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Fall 2017 Honors Seminars

First-Year Seminars

Ruin and Re-begetting
Andrea Sununu
Our study of the imagery of ruin and re-begetting will allow us to explore a triple theme--creation, destruction, and re-creation--and to consider how language conveys the human attempt to counter fragmentation, chaos, or oblivion.  Reading works by Plato, Shakespeare, Donne, Woolf, Faulkner, Kingsolver, and others, we will explore the longing to triumph over transience, destruction, and death. I hope that throughout this semester you will find that words matter--not only in the texts you read, but also in your own writing--and that as you hone an argument and polish your prose, you will take pleasure in your own creations. 

Ethics of Combat
Pedar Foss
This course examines the ethics of combat using historical examples ranging from Greece and Rome in the ancient Mediterranean, to the world of feudal Japan. The purpose is to investigate what codes of conduct have operated in these societies with regard to: the prior justification for, immediate operation of, and after-the-fact assessment of, hostile action by individuals, groups, or states. After a segment that is concerned with Eastern and Western philosophical approaches to the question of conflict and war, we shall investigate historically and culturally specific case studies of combat through literature, art, and cinema. From Homer’s accounts of fighting in the Iliad, to the civil conflict of the Peloponnesian War and Euripides' contemplation of war's cost in the Trojan Women; to Roman law about declaring war, gladiatorial combat in the arena, or artistic presentations of imperial conquest; to Japanese samurai like Miyamoto Musashi involved in nationwide battles and individual duels ca. AD 1600, we ask: When have we fought, and for what reasons? Carrying what rules for behavior? With what effects upon non-combatants? How are such events and behaviors described in literature, history, and art?  We also look at the physiological and psychological conditions and effects of combat: how do our brains and bodies operate under severe short-term stress and with what long-term repercussions? Besides papers that call for close readings of texts and ancient art, there is also a semester-long experiential or creative project: a choice of: creative writing about a combat situation (à la Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried), or extra-class training in chanbara (foam sword) combat at a local dojo. Finally, in both our literary investigations and experiential study, we consider how combat against an ‘other’ cannot be considered outside of an internal struggle over mastery of one’s self.

Noir, Film and Novel
Michael Sinowitz
In James Naremore’s More Than Night: Film Noir in its Contexts, he suggests that noir is much harder to define than something like the Western, and he resists defining it; instead, he studies how the term has been used and transformed over time. As a class, we will respond to this problem by exploring examples of what has commonly been considered noir and creating our own definition (if constructing such a definition is even possible). Naremore’s chief concern was with identifying what film noir was and is (if it still exists); perhaps an even more difficult problem lies in defining the roman noir. Are these simply the hard-boiled detective and crime stories said to lie at the origins of film noir? However, many of these texts came out after the classic period of film noir, suggesting that they have also been influenced in turn. Like film noir, the roman noir is a label given to texts well after the time of their creation; they can be interpreted as a contemporary attempt to organize the past by artificially categorizing texts. What do we know about these texts? They tend to be dark—both literally and figuratively; they tend to have urban settings; they often feature ‘hard-boiled’ types; they often feature femme fatales. Our class discussions and writing will focus on exploring these questions of genre while also seeking to place these works in their historical and cultural contexts. Our class will also concentrate on developing approaches to analyzing and writing about fiction and film. However, to a certain extent, this goal will facilitate an even larger goal, namely developing strong critical thinking skills, skills whose purposes extend well beyond literary analysis. Readings may include The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett; The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain; The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler; Pop. 1280 by Jim Thompson; Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley; BatmanThe Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller; Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn; Understanding Movies by Louis Giannetti; More Than Night by James Naremore; They Say/I Say by Gerald and Cathy Berkenstein Graff. Films may include The Maltese FalconDouble IndemnityThe Big Sleep, Out of the Past, and Touch of Evil.

Science of Relationships
Susanne Biehle
What makes someone attractive? What is the best way to meet a romantic partner? Is love really blind? How can we predict which couples will divorce? This seminar is designed as an overview of the issues and theories associated with close relationships. We will examine the literature on topics such as the science of attraction, the need for close relationships, sexuality, the development of relationships, adaptive and maladaptive consequences of relationships, and the motivations, thoughts, and behaviors of individuals in close relationships. We will examine perspectives from fields such as psychology, biology, sociology, and anthropology.

Terrorism in Film and Fiction 
Deepa Prakash
We are continually bombarded with news of horrific acts of terror perpetrated against innocent civilians. Yet, for all of this, our understanding of the phenomenon of terrorism remains muddled, ridden with misconceptions and stereotypes and plagued by faulty policymaking. In this course, we will collectively ponder a few key questions about terrorism and examine a range of possible answers to these questions. These questions are: ‘what is terrorism?’, ‘What causes terrorism?’, ‘‘What is new or different about contemporary terrorism and how is it evolving?’ and finally “How does terrorism end and what can we do to combat it?’  We will approach these question not just by reading scholarly and policy expertise but also through the lens of art- particularly film and fiction.
Indeed, along with experts, scholars and leaders, artists of various kinds have also tried to make sense of this phenomenon and these questions with varying results. Accordingly, we will watch key movies and read important works of fiction around this subject. This material will help us think and deliberate about a variety of issues:  consequences of terrorism for a range of topics including: balance between civil liberty and security, terrorist motivations, ideas about ‘self’ and ‘other’ and the premise and impact of the ‘war on terror’ for different collectivities such as victims, ‘terrorists’, ‘the West’, Muslims, soldiers and immigrants. We will not necessarily resolve these questions but we’ll arrive at the beginnings of our own answers to them.
Apart from these substantive goals, the seminar is designed to develop the academic skills needed to succeed in college and beyond; specially the ability to express oneself effectively  in written work, the ability to critically and analytically read various materials, the ability to identify interesting research questions and the ability to work independently and with peers and instructors. 

Interdisciplinary AREA Seminars

Religion and Literature
HONR 300Aa:  Humanities
Beth Benedix
“What, then, is the psychological significance of religious ideas and under what heading are we to classify them?  The question is not at all easy to answer immediately.  After rejecting a number of formulations, we will take our stand on the following one.  Religious ideas are teachings and assertions about facts and conditions of external (or internal) reality which tell one something one has not discovered for oneself and which lay claim to one’s belief.  Since they give us information about what is most important and interesting to us in life, they are particularly highly prized.  Anyone who knows nothing of them is very ignorant; and anyone who has added them to his knowledge may consider himself much the richer.”
                                                                                               --Freud, The Future of an Illusion

In this bold claim, Freud gives us something of a point of departure for the large task we have before us this semester.  We are going to take him at his word that religious ideas “give us information about what is most important and interesting to us in life.”  At this point, though, things begin to get a little sticky.  What makes an idea “religious” in nature? Is there a category of thinking or writing that we can determine as uniquely religious? Does an idea have to be documented or contained within “sacred scripture” for it to be considered religious?  Can the spectrum of religious thinking also reflect ideas that are not bound to a particular religious tradition?  That challenge and subvert religious beliefs?  We’re throwing around some pretty vague terms here.  Our task this semester will be to attempt to define what we mean when we call something “religious” and how literature—texts both “sacred” and “secular”—provides special access to this realm of ideas.  

This course is envisioned as an introductory survey of the major religious traditions of the world, using literature as our entry point.  Over the course of the semester, we will read texts representative of these traditions as well as literary works that explicitly and implicitly reference these traditions. At the same time, we will also be thinking comparatively about these traditions, about how they connect to and diverge from one another.  It is my hope that we will come to both a sharper and more complicated definition of “religious” as we explore the traditions and reverberations of the traditions in the texts we will encounter.

How to Live 
HONR 300Ab:  Humanities
Marnie McInnes
This seminar will take us to the brimming Self-Help shelves at Barnes and Noble and Eli Books, as well as back in time.
In many ways, today’s popular self-help books are the most recent manifestation of a long tradition of literary advice, the topic of this Humanities seminar. This tradition includes, for example, the Meditations of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and the Books of Wisdom in the Bible (Proverbs is one of them).  In the 19th century, Ralph Waldo Emerson lectured his readers on how to be self-reliant, and the editors of Godey’s Lady’s Book advised American women not just on fashion, but about jobs and education.  More recently, E.O. Wilson delivered advice to aspiring scientists in the form of a book of letters, and Ta-Nehisi Coates used epistolary (letter) style to advise his son about growing up Black in the United States. Despite their differences in tone and topic, advice books have common elements:  the authors address us, their audience of readers, with tips, insights, and occasionally commands on how to live our lives.

In this seminar we will sample literary advice books past and present, fiction and nonfiction.  Along the way, we’ll think about the books (including popular novels and films, music and poems) that we turn to when life is rough, even if the text is not, strictly speaking, a book of advice. That is, we’ll explore a way of reading that we often ignore:  reading as a way of chasing away fears, learning to cope, and moving on.

Evolution and Human Nature
HONR 300Ba: Science
Kevin Moore
The Philosopher Daniel Dennett once called evolution “the single best idea anyone ever had.” If this claim has any merit, then surely evolutionary perspectives can shed light on important questions about human nature in general, and issues like cooperation, aggression, sex and gender, aesthetics, emotion, cognition, moral judgments, and environmental concerns in particular. We will look at current and historical attempts to develop scientific accounts of human nature, and examine their strengths, weaknesses, and motivations.  The course offers an opportunity to explore how the “single best idea anyone ever had” can be applied to human nature and important contemporary concerns.

Medicine and Morality: Biomedical Ethics in an Era of Rapid Technological Change
HONR 300Bb:  Science
Ted Bitner
Fifty years ago, Boulding predicted that the 20th century would witness a biological revolution that would have consequences as profound as those of the industrial revolution of the 18th century. Advances in medical science since have proven his words to be prophetic. “Test-tube babies”, the cracking of the genetic code, and our increasing human longevity have each contributed to rapidly expanding human control over natural processes. Have we seized control over human nature and human destiny? The new powers linked to scientific and technological developments have raised new moral problems.   While it is vital that we understand scientific advances, it is equally vital that we grapple with the ethical implications and problems these new developments pose for practice and policy. This course will explore many of these new problems and how medical science continues in its attempts to deal with them. Questions such as “Is there a right impartial principle that can govern solutions to these problems?” and “How can these moral and ethical problems be governed by such a principle?” exist in the scientific community today. We will look at how bioethicists study these problems and attempt to reach ethical and moral solutions through the use of case studies, discourse and life narratives.

Law and Economics
HONR 300Ca:  Social Science
Bert Barreto
This course revolves around Posner's claim that "the common law bears the stamp of economic reasoning." We will evaluate to what extent the "economic way of thinking" explains legal rules in property rights, torts, and contract law. We will cover concepts such as the Coase Theorem and discuss how economics has expanded into legal theory and law schools. Each student will participate in a moot court reenactment of a constitutional law case.

Ancient Warfare and Society
Michael Seaman
HONR 300Cb:  Social Science
"War is the father of all and king of all." With these words, the ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus expressed the view that strife was a natural and necessary state of affairs in the world. Indeed, warfare as a deliberate state policy is a theme that runs through Western Civilization, if not world history. War and its consequences were an unavoidable part of daily life in the ancient world. This course is a study of warfare with an emphasis on ancient Greece and Rome. We begin with a brief look at warfare in the ancient Near East, including Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Assyria. We then shift our focus to the ancient Greek world with studies of the Bronze Age, Homeric warfare, the hoplite phalanx, Sparta, the Persian and Peloponnesian Wars, and the Age of Alexander the Great. Lastly, we look at Roman Warfare from the Punic Wars and Hannibal to Julius Caesar to the Fall of Rome. We look not only at major battles but pay particular attention to diplomacy and the function of warfare in society and its impact on political and social history. Additional topics studied include battle formations, armor, generalship, tactics and strategies, weapon lethality, technology and warfare, siege warfare, civilians in warfare, the economics of war, laws and rules of engagement, and treatment of the defeated. No previous knowledge of the ancient world or of warfare is required.