’s super cool about this course is that each of us will, through stages, complete a creative non-fiction or fiction project (the equivalent of an essay, short story, or book chapter). Students may pursue other types of media to express first contact in their project such as visual art, film, or curation of objects or stories. Not only will each student create their own first contact project, Dr. Laursen is a “participant-instructor” for this course, which allows for a unique opportunity for students to see a scholar’s own process unfold as they create their work. Dr. Laursen will write and present a draft of a book chapter on his own first contact experience that led to his study of the supernatural. We will all think, theorize, and create together!

To start, students identify their own “first contact” with someone or something unexpected in their own lives. We all have them in various forms. To introduce students to the concept, various questions will be explored. What is a first contact with the unexpected in broader perspective? What constitutes the “unexpected” within frameworks of what is known versus what is unknown? How does the first contact become a mythological or transformative moment for individuals and societies? How does it change lives? Drawing from what students learn each week, they will build a first contact project that will bring personal experiences, creativity, and theorization together.

Most readings will be provided online. Any books will be available as ebooks or print books, and that list will be e-mailed to registered students and posted online at the beginning of January, before the course commences. There will be assigned films available to stream online via UNCW or to rent online.

Visit the website for Graduate Liberal Studies, University of North Carolina Wilmington.

Last updated: 14 November 2018