Honors Interdisciplinary Seminars

Summer 1

HONR 3310
Cold War Spies

Time: Monday- Thursday 1:30pm-3:10pm
CRN: 40324

Dr. Jeffrey Burds
Department of History

Commonly referred to as the world’s “second oldest profession,” espionage has become an intrinsic part of the relations between communities, institutions, and states. Drawing from a wide variety of published and unpublished primary and secondary sources, supplemented by modern theoretical and social science perspectives, literature, and films, this course explores the history of espionage during the Cold War era (1943-1991) through a series of case studies. Working individually and in teams, students will explore the history of covert operations including these sub-themes: the origins of the Cold War in World War II; the postwar battle for German scientists; Containment and Rollback; Venona and codebreaking; nuclear spies; defectors; proxy wars; insurgencies and counterinsurgencies; terrorism; technology.


HONR 3310
Science of Play

Time: Monday- Thursday 9:50 am – 11:30 am
CRN: 40393

Dr. Emily Mann
Department of Human Services

Students will actively engage in the scholarship of play and explore the role and function, benefits and barriers of play in childhood and beyond. Course topics will include the background and significance of play in history, the role of play as a predictor of academic and social functioning, the use of play in character/moral development, and the use of play to prevent, intervene, and treat trauma. Clinical and non-clinical implications of play will be explored, as well as the physiological and social implications of play, using contemporary research on brain science and brain development. The Science of Play combines classroom learning with fieldwork and research on the role of play as prevention, intervention, and treatment. Students will alternate between classroom time and field experiences within the local community, where they will explore the diverse world of play in the Boston.

Spring 2017

HONR 3310
Costa Rica Volcanoes

Time: Wed, Fri 11:45am – 1:25pm
CRN: 38370
NU Path: Analyzing and Using DataNatural and Designed World (AD, ND), NU Core Science & Tech

Prof. Malcolm Hill,
Department of Marine & Environmental Sciences

Sunlight and the earth’s internal heat are the two primary energy sources that drive a large number of important environmental processes. Volcanoes, earthquakes, and tectonic deformation of the earth’s surface are expressions of the earth’s overall heat distribution and the ways that rocks in the interior respond to temperature changes. Biological and physical processes at or near the earth’s surface (storms and precipitation in the atmosphere; erosion of the surface by moving air, liquid water, or ice; interaction of mineral grains, air, moisture and plant roots in soil, for example) are particularly influenced by solar energy. In this course we will explore a number of processes that operate at planet-wide scales on timescales that last over hundreds of millions of years, and others that can be very localized and abrupt, lasting for only a few seconds (an earthquake, for example).   Our focus is partly to learn basic geologic concepts, but particularly in the context of understanding how those processes play out in Costa Rica, and how they affect the landscape and the people who live there.

Costa Rica has set itself the goal of being carbon neutral by 2021. That is a very ambitious goal, and an interesting focus for study that dovetails well into consideration of people’s impact on the atmosphere-land-ocean systems, and the kinds of decisions that people can choose to make to minimize that impact

This course contains an “embedded international study trip”, an 8-day study of aspects of Costa Rican geology, and you will consider various ways in which Costa Rican people have made decisions designed to help address global climate changes and to ensure that their interaction with the landscape minimizes their energy footprint and economic need for large-scale infrastructure expenditures. This trip occurs during the Spring Break.

For more information about the embedded component and the upcoming info session, please click here!


HONR 3310
The Rebirth of the Living Newspaper

Time: Mon, Wed 2:50pm – 4:30pm
CRN: 38371
NU Path: Creative Expression and Innovation (EI)

Prof. Nancy Kindelan,
Department of Theatre

The focus of this interdisciplinary immersive learning project is the creation of a Living Newspaper—a unique dramatic form that explores contemporary critical social issues and addresses significant questions about the human condition through research, writing narrative, and interpreting/creating images.

The students in this course will begin by analyzing plays and viewing theatre productions that have strong social messages. The class will consider how the playwright explores social issues and human psychology when developing the play’s world as well as how the theatre artist interprets the playwright’s ideas through creating artful stage images. These explorations will occur in classroom activities, through mentored faculty discussions, and attendance at relevant professional theatrical productions.

The experiential part of the course involves writing a Living Newspaper play that rigorously investigates specific contemporary social and ethical issues or questions through telling stories that are enriched by character development as well as enhanced by music, technology, and scenic diction. Since the goal of a Living Newspaper play depends on presenting authentic information about social issues that represent the humanities, social sciences, and sciences, students will receive feedback from faculty members of departments across the university. These interdisciplinary connections will help the playwrights consider additional ways to enrich their Living Newspaper projects.

Finally, the students will work with each other (production teams and/or through class and online discussions) on ways to transfer the plays’ social ideas to the stage through selecting and creating effective theatrical narrative, images, and metaphors. The outcome of this class will be the creation of an original contemporary Living Newspaper, which will receive a public presentation at the end of the semester.


HONR 3310
Social Fact From Fiction

Time: Thurs 5:00pm – 8:00pm
CRN: 33227
Prof. David Rochefort,
Department of Political Science

Harriet Beecher Stowe and slavery. Upton Sinclair and unhealthy working conditions. John Steinbeck and the Great Depression. Richard Wright and racial inequality. There is a long tradition of concern in American fiction with emerging or neglected social problems. At its best, such work has had far-reaching effects, first in raising public awareness, and second in triggering public policy reforms. The purpose of this honors seminar will be to examine the way that novelists on the contemporary scene are using their writing to explore poverty, homelessness, mental illness, race relations, domestic abuse, and other important social issues. Reading fiction can be a powerful experience that brings together the historical, social, and personal dimensions of life in our society. By focusing on a series of noteworthy realist novels, this course aims to cover both the factual basis of the texts and the narrative devices, such as plotting, characterization, symbolism, subjective description, and normative judgment, used by authors to cast a spotlight on social problems and their impacts.


HONR 3310
The History of Modern Terrorism

Time: Wed 5:00pm – 8:00pm
CRN: 37357
Prof. Jeffrey Burds, Department of History

No theme dominates the media more than the global war on terror. On the basis of data collected from 1970 to 2014, the Global Terrorism Database has identified 16,831 assassinations and targeted killings perpetuated by terrorist groups and so-called “Lone Wolf” terrorists inspired by terrorist groups but acting alone. What are the historical roots of this global phenomenon?

Relying on film, literature, art, social science theory and historical documents, this seminar will survey the history of modern terrorism. Short weekly readings will engage the history of terrorism from nineteenth-century Europe to the present day. In addition, each student (working on his or her own or in groups) will make presentations on selected readings and themes. Aside from quizzes based on films and readings, students are required to produce a short semester paper based on one of the presentations.

This course will have an embedded trip to Budapest, Hungary, over the 2017 Spring Break. There, the focus of the experience will be the House of Terror Museum and a concentrated “living history” immersion in the history of terror and terrorism.

For more information about the embedded component and the info session, please click here!


HONR 3310
Getting Smart: The Nature / Nuture Debate

Time: Tues 5:30pm – 8:30pm
CRN: 35486
Prof. David Lewkowicz, Communication Sciences & Disorders

How do we acquire the knowledge that we have? Philosophers and scientists have debated the origins of human knowledge for millennia. Some have argued that knowledge is inborn whereas others have argued that it is learned. In modern times, this nature/nurture dichotomy has been challenged on theoretical grounds and by scientific findings from developmental biology, genetics, developmental robotics, and developmental psychology. We will begin by discussing the philosophical roots of the nature/nurture dichotomy and then explore the theoretical challenges to it. We will end by considering the empirical evidence showing that the dichotomy has out-lived its usefulness and will consider an alternative view that acknowledges the dynamic and fully interactive nature of the developmental process and the critical role that early experience plays in shaping who we become and what we come to know.


HONR 3310
Health Policy in an Age of Reform

Time: Tues 11:5am – 1:25pm, Thur 2:50pm – 4:30pm
CRN: 37355
Prof. Kristen Madison, Law School & Bouvé College of Health Sciences

Health reform has dominated headlines in recent years. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and numerous other reform initiatives led by policymakers, health care providers, employers, and others have the potential to completely transform the health care system. In this course, we will look behind the headlines to evaluate the implications of these initiatives for health care access, cost, and quality, and ultimately for health. Through readings, class discussions, and research papers and presentations, we will explore diverse health policy-related issues, including obesity, health incentives, consumer marketing, health disparities, malpractice liability, pharmaceutical pricing, information technology, proposed health care financing reforms, and other issues of interest to class members. We will then identify the common themes that weave these topics together and discuss their implications for the future health care system.


HONR 3310
From Wobblies to Occupy: the Culture, Politics and Representation of Popular Struggle

Time: Tues 5:00pm – 8:00pm
CRN: 37356
Prof. Jeff Juris, Sociology & Anthropology

Occupy Wall Street burst onto the scene in September 2011 to challenge skyrocketing inequality, bank bailouts, and socio-economic injustice, reinvigorating the long-simmering hope in the U.S. and around the world that radical social change was possible. For many observers, the Occupy Movement came out of nowhere, but for scholars and long-time activists, Occupy was the continuation of long tradition of grassroots social movements in this country and abroad. This interdisciplinary honors seminar explores this history of radical social movement organizing in the U.S. and around the world through a consideration of the ways various social movements have been narrated, explained, and represented by activists, academics, and documentary film makers. Why do people collectively challenge political authorities? Why at other times do they engage in more everyday forms of resistance? When and why do groups refuse to accept the status quo and let others speak for them? Why do they decide to protest in the streets rather than express their grievances through representative institutions? What strategies and tactics do they choose, and how do authorities, the mass media, and fellow citizens respond? How does collective action produce new social identities, new cultural forms, new media practices, and new modes of democracy? When and why do social movements succeed or fail? Each session will combine a brief introductory lecture with a documentary film and discussion of course readings and student writing about a particular struggle, such as the civil rights, women’s, environmental, global justice, Tea Party, Arab Spring, and Occupy movements.


HONR 3310
Recreating the Experiments of the Scientific Revolution in Early Modern Europe

Time: Mon, Thurs 11:45am – 1:25pm
CRN: 37359
Prof. Christopher Parsons, History

Between 1500 and 1700CE, the scientific experiments of historical figures such as Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle, and Galileo Galilei changed how Western Europe understood the world around them. In this class, students will recreate these experiments – learn how to use early navigational technologies, build Galilean telescopes, collect and analyze plants as Renaissance naturalists did, study the circulation system, and build a vacuum chamber – to study the intellectual transformations of the period we now call “The Scientific Revolution.” We can easily point to transformations in the artistic and creative productions of renaissance and early modern Europe, but it is the birth of a recognizably modern scientific outlook that has had the largest impact on how we live our lives since. Our class is organized around three fundamental transformations in European thought that produced the Scientific Revolution. Where are we? In this section we will investigate transformations in navigational and astronomical science that sent Europeans into the wider world and turned their eyes towards the heavens. What are we? In the next section, we will look at innovations in the medical and biological sciences that literally opened up human bodies to investigation and that sought to classify the new plants and animals that explorers were bringing back. Who are we? In our final section we will trace out how empirical experimentation influenced new understandings of society in the work of figures such as Robert Boyle, John Locke and Montesquieu.


HONR 3310
Law, Public Policy and Human Behavior

Time: Mon, Wed 2:50pm – 4:30pm
CRN: 37458
Prof. Richard Daynard, Law School

Many laws, legal decisions, and public policies are predicated on the assumption that human beings are “rational actors”: just give us access to all relevant information, remove all constraints on our choices, and we will unerringly make choices that maximize our well being. Modern psychology undermines this model from many directions: we can’t deal with too much information, are easily confused and misled, regularly misperceive and misremember, overly discount the future, and frequently don’t know our own minds. In this seminar we will consider how laws, legal doctrines and public policies should be modified to deal with the ways human beings really do behave.


HONR 3310
System Dynamics

Time: Mon, Wed 2:50pm – 4:30pm
CRN: 37459
Prof. Rifat Sipahi, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering

This course introduces the fundamentals of system dynamics using the principles of system’s thinking and via identification of cause-effect interactions in numerous settings, including natural and engineered systems, processes, policies, and social systems.

To introduce these fundamentals, this course will
(a) cover the philosophy behind system dynamics in a qualitative manner through examples;

(b) present quantitative tools to explain those dynamics, along with discussions, assumptions, and justifications made to base the associated analyses;

(c) demonstrate using software packages how to apply the quantitative tools to interpret, understand, and analyze dynamical systems, and even manipulate their outcomes.


HONR 3310
Being “Crazy” in America

Time: Mon, Thurs 11:45am – 1:25pm
CRN: 36148
Prof. Maureen Kelleher, Sociology and Anthropology

The social history of mental illness in the United States and the manner in which this health issue is portrayed cements a perspective of “being crazy” that is often linked to tensions between normality and social deviance. This course will track this tension by focusing on three broad themes. First, the course will situate the historical response to mental illness by tracing the emergence of the asylum movement in the United States through to present day mental health interventions. Second this course will explore how the category of mental illness is socially constructed and will address how gender, age and social class among other variables affect perceptions of who is mentally ill, why they are ill, and how we should respond to this “illness.” Finally this course will assess how cultural forms such as contemporary film, fiction and memoirs have helped to shape our perceptions of mental illness and influence our contemporary public policy response. We will be using the lens of sociology to help frame our conversations.


HONR 3310
The Literature of Witchcraft

Time: Mon 5:00pm – 8:00pm
CRN: 37457
Prof. Francis Blessington, English

Witchcraft is a worldwide phenomenon. In the West, it has had terrible consequences, but also it has been employed by many great writers, musicians, and artists to create the world of art, e.g., Homer, Shakespeare, Milton, Goethe, Mozart, Goya, Huxley, Updike. We shall explore the uses and abuses of sorcery and the human longing for magic and miracle in literature and other arts.


HONR 3310
Border as Medium

Time: Wed, Fri 11:45am – 1:25pm
CRN: 37838
Prof. Alessandra Renzi, Media and Screen Studies

This course uses borders as media for interdisciplinary research and creation. As borders proliferate, they restructure our lives and modes of thinking in different ways along lines of geographical and political separation. Studying borders does not only require that we focus on issues of security and identity but also on the sociocultural, political and aesthetic dimensions of the movement of people and goods, and on the transformations of spaces, practices and temporalities borders produce. We will explore a variety of border themes ranging from migrant struggles to the geographies of borderlands, from the violence and militarization of borders to border art; from the mediatization of borders and the function of political concepts such as citizenship and sovereignty to the visible and less visible boundaries that surround us in the cities we live in. The Border as Medium has three components: 1) a research methods section that covers ethnographic fieldwork and some multimedia production techniques; 2) a theory component to study borders from a variety of perspectives (communication, sociology, political economy, anthropology, and geography); 3) and a practice component where students will apply the skills and theories learned to a border project of their choice. Students will have the opportunity to attend workshops with guest speakers and fieldtrips and they will be able to produce their own forms of media, reports and/or ethnographic papers. This course is of interest to Honors students of communication, media and art, journalism, sociology and anthropology, human geography and political science.