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Honors Advanced Elective Seminars

Each fall and spring, Honors offers five to six Advanced Elective seminars, making it possible for students to choose courses from a wide array of topics and disciplinary approaches. To complete Honors, students must take a total of three seminars after completing the Freshman Sequence. Transfer students who have completed the core curriculum, typically take a total of four seminars. The seminars are limited to 16 students and run only once. Each semester, an entirely new set of topics is announced. Below is a sample of seminars offered recently.

Gossip: An Interdisciplinary Study

Professor Margaret Cuonzo (Philosophy)

The term “gossip” refers to a set of related but distinct activities, each with its own particular definition and moral status. In this course, we will discuss the activities that have come under heading “gossip.” Our analysis will begin with philosophical attempts to analyze gossip. We also examine gossip using evolutionary linguistics, analyze the development of gossip in children and young adults, and discuss gossip as a sociological phenomenon and artistic device. We will examine what seems to be an increasing interest in the lives of celebrities and the prevalence of “gossip columns,” as well as the role gossip has played in fiction.

The Fats of Life

Professor Glen Lawrence (Biochemistry)

Our understanding of the biochemical and physiological effects of dietary fats has advanced tremendously as a result of careful research, but this knowledge has not easily translated into sound dietary recommendations. This seminar begins with an exploration of the historical and scientific developments that led to the cholesterol hypothesis (the theory that cholesterol increases the risk heart disease and a range of related diseases and disorders). Published reports since the 1980’s have shown this hypothesis to be incorrect—yet these reports have gone largely unnoticed or unheeded by the mainstream medical establishment. We will look at events and large-scale national and international studies that attempted to test the hypothesis. The results of those studies will be looked at in the context of the scientific method. Students do not need to have previously taken a chemistry course, although an understanding of basic chemistry will be advantageous. The fundamentals will be covered in class and will be made accessible to non-science students. You should expect, however, to develop some facility with scientific terms and mechanisms. We will also look at the social dimension of the study of fats. There will be a discussion of how diets have changed over the past century, or more, and especially in the last 25 years, and how these changes affect various physiological systems that relate to modern health problems. Among other requirements, students can expect to write a short research/position paper on a topic related to diet and health.

From Boob Tube to YouTube: The Rise and Fall of Network Television

Professor Jennifer Rauch (Journalism)

This seminar provides a historical context for evaluating recent developments in television distribution technologies and industry practices. It also investigates contemporary debates about the potential effects of television on audience perceptions and habits, social issues and values, individual learning and behaviors, and civic life. The class will view and evaluate programs such as news, talk shows, reality TV, sitcoms, dramas, cartoons, soap operas, and commercials. Students, who will be assigned appropriate readings in both popular and academic publications, will produce critical analyses and original research on television using social-scientific methods.

A Coney Island of the Mind: Coney Island in Cultural History, Literature, and Film

Professor Louis Parascandola (English)

This course will examine the history of Coney Island from its early origins until the present day. Coney has an iconic place in America’s, and particularly New York City’s, cultural legacy. We will explore Coney’s rich and diverse legacy by examinations of cultural history, literature, and film. We will also invite several guest speakers to class. In addition, the class will take a required field trip to Coney Island on a Saturday in October.

The Struggle for Historical Memory in Latin America

Professors Patrice McSherry (Political Science) and Raul Molina-Mejia (History)

This course introduces students to a cluster of issues that are burning priorities in Latin America today: various ways of coming to terms with the history of violence, much of which was state-sponsored, during the Cold War era; the legacy of impunity, via various amnesty laws and other means, that accompanied the transitions from military rule; and the recent striking advances in the application of justice as court cases have been brought against human rights violators, both domestically and internationally. The underlying theme of this course is Latin America’s struggle for historical memory. Should people “forgive and forget”? Why is remembering important? What does memory have to do with justice? With reconciliation? With the future? How have Latin Americans tried to deal with the past through art, literature, poetry, and film? The course covers five major sets of issues, tentatively entitled: Part I: Historical and Political Context; Part II: State Terror and Violence; Part III: Human Rights Violations; Part IV: Transitions and Impunity; and Part V: The Wheels of Justice.

Graphic Literature

Professor Patrick Horrigan (English)

In 1992 Art Spiegelman won the Pulitzer Prize for Maus: A Survivor's Tale, a graphic memoir about his father's experience during the Holocaust. The award was a clear signal that comics had acquired a reputation as a serious art form with broad appeal. This course will sample the rich body of graphic literature since the Second World War with an emphasis on work from the last decade, including books by Herge, Osamu Tezuka, Harvey Pekar, Chris Ware, Marjane Satrapi, Alison Bechdel, and Scott McCloud. Over the course of the semester, each student will give an in-class presentation, write a number of short essays in response to the material, and create a more ambitious term project on some aspect of graphic literature. A field trip to a museum and a guest appearance by a working comic book artist will also be arranged.

The Decline and Fall of the American Republic

Professor Simon Sheppard (Political Science)

The only constant in the history of organized human society is that all such societies ultimately fail. The United States will be no exception. One way or another it will cease to exist in its present form. This course will consider the question: What forces will be responsible for this process of disintegration, and what will replace America as we know it? Drawing on a range of sources, from historical analogy to scientific analysis and speculative fiction, we will investigate whether our constitution and social order could survive a major systemic or exogenous crisis. Some examples include but are not limited to, environmental catastrophe, nuclear holocaust, resource depletion, pandemic, the rise of a new genetically enhanced social hierarchy, and the emergence of a new world order based on corporate as opposed to national loyalty. Finally, we will attempt to project what form of society will succeed our America; anarchy, tyranny, or something in-between?

Nice Work If You Can Get It: Western Attitudes Toward Work

Professor Kristana Arp (Philosophy)

In Western society, especially in the U.S., having a job is very important. Yet work has not always been held in such high esteem. In this course we will examine different attitudes toward work in a range of historical periods. The two questions that will guide us are: 1) Why has work assumes such a paramount importance today? 2) What value should work have in human life? Why work? Answers to this question have taken roughly two forms: because we have to or because we want to. The ancient Greeks and the early Christians have the first reply. To the Greeks, work—physical labor as opposed to intellectual and political activity—was so lowly as barely to merit mention. For Christians, as the story in the Book of Genesis shows the need to labor in order to survive was a consequence of their fall from God’s grace. This course will be exploring passages from Karl Marx, Max Weber and Herbert Marcuse who view work in different ways. While Marx sees economic developments shaping our experiences of work, the sociologist Max Weber sees the rise of Protestantism as having had a profound influence on Western attitudes to work. We will also examine Herbert Marcuse’s, book One-Dimensional Man, and consider what the true needs of human beings are.

Eureka! Moments in Bioscience

Professor Janet Haynes (Biology)

“Eureka!,” (Greek, “I found it”) is a term associated with the elation of discovery. In the history of science, although there have been many “Eureka!” moments, most breakthroughs occur through the accumulation of many small discoveries by many individuals, as well as through many factors in the environment in which science is practiced. This course will introduce the student to a number of discoveries that have had a profound effect on our existence—usually for better, but occasionally for worse—through an exploration of the “Eureka!” moments or years leading up to them. Questions to be approached include: Which discoveries have had a great impact on biomedical science? How have these discoveries come about? What personal attributes did/do scientists possess that contribute to their having “Eureka!” moments? What conditions have existed in society that have either encouraged or discouraged a discovery and that have lead to either acceptance or rejection of that discovery?

South African Literature, Film, and Music: Apartheid and Post-Apartheid Years

Professor Patricia Stephens (English)

This course will introduce students to literature, film, and music from South Africa. Working chronologically from the 1940s to the present, our examination of texts (novels, plays, poetry, memoir, testimonials, film, and music) will be framed by the historical, political, and cultural contexts of the rise and fall of Apartheid. For example, we will listen to music from the anti-Apartheid movement (1960s-80s) and watch films documenting the Truth and Reconciliation Hearings of the post-Apartheid years. In addition, we will read texts by Peter Abrahams, Alan Paton, Ezekiel Mphalele, Nadine Gordimer, Zoe Wicomb, Zakes Mda, Antjie Krog, and others.

Music Acculturation in the United States

Professor Joseph S. Kaminski (Music)

This American music seminar will further students’ visions of cultural diversity and acculturation in American society, particularly reflected in musical genres. As the term “genre” denotes, American music falls into categories with no fixed boundaries, formed by sets of conventions, with many works crossing into multiple genres. American music genres have been created through acculturation - the results of the contacts between two or more different cultures giving birth to new, composite music, in which some, all, or none of the original parts are identifiable. The seminar examines, discusses, and analyzes, varieties of American music, to form a layer of understanding for students studying the meeting of cultures in the United States. The approach is that of acculturation, hybridization, and syncretism. For example, students will examine how the music of New Orleans and Appalachia fused over time to create new American music genres. The course is a seminar, and students will take active roles in discussions based on assigned readings.

An Introduction to Holocaust Studies

Professor Joram Warmund (History)

It is already over six decades since the “Final Solution” of the “Jewish Problem” was articulated at Wannsee in January, 1942. The Holocaust story has been told often, by the perpetrators, victims/survivors, bystanders; and by post-Holocaust analysts from nearly every conceivable intellectual discipline. This course is not about the Holocaust—we already offer such a course—it is about Holocaust studies, their treatment and uses since the end of the Second World War. The issues and perspectives of the Holocaust have undergone profound changes in the last sixty years. As more and more testimony and evidentiary documentation becomes available it has the effect of changing the focus of Holocaust studies. Each change in focus, in turn, impacts on the kind of questions asked—often the case with the introduction of new evidence—and raises questions concerning the value of the new methodologies being introduced and on the authenticity of the event(s) described. Thus, issues concerning the reliability of evidence in its various forms—such as eyewitness accounts, testimony presented, sometimes decades later, and diaries, to name a few—will be examined. Problems associated with various representations of Holocaust events—in fictionalized filmed accounts as well as in video documentaries and photographs—will also be studied. There are lessons to be learned from an examination of various forms of evidence, as well as from films designed to be evocative rather than descriptive of the Holocaust. For example: “Sometimes at night I lay and can’t believe what I have seen. I really cannot believe it” (Helen K).