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Spring 2020 Honors Seminars

FIRST-YEAR SEMINARS

Discourses of Disability
HONR 102A: 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.

Fantastic Women: Surreal Stories for the Real World
HONR 102B: First Year Seminar with Professor Sarah Gerkensmeyer
From sci fi to fairy tale, fantasy to slipstream, how are some contemporary women writers working within seemingly out-of-this-world genres in order to tackle real world issues? And how might these fantastic tales peel back the complexities of current social concerns such as global warming, reproductive rights, and immigration in a more dynamic and revealing manner than realist fiction? As we discuss the assigned readings, we will consider the moments in our own lives that can at times feel uncannily dystopian. This course will combine a study of contemporary literature as well as interdisciplinary research, culminating in a final creative writing project. Students will hone their skills in close reading, discussion, research, and both analytical and creative writing. 

Race and the Legacy of Islamic Spain
HONR 102C: First Year Seminar with Professor Paul Johnson
Medieval Iberia has often been identified as a “tri-religious” culture, in which individuals of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian heritage coexisted peacefully for centuries.  For this reason, scholars have famously distinguished Spanish society of the period for its high degree of religious and racial tolerance.  On the other hand, studies have suggested that the concept of “race” that we hold today first originated out of the historical legacy of this same society of tolerance.  Citing statutes of “blood purity,” these studies describe the gradual development of a social, religious, and racial hierarchy that sanctioned discrimination and violence, supported by the infamous authority of the Spanish Inquisition.  Early modern Spain thus confronts us with a crucial paradox: How did a society famous for its tolerance go on to sow the seeds of racialized discrimination?  This question underscores an opportunity for studying the ways in which both race and religion have been exploited as categories of exclusion, aggression, and violence.  If indeed our contemporary concept of race was forged in early modern Spain, then an examination of the period may afford us a better understanding of such pressing issues as inclusiveness, tolerance, privilege, difference, diversity, and multiculturalism that we face today.  In this course, medieval and early modern Iberia will serve as a unique critical intersection for interrogating these issues, historically and with regards to the contemporary moment as well.

Space and Time
HONR 102D: First Year Seminar with Professor Ashley Puzzo
What is space? What is time? Suppose nothing ever changes. Does time pass? Can there be perfectly empty spaces? Is time travel possible? If there are three spatial dimensions, could there be more? If there could be more spatial dimensions, why aren't there more?  Why is there only a single time dimension? Are space and time something we make up or are they part of the human-independent world? Does the universe have a center or is space infinite in all directions? Are space and time really independent phenomena or are they different aspects of the same phenomenon? In this course we will explore these questions primarily through philosophical texts and multimedia.

INTERDISCIPLINARY AREA SEMINARS

Legacy of Nietzsche and Kafka
HONR 300Aa: Humanities with Professor Beth Benedix 
When Nietzsche’s madman frantically proclaimed, “God is dead and we have killed him,” he shattered the categories of Western philosophy, forcing his audience into a space of urgency, accusation, freedom and possibility—a mode that took on a clear and present danger in Hitler’s Germany, and that inspired –and continues to inspire— acts and art both beautiful and terrifying.   Nietzsche’s mark is everywhere in the world around us—in this current climate so desperately calling for a revaluation of all values.  Likewise, Kafka, who gave to the world a vision at once breathtakingly original and thoroughly prescient, a vivid description of the values that enslave us, of bureaucracy, red-tape and corporate culture and the stripping away of all that is human.  This course is a deep-dive into the work of both of these extraordinarily influential thinkers, and into the many ways their legacies live on.

The Lives of Objects: “Thing” Theory
HONR 300Ab: Humanities with Professor Deborah Geis
“Thing Theory,” or—to use the more fashionable scholarly term, “OOOT” [Object Oriented Ontological Theory)—is, quite simply, the study of objects and the idea that things take on lives of their own.  This Honor Scholar seminar is a multi-disciplinary introduction to the idea of OOOT and the fascinating ways that it allows us to see the world differently. From household dust (it’s alive!) to the food we eat and Instagram to something as surprising as paper in Tennessee Williams’ famous play A Streetcar Named Desire, scholars have given us new methods for thinking about the objects that surround us and how we might interpret them. This course will have three components: we will learn just what OOOT is; we’ll look at ways it can be applied both to famous texts and to more nontraditional genres; and along the way, students will create their own projects using these theories. This is an “S” course, so students will be expected to participate actively and to give several oral presentations along with their written work.

Evolution and Human Nature 
HONR 300Ba: Natural Science with Professor 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
HONR 300Bb: Natural Science with Professor Ted Bitner
Technological advances in medicine have helped humans live longer, and live healthier lives. These advances are a two-edged sword, however; along with all the good they have accomplished, they have brought with them serious ethical problems ranging from deciding who gets organ transplants to will assisted reproduction allow us to mix and match qualities parents want in their children?

We will explore these issues and more, as we consider the ethical decisions healthcare personnel, researchers, and patients must make when confronted with these questions.

Gender and Security
HONR 300Ca: Social Science with Professor Deepa Prakash
This course focuses on how a focus on gender, sex and sexuality changes our perspectives and approach to understanding issues of security, with special emphasis on international armed conflict. By the end of the course, you will become familiar with how scholars use gender as a lens when analyzing international security and practice doing so yourself. we will begin with understanding how traditional notions of conflict and security intersect with and are transformed with attention to gender. We will understand why women have historically been absent in traditional theories and accounts of security and conflict, and how we can analyze and better understand that absence in a way that accounts for the myriad roles women play in international security. Then we will understand how ideas and norms about gender and violence shape behaviors and outcomes in various types of conflict, including how gender impacts conflict resolution. Lastly, we will examine emerging issues and questions at the intersection of sex, sexuality and gender and security. Throughout, we will use various conflict situations and cases to anchor our deliberations and we will be attentive to implications for policy making.  Over the course of the semester you will write 2 short papers and a longer research paper devoted to some aspect of the relationship between conflict/security and gender." 

Culture in Conflict
HONR 300Cb: Social Science with Professor Rebecca Schindler
The illicit trade in cultural heritage comprises one of the largest black markets in the world. In the last two decades that market has been fostered by military conflicts around the world. Archaeological and cultural sites in conflict zones have been left unprotected opening them up to looting as well as intentional destruction by ideologues. Collectors, whose desire to acquire the heritage of “other” cultures, a phenomenon rooted in Western imperial ambition, are complicit in this black market. For archaeologists and anthropologists, the collecting of cultural heritage presents a dilemma. On the one hand, museums and collectors preserve, protect, and make accessible objects from around the world; on the other hand, undocumented excavation of artifacts destroys context, making the reconstruction of the social, economic, and political significance of past cultures impossible. 

This course is roughly divided into three sections. We will begin by defining what cultural heritage is and who has rights and responsibilities towards its preservation and protection, i.e., the stakeholders. In the second part of the course we will learn methods for analyzing the art market and how contemporary collecting practices affect heritage preservation. Then, armed with data about the markets, the motivations of collectors, and how culturally significant sites have been impacted, students will create proposals for policies to address the problems associated with Culture in Conflict and Context.