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Spring 2023 Honors Seminars


Civil War Stories
HONR 102A: First-Year Seminar with Professor David Gellman
The American Civil War was a dramatic vortex, driven by issues of race, slavery, and power. Civil War stories prompt investigations into justice, heroism, leadership, sacrifice, hubris, and fear and cut to the core of how we understand the problems and prospects of democracy. No wonder the Civil War and the conditions that precipitated it have long been and continue to be irresistible to fiction writers and filmmakers, as well as to historians. In this course, we will explore this epochal era primarily through the lens of creative writers--Black, white, male, and female-- who sought to make meaning of events real and imagined. These writers and artists make inherently political events intensely personal in narratives that explode off the page and off the screen. Old texts and new insist that there is no way to understand the American story without understanding the Civil War. 

After Catastrophe: Germany and the legacy of the Holocaust
HONR 102B: First-Year Seminar with Professor 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?

Looking Through Water's Lens: Water's Impact on Life and Society
HONR 102C: First-Year Seminar with Professor Jacob Hale
As soon as you finish reading this paragraph, go to a bathroom sink and turn on the faucet.  Let the water splash off your hands and look around the sink.  What do you see? Water splashing, right? Look closer, a little way up the side of the sink.  How is the water splashing? Try changing your viewing angle; grab a flashlight to change the lighting angle.  The splashing water is doing something it always does but relatively few people have observed this subtle and non-intuitive phenomenon. (If you are not sure if you saw “it” don’t worry, you will in class.)
If you performed this experiment then you are on your way to achieving one of the goals of this course: to develop a character of inquiry and the skills to inquire effectively.  Water is obviously important and is tremendously complex, both as a material to be studied and as an essential, life-sustaining commodity.  The molecular properties of water govern how biomolecules assume their active form and how they move throughout the cell.  The thermal properties of water are used (and abused) in industry.  In this seminar we will investigate both the material properties of water along with the economic, ecological and political impacts of water usage.  We will explore all of these topics and how they intersect.  Our time together will include class discussions, experiments (yes, you will spend time in a fluid dynamics lab), analysis, and written and oral communication.  We will inform and challenge each other through these activities, developing our skills of inquiry.

The Political Culture in Ancient Rome
HONR 102E: First-Year Seminar with Professor Jinyu Liu
This course examines the following interconnected questions concerning the political culture of ancient Rome: How did elections work during the Roman Republic? How competitive were they? Were there “checks and balances” in the Roman constitution? What were the mechanisms to mete out, reinforce, increase, or curb power, privileges, and obligations? Did patronage and clientage undermine or supplement the Roman constitution? How were contrasting concepts such as “virtues” and “vices”, “shame” and “honor” conceptualized? How did “memorizing” and “forgetting” work in Roman political life? What was the relationship between religion and politics? What was the role of “violence”? How did the establishment of the imperial system change the political culture in Rome? To address these questions, we will study various aspects of the Roman constitution, work on case studies of the rise and fall of some of the well-known families, closely examine select debates in the Senate of ancient Rome, analyze legislation, and consider how the topography and art of ancient Rome contributed to its political culture. 

Discourses of Disability
HONR 102F: First-Year Seminar with Professor Amity Reading
What does it mean to be disabled? Why don’t we see the term handicapped in public discourse anymore? How long have humans been using protheses to compensate for lost limbs? This course will critically explore the ways in which we deploy terms like impairment, disabled, accessibility, and ableness in modern discussions of disability. The course will serve as both a broad-based theoretical introduction to the field of disability studies and will also provide students with the opportunity to explore historicized discussions of ableness in a range of texts from different time periods and cultures. Readings will be drawn from many genres and disciplines, and will include, among others, a Renaissance play depicting the use of crutches by a protagonist, a sociological study on deafness in the 21st century, a linguistic analysis of the etymology of the word prosthesis, and a biology paper on the production of tears in the human body.

Interdisciplinary SEMINARS

Banned Books
HONR 300Aa: Arts and Humanities Seminar with Professor Deborah Geis
There has been a lot of media attention recently to schools and libraries that are being pressured to ban books considered “unsuitable” or “inappropriate” for readers, and the act of banning or censoring what books we’re allowed to read has fascinating connections to issues of race, gender, sexuality, religion, and social class. In this course, we will begin by looking at a few famous past examples of books that have been banned and even brought to trial for obscenity, and then we’ll discuss some more recent works that are still at the center of controversies over who should read what and why. This course is interdisciplinary because it focuses not just on the literature itself, but the history and politics behind these debates. Some of our readings may include D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover; Allen Ginsberg’s Howl; Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye; Tony Kushner’s Angels in America; and Art Spiegelman’s Maus. Note that while we will not be studying YA texts in the first parts of the course, you will have the option of choosing a banned YA text for your final project. Also, please note that since this is an “S” course, students will be expected to participate actively in discussions and presentations.

Religion and the Modern Nation-State
HONR 300Ac: Arts and Humanities Seminar with Professor Jeff Kenney
This course treats religion and politics in the context of the modern world of nation-states, comparing structures of religion-state relations, religion and national identity construction, and secularization across geo-cultural regions. It draws on case study examples from Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, and North America to show how the modern system of nation-states has accommodated religions and how religions have themselves accommodated this system. The goal is to provide students with a broad picture of the ongoing importance of religion in modern political systems, globally, and shed light on the religious politics and political religion that inform individual nation-states.

The Datification of Society
HONR 300Bb: Science and Mathematics Seminar with Professor Naima Shifa
We live in an age where data collection starts before we are born. It continues as we visit doctor’s offices for our immunizations, go to school, start our job, go shopping, make phone calls, call taxis, place online orders, navigate or post on social media. Our lives are datafied. “Datafication of Society,” covers various topics, providing students with a broad snapshot of the data-driven world. The course objectives are to develop greater data literacy by understanding and explaining the role of data in our everyday lives, developing ethical and critical approaches to data and its collection, and communicating as a data literate professional. Upon completing this course,  students will be able to set their own social science research agenda with a deep understanding of the construction of  data and how it frames the truth.

Access to Justice and Poverty Law
HONR 300Ca: Social Science Seminar with Professor Monica Fennell
This course explores the meaning of access to justice, in the context of the United States legal system, especially for those who cannot afford to hire an attorney. We will examine the history and the role of civil legal aid and pro bono representation in the current delivery system. Innovations in bridging the justice gap will be explored.

Language, Gender, and Sexuality
HONR 300Cb: Social Science Seminar with Professor Farah Ali
This course focuses on the relationship between language, gender, and sexuality. Students will first look at different theoretical and analytical perspectives that are grounded in scholarship from gender and sexuality studies, as well as sociolinguistics. Students will then explore how language shapes the expression and suppression of gender and (a)sexuality. Specific topics include: gender differences in interactions (e.g. politeness, turn-taking); sexist language and discourse about sexism and sexual violence; sexual orientation and linguistic expression; linguistic variation and change that reflect feminist language reform (e.g. gender-neutral language); discursive representations of gender and gendered language use in the media and in institutional contexts (e.g. news media, professional settings). These discussions will also address the intersectionality of gender with other identities, such as race, heritage, class, religion, among others.

Understanding Terrorism
HONR 300Cc: Social Science with Professor Deepa Prakash (5 seats available)
Acts of ‘terrorism’ and the discourse and debate around this phenomenon are ubiquitous. Yet, for all of this ubiquity, our understanding of this phenomenon 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?’ ‘How do we contend with the rise of White Supremacist terrorism?’ and finally “How does terrorism end and what can we do to combat it?’
We will read not just scholarly and policy expertise from a range of disciplines (political Science, Sociology, Psychology and History, to name a few) but also approach these questions through the lens of literature and film. In doing so, we will discuss how popular culture processes and represents such political events and how these representations, in turn, inform policy. This material will help us think about a variety of issues:  consequences of terrorism for a range of topics including: the balance between civil liberty and security, terrorist motivations, the premise of the ‘war on terror,’ and its impact on different collectivities such as victims, ‘terrorists’, ‘the West’, Muslims and other minorities, soldiers and immigrants. We will not necessarily resolve these questions but we’ll arrive at the beginnings of our own answers to them. Over the course of the semester you will write 2 short papers and a longer research paper devoted to some aspect of terrorism and political violence.

Political Psychology
HONR 300Cd: Social Science with Professor Salil Benegal (5 seats available)
This course examines how our personalities, social preferences, and biases may shape different political attitudes and outcomes. We will draw on concepts from psychology, economics, sociology, and political science to better understand contemporary issues in society and politics today. For example, how do our partisan, ideological, or ethnic group identities affect the political information we select, or the policies we support? How might appeals to fear, resentment, or prejudices impact electoral outcomes? Or why do misinformation and conspiracy theories linger in the public’s mind for so long? Over the semester, we will also learn to think critically and appreciatively about different approaches to study behavior in the social sciences.