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Spring 2024 Honor Scholar Seminars


Striking Unasked, Surging Past
HONR 102A: First-Year Seminar with Professor Andrea Sununu
Quoting Gerard Manley Hopkins, Gjertrud Schackenberg’s poem “Strike Into It Unasked” (The Paris Review, Spring 2021) describes the miraculousness of poetic inspiration: “The wonder of it, that the briefest touch / Can instigate a shock that’s mutual.” Just as the windhover’s “Headlong freefall” culminates in “A blowing-by / As rapturous as if creation / Were an end unto itself,” Schnackenberg’s lines compel us to see, in poetry, “a glimpse / Of the creation, surging past––”: the final dash in a text punctuated only by commas and dashes is, in itself, a miraculous coda. The “striking” and “surging” imagery of this foundational poem will complement images from Virginia Woolf’s essay A Room of One’s Own (1929) as we explore works both artistic and literary in which dislocation or potential catastrophe turns into opportunity, loss into restoration, apathy or shock into awe. Works will include poems by Hopkins, Keats, Schnackenberg, Vaughan, and Wordsworth; art by Van Gogh, Kurosawa, and two Flemish painters, Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Jacob Pieter Gouwy; Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night; selections from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and from Cathy N. Davidson’s 36 Views of Mount Fuji: On Finding Myself in Japan; Paul Kalanithi’s memoir, When Breath Becomes Air (2016); and five novels: Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (1811), James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916), Octavia Butler’s Kindred (1979), Barbara Kingsolver’s Unsheltered (2018), and Celeste Ng’s Our Missing Hearts (2022). Although we are all mortal and therefore vulnerable, our post-pandemic, climate-changing world has given age-old questions special urgency. I hope that as we marvel at the gift of inspiration and probe the effects of xenophobia, racism, and systemic injustice on the world that we have inherited, we can try, both individually and collectively, to give meaning to our lives.

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?

Utopias and Dystopias
HONR 102C: First-Year Seminar with Professor Joseph Porter
Has capitalism given us heaven on Earth—or hell? And is Heaven itself really all that heavenly? In this course, we will explore different political and religious perspectives on utopia—the optimal human society—and ask whether they are in fact dystopic. We will read excerpts from a wide range of texts including the Communist Manifesto, the Bible, and Brave New World.

9/11 & the War on Terror
HONR 102D: First-Year Seminar with Professor Jeff Kenney
This seminar explores the historical and political origins of 9/11 and America’s subsequent global response, the War on Terror (sometimes referred to as the Global War on Terror). It begins with the backstory: the rise of political Islam—both moderate and militant—in the Middle East, the militant turn from the “near enemy” of regional governments to the “far enemy” of the West, and the successful Afghan war against Soviet occupation, which served as an inspiration and training ground for al-Qaeda’s global jihad. Then the focus turns to America’s decades-long WOT that resulted in two U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with temporary occupations and faltering attempts at nation-state building in both countries; massive loss of life, especially among local populations; expenditure of trillions of dollars; and the creation of an extra-legal detention center at the Naval Station Guantanamo Bay (Cuba) to hold “terrorists.” This event history provides the opportunity 1.) to discuss and debate Islamist ideology, the rise of global jihad, and Western foreign policy in the Muslim world; and 2.) to wrestle with some important and uncomfortable questions: Did U.S. foreign policy play a role in 9/11? Was the WOT necessary or legal? Is America safer as a result? Is the Middle East more stable? Has “terrorism” diminished?

The Archaeology of Democracy
HONR 102E: First-Year Seminar with Professor Rebecca Schindler
Demokratia, the idea that people have the power to rule themselves, took root in ancient Greece in the 6th century BCE. Underlying this movement were the principles of freedom, equality, and justice. By the late 5th century BCE, the historian Thucydides claimed that Athens' great cultural, economic, and military successes were made possible by her belief in freedom. Around the same time, the emerging city of Rome rejected monarchy and established a democratic Republic. Modern Europe and America have invoked the ‘achievements’ of the Greeks and the Romans as models for modern democratic states. But what are the connections between the past and the present?
In this course we will take a deep dive into the past. Through the discipline of archaeology, which brings together evidence from excavation, works of art, and ancient texts, we will explore the origins of democratic thought and the institutions that those ideas created. From Herodotus to Cicero, we will consider what liberty, equality, and justice meant in societies that restricted citizenship and where part of the population was enslaved. From the Athenian Agora to the Roman Forum, we will look at how visual rhetoric reinforced particular ideologies. Most importantly, we will ask, what Demokratia meant in Greece and Rome, and to what extent is contemporary democracy dependent on that past? As we enter the third decade of the 21st century, we frequently hear reports that Democracy as a viable political system is in crisis. Through examining Democracy’s past, this course will grapple with its present and consider its future.


Graphic Narratives, Graphic Subjects: Art, Death, and Intrigue in the Graphic Novel
HONR 300Aa: Arts and Humanities Seminar with Professor Karin Wimbley
Sex, plague, and murder in a 1970s Seattle suburb. Superheroes, anti-heroes, and political intrigue during the Cold War era. Frankenstein, nanotechnology, and shadow governments in the 21st century. Planetary exile on a women’s off-world penal colony. As a medium that uses both text and image to tell stories, graphic novels and sequential art often captures humanity’s best and worst impulses. This course explores how graphic storytelling interrogates life, death, and the political intrigue that often defines the human condition. Specifically, we will interrogate the characteristics and tropes operative in these graphic narratives, engage with current scholarship about sequential art, and explore several sub-genres including utopian/dystopian narratives; cyber punk aesthetics; and the memoir. Course texts include Alan Moore's Watchman, Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, Charles Burns' Black Hole, Victor LaValle’s Destroyer, and Bitch Planet Vol. 1 & 2, to name a few. 

The (dangerous and outdated?) art of truth-telling/truth-seeking
HONR 300Ab: Arts and Humanities Seminar with Professor Beth Benedix
“Perhaps no one has yet been truthful enough about what 'truthfulness' is.” --Nietzsche
Canadian journalist Terry Glavin recently made this statement: "Honestly, what I find more troubling than the fact that the truth doesn't seem to matter [with regards to media] is that it doesn't seem to matter that the truth doesn't matter." I find this troubling, too. How can the truth not matter? And yet, in so many spheres--politics, education, media--it often seems to be subjugated to confirmation bias. Setting aside esoteric philosophical questions like "What is Truth"? or "Is there Truth?", I want to explore with you—through literature, podcasts, music, art—our current relationship to this amorphous thing we call truth. We'll look at truth-telling and truth-seeking as two sides of a coin, and consider their interdependence. Where do people seek truth? Is the seeking solitary or collective? Do we know the truth when we see/hear it? Is there an obligation to communicate "truth" once you've "found" it? We'll jump into the FIRE (that is, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression and the Free Press) addressing the elephant in the room on college campuses: What is the relationship between truth and free speech? We will seek out examples of artists/writers/thinkers that are getting people to receive the truth they're trying to tell.

Wild Stye: Hip Hop Aesthetics
HONR 300Ac: Arts and Humanities Seminar with Professor Marcus Hayes
Through readings and multimedia engagement, Wild Style: Hip Hop Aesthetics, explores the music, dance, and visual culture associated with the Hip Hop genre. This interdisciplinary course seeks an understanding of the subcultural tendencies that led to the creation of Hip Hop as well as the commercial tendencies that transformed it into a global cultural phenomenon. Students will gain an understanding of aesthetic philosophy as it relates to Hip Hop, African Diasporic/African American Music and Dance traditions, and the visual culture of graffiti, fashion, music videos, and films.

Food Systems and Sustainability
HONR 300Ba: Science and Mathematics Seminar with Professor Jeane Pope
“What’s for dinner?” Though this perennial question may seem banal, when considered through the lens of sustainability, which requires consideration for social equity, environmental integrity, and economic viability, it becomes one of the most important questions of the 21st century. The incredible advances in food production developed through the wonders of chemistry, physics, and computer science, and supported through policies advantaging so-called economic efficiencies have brought marvelous advances in society and prosperity to billions of people now living on this finite planet. These gains come at a cost: an estimated 800 million people are currently undernourished, eco-systems are threatened by pesticides and fertilizer run-off. As the population of the globe increases so do the costs to people and the planet. Society must pursue sustainable agricultural practices in order to preserve both the Earth’s ecosystems and human dignity.
In this course, students will explore all aspects of the modern food system with an eye towards identifying problems and suggesting sustainable practices. Students will learn sustainability and systems theory, soil science and plant biology, food commodity economics, and agricultural politics while also applying this understanding to applied active-learning projects on Ullem Campus Farm. Students will gain practical experience with sustainable agriculture methods, enjoy class out of doors, and learn how to contribute to global environmental solutions. 

Portable Power: Scientific, Technological, Political, Cultural, and Sustainability Perspectives, Challenges, and Dilemmas Surrounding Batteries
HONR 300Bb: Science and Mathematics with Professor Bridget Gourley
Battery powered gadgets are ubiquitous in our society, from technology as small as hearing aids to large electric cars. Applications of portable power have led to both innovations and disasters. For example, lithium-ion batteries revolutionized the cell phone yet, when poorly manufactured, they go up in flames. In this course, we will look at key scientific advances in the evolution of the modern battery and investigate cutting edge questions in today’s battery research. This will take us on an intellectual journey that will touch on the lives of past and current scientists, ethical dilemmas, economic challenges, and political intrigue; as well as on an investigation of critical elements of the periodic table required in both batteries and the gadgets utilizing this portable power.

Cult and Conspiracy
HONR 300Cb: Social Science Seminar with Professor Harry Brown
Everything that you think you know about the world is false. This course will give you the truth. And it’s all true: Hollow Earth, Flat Earth, shadow people, lizard people, simulation theory, the surveillance state, the deep state, crisis actors, chemtrails, cryptids, UFOs, UAPs, alien bodies, alien abductions, QAnon, birthers, truthers, hoaxers, false flags, Manchurian candidates, militias, insurgents, useful idiots. How can we rationally understand this fascinating and sometimes menacing constellation of cults and conspiracies? In 1972, British sociologist Colin Campbell defined “cult” as any religious group formed in opposition to “dominant cultural orthodoxies.” More recently, political scientist Michael Barkun expanded Campbell’s definition beyond “deviant” religion to include the broader spectrum of conspiracy theories rooted in “outsider ideas” and “stigmatized knowledge” rejected by government, academic, and scientific authority. This course explores the formation of communities around “oppositional” knowledge. We will examine how cultic and conspiratorial knowledge move freely and rapidly through print and digital media, assuming the aspect of “truth” by the speed and volume of dissemination. We will consider how social psychology and political theory respond to this phenomenon, as well as intersections with accounts of antisemitism, antiglobalism, racism, and populism through case studies such as the Branch Davidians, Heaven’s Gate, the 9/11 Truth movement, and QAnon. Finally, we will read some recent works of fiction, including Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, Jess Walter’s The Zero, and John Darnielle’s Universal Harvester, that illuminate the murky, fluid, and volatile matrix of our cultural moment.

Access to Justice and Poverty Law
HONR 300Cc: Social Science Seminar with Staff
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.

For the Wanderer, the Questioning, and the Thoughtful