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Spring 2019 Honors Seminars

First-Year Seminars

The Ethics of Combat: Greece, Rome and Japan
HONR 102A:  First Year Seminar
Pedar Foss
This course examines the ethics of combat—using historical examples ranging from ancient Greece and Rome to the world of feudal Japan. 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 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 presented through ancient literature and art, and through modern 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? Using 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? Beside three short papers that call for close readings of texts, ancient art, and film, there is a 10-session experiential project: evening training in combat at a local dojo, taught by a martial arts grandmaster. Ultimately, in our literary, historical, and artistic investigations and our experiential and creative study, we consider how combat against ‘others’ cannot be considered outside of an internal struggle for mastery of one’s self.    

Science of Religion
HONR 102B:  First Year Seminar
Ted Bitner
Many scientists today are enthusiastic about using the tools of scientific inquiry to understand the nature of religious belief. Religion is seen to be a phenomenon that is natural to humans, so it follows that it can be studied using the tools of scientific inquiry. Through readings, thoughtful writing, and discussion, we will grapple with questions such as, what is religion anyway? Are we hardwired by the evolutionary process to believe? Does science provide any answers, and, if so, what are they? Can we hypothesize that a god or gods exist?

Legacy of War
HONR 102C: First Year Seminar
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?

War and Society
HONR 102D: First Year Seminar
Michael Seaman
"War is the father of all and king of all." With these words, the ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus expressed the view that strife was a natural and necessary state of affairs in the world. Indeed, warfare as a deliberate state policy is a theme that runs through Western Civilization, if not world history. War and its consequences were an unavoidable part of daily life in the ancient world. This course is a study of warfare with an emphasis on ancient Greece and Rome. We begin with a brief look at warfare in the ancient Near East, including Mesopotamia, Egypt, and Assyria. We then shift our focus to the ancient Greek world with studies of the Bronze Age, Homeric warfare, the hoplite phalanx, Sparta, the Persian and Peloponnesian Wars, and the Age of Alexander the Great. Lastly, we look at Roman Warfare from the Punic Wars and Hannibal to Julius Caesar to the Fall of Rome. We look not only at major battles but pay particular attention to diplomacy and the function of warfare in society and its impact on political and social history. Additional topics studied include battle formations, armor, generalship, tactics and strategies, weapon lethality, technology and warfare, siege warfare, civilians in warfare, the economics of war, laws and rules of engagement, and treatment of the defeated. No previous knowledge of the ancient world or of warfare is required.

Interdisciplinary AREA Seminars

Nietzsche, Kafka and Their Legacies
HONR 300Aa: Humanities
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 Wire: Narrative and Representations of Race, Class, and Institutions
HONR 300Ab:  Humanities
Michael Sinowitz
David Simon’s long-arc television show, The Wire, is frequently hailed as the greatest show in the history of television.  Critics compare it to Greek tragedy and, in its sprawling cast of character, urban settings, and social critiques, to the novels of Charles Dickens.  Simon drew on his experiences as a newspaper reporter when he was once embedded in the Baltimore Homicide Division and also his experiences writing a book about life on a street corner where the drug trade was conducted in order to create the show.  Cast members realized that they a part of  one of the most diverse casts in television history to that point, and they got together to create portrait of themselves to commemorate the moment.   In its ambition, complexity, ambitious visual style, character development and sense of humor, this is a truly special show.  It asks a lot of viewers, but pays the attentive viewer back.  The Wire resembles a police drama, but calls into question the very conventions of that genre.  This class will focus on examining this show through a variety of prisms.  We will examine its narrative structure and techniques, and we will develop the skills and vocabulary necessary to interpret a visual narrative.  We will also analyze how the show represents race—and likely class and gender--and how it critiques a vast array of social institutions including the police force, the drug trade, the public school, and local government.  This will also be a W course, and we will put an emphasis on developing interpretive writing skills. 

Evolution and Human Nature
HONR 300Ba: Science
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. 

Morality and Medicine
HONR 300Bb: Science
Ted Bitner
Recent advances in medical science have contributed to rapidly expanding human control over natural processes. While it is vital that we understand scientific advances, it is just as important to grapple with the implications and problems these new advances have brought with them. We will look at how bioethicists and clinical ethicists attempt to reach moral and ethical solutions through the use of case studies, discourse, and life narratives.

Economics of Higher Education
HONR300C: Social Science
Manu Raghav
Using the basic principles of economics, this course will examine and analyze main issues of higher education such as university finances including tuition, university endowment, other sources of revenues, and cost expenditures, hiring of  faculty members and other employees, student admission and matriculation, competition among universities, various types of universities and relative strengths and weaknesses of each type, and learning process including the factors that facilitate or improve the learning by students. This course will also examine the variegated access and learning outcomes for various demographic groups as well as the role of the higher education in furthering socioeconomic mobility for members of various demographic groups.