Honors First Year Inquiry Series

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.

Fall 2018

HONR 1310-01
The North of Ireland: Colonization, Armed Conflict, and Peace With Justice

Times: Mon, Wed. / 2:50pm-4:30pm
CRN: 15844
NU Path: DD

Michael  P. MacDonald

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.” On June 15, 2010, 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 will examine the colonization of Ireland by Britain, the long struggle (both through constitutional and through armed, physical-force means) 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 non-violent Civil Rights Movement (1967-1972) for equality for the Catholic/Nationalist/Irish-identified population in the North (a movement that was eclipsed by a more militant struggle after the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre by British soldiers), and the armed conflict waged throughout the 1970s and 1980s by Irish Republican paramilitaries and a British State that often operated in collusion with Loyalist (Protestant/British-identified) paramilitaries. The bulk of this course will look at the North of Ireland’s journey to a 1990s Ceasefire among paramilitaries and the British Army, the peace process initiated by the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, and the ongoing post-conflict quest for a “peace with justice” in the North of Ireland.

We will look at the history of violence in this particular locale — in its various forms, whether paramilitary or state violence; physical or economic violence; the violence of discrimination; or, more recently, youth “anti social” violence and a suicide epidemic – with an eye on the implications this particular history and ongoing peace process may have for other places of post-colonial conflict or discrimination (globally, or even locally, e.g. youth violence in Boston, policing issues, trauma and painkilling, and quests for peace with justice on our own streets). 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? 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”?   We will discuss all of this, while reading memoir, histories, poetry, and articles, as well as watching films, examining songs and the political murals in the North, and engaging in personal journaling re: all of the above, all while reflecting on personal, local as well as broader, global parallels.

HONR 1310-02
Of Two Minds: Intuition and Deliberation in Human Thought

Times: Mon, Wed. / 2:50pm-4:30pm
CRN: 18168

John Coley, Department of Psychology

Current theory suggests that two distinct systems guide our everyday thinking: “System 1” is fast, intuitive, and emotional; “System 2” is slow, deliberative, and more logical. In this course we’ll explore how each works and how their interaction results in the extraordinary capabilities—and the faults and biases—that characterize how we think, as well as the pervasive influence of intuitive impressions on our thoughts and behavior. We’ll read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow, along with empirical research articles and case studies from the popular media. The goal will be to consider how the interaction of unconscious intuition and conscious deliberation influence everyday thinking across a wide range of disciplines, including history, politics, law, science, and human relationships.

HONR 1310-04
Historical Novels and the Romance of History

Times: Mon., Thurs / 11:45am-1:25pm
CRN: 17612
NU Path: EI, IC, WI

Marina Leslie

Travel through time and visit the empire of Alexander the Great through the eyes of his Persian slave, Bagoas. See early colonial America from the perspective of a Native American woman, who is the last of her tribe and an African American girl taken from her mother. Contemporary historical novels allow us to explore other places and times through the experiences of those most often erased from history. For example, the story lines described above put at their center the experience of queer (Mary Renault’s The Persian Boy) and racial (Toni Morrison’s The Mercy) “others,” giving them agency and a voice. The class will engage these and other historical novels through both critical and creative writing assignments. To supplement our readings and critical analyses of these and other acclaimed 20th- and 21st-century novelists, we will the nearby Massachusetts Historical Society to uncover rare documents that can serve as fragments for our own imaginative narratives. In the end we will garner an appreciation of a truly interdisciplinary art form as thinkers, critics, and creative writers.

HONR 1310-05
Of Princes and Utopias

Times: Mon., Thurs / 11:45am-1:25pm
CRN: 17722
NU Path: IC

Robert Cross

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 seventeenth-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 & Games

Times: Mon., Thurs / 11:45am-1:25pm
CRN: 18002
NU Path: EI, EX

Stanley Eigen

This is a Service-Learning, Honors 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.

Students will be organized into teams of 4-5 students. Each group will prepare 3 presentations – tentatively one on magic tricks, one on puzzles, and one on games.   Particular topics and mathematical level will depend upon the interests of the students and the needs of the Service Learning Partners.

HONR 1310-07
Gastronomic Delight – The Science of Cooking

Times: Mon, Wed, Thu / 1:35 pm-2:40 pm
CRN: 18003
NU Path: ND

Jude Matthews

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 1310-08
Woke: Interrogating and Resisting Isms for 21st Citizenship

Times: Tues / 9 am-12:30 pm
CRN: 18004
NU Path: ER, DD

Tracy Robinson-Wood

This course is an exploration of the theoretical, psychosocial, and research perspectives on human diversity and intersectionality. The multiple meanings, intersections, and images of diversity across race, gender, sexuality, age, religion, class, and disability will be examined as we identify the socially constructed meanings of these identities and their consequences of privilege and disadvantage. This course will query models of resistance that are situated within social justice, liberation, and the value of care.

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

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

Heather Littlefield

The acquisition and use 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
Beautiful Data: The Art and Science of Visualization

Times: Wed., Fri. / 11:45am-1:25pm
CRN: 18367
NU Path: EX

Michelle Borkin

In this course, students will learn how to make effective and beautiful data visualizations. We will study the theory and concepts of effective visualization, drawing from computer science, statistics, psychology, and art and design. We will also cover the skills and techniques needed for the creation of both data exploration and data communication, including visual storytelling. Examples and case studies throughout the semester will be drawn from multiple disciplines, including physics, biology, health science, social science, geography, business, and economics. Students will practice their skills through visualization critiques and by analyzing and visualising data with standard plotting tools, including Google, Excel, and Tableau. Additionally, students will practice and master visualization skills and gain experience working with real data and real stakeholders through a Service-Learning partnership with a Boston-are non-profit organization. No prior experience with computer science or statistics is required.

HONR 1310-12
Future of Money

Times: Tue. 11:45am-1:25pm / Thu. 2:50pm-4:30pm
CRN: 18417

Abhi Shelat

This course will explore the past and future role of money in society. How did the concept arise? Can we define properties that money provides in a modern economy? Most of the course will focus on new techniques from the area of cryptocurrencies. We will study the mechanisms for how cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum work, including basic cryptography, the notion of proof of work, and the problem of achieving consensus among parties on a network.

The course is entirely self-contained and requires only basic high-school math. Students interested in the future of money and how it will impact society, business and government will learn how these new currencies work. A lot of the course work will focus on individual and group projects that are presented in class.

HONR 1310-13
The Impact of Economics on Today’s Society: Economic Perspectives of Societal Issues and Themes

Times: Mon., Wed., Thurs. / 8:00am-9:05am
CRN: 18531

Ilter Bakkal

All societies are defined by economic themes, institutions, concerns, and challenges. In this seminar, students will examine the ways in which current societies grapple with the economics most relevant to today’s world, such as those integral to Climate Change, Poverty and Income Inequality, Globalization, the changing Role of Money, Economic Integration, and Pivotal Institutions and Paradigm Shifts of Economy’s Sectors. Each of these topics will be considered within the context of economic history and the history of economic thought as well as the present-day milieu. Students will engage with these topics, seminar-style, through facilitated discussions of scholarly works, and presentations and interactions with guest speakers, and will take advantage of Boston’s active intellectual scene.


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

Times: Tues., Fri. / 9:50am-11:3am
NUPath: 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 course. We begin by looking at the current status of public education. We explore the goals for public education and how schools appear to be reaching – or not reaching – those goals. This includes a comparison to educational systems in other industrialized countries. To address the challenge, what are the strategies to improve – or save – the public schools? We will analyze a number of options, including market-based approaches, such as vouchers and charter schools; school-based improvement strategies, such as teacher-driven reforms and school reconstitution; and civic engagement strategies, such as community schools and mayoral control. 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. As we look at this broader context, we also will explore Massachusetts and Boston Public Schools as case studies of school reform efforts.