Spring Semester 2014
Death and the Social Body
HONR 102A: First Year Seminar, Dr. Rebecca Upton
In this course we explore the idea of death as an individual, social and political act. Drawing upon a range of disciplinary perspectives, texts and methods, we examine cultural meanings about death. The seminar will investigate the intersections between the social and physical bodies that human beings inhabit and takes a critical perspective on Western medical assumptions about death and dying.
Managing the Chinese Empire: The Statecraft of Confucianism
HONR 102B: First Year Seminar, Dr. Sherry Mou
They lived in an interesting time! And they continue to live in our time after they died! The emperors, empresses, warlords, military strategists, princes, and persuaders who flourished in many Chinese literary, historical, and military texts come back with sound and fury in films, television, and--to the delight of gamers--in video and computer games. How did China keep its vast land under control before the modern era? Through two Reacting to the Past games, we will unveil the mystery of how to make an emperor, who headed China’s bureaucracy, or the statecraft of Confucianism.
The first game (“Dong Zhuo Dethrones the Emperor”) is set at the end of Han dynasty in the final years of the second century. The state is in dire situation, with half a dozen warlords vying for the throne. Can the emperor be replaced? Who should be the new emperor? Your brilliant counsel is urgently sought after, unless, indeed, you are one of the ambitious warlords and a contender, yourself!
Fast-forward fourteen centuries. The year is 1587, and you are now a member of the Hanlin Academy. You are a Grand Secretary, a highly-educated advisor to Emperor Wanli (yes, one of you will have the honor of being Wanli himself). Your responsibilities are heavy and serious. Turmoil brews beneath the deceptively calm and decorous surface of the Academy. Secret cliques and the official intelligence machine threaten the normalcy of the governing mechanism. Most importantly, when will the Emperor name his heir? Will the teachings of Confucius continue to form the stable foundation of government and society, or will (Heaven forbid!) China embrace new ideas, both homegrown and foreign, imported from the West? Once again, your sage counsel is urgently needed during this crisis.
Mind, Intelligence, and Machines
HONR 102C: First Year Seminar, 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.
Haiti: Literature, Landscape, History
HONR 300A: Humanities Seminar, Dr. Marnie McInnes
This Honor Scholar seminar focuses on the fascinating and troubled country of Haiti as seen through the eyes of writers (both Haitian writers and outsiders), historians, and journalists. The topic, which combines a study of literature and the environment, is an ambitious one. But fiction set in Haiti and nonfiction studies of the country tend to be beautifully written and full of passion, making the study of Haiti's political and environmental disasters a strange kind of pleasure. We will read novels, essays, and short stories, watch a few films, and study Haitian visual art and photography in an attempt to decipher Haitians' relationship to their country after centuries of plantation slavery and postcolonial misrule.
Consciousness: the unsolved mystery
HONR 300B: Science Seminar, Dr. Bruce Serlin
Can one question their own consciousness? Are you more than billions of neurons talking to each other chemically and how does this chatter produce the world as you know it? Science is making some headway toward understanding how neuronal activity and consciousness are related. However, as we learn more, more questions arise. What is the distinction between conscious thought and unconscious thought? When does a human become self-aware and is there a hallmark for consciousness? How does being sentient influence how we act toward each other, and how we interact with other species? We will be examining readings from an array of disciplines to try to gain a better understanding of how the three-pound universe inside your skull operates, how much control “you” have over how you make decisions, and how easily it is to fool oneself. We will look at evidence for whether other species also possess consciousness and study some of the consequences of possessing this “gift”. The aim is to provide you with an array of information that will help you understand what makes you you.
Unsolved Colonial Mysteries
HONR 300Ca: Social Science Seminar, Dr. David Gellman
What caused the infamous Salem 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 in Virginia? What were the Pilgrims really like? Could Indians ever have regained the upper hand in New England? Focusing primarily on England’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?
African Nationalism, 1890-2013
HONR 300Cb: Social Science Seminar, Dr. 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.