Honors First Year Inquiry Series

Fall 2019

HONR 1310-01
Altruism and Spite

Times: Mon, Wed, Thur. / 10:30-11:35am
CRN: 17643
NU Path: ER, SI

Rory Smead, Department of Philosophy and Religion

Human social behavior is remarkable for its displays of altruism and spite. Are such behaviors deeply irrational? Why are we sometimes virtuous and other times vicious? How did morality emerge? This course explores the psychology and biology underlying our ethical and unethical behavior. We will begin by surveying some classical ethical theories from philosophy before turning to contemporary scientific approaches to understanding morality. We will consider accounts of both altruism and spite from psychology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology. Along the way we will also examine social behavior using some formal and mathematical approaches from game theory. Ultimately, we will assess the significance and limitations of these contemporary accounts with respect to the traditional philosophical views of morality and human nature.

HONR 1310-02
Twentieth Century Espionage

Times: Mon, Wed, Thur. / 10:30-11:35 am
CRN: 17644

Jeff Burds, Department of History

Using case studies, documents, literature and film, we will explore various aspects of the world history of spies in the twentieth century. Themes include the Great Game (Anglo-Russian-French-German rivalries in Central Asia and the Near East); World War I (Mata Hari, Alfred Redl); the Russian Revolution; the interwar era; World War II; and the Cold War. Sub-themes will include women spies, human intelligence versus signals intelligence, double agents and moles, agent recruitment, technology, sexpionage, and assassination.

Each student will be expected to make three presentations and to write three short (2-3 pages) papers drawn from “Related Materials” associated with main themes of the course.

HONR 1310-03
Angels and Demons: Studying Violence in the 21st Century

Times: Tues, Fri. / 1:35-3:15pm
CRN: 17645
NU Path: SI

Gordana Rabrenovic, Department of Sociology and Anthropology

How does the concept of borders influence our understanding of violence in the 21st century? The idea of borders is often used to discuss conflict around land boundaries. Ethnic, racial and economic disparities — both within and between nations — tend to exasperate territorial conflicts and create new tensions. Political and environmental crises further complicate our understanding of what causes conflict and how best to address it. This course will employ the concept of borders to analyze various examples of contemporary violence, from border conflicts to urban riots and domestic violence. We will also examine innovative ways to intervene, reduce and even prevent violence. Examples will range from Boston to the global arena.

HONR 1310-05
Of Princes and Utopias: The Foundations of Modern Political Thought

Times: Mon, Wed. / 2:50-4:30pm
CRN: 17697
NU Path: IC

Robert Cross, Department of History

Is there such a thing as an ideal society, and if so, of what does it consist? What form of government is the most just, and is it achievable in the real world? Are the qualities of a good leader the same as those of a good person? Indeed, are human beings by nature fundamentally good, evil, or somewhere in between? People have been asking these sorts of questions since they first began to write things down, and the answers they have come up with have continued to inform countless debates about society, government, and the human condition to this very day.

This course will focus on a selection of the Western tradition’s key thinkers, taking an in-depth look at some of the most influential works in the history of political thought, from ancient Greece through eighteenth-century Europe. Along the way, we will follow two simultaneous paths: one literary/philosophical, and one historical. You will have the opportunity here to read, consider, and discuss a number of history’s great books. But you will also come to understand how these works fit in their historical and cultural context. It is not enough simply to read Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Politics, More’s Utopia, or Machiavelli’s Prince. These texts need to be considered in dialogue with one another, and in the light of subsequent thinkers who read them, adapted them, borrowed from them, copied them, and ultimately established them as the foundation of a “canon” of thought that has been passed down to us over the years. Recent decades have brought a re-evaluation of this canon, questioning its merit in general as well as the makeup of its particulars. And this will be a part of our continuing dialogue and analysis. As will the artistic, philosophical, and multicultural milieux that helped develop these ideas, as well as those that developed from them – extending beyond the traditional relationship with the text, to include occasional use of film, music, and one of our real local jewels: the Museum of Fine Arts.

HONR 1310-06
Math, Magic, Puzzles and Games

Times: Mon, Thurs. / 11:45am-1:25pm
CRN: 16210
NU Path: EI

Stanley Eigen, Department of Mathematics

This is a Service-Learning, Honors Course. Topics and mathematical sophistication will vary depending on the ages of the Service-Learning Partners and the interests of the students taking the course. The course will go into depth on the mathematics behind some classic magic tricks, puzzles and games.

Mathematical topics may include, but are not limited to, combinatorics, graph theory, group theory, number theory, topology, dynamics, binary arithmetic and coding theory. Connections will be made to a wider range of areas. For example, some magic tricks connect to DNA analysis and coding theory. Some puzzles connect to logic and ethical dilemmas. Some games connect to social skills and economics

HONR 1310-07
Ergonomics in Everyday Life

Times: Tues., Fri. / 9:50am-11:30am
CRN: 17845

Lauren Murphy, Department of Physical Therapy, Movement and Rehabilitation Sciences
Bouvé College of Health Sciences

If you have ever heard the term “ergonomics,” you probably think of office chairs or snow shovels. It is not uncommon for people to think ergonomics is just about making tools or equipment that are easy to grip or designing chairs for office workers that are more comfortable to sit in. However, ergonomics is a scientific discipline that affects our everyday lives, from using your cell phone to driving a car. Even something as simple as opening a door is affected by ergonomics.

The word ergonomics was created by combining the Greek words “ergo” (work) and “nomos” (laws), and that translates to the “science of work.” By definition, ergonomics is about fitting a job to a person, and not trying to fit a person to a job. While the focus of ergonomics is the work environment, ergonomic principles are used to design things we use every day, regardless if we are at work or not. Have you ever hurt yourself trying to open a new item you bought that is in a hard-to-open package? In fact, opening some packages can be downright dangerous! Ergonomics has been used to design packages that are easier to open. In this course, you will learn about ergonomics as a science, and how researchers and practitioners use ergonomic principles to design things that improve our lives.

HONR 1310-08
Woke: Interrogating and Resisting Isms for 21st Ethical Practice

Times: Tuesdays / 11:30am-2:45pm
CRN: 16212
NU Path: ER, DD

Tracy Robinson-Wood, Department of Applied Psychology
Bouvé College of Health Sciences

Woke is a term that emerged from the African American Vernacular English (AAVE) with specific relevance for millennials and urban youth. Being Woke means being aware, knowing what is going on around you as it pertains to racism, social injustice, privilege, and applying these constructs to the personal. The multiple meanings, intersections, and images of human diversity and barriers to being and staying Woke will be examined. The relationship between Woke, social justice, and ethical reasoning will be a central source of inquiry as will the impact of discrimination and resistance on groups of people.

HONR 1310-10
Me Tarzan, You Jane! The Uses of Language in Literature: Linguistic Reality or Linguistic Fiction?

Times: Tues, Fri. / 9:50-11:30am
CRN: 16219
NU Path: DD, ND

Heather Littlefield, Linguistics Program

The use and acquisition of language is part of what makes us human: it helps us share information with one another, keep one another company and serves as the foundation for social relationships. Storytellers often use linguistic phenomena to develop or enhance their plots and their characters. Famous fictional characters like Burroughs’ Tarzan and Shelley’s Frankenstein’s monster learn language as an essential part of their growth and development, and others like Twain’s Huck Finn and Jim are famous for their dialects. But how accurately are these linguistic phenomena portrayed in literature? In this course we will draw on current linguistic theory and cognitive science to explore the veracity of authors’ portrayals of a variety of linguistic contexts and the effects of those portrayals on plot and character development.

HONR 1310-11
African History: Gold, Gods, and Glory from African Perspectives

Times: Mon, Wed, Thur. / 1:35-2:40pm
CRN: 18159
NU Path: IC

Katherine Luongo, Department of History

Join us on an historical adventure as we journey across millennia and a continent, from the ancient civilizations of Egypt and Nubia through the gold-rich, Islamic empires of the Sahara to the culturally hybrid Swahili Coast of East Africa and greater Indian Ocean World through the spirit civilizations of Congo’s rainforests, into the mighty military kingdoms of Zimbabwe and South Africa, and on from West Africa’s Slave Coast into the Atlantic World of the Americas and the Caribbean. In this course, students learn how early Africa’s rich history continues to shape race, religion, economics, and politics on the continent and globally into the present day. Core topics include: identity, Islam, and imperial expansion. Students will also learn how critically analyze and synthesize an array of primary and secondary sources – art and archeology, poetry and literature, music and song, oral histories and oral traditions, maps and travel writing, memoirs and archival documents, films and documentaries. They will experience “doing” history outside the classroom through visits to the MFA’s superb Africa and Egypt collections and by exploring the rich history pertaining to slavery and abolition in Boston through a Freedom Trail field exercise. Students will be introduced to the digital humanities through assignments using the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database and the digital Timbuktu Manuscripts Project.

HONR 1310-12
Gastronomic Delights: The Chemistry of Food and Cooking

Times: Mon, Wed, Thu / 1:35 pm-2:40 pm
CRN: 18160
NU Path: ND

Jude Matthews, Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology

This course, designed for students who do not plan to major in the natural sciences, will use the science of chemistry to understand what is happening when we cook food and will explores dietary constituents and various cooking processes with particular emphasis on chemical principles. Cooking is a creative and artistic process, but it is based on fundamental chemical and physical principles.

Topics covered will focus on the chemistry and molecular bases of food and their reactivity under various conditions. Topics will include basic nutrition, cooking meats, fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains and breads and the production of chocolate, beer, wine and distilled spirits. Other topics will include the physiological and evolutionary implication of the senses, molecular gastronomy, geographic and cultural influences on food and the impact of modern-day mass production of food on humans and the world we live in.

HONR 1310-15
Public Education on Trial: Problems and Solutions to ‘Fix’ America’s Schools

Times: Mon, Thurs. / 11:45am-1:25pm
CRN: 16746
NU Path: SI

John Portz, Department of Political Science

Are America’s elementary and secondary schools failing? Or, are they on track, but need support to get to the next level? From either perspective, what are the solutions? These questions provide the context for this Honors Inquiry. This course is project-based. We will focus on one or more school districts, such as the Boston Public Schools, and/or state education systems. In the context of these projects, we will explore the primary challenges that face public education today, from low funding to inadequate teacher preparation, as well as the strategies to improve the public schools, from vouchers and charter schools to teacher career ladders. Through these projects, our goal is not a single solution, but a better understanding and assessment of the policy options available to improve the American public education system.

HONR 1310-16
The North of Ireland: Colonization, Armed Conflict, and the Quest for a Peace with Justice 

Times: Mon, Wed. / 2:50-4:30pm
CRN: 18354
NU Path: DD

Michael Patrick MacDonald, University Honors Program

On January 30, 1972, British soldiers released 108 rounds of live ammunition, killing 14 unarmed citizens (7 teenagers) who were peacefully marching for civil rights. The day is remembered as “Bloody Sunday.” After 38 years, the British government released The Saville Report, acknowledging that British soldiers’ actions were “unjustified and unjustifiable.” While this is just one of many truth inquiries sought by people in the North of Ireland today, the families of Bloody Sunday’s victims were elated that their loved ones – long labeled IRA “terrorists” by an earlier British Army report – were vindicated. To many, though, this is about something bigger, as one survivor attested:

Just as the civil rights movement of 40 years ago was part of something huge happening all over the world, so the repression that came upon us was the same as is suffered by ordinary people everywhere who dare to stand up against injustice. Sharpeville. Grozny. Tiananmen Square. Darfur, Fallujah, Gaza. Let our truth stand as their truth too. — Tony Doherty (son of slain Civil Rights marcher on Bloody Sunday)

This course examines the colonization of Ireland by Britain, the long struggle (both through constitutional means as well as by armed, physical-force) for an independent republic, the 20th century partition of the island of Ireland and the creation of a “Northern Ireland” statelet remaining within the United Kingdom. The course then focuses on Northern Ireland. We will look at the non-violent Civil Rights Movement (1967-1972) for equality for the Catholic/Nationalist/Irish-identified population in the North (a movement eclipsed by a more militant struggle after the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre by British soldiers), and the armed conflict waged by Irish Republican paramilitaries and a British State which often colluded with Loyalist (Protestant/British-identified) paramilitaries. The bulk of this course will look at the North of Ireland’s journey to a Ceasefire among paramilitaries and the British Army, the peace process, the 1998 Good Friday Peace Accords, and the ongoing post-conflict quest for a lasting “peace with justice.” We will examine the very current Brexit crisis in the United Kingdom, its potential impact on the fragile peace achieved on the island of Ireland, and revived calls for a United Ireland independent of the United Kingdom.

The Bigger Picture: We will examine the history of violence in this particular locale – in its various forms: paramilitary or state violence, physical or economic violence, the violence of discrimination; or, more recently, post-conflict youth anti social violence and a suicide epidemic. We will do all of the above with a critical eye on the implications this particular history and ongoing peace process may have for other places of post-colonial conflict or discrimination. How is the conflict in the north of Ireland related to the history of struggle in South Africa? How were Civil Rights activists in The North influenced by the American Civil Rights movement? How might the ongoing peace process in the North of Ireland provide lessons for Israel/Palestine? We will also draw parallels to social justice issues and efforts in Boston and other U.S. cities, e.g. policing issues, trauma and painkilling, and quests for peace with justice on our own streets. How might developments in American urban youth organizing to prevent violence and promote access and opportunity provide lessons to post-conflict cities like Belfast & Derry, which have seen a new type of conflict manifesting among its young people in the form of what is called “anti social behavior”?

HONR 1310-17
How to Change the World 101: Creating Social Impact through Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Times: Mon, Wed, Thurs. / 9:15-10:20am
CRN: 18499
NU Path: SI, EI

Dennis Shaughnessy, Entrepreneurship and Innovation

This course examines how creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship can lead to meaningful and sustainable social impact. We explore how leaders committed to social and economic justice create opportunities that empower and lift up poor, disenfranchised and marginalized people around the world. We’ll consider how a progressive model of capitalism and an enlightened approach to business can further reduce global poverty and inequality. Students will read, write, discuss, collaborate, serve and engage– without textbooks or exams. This seminar also uniquely includes an impact investing project in which students will make real investments in projects or ventures that address social and economic injustice through social innovation, social entrepreneurship and social enterprise.

Spring 2019

HONR 1310-04
From Esperanto to Elvish: Constructed Languages in History and Fiction

Times: Wed., Fri. / 11:45am-1:25pm
CRN: 37602
NU Path: IC, EI

Adam Cooper, Department of Linguistics
College of Science

This course will focus on constructed languages: linguistic systems which have emerged from conscious creation, rather than natural development. We will survey a variety of well-known constructed languages (or conlangs), and examine them along a number of dimensions, including their internal coherence and plausibility, as well as their status and effectiveness within the culture (real or fictional) for which they were designed. Students will also have the opportunity to apply their emerging knowledge of linguistic structure and linguistic analysis to develop a constructed language of their own.

HONR 1310-05
Illusions of Reality

Times: Mon, Thur. / 11:45 am-1:25pm
CRN: 37609

Ennio Mingolla, Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders
Bouvé College of Health Sciences

Can we trust our senses to accurately inform us about our world? Under what conditions can our memory or our capacity to reason play tricks on us, leaving our understanding or recollection of events at odds with the events themselves? How can we resolve disagreements between individuals about what just happened? This course takes an experiential approach to varieties of illusions in the domains of vision, hearing, or haptics. The course explores illusions based on capture or misdirection of attention, as in magic performances, and also considers “cognitive illusions”, where judgments made by humans vary as a function of the narrative framing of a decision. Examples of the latter include differences in outcomes for people participating in retirement or health insurance plans, depending on whether they are presented with “opt in” or “opt out” alternatives. The course surveys the role of illusions in development of philosophical and scientific thought from ancient Greece through the “method of doubt” of René Descartes and into the modern era of psychology and cognitive science. Using software tools (MATLAB and Psychophysics Toolbox) and in-class demonstrations, students can investigate how the strength of various illusions varies as a function of parametric variations in display variables, including images, videos, or narrative “displays”. As implied by the course title, illusions are treated as probes of evolutionary adaptive mechanisms that usually do a good job of keeping us in epistemic contact with our environment. The course may thus be of interest to students contemplating study in behavioral neuroscience or psychology, philosophy, art and design, marketing, economics, public policy, human factors in technology (including sensory prostheses or assistive robotics) or related disciplines.

HONR 1310-06
Earth as an Active Planet

Times: Mon, Wed. / 2:50-4:30pm
CRN: 37684
NU Path: ND

Malcom Hill, Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences
College of Science

Sunlight and the earth’s internal heat are the two primary energy sources that drive many environmental processes. Volcanoes, earthquakes, and tectonic deformation of the earth’s surface are caused by the earth’s internal heat distribution and the ways that rocks in the earth respond to heat and stress. Biological and physical processes at the earth’s surface (storms and precipitation in the atmosphere; erosion of the surface by landslides, and by moving air, water, or ice; interactions between mineral grains, air, moisture and plant roots in soil; for example) are particularly influenced by solar energy. In this course you will explore a number of processes that operate at local to planetary scales, and that operate on timescales from a few seconds to millions of years in duration. The course will meet twice/week (Sequence B, Monday-Wednesday from 2:50-4:25 PM) and will include both lecture/discussion classes and hands-on, group learning sessions in the Dept. of Marine & Environmental Sciences’ lecture/lab teaching space. 

HONR 1310-08
Speaking up for Justice

Times: Wed, Fri / 11:25am-1:25pm
CRN: 37814
NU Path: EI, ER

Michael Hoppman, Department of Communication Studies
College of Arts, Media, & Design

Speaking up against injustice is one of the most important duties of a critical citizen – yet few are ideally equipped to do so effectively. Engaging in discourse on justice takes good knowledge of moral and legal principles as well as skills in persuasive speaking. This class trains students in this important intersection of knowledge and skills by offering a hybrid approach of theory and practice.

The class is divided into three sections: 1. Understanding principles of applied ethics, 2. Training effective judicial speech, and 3. Applying the theory and practice of speaking up for justice to recent moral and legal cases.