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Past Seminar Offerings

A sampling of past and present Honor Scholar course offerings. . .

First-Year Seminars:

Combat Ethics: Greece, Rome and Japan
Dr. 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 feudalJapan. 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.

Ruin and Re-begetting
Dr. 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. Readingworks by Tolstoy, Woolf, Plato, Shakespeare, Kingsolver, Faulkner, Dickinson, and many others, we will explore the longing to triumph over transience, destruction, and death.  It is the hope that throughout the semester, students will find words that matter--not only in texts they will read, but also in their own writing.  Accordingly, it is the hope that the course will help students develop control over language, so that they may, by expressing ideas clearly, concisely, and elegantly, take pleasure in their own creations.

Speculative Visions: Science Fiction
Dr. Arthur Evans
In our Western society, the natural sciences and the humanities have often been viewed as "Two Cultures," as C.P. Snow once expressed it.  Further, with today's ongoing specialization and fragmentation of knowledge, the gulf between them seems to be growing ever wider. This course will examine a fictional genre that purposefully bridges these two worldviews: science fiction (SF). As a literature of speculation and "thought experiment," SF has a long tradition of raising fundamental questions about how we define ourselves, our reality, and our possible futures. Through a selection of readings from pre-Jules Verne to post-Cyberpunk, we will focus on a variety of recurring philosophical and social themes in SF--technology and human values, gender and identity, alienation and the "other," cybernetics and artificial intelligence, etc.--and how they reflect certain evolutionary currents in today's world and (perhaps) the world of tomorrow. 

Religion, Conflict and Social Change
Dr. Jeff Kenney
Why has religion played such an important role in many social movements throughout the world? Why have people living in conditions of political, economic and social oppression been inclined to interpret their situation in light of the teaching of their faith? In this class, we will explore these questions, and more, by looking at three modern religious movements that promoted dramatic, if not radical, reform of their societies: Black Muslims inAmerica, Gandhi's reform movement inIndiaand liberation theology inLatin America. Through readings, research, films and discussion, we will come to understand the circumstances that gave rise to these movements and the role that religion played in shaping them. Students who are thinking about majoring in religious studies, sociology, history or conflict studies will find this class interesting and helpful.

Photography and Literature
Dr. Marnie McInnes
The subtitle for this honor scholar seminar might be "Studies in Visual Culture," since we will explore ideas that cross over from the visual arts to literary study. Readingswill include theoretical essays by writers such as Roland Barthes, John Berger, and Susan Sontag, alongside primary texts: collections of photographs, "photo-essays," photography-related films, poems, short stories, and novels. You may find that the theory readings, in particular, apply to your work in other courses, as these essays examine fundamental ideas about perception and representation. Throughout the semester, we will consider how photographs and works of literature tell stories, make arguments, record history, and (in some cases) attempt to raise consciousness about social or political problems. In order to read a photograph closely, what sort of knowledge do we need about context, artist/author, or mode of production? To what extent are the interpretive strategies we use for literary study applicable to photography? Is it possible for texts using both modes of expression,-- words and photographic images -- to result in unified and coherent works of art? (And are we really after unity and coherence in art, after all?)

A Catastrophe and its Aftermath: Holocaust, History, and Memory
Dr. 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 forGermanyafter 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 influenceGermany'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? 

Divided Cities
Dr. Melanie Finney 
This course is an introduction to some of the apparent, and not-so-obvious, divisions that exist because of geo-political, religious, and ethno-national conflicts in various cities. Through readings, films, and class discussions, we will explore the concepts of identity, shared and separate spaces, borders and boundaries, and contested and shared memory. This interdisciplinary course draws on material from literature, history, conflict, political science, communication, architecture, and sociology. In particular, we will focus on the cities ofBelfast,Berlin, andNicosia as we consider what it means to live in conflicted spaces.

Coffee: Islam, Democracy, and Globalization
Dr. David Alvarez
This course begins by thinking about coffee in Islamic societies and the cultural transformations it created as it reachedEurope in the early modern period. After considering how coffee connects East and West historically, and how Enlightenment ideals of debate and democracy are linked to coffee and conversation, the class will analyze the potential of coffee today to promote cosmopolitanism. How does coffee link us together today through trade? Does its status as a commodity hide its global connections? How might a humanistic approach to coffee—one that seeks to comprehend its history, cultural meanings, economies, and idealistic legacy—activate its cosmopolitan potential?

Mind, Intelligence, and Machines
Dr. Douglas 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. 

Subversive Theologians
Dr. Beth Hawkins
This course will focus on ways in which theology is used as a form of subversion, as a means of toppling the status quo and/or devising a new basis of values. Webster's dictionary defines theology as “the analysis, application, and presentation of the traditional doctrines of a religion or religious group.” In the context of this class, “theology” is being used somewhat loosely to describe projects that may or may not be deliberately religious in purpose. The works we will encounter reside in a precarious space; they acknowledge that “theology” is a human construct used most often to implement a particular agenda (usually driven by power) at the same time that they provide a kind of blueprint for how to live according to a sense of an ultimate reality (even if, as some of these authors contend, “ultimate” reality means that there is no reality). Writers who are likely to show up on our reading list are Chuang-tzu (one of the primary voices in philosophical Taoism), Farid Ud-Din Attar (one of the primary poetic voices of Sufism, the mystical tradition of Islam), Nietzsche, Freud, Kafka, Flannery O'Connor, Martin Luther King, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Tom Robbins.

Ancient Journeys
Dr. Pedar Foss
The 'road movie' is a familiar cinematic genre in which protagonists embark on a quest for physical, social, philosophical or spiritual transformation.  Such narrative journeys began long ago in the ancient Near East,Egypt,GreeceandRome. This class examines assumptions and presumptions about the boundaries and borders we cross, the identities we build, the negotiations we make between male and female, mortal and divine, 'self' and 'other', and the curiosity that drives us to search beyond the known. Our own course proceeds along two tracks: ancient literature and modern film, and pursues five different goals: Identity, Community, Knowledge, Salvation, and Life.

Rites Of Spring: Modernity, Art, and War
Dr. Joseph Heithaus
What do art and war have to do with each other?  What happened in art and literature at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century to set the stage for the atrocities that would follow.  Our central text, Modris Eckstein’s seminal book, Rites of Spring, posits that at least one strain of Modernism emerging in the early teens is inextricably linked to the passions that lead to the trenches and stalemate of the First World War.  We will read selections from Nietzche, Wilde, Stein, and Eliot, as well as examine the art and poetry that comes out of WWI.  We will witness changes in the world of art and changes in the world that remain as legacies we continue to confront.

Art and Revolution: Visual Polemics and Socio-Political Change
Dr. Anne Harris
This course seeks to understand the complex relationship between image and event in three separate but related scenarios of convulsive social and political change.  Augustan Rome (27 B.C.E.-14 C.E.), Revolutionary France (1789-1804), and the Birth of the Soviet Union (1917-1934) were defined and refined, tried and tested, and established and betrayed in the multiple contests between images and rhetoric's which were waged both in public streets and publications. We will study images as both provocations and products of the competing discourses (political, sociological, literary, musical, philosophical) of each period and ask the following questions: how does an image become a political symbol?  What are the mechanisms through which images are politically deployed?  How is the role of the artist reconstructed in times of social crisis?  How does the public use images in political debate?  What are the intersections of text and image in a society (sometimes violently) attempting to reinvent itself?  What can we discern from this comparative approach to art and revolution, and what are some of the ways in which new revolutions evoke efforts of the past?  We will study original sources (emerging from the competing discourses listed above) from each period as well as secondary critical scholarship, and analyze the dynamic between art and revolution in our continuing effort to understand the creation of new social and political realities through images.

Literature of Social Protest: American Voices from the Margins
Dr. Valarie Ziegler
This seminar considers voices of social protest in American society from the late nineteenth century to the present. It examines a variety of genres, including novels, film, popular music, cartoons, theological and political treatises, autobiography, and utopian/dystopian literature. Particular attention is devoted to movements for civil rights, economic justice, and gender equality.

Humanities Seminars:

Dr. Csicsery-Ronay
Comedy is one of the most ancient and yet most contemporary literary genres. Its roots lie deep in myth and religious rite. At the same time, it is probably the single most popular of contemporary entertainment genres. In this class we will study varieties of classical European and contemporary comedy, with special attention to formal structures, aspects of performance, theories of laughter and "the comic spirit," and the relations between comedy and other genres, such as romance, tragedy, satire, and melodrama. We will pay close attention to certain thematic motifs that appear to be constants in the comic tradition, such as inflexibility, the clown dance, absent-mindedness, mistaken identities, nonsense, and missed timing. Texts will include most of the following: Aristophanes: Lysistrata, The Birds; Shakespeare: Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night; Molière: The Misanthrope, The Physician In Spite of Himself; Chaplin: Payday & The Gold Rush; Hawks: Bringing Up Baby; Cukor: The Philadelphia Story; Sturges: The Lady Eve; The Marx Brothers: Duck Soup; Martin: L.A. Story; J. and E. Coen: The Big Lebowski.

The Uses of Biography: A Comparative Study of Collections of Women’s Biographies inChinaand the West
Dr. Sherry Mou
An Italian Renaissance giant, a Venetian-born French widow, an English poet par excellence, and a Confucian historian! What do they all have in common? They all authored collections of sketches of women. Giovanni Boccaccio penned the first collection of women’s biographies in the West; Geoffrey Chaucer is said to have started the English poetic tradition with his legends of the good women; Christine de Pizan, “the first French woman of letters,” built a city of ladies in a book; and Liu Xiang commenced a two-thousand-year tradition of writing women’s biographies in Chinese history with seven chapters of women’s lives. What motivated them? Who were their subjects? Who were their intended audiences? How were their works appropriated in their respective cultures and times? This course will discuss these and many other questions concerning women’s biographies, Renaissance Europe, medievalEngland, and Confucian China.

Gangsters to Raging Bulls: The Second Golden Age of American Cinema
Dr. Michael Sinowitz
This course will primarily focus on film and history, examining the relationships between cultural products and the historical and cultural contexts of their creation.  Specifically, we will focus on what we might call the second golden age of Hollywood, a period that spans from the mid to late 60s into the late 70s.  Many have speculated that this period closed with the birth of the Hollywood blockbusters, namely Jaws and Star Wars.  Our readings will be histories of this time period in America, discussions of films and the film industry during this time, and theoretical readings related to historical and cultural approaches to textual analysis.  Some important films from the period that we will watch include Bonny and Clyde, Easy Rider, Patton, Five Easy Pieces, The Conversation, Taxi Driver, The G-dfather, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Chinatown, and Raging Bull.

Science and Mysticism
Dr. Howard Pollack-Milgate
The goal of this class is to put into question the absolute separation between the humanities and the sciences by investigating the theme of "science and mysticism."  It is intended for students from all fields.  The thesis which will be examined in the course is that the mystical side of science is not an extraneous factor which is eliminated as science becomes ever "purer," but that it is always an element in the scientific outlook.  We will attempt to view science not as an investigation of a world given independently of us, the investigators, but also as a study of ourselves in contact with a reality not of our own making, thus at the same time a "humanity" and a form of mysticism.  Following an initial orientation which will set the terms of our investigation, we will examine closely four theories from the history of science (including the present day) in which "science" and "mysticism" cannot clearly be separated.  Texts will consist of primary works by the  authors of the particular theories as well as imaginative interpretations of each theory (including works of literature and philosophy).  Though I have proposed four topics of my own (mathematical mysticism, alchemy, psychoanalysis, and quantum reality), I am open to substituting others based on student interest (possibilities include, but are not limited to: ecology, magic, astrology, theories of evolution, New Age medicine, chaos theory, and genetics).  An interest in science is assumed (along with an open mind), but no particular scientific background is required.

Enlightenments and Their Critics
Keith Nightenhelser
In this seminar we will examine some distinct historical periods that have been viewed as periods of "Enlightenment:" the so-called "Age of Reason" of Eighteenth Century Western Europe, the Sophistic Movement of Fifth Century B.C.E. Greece, the "Chinese Enlightenment" that rejected Confucian traditions as a model for developing China in the 1920's, and Twentieth-Century European intellectual movements such as existentialism and the Frankfurt School of left-wing Marxism. All these alleged Enlightenments attracted critics, and we'll examine their claims, as well as the philosophers, poets, historians, and other thinkers advocating a particular brand of "Enlightenment."  Alongside our examination of these historical periods, we will read and reflect critically upon statements about the study and value of the Humanities.
Readings: selections from Homer, Herodotus, Sophocles, Thucydides, Plato, Voltaire, Pope, Lessing, Rousseau, Kant, Wollstonecraft, Horkheimer, Adorno, Nietzsche, W. E. B. du Bois, Sartre, Peter Gay, and Bernard Williams.

Text into Art in the Ancient World
Dr. Rebecca Schindler
This seminar investigates the relationship between artistic narrative and literary imagery from the Sumerians (Mesopotamia, 3200 BC) to the early Roman Empire(Augustus, 1st centuries BC/AD). A series of case-studies present a number of questions about our theme. How did artists create narrative, often on a limited canvas, and authors create images? Did artists seek simply to illustrate a text or did they innovate on the story? Could this relationship work both ways? Much of the art produced in the ancient world was made for public consumption. Thus, we will consider how political and ideological messages were transmitted through artistic display. In the private sphere art could serve to enforce certain social and moral values. We will also look at how public performance, through the production of drama and the ritual procession, influenced both art and text. Our subjects come from across the Mediterranean world, from Egyptand the Near East to Greeceand Italy; and we will look at both public and private monuments. Our texts include ancient Near Eastern poetry (e.g., the Hymns to Inanna and the Epic of Gilgamesh); Homer’s Odyssey; selections from Greek poetry; plays by Aeschylus, Euripides, and Aristophanes; Virgil’s Aeneid, Augustus’ Res Gestae; and selections from other Latin authors.

Science Seminars:

Evolution and Human Nature
Dr. Kevin Moore
This seminar will examine scientific approaches (particularly an evolutionary psychological approach) to important aspects of human nature, including aggression, cooperation, sexual behavior, aesthetics, and emotion.  We will look at historical attempts to develop scientific accounts of human nature, and examine their strengths, weaknesses, and motivations.  We will examine and critique current scientific explanations of and theories about controversies such as violence, rape, mate choice, and beauty.  Throughout the semester we will consider whether 'social science' is or should be any different from  'natural science,' what it means to apply a scientific approach to human beings (and what assumptions we make when we do), and what scientific account of human nature and behavior implies about issues like determinism, responsibility, and choice.

Contemporary Environmental Issues
Dr. Jeanette Pope
From the energy crisis to water shortages to global warming, the environmental problems facing society are huge. However, they rarely, if ever, fall neatly into traditional academic disciplines. If we are to solve these problems, scientists need not only a deep understanding of the technical issues, but also the ability to work with social scientists, citizen groups, politicians, and other scientists from different fields to gain valuable perspectives. Likewise, it is important for non-scientists to have a strong bio-geochemical and physical knowledge of environmental systems. All people need strong analytical and communication skills and the ability to investigate environmental problems.  This seminar is designed to be highly interactive. During our first class, we will choose a single topic for focus and spend the semester reading about and discussing the many ways in which it relates to multiple disciplines and environmental troubles. The success of the class will require your perspectives and your experiences. Hence, the particular topic that we will investigate has not yet been determined but will be based on your interests.

Science Wars
Dr. Victor DeCarlo
"Science Wars" is the label attached to the passionate, often acrimonious, clash of ideas about the nature and methods of science occurring within the academic community.  In one camp, there are the so_called “postmodern” thinkers who assert that science, like other human activities, is shaped by cultural, economic, and political forces; one widely shared conviction of these critics is that even the knowledge claims of science are just cultural constructions with no special epistemic status.  The other camp consists of scientists and others who believe that the laws of nature are objective and approximately true and who, in growing numbers, perceive criticisms of science by postmodernists as attacks on rationality.  In this seminar, we will explore the main issues of contention in the ongoing Science Wars between critics and defenders of science.  Along the way, we will ask _ and try to answer _ some basic questions about the nature of science. Readingswill include essays and commentaries from a broad sampling of participants on both sides of the debate.

Conserving Biodiversity
Dr. Dana Duddle 
Unlike many scientists who work to maintain an objective view of the natural world, conservation biologists have defined an explicit set of values that guides our scientific questions and inspires us to use data to influence human behavior through education and policy change. Aldo Leopold beautifully stated the overall ethic of conservation biology in 1966: “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise”. This semester, we will spend a good deal of time unpacking Leopold’s ethic: We will consider how biologists (and others) recognize and quantify the stability, beauty, and integration of biotic communities. We will examine a variety threats to our local and global biodiversity, in an attempt to understand how human actions impact the genetic and demographic stability of biotic communities. Finally, with what hope remains, we will search for scientific and social solutions: if we can’t protect every scrap of land, which should we save? If we can’t prevent all extinctions, on which species should we focus? What can individuals, institutions, governments do to preserve our remaining biological diversity?

Evolution of Consciousness
Dr. Bruce Serlin
With the acceptance ofDarwin's theory of evolution, it is fair to ask: At what stage of evolution did consciousness appear and what novel function or functions did it serve? In other words, what were the selective pressures that favored the development of consciousness? Alternatively, if one accepts arguments put forth by Gould and Eldridge it is conceivable that consciousness is a by-product of some other developmental process that has ultimately found a use. Ultimately, this use or uses must be identified. In either case, to begin one must define what is meant by consciousness to be in a position to determine why and when it arose. It is an activity that has been defined in a variety of ways by various workers in the fields of neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy. Students will be presented with readings from a number of fields to aid in the development of their own working definition of consciousness.Readingswill focus on what mental skills or cognitive capacities are required along with what perceptions of both external and internal stimuli, qualia, must exist.

Social Science Seminars:

Prisons and Social Justice
Dr. Kelsey Kauffman 
More than 2,300,000 people are currently in prison or jail in theUnited States, a nearly five-fold increase in only 30 years. Most of the increase has been among poor urban people of color. We will examine the rise of incarceration and its implications for specific communities and the nation as a whole. For example, what factors have led to half of all black men inBaltimorebetween the ages of 15 and 30 being currently in prison, on probation or parole, and what are the consequences for gender relations, given that most of the prison guards inBaltimoreare black females? What is the impact on political representation of disenfranchising prisoners (most of whom come from urban areas), while counting them in the census as residents of the mostly rural areas in which they are incarcerated. Is mass incarceration bankrupting states and, if so, what alternatives do they have? Students will engage in research projects with real-world consequences, such as research and testimony on prison-related bills before theIndianalegislature, the role of campus police in maintaining the “war on drugs,” and the impact of prisons on legislative redistricting. 

Explanation and Understanding in the Social Sciences
Keith Nightenhelser
Explanation and understanding in the social sciences. In this course we'll look at concepts of causation, explanation, and understanding in different social sciences, such as history, political science, psychology, economics, and anthropology. We will read both theoretical explorations of how social sciences can support such claims, and case studies from specific fields.

Colonial Conquest in History, Fiction, and Film
David Gellman
This course will explore how historians, fiction writers, and filmmakers attempt to help us experience the past.  To do so, we will concentrate on stories about the European conquest of theAmericas– a subject that has long captured the imagination of artists and historians alike.  The clash of cultures, adaptation, survival, heroism, and villainy coalesced in unpredictable ways and with uncertain outcomes as Europeans and native peoples struggled with one another to shape the future.  Storytellers in the West continue to extract meaning from such events.  Examining early contacts between “whites” and “non-whites” are often seen as a pathway to enriching our understanding of the contemporary world and to reconstructing the independence of long-subjugated peoples.  The course will consider the different ways in which historian’s narratives, literary fiction, and films attempt to achieve these and other purposes.  We also will compare the raw material for historical storytelling – the documentary record – to subsequent narratives of distant events.  Specific subjects include Spanish and French missionaries, the African slave trade, Virginiaand the story of Pocahontas, frontier violence in early New England, and James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans.  We will also compare narratives about theAmericas with stories ofNew Zealand, Africa, andVietnam.  

Unsolved Colonial Mysteries
Dr. David Gellman
What caused the infamousSalem witchcraft trials? How did the “lost colony” get lost?  Did Pocahontas save John Smith, and if so, why? Were pirates freedom-loving egalitarians or ruthless vagabonds? How did African slavery become permanent and pervasive inVirginia?  What were the Pilgrims really like? Could Indians ever have regained the upper hand inNewEngland? Focusing primarily onEngland’s seventeenth-century North American colonies, the course will probe some of early American history’s most enduring and intriguing questions. Underlying all these questions will be an even more basic one: What was it like to be alive—as a man, woman, or child, Indian, African, or European—in a new world of conquest, community-building, and dramatic social upheaval? 

Law and Economics: Does the common law bear the stamp of economic reasoning?
Dr. Bert Barreto
An examination of the proposition that economic reasoning can explain the evolution of the law. By focusing on property, tort, and contract law, each student can decide to what extent economics is a driving force in the law. By its very nature interdisciplinary, this course is based on articles from Economics journals and law reviews. Students discuss, write essays, and participate in a moot court. Specific topics include the emergence of private property rights (including trademarks), the Coase Theorem, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and constitutional law.