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Spring 2016 Honors Seminars

First-Year Seminars

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.

Combat Ethics
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.

Legacies of the Holocaust
Julia Bruggemann

This course will explore the complex historical, moral, and political history of the Holocaust as well as the legacies of the war, dictatorship, and Holocaust for Germany after 1945. We will address questions of guilt and responsibility, victimhood and agency and the ways these terms have been understood over time. Some important questions we will explore are: How can we understand the physical, moral, political, and ethical destruction of the war and Holocaust and how did it influence Germany's reconstruction in the postwar context? How did contemporaries, historians, politicians, artists etc. participate in these processes? How have these discussions changed in recent years as most eyewitnesses are dying and new generations develop their own interpretations? Some of the debates that surround these questions are: Who has the right to remember and be remembered? Who can claim to be a victim, in other words: were Germans victims - or perpetrators – or both? Can a new German state be "normal" and overcome its historical baggage? What's the difference between guilt and responsibility and how does it affect future generations? How have discussions changed over the past decades?    

Mind, Consciousness & Machines
Doug Harms 

In this seminar we will explore topics having to do with consciousness and intelligence in humans and machines, focusing in particular on the question of whether a computer could ever match the power and flexibility of the human brain. We will examine these issues from various perspectives including philosophy, biology, psychology, and computer science. Students will engage in discussion of course readings and complete a variety of written assignments, journals, and individual and group presentations. The goal of the seminar is for everyone in the seminar (students and teacher alike) to wrestle with the philosophical issues surrounding the topic of computers and consciousness, understand the technical dimensions of the topic, and come to appreciate humankind's role in the grand scheme of things.          

Interdisciplinary Seminars

The Power and Purpose of Fairy Tales
HONR 300Aa: Humanities
Christopher Wells 

Fairy tales shape our cultures and enrich our imaginations; their tropes and themes demonstrate remarkable cultural durability, traveling across national boundaries and persisting across generations.  This course will consider various aspects of these stories, including their origins, narratological features of the genre, historical evolution, notions of psychology and morality, gender issues, and national identities. Readings for the course will include both traditional fairy tales and modern re-workings.

The Ethics of Stories
HONR 300Ab: Humanities
Claudia Mills

Humans are storytelling animals. Perhaps because of the centrality of storytelling to our identities and relationships, the ways in which we share stories have generated a range of fascinating ethical dilemmas, which this interdisciplinary course will explore, drawing on the resources of philosophy, literary analysis, political theory, and psychology. Is it legitimate to criticize a work of fiction for the moral values it imparts? Who is entitled to tell stories originating from a particular culture or ethnicity? How can we ensure that more voices are heard in the global cultural marketplace, and why does this matter? Can I write about my own life without betraying my intimate connections with family and friends? Am I ever entitled to deceive or exploit others for the sake of literary art? Is it all right if some aspects of a memoir are falsified if the deeper emotional truth of the story remains? Can the sharing of stories result in healing from personal and collective trauma, or do stories themselves traumatize? These are a few of the questions we will examine together.

Epigenetics and Development
HONR 300Ba: Natural Science
Lynn Bedard and Janet Vaglia

This course will introduce students to the fascinating sub discipline of Epigenetics as it relates to how organisms develop over the course of their lives.  We will explore some of the research theories surrounding how environment can influence phenotypic expression, such as whether an organism’s sex is male or female.  The mechanisms by which such environmental agents operate are only beginning to be understood.  Importantly, environment does not necessarily refer to nature or ecology; rather, it can speak to levels of hormones, or the physical surrounding of a cell or tissue.  You will learn relevant concepts in molecular biology and genetics.  These areas of Biology will serve as a foundation for our readings of both primary literature and popular science.  In many cases, fascinating case studies in the realm of epigenetics will be the stimulus for excellent conversation.

African Nationalism
HONR 300Ca: Social Science
Mac Dixon-Fyle

How did Africa come to be so comprehensively subjugated by the West as a continent of "inferior peoples" in the 19th and 20th centuries? How did Europe come by such audacious might? What weaknesses in Africa's precolonial structures enabled this emasculation? What was it that allowed some African groups to resist the imperial onslaught, and with what consequences? And how did Africa transcend her domination to reclaim lost sovereignty in the 20th century?  This course reviews the dynamic of historical change in the nationalist arena as Africa succumbs to Imperialism in the 19th century, endures colonialism into the mid to late 20th century, and fashions a response to reclaim lost sovereignty in the socio-economic and political realms in the last six decades of her evolution.  Using a comparative frame that will address nationalist efforts on other continents, the course will examine the peculiarities of the European intervention on the African continent, the personnel and methodology of proto-nationalist and nationalist resistance, and the imperative of sustaining a nationalist consciousness to meet contemporary challenges of nation-building. 

Democracy & Imperialism
HONR 300 Cb: Social Science
Michael Seaman

Can history be useful?  What is the purpose of justice? This course explores enduring and recurring issues like these that are linked to democracy and imperialism over time.  We will begin at the beginning, looking at  Athenian democracy, Athenian imperialism, and international affairs, particularly between the two great powers of Athens and Sparta.  The course is interdisciplinary, looking at history, political science (including foreign policy and international affairs), philosophy, literature, and, to some extent, art history.  We will read selections from some of the great classics of Western Civilization, and explore how the questions debated by the Greeks still echo in contemporary society:  Can history be useful? What did the Athenians consider the advantages and disadvantages of democracy and how does this compare to American democracy? How did the growth of their empire affect the Athenians, and are there lessons in this for us today?  How did the Greeks behave in a world with two “super-powers?” What is the purpose of justice?  How effective is the death penalty?  Are there "rules" in warfare? Why was Socrates convicted? Why did the American Founding Fathers distrust Athenian democracy so much?