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Honors Seminar Descriptions

The following Honors seminars have been offered in recent semesters. This list is for reference only. For current offerings, refer to the current Honors Class Schedule.


Art and Economics in the Bloomsbury Group

Dr. Barry Falk, Economics Department, Honors Program Director
Dr. Sian White, Department of English
This is a 6-credit Honors Seminar on Art and Economics in the Bloomsbury Group during the summer term. It will require some preparatory work in the preceding semester and reflective work in the proceeding semester, but will be centered on three weeks in London soon after final exams conclude. The seminar is open to first and second year honors students.


Art and Politics in Medici Florence

Dr. Linda Halpern, Dean of University Studies, School of Art & Art History
Dr. Scott Hammond, Department of Political Science
This is a six-credit seminar taught primarily in an intensive three-week stay in Florence, Italy. Course content is interdisciplinary, encompassing literary, historical, political, and art historical perspectives on fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Florence.  The culmination of the course is a symposium in the fall in which students present research topics and reflect on what they have learned.


The Artificial Other

Dr. Phil Frana, Honors Program/Interdisciplinary Liberal Studies
In this class we will examine how people imagine and interact with digital technology. My hope is that by observing the otherness of past and current ideas about technologies and information systems, we will achieve a certain critical distance from our own concerns. This critical distance will help us make informed and creative choices, now and in the future. In this seminar, we will appreciate the relative uniqueness of human intelligence and the reinvention of ourselves in a computational universe. We’ll examine sources of human and machine anomie and equilibration in contemporary times, and exhume the machine metaphors defining life. We’ll re-imagine our humanity in a world of artificial intelligences, confront various calls for a “post-biological universe,” and explore opportunities for computer-aided creativity.


Astrobiology:  Search for Life on Other Worlds

Mr. Hugh T. Daughtrey, Department of Computer Science 
Astrobiology is the scientific study of the origin, development, and distribution of life in the universe.  This study brings together historically separate scientific fields such as microbiology, ecology, astronomy, geology, paleontology, and chemistry. It considers the most fundamental questions science can pose:  What is life?   Where and how would you look for life on other worlds?   What would you do if you found life?  These questions have been asked for generations, but only recently have we had the knowledge and the technology to address them from a scientific perspective. This course will provide a foundation to the quest for extraterrestrial life. 


Audiobooks and the Reassertion of Orality

Dr. Lucy Bednar, School of Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication
The class focuses on the significance of the growing popularity of audiobooks. Students in the class will examine the history of orality and literacy with special emphasis on the essential elements of narrative, and they will discuss questions raised by the growing popularity of audiobooks, specifically how audiobooks differ from print books and how those differences affect the experience of reading. In addition, students in the course will have the opportunity to listen to and discuss several types of audiobooks, and they will record a short story or chapter from a book to experience firsthand what is involved in going from print to sound.


Black Elk to Black Holes

Dr. David Pruett, Department of Mathematics & Statistics
How do we unravel the mysteries of the universe? In general, understanding comes from two very different wellsprings. According to Henry Reed, author of The Intuitive Heart, to learn about a thing we may ask one of two fundamental questions: “How does it work?” or “What’s the story?” Asking the former leads to head knowledge, or simply knowledge, which is knowing from without. Asking the latter leads to heart knowledge, or wisdom, which is knowing from within. The primary tool of knowledge is reason, and the primary tool of wisdom is intuition. We will refer to these differing paths to knowing as the path of the mind and the path of heart, respectively. From Black Elk to Black Holes begins with the simple premise that both types of knowing are vitally important to the individual and to society as a whole, as suggested by Einstein himself, who observed: “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.”


Biology in the Movies

Dr. Chris Rose, Department of Biology 
Advances in genetics and development biology allow scientists to manipulate genes, cells, and embryos in ways that increasingly challenge traditional concepts of human identity and could permanently alter the structure of human society.  At the same time, media bombard the public with science-based entertainment that is timely, engaging, and at some level credible to an increasingly savvy and demanding audience.  This course explores the intersection of these trends by addressing how popular culture presents science in movies and the potential costs of its misrepresentation.  Topics include human cloning, genetic engineering, origin and evolution of humans, and artificial and extraterrestrial intelligence.


Civic Engagement*

Dr. Mary Slade, Department of Exceptional Education 
An engaged citizen has the ability, skills, values, and motivation to make a difference in the quality of life in local, national, and global communities.  Upon studying contemporary issues through a wide spectrum of multidisciplinary lenses, engaged citizens take action.  Therefore, civic engagement encompasses the individual or collective actions of citizens designed to identify and address issues of public concern.  This seminar provides opportunities for students to combine their intellectual pursuits with civic engagement and civil discourse, thereby raising their voices and empowering them to become engaged participants in tomorrow’s global society. 

* This course is under the Area of Emphasis. Two consecutive Area of Emphasis courses (one in Fall and one in Spring) are required to fulfill the Honors Seminar requirement. If only one Area of Emphasis course is completed, it will count towards the Honors Elective requirement.


Civic Engagement in a Global Society

Dr. Mary Slade, Department of Exceptional Education 
Citizens are the individuals working to be the change in the life of a community.  An engaged citizen has the ability, skills, values, and motivation to make a difference in the quality of life in local, national, and global communities.  Upon studying contemporary issues engaged citizens take the community action.  Therefore, civic engagement encompasses the individual or collective actions of citizens designed to identify and address issues of public concern.  This seminar provides opportunities for students to combine their intellectual pursuits across disciplines with service-learning and civil discourse, thereby raising their voices and empowering them to become engaged participants in tomorrow's global society. 


Conflict Management and Resolution

Dr. Dana Haraway, Department of Middle, Secondary and Mathematics Education
The class focuses on effective and ineffective processes and strategies in conflict management and resolution. Students engage in role-play and analysis of scenarios in a variety of settings. Though not required, students are encouraged to present conflict situations from their own lives for practice in applying course concepts, identifying common themes and pitfalls, and planning effective response strategies.


Creativity, Innovation, and Human Engagement

Dr. Phil Frana, Honors Program/Interdisciplinary Liberal Studies
This course explores basic concepts of creativity across the disciplines and within various cultures. Course content can include the study and analysis of creative expression; the application of theories and conceptual frameworks to notions of fruitful serendipity, intellectual insight, and imagination; and the various modes of creative cognition in individuals, groups, and experimental “thinking” machines. Individual instructors may draw especial attention to problems of creation in literary and artistic endeavors, the role of personality, creativity in scientific discovery, the physiology and neurology of creative ability, innovative teaching techniques, or the philosophy and psychology of creativity and human fulfillment.


Critical Thinking on Business Issues

Dr. Ira C. Harris, McIntire School of Commerce, University of Virginia
This books-based seminar course is designed to encourage students to think deeply and become more analytical about complex problems—skills highly valued in the marketplace. The weekly assigned books are selected to provoke debate and careful thought about wide-ranging topics such as market solutions, low-wage workers, private prisons, ignored costs of globalization, race relations, technology & privacy, women’s images, welfare reform, immigration policy and work-life balance challenges. The goal is to broaden students’ thinking beyond conventional wisdom. The course is concerned with questions instead of answers, and encourages a free flow of ideas through open, thoughtful discussions.

This virtual seminar will consist of students enrolled at the University of Virginia, James Madison University and George Mason University. The weekly discussions will be filled with energy & insight, and conducted via each university’s Cisco Telepresence facilities (high-definition video conference technology). A course blog will be used to supplement the weekly discussions. Students from all majors are encouraged to enroll.


Enacting Scientific Arguments

Mr. Hugh T. Daughtrey, Department of Computer Science
This class will focus on the fundamentals of scientific processes through the analysis of two notable events in the history of science, the trial of Galileo (1633) and the Kansas Board of Education’s debates over the inclusion of biological evolution in the public school curriculum (1999).  Students will study the events from an external point of view with by reading primary literature that emphasizes different kinds of evidence and their interpretation.  In addition, students will focus on the events in an internal manner through role-playing. 


Evolution, Human Nature and Morality

Dr. Steven Keffer, Department of Biology 
The starting assumption of this class will be that human beings have been fashioned by natural, evolutionary processes.  What does the evidence from evolutionary evidence tell us about human nature and morality?  Students will actively apply this knowledge to diagnose and propose solutions for some of the serious problems facing humankind.


Exploring Leadership*

Dr. Richard G. MathieuDepartment of Computer Information Systems and Management Science
This course provides basic concepts of leadership and the essential skills required to become an effective leader. The course includes the study of leadership as well as the application of leadership theories, concepts, and skills. The student will be provided the opportunity for personal development through exercises in communication and leadership effectiveness. Objectives of the course are to understand leadership, know your own style and have a plan for developing your leadership.  This course will examine what we know about the leadership practices that lead to effective team and organizational performance.

* This course is under the Area of Emphasis. Two consecutive Area of Emphasis courses (one in Fall and one in Spring) are required to fulfill the Honors Seminar requirement. If only one Area of Emphasis course is completed, it will count towards the Honors Elective requirement.


Game Theory

Dr. Scott Stevens, Computer Information Systems and Management Science 
This course will look at many different kinds of games: games of pure competition and games that involve a cooperative component, games with only two players and games involving many players, games with simultaneous decisions and games with sequential ones, games with secrets and games in which all information is public, games with chance and games without.  The course applies basic principles and a minimum of mathematics to real-world situations applicable to any discipline.  No pre-requisite is required. 


The Human Mind in Literature and Film

Joseph Loyacano, Department of English
This course will examine representations of the human mind in literature and film with a focus towards the power of the imagination, the nature of memory, the effects of traumatic events, and dreams.   The literature will cover multiple time periods with a heavier focus on 20th and 21st century works.  We will supplement film viewings and required texts with literary analysis, relevant articles on the science of the human mind, and student presentations to create an immersive experience.


Human Rights in the Modern World

Dr. Mary Loe, History Department
This course will offer a multi-disciplinary examination of human rights in the 20th and 21st centuries. Since the end of World War II the issue of human rights has become the moral standard by which a nation’s political legitimacy is judged in the international community. Students will read first person accounts: memoirs, autobiographies and interviews with people whose rights were taken away because of their race, gender, political views or in several cases for no reason at all. Students will be asked to define what these people and the movements they were involved in had in common, how they differed, which of their objectives were realized, and how their hopes, dreams, and disappointments were reflected in art, literature, music, theater, and philosophy. Films, paintings and posters as well as recordings of music will also be introduced.


Intergroup Dialogue

Art Dean, Office of Special Assistant to the President
Dr. Harriett Cobb, Department of Graduate Psychology
This course explores social identities and their relevance to and impact upon individuals and groups. The model of the Program on Intergroup Relations at the University of Michigan will be used as the basic structure of the course. Both course instructors have completed training in this method and have previously led IGD groups on race/ethnicity and gender. 

This course will explore ONE of the following social identities:  Race, Gender, or Spirituality/Religion, depending upon student interest, and meeting the essential criterion of equal numbers of students in each subgroup, i.e. for Gender, there must be half men and half women enrolled in the class. 

The course format will include lecture, directed readings and video media; the primary mode of instruction will be through the participation in dialogue about the selected social identity. Participants will engage in applied exercises that can be used within the classroom and in other venues, including the workplace.  Case studies of challenging situations will be discussed.


Literature & Psychology

Dr. Marie Odette Canivell, Department of English 
The purpose of this course is to acquaint the student with literary works studied under the perspective of psychoanalysis. In this seminar style class, you will become acquainted with basic psychoanalytical terminology as well as some literary criticism in the field.


Modern Freedom

Dr. Spencer Leonard, Department of History

This course is in the tradition of “great books” seminars. The class, entitled “Modern Freedom,” sets aside disciplinary concerns to zero in on the modern concept of freedom, a concept that feeds into a number of contemporary university disciplines – Anthropology, Economics, History, Philosophy, Political Science, Religious Studies, and Sociology, to name only the most obvious. The course readings in “Modern Freedom” are substantial selections or complete works by major authors. The course begins by an integrated discussion of the emergence and flourishing of freedom thinking in European philosophy in the Age of Revolution, and the subsequent crisis of freedom in the latter half of the 19th century. Beginning with the Rousseauvian “discovery” of the modern concept of freedom as mankind’s self-transformability in history we will over the course of many weeks trace that concept’s elaboration within the high liberal tradition of the Scottish Enlightenment, German Idealism, and post-Napoleonic liberalism. Marx will then be discussed as an attempt of advancing or renewing this tradition in what he takes to be the crisis conditions of the industrial revolution, i.e. endemic unemployment. Marx thus allows for discussion a certain approach to what seems the exhaustion of liberalism by the mid-19th century. This same question will be further explored in the two final readings of the semester, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Max Weber. 


Myth and Meaning

Dr. Kate Kessler, School of Writing, Rhetoric and Technical Communication 
Myth and Meaning will explore the power of myth by examining the myths of various cultures and times and looking at the archetypes common among them.  We will investigate some of the big questions:  "How do myths reflect culture?", "How do myths shape cultures?", "How do myths help to explain the unknown and give humans a feeling of power and control?", "How do myths give life meaning?", "How do myths affect human behavior?"


Psychology of Sexual Diversity

Dr. Kristen Davidson, Department of Psychology
The focus of this course is primarily on the psychological perspectives of sexual orientation, including underserved sexual minority populations. The theories, research and concepts presented will focus on sexual orientation and expression with a particular emphasis on the impact and short and long-term effects on the emotional, psychological and social development and well-being of LGBT populations.


Quality & Process Improvement in Action

Dr. Nicole Radziwill, Department of Integrated Science & Technology
This course prepares students to analyze complex problems in integrated business, technology and engineering environments to generate tangible benefits, such as: improving product quality, productivity, efficiency, and the effectiveness of work processes; and saving time and money. Students will learn about variation, improvement cycles, quality tools, and problem solving techniques, and plan and execute quality improvement projects. This course goes beyond the philosophy and foundational concepts covered in other business and engineering classes, and introduces students to practical strategies for defining and executing quality and process improvement projects in their community. Students will learn about basic quality tools, lean thinking, and Six Sigma, and use them to deliver tangible value for a local nonprofit or small business via service learning. This course enables students to synthesize material learned from previous quality-related business and engineering courses into a practical, actionable framework to make personal contributions to the community.


Scientific Research*

Dr. Stephanie Stockwell, Department of Integrated Science and Technology
This three credit, one semester Honors Seminar is designed as an introduction to the nature of scientific inquiry and what it means to be a research scientist and effective communicator. Topics covered will be both theoretical and practical in nature. 

This course will have three main units of study: 1) Ways of knowing (e.g. identifying causation vs. correlation, critiquing the experimental process, and the appreciating the importance of using models), 2) Scientific communication (e.g. accessing, understanding, and writing scientific literature; understanding the manuscript submission, review, and revision process; and interfacing with conventional modes of oral communication), and 3) From theory to practice (i.e. establishing and fostering productive professional relationships, maintaining accurate and thorough record keeping, and working within the framework of conventional scientific standards). Through the exposure and analysis of these topics and issues, students will become prepared for a positive undergraduate research experience.

* This course is under the Area of Emphasis. Two consecutive Area of Emphasis courses (one in Fall and one in Spring) are required to fulfill the Honors Seminar requirement. If only one Area of Emphasis course is completed, it will count towards the Honors Elective requirement.


Shakespeare's Cardenio

Robert Jones, School of Theatre and Dance
In 1728, Lewis Theobald published Double Falsehood, a play he claimed to have derived from a manuscript of Shakespeare’s “lost” work, Cardenio.  Based in part on Don Quixote, the play has long been a source of controversy, and Arden Shakespeare's recent publication of Double Falsehood  has reignited the critical fire.  Through examining historical records, considering source materials, analyzing the plays and more recent adaptations, viewing live performances, and performing our own creative work, this course will not only explore the evidence for the lost play but will also examine the cultural forces that drive efforts to “reclaim” the unknown.  After all, the question to ask may not be who wrote Cardenio, but why it matters.


Sherlock Holmes and the Proliferation of Meanings

Dr. Mark Raymond, Department of English 
This class will investigate the cultural history of Sherlock Holmes, reading the “canonical” novels and stories by Conan Doyle and examining some key aspects of the massive body of extra-authorial material dealing with Holmes: commentaries, pastiches, parodies, imitations, adaptations, continuations, appropriations, films and “fan fiction.” Secondary readings will range from Michel Foucault to Michael Chabon. Investigating detective fiction within an interdisciplinary context, we will ask:  How is knowledge produced? How is information accessed, contained and controlled? How do we understand material traces in the present as belonging to a larger temporal frame?


The Social Animal

Dr. H. B. Cavalcanti, Department of Sociology and Anthropology

“This class explores what we know about human beings – how they develop, grow, make connections, and leave their mark. It examines what constitutes a well-lived life in the 21st century. For the past 100-plus years researchers have toiled to develop a science that explains human behavior, the way we live together in society. They have studied human nature, and the mutual interactions/relationships we make as individuals and groups. They can describe how we are put together and what affects our life chances as we grow up. Can the social sciences help you understand our shared human condition? This class invites you to learn the mechanisms that affect people’s life journey in meaningful ways. Given your background, social class, level of education, gender, age, sexual-orientation, your parents’ background, and the way you grew up, is your journey upon this earth a given or is it changeable? To what extent?”


The Technology of Interdisciplinarity

Dr. Larry Burton, School of Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication
Dr. Ralph Cohen, School of Writing, Rhetoric, and Technical Communication

Key 21st century commentators frequently inquire about the nature and function of technology in a democratic society. 

Is technology becoming a way of organizing and provoking interrelationships in a democracy? 

In what ways is technology shaping democratic procedures? 

But what is “technology”?  

Is everything artificial also a technology?  

What’s the relationship between the artificial and technology? 

What is the significance of “things” in technology and what is their role in Interpretation?  

What is thinking?  Is technology reshaping thinking? 

What is the relation of thinking to social issues?  What is the role of corporations in advertising and persuasion? 

What would a new technological theory look like in which design is interdisciplinary? 

The role of our course is to explore how changes in technology are affecting conceptual changes or alternatively whether the changes make no difference at all. 


Time, Space, and Music in the Middle Ages

Dr. Michael L. Norton, Department of Computer Science
This course offers an introduction to music in Western Europe from the ninth through fourteenth centuries within the context of medieval understandings of time and space.  Among the topics covered are the structuring of time through liturgy, the ordering of liturgy through chant, and the placement of music in both sacred and non-sacred space. Also treated are the development of musical notation, the invention of polyphonic music, the music of the Troubadours, Trouvères, and Minnesingers, and music for instruments and dance.  The course will consider the music of medieval Europe within the broader context of medieval European history and culture as well.  Other topics to be considered include the nature and practice of monastic life, the production of manuscripts, the crusades, the role of pilgrimage in European life, the rise of the university, and the profound changes brought on by the “Black Death.”  Musical experience is neither required nor expected.


Victorian London

Dr. John Butt, History Department
Life in Victorian London is a cultural and social examination of London from 1837 to 1901 examining the way people of all classes lived and worked. This course takes the Victorian city of London as a point of departure to explore the human experience in an interdisciplinary manner, looking at art, music, literature, technology, clothing, and food.  Emphasis will be on drawing evidence from primary and secondary sources.


Viral Discovery (Part 1) and Viral Genomics (Part 2)

Dr. Stephanie Stockwell, Department of Integrated Science and Technology
This 2-semester course involves original research to find unique soil viruses that infect bacteria. Using tools from molecular biology and microbiology, students isolate their own virus from a soil sample they choose.  The viruses are visualized by electron microscopy and the genome sequence of one of the new viruses is determined.  In the second semester (Genomics) the genome sequence is analyzed for open reading frame (i.e. gene) determinations and likeness to other characterized viruses.  The course includes research methods, proper experimental recordkeeping, bioethics, literature review, and practice in the oral and written communication of scientific findings.  The course will culminate in a public poster session to present new student findings.


Women & Early Cinema (Film)

Dr. Maureen Shanahan, Honors Program Assoc. Director, School of Art & Art History
This course investigates women’s roles as makers of film and as screen stars from the silent era through the 1930s.  Women filmmakers in France, the U.S., and Canada such as Alice Guy Blaché (1873-1968), Germaine Dulac (1882-1942), Dorothy Arzner (1897-1979), and Nell Shipman (1892-1970), were innovators in narrative, technique and genre.  Actresses in early film, such as Musidora in the French classic Les Vampires (Feuillade, France 1915) and Alla Nazimova in Salomé (Bryant, U.S. 1920), enact the mobility and sexual liberty identified with the “new woman” of 1920s.  Female characters in the silent era possess an agency and sexual knowledge that were later eclipsed by more regressive ideologies of femininity, especially in Hollywood after the enactment of the Hays Codes in 1930.  Actresses Evelyn Preer (1896-1932), Anna May Wong (1905-61), Dolores del Rio (1905-83), Josephine Baker (1906-75), Irie Takako (1911-95) and others constructed successful careers in France, Japan, Mexico, the U.S. and the U.K. despite and through alienating Orientalist and exoticizing discourses, reductive racial and gender typologies, and oppressive legal codes (segregation, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882).  The course will thus explore the way that female identities and subjectivities are constructed in film and through film-making.