Honors Interdisciplinary Seminars

Fall 2017

HONR 3310-01
Social Justice: The Role of Reading, Writing and Understanding Non Fiction

Times: Mondays 5pm-8pm
CRN: 17569

Michael MacDonald, Northeastern University Honors Program

In order to write the most effective non-fiction around social justice issues, a writer might undertake personal reflection on their own life to access that “place” that allows for greater empathy. When we write about issues affecting other people’s lives, it is important to engage in a process of contemplation that will lead to more in-depth understanding, and create a unique and passionate “voice” that brings the reader in. This is true, no matter where we come from or what our previous exposure to the issues at hand. This model is the mark of training in traditional fields such as anthropology and the new genre of “self aware” contemporary writing that contributes to our understanding of social issues. This “writing classroom” will help students engage in critical thought and discussion of a wide range of social issues as well as grassroots movement for change nationally as well as in the city of Boston. Central unifying themes of the course will be racism, poverty, violence, and the intersection of social justice and healing efforts in our communities that have been most affected by these issues. We will focus on the implications for writers of non-fiction on these topics. The course will present an “insider’s” view into writing with a greater consciousness of these topics by starting with some of my work, which includes two memoirs, a screen-play, editorials and a work-in-progress on poverty and generational trauma. Second, the course will move outward to the works of other significant writers of non-fiction dealing with race & class, and primarilyset in our local Boston community – what has made their work so effective and memorable? Have the works influenced or been influenced by contemporary social problems? Are there policy links to any of these writings? Finally, the course will frame a discussion of the many ways to write non-fiction about these central themes: as memoirs, non-fiction books, as reports, as news articles, and as policy initiatives. This course is suitable for students interested in general public policy issues, criminal justice concerns, social problems and social justice, journalism, urban anthropology, international affairs, English and the practice of writing.

HONR 3310-02
Contemporary Issues in Health Care

Times: Tue, Fri 8:00am-9:40am
CRN: 13617

Lorna Hayward, Department of Physical Therapy, Movement, and Rehabilitation Science

This course is a service-learning, honors seminar that is project based and involves creation of a proposal related to a community defined health need. We will examine modern health care issues at the individual, local, national, and global levels. US health care issues will be examined historically. From there, students will develop an understanding of health as it affects them as individuals. Health decisions will be examined from multiple perspectives including: historical, political, ethical, financial, technological, and epidemiological.

HONR 3310-03
Building the American Railroads: Law, History, and Culture

Times: Mon, Thu 1:45am-1:25pm
CRN: 17570

Steve Subrin, School of Law

The United States railway system was largely built in the second half of the nineteenth century. It was by far the country’s largest business. It influenced all aspects of American Life. We study this phenomenon for four major reasons: 1) The story includes extremely interesting characters, dilemmas, and trade-offs; 2 it forces one to recognize the complexity of building new enterprises; 3) it permits us to make helpful comparisons with large scale projects of the past, present, and future; and 4) it invites us to think deeply about our understanding of American history and our own assumptions and aspirations. Law, technology, government, ideology, immigration, finance, slavery, entrepreneurship, unions, crime, regulation, discrimination, the environment, private-government tensions, and the arts are all integral to this fascinating history.

HONR 3310-09
Slam Poetry and Social Justice

Times: Tues, Fri 8:00am-9:40am
CRN: 18139

Ellen Noonan, Department of English

In this course, we will read, write, and perform slam as an art form and as an agent for social justice, social change. In a reading, writing, and performance workshop format, students will read a variety of texts about social justice and slam, as well as read and watch slam poems and performances to analyze how slam works poetically, and how it does and might work politically. Readings will include: Intellectual Empathy: Critical Thinking for Social Justice; Just Mercy (Bryan Stevenson); Citizen (Claudia Rankine); Don’t Call Us Dead (Danez Smith); and excerpts from The Breakbeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop. Students will create an e-portfolio chapbook of their own slam poetry and performances, a portfolio that seeks to enact a slam poetics that shows slam as an agent for advocacy, justice, and change.

HONR 3310-04
Being “Crazy” in America

Times: Mon, Thu 11:45am-1:25pm
CRN: 17845

Maureen Kelleher, Department of Sociology & 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 tracking 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 3310-05
The Border as Medium: making and thinking through separation in urgent times

Times: Thursday 1:35pm-4:30pm
CRN: 17625

Sarah Kanouse, Department of Art & Design

Borders can be a medium for interdisciplinary research and creative work that shows us the world through a different lens, especially when we explore the cultural, political and aesthetic dimensions of the movement of people and goods. These dimensions reveal important transformations in the spaces, practices and temporalities that borders produce. In this course, we will explore a variety of timely border themes ranging from migrant struggles to the geographies of borderlands, from the violence and militarization of borders to border art; from political concepts such as citizenship and sovereignty to the visible and less visible boundaries that surround us in the cities we live in. We will also learn new techniques for research and for media and art making, attend workshops with artists, go on fieldtrips and discover different approaches to examine borders. Students will have the opportunity to produce their own ethnographic studies, art projects and other media. This course may be of interest to students of sociology and anthropology, human geography, media and art, communication studies, journalism and political science.

HONR 3310-06
Creating the New From the Old

Times: Wed 10:30am-1:25pm
CRN: 17725

Amanda Lawrence, School of Architecture

What is the relationship between any creation and the past? To what extent are all creative works indebted to precursors or precedents? How does an individual create something new in relationship to tradition? Is the truly “new” even possible? These foundational questions haunt all creative fields, and have prompted some of the fiercest intellectual and artistic debates since antiquity.

This course will study how critics, historians, theorists, and philosophers have explained and explored the relationship between innovation and tradition from antiquity through to the present. Although the focus will be on art and architecture, science, technology and other fields will be selectively incorporated as well. Stated most broadly, this course considers the continuing historical play between looking back and looking forward, between copying and creativity.

HONR 3310-08
From Laplace’s Demon to Schroedinger’s Cat: How 20th-Century Science Tried and Failed to Know Everything

Times: Tue, Fri 9:50am-11:30am
CRN: 18050

Waleed Meleis, Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering

This seminar gives a survey of the most important and surprising scientific ideas of the 20th century, ideas which collectively caused a revolution in how we understand the world around us and ourselves.  The target audience for this seminar includes students with non-technical backgrounds who are interested in a gentle introduction to 20th-century scientific thought.

In 1795, Pierre Laplace famously claimed that a demon who understood the laws of nature, knew the current state of the world, and had enough computational power could predict the future: “From such an intelligence nothing would be uncertain, and the future, like the past, would be open to its eyes.”  This was a bold prediction and we explore the events that led Laplace to make this claim.  We show that Newton’s discovery of the universal law of gravitation was the climax of the Scientific Revolution and that the success of Newton’s theories led to to a new approach to creating knowledge that was based on experimentation and precise mathematical models.  This Scientific Revolution gave scientists the optimism that, in principle, they could understand everything about the world around them.

However, in the 20th century a series of dramatic discoveries put fundamental limits on what scientists can know, and cast doubts on Laplace’s demon’s ability to achieve total knowledge.  We take a guided tour of these key conceptual revolutions, which include chaotic systems, complexity, undecidability, uncertainty, relativity, and incompleteness.  Taken together, these ideas make a powerful statement about the limits of human knowledge.  The implications of these ideas have affected disciplines as diverse as biology, philosophy, chemistry, mathematics, computer science, computer engineering, and industrial engineering.

Throughout the class, we synthesize the material by discussing practical implications for scientists and non-scientists.  We ask ourselves: Can science help us predict the future?  What limits exist on scientific knowledge?  Do we have free will?  Do all problems have solutions?  How can we be sure that true statements are really true?  Is there an objective reality outside of our senses?  Do different observers perceive the same reality?  Does randomness exist in the world?  Are exact measurements possible?
The seminar is self-contained and the only prerequisites are the ability to think critically and to carefully read non-technical descriptions of the ideas being discussed. The emphasis is on the broad ideas and not on the technical details.

HONR 3310-07
Cloud, Closet (Drop)Box

Times: Wed, 5-8pm
CRN: 18038

Craig Robertson, Program in Media and Screen Studies

This course uses the spaces and practices of storage to think about the social, cultural, and environmental consequences of how we organize and store stuff. We will explore the multiple and complicated ways that storage fundamentally structures our lives and ways of thinking.

To store is to preserve and provide access. To analyze storage is to think about a range of technologies, spaces, and practices including: the Cloud, smart phones, containers, closets, pockets, decluttering, IKEA, storage units, distribution centers, cabinets, shelves, libraries/museums/archives.

These examples raise important questions and concerns about the social consequences of buying things (accumulation and consumption), gender, class, the economy, the environment, organization, knowledge, as well as a general cultural anxiety about too much stuff and information overload.

Does storage matter? We have TV shows on hoarders, Marie Kondo’s bestseller on decluttering, and IKEA promising it can help you fit everything in your 400 sq. ft studio. The Cloud has become central to the people and companies But there are environmental consequences to the physical reality of the “Cloud” as a network of data centers – some centers requiring as much electricity as a small town. Likewise, the 2.6 billion sq ft in the US devoted to units to store the things (not data) that we can’t fit in our homes has environmental implications.

Using films, TV shows, art installations, and interdisciplinary readings, the course investigates the spaces and places of storage to understand how we got to the Cloud and other containers and what the future of storage holds as we try to find space to store our data, memories, food and more.

HONR 3310-10
The Art of Narrative Non-Fiction

Times: Thurs, 5-8 PM
CRN: 18174

James Ross, Department of Journalism

We will read and discuss the work of some of the most compelling non-fiction writers of the 20th and 21st century and screen some of the films based on their works. We will watch and discuss a film one week, and discuss the author and the book on which the film was based the following week. These authors narrate true stories but use devices normally associated with fiction, such as scenic construction, dialogue and shifting points of view.

John Hersey’s “Hiroshima,” first published in The New Yorker magazine in 1946, portrayed the lives of six survivors of the atomic blast and showed the horrors of nuclear warfare in human terms. Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood” (1966) reconstructed the savage murder of a farmer and his family in Holcomb, Kansas and the search, capture and execution of the two killers. The film “Capote,” among others, is based on this non-fiction novel. Michael Herr’s “Dispatches” (1977) is a vivid, first-hand account from soldiers on the front lines of the Vietnam War. Some of the characters in the book appeared in Herr’s screenplay for Stanley Kubrick’s film “Full Metal Jacket.” Susan Orlean’s “The Orchid Thief” (1998) was the basis for the film “Adaptation,” starring Nicolas Cage and Meryl Streep.

In the course, we will also discuss the narrative non-fiction of Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson, John McPhee, Gay Talese, Tracy Kidder and Katherine Boo. Finally, we will examine some of the issues raised by this type of journalism, particularly the blurring of lines between fiction and non-fiction, and analyze the use of narrative elements, photography, editing and sound in the films.


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.