Current Honors Students

Course Descriptions Spring 2018



HNRS 1100
Honors Philosophical Inquiry
Prof. Daniel Speak

Seen in one way, this course will be a topical introduction to philosophy by way of emphasis on a few core philosophical questions— for example, about the existence of God, about the freedom of our wills, and about the possibilities of life after our physical deaths. In this sense, it might be tempting to think of this course (merely) as a kind of general survey of what philosophers think about. If you are somewhat more attentive, however, you will be able to see (though maybe only looking back) that the questions on which I have chosen to focus can help you hone in on one of the most fundamental questions of your life; namely, just what kind of thing are YOU? In particular, I am hoping to give you some philosophical background and tools for careful reflection on the fact that you are mortal and finite.

HNRS 2100
Historical Analysis & Perspectives
Prof. Andrew W. Devereux

How do we think about racial and ethnic difference? What is the relationship between religious identity and ethnic or racial identity? Can historical case studies help us to address these questions? Honors 2100 will examine the construction of religious and ethnic difference in the late medieval and early modern Iberian world, from the thirteenth century up to the seventeenth century.

During the Middle Ages, the Christian Kingdoms of the Iberian Peninsula (modern Spain and Portugal) were known for their religious diversity, as lands where Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived side-by- side, sometimes harmoniously and sometimes in enmity. During the later Middle Ages (1391-1502), this modus vivendi broke down, leading to increasingly strict proscriptions for, and ultimately the expulsion of, Iberia’s Jewish and Muslim inhabitants. In the process, religious identity became increasingly thought of in quasi-biological terms (i.e., Jewishness or Muslim-ness became viewed as something inheritable in the same way physical features are inherited). As this shift was occurring in Iberia, Iberians were simultaneously coming into contact with a variety of peoples inhabiting the southern latitudes of the globe: first the Canary Islanders (1300s), then West Africans (1400s) and, after 1492, the American Indians.

The increasing ethnic diversity of the Spanish and Portuguese empires thus coincided with increasing religious uniformity. Were the two processes related? Students in HNRS 2100 will read a variety of primary and secondary sources that elucidate shifting European constructions of religious and racial difference across the pivotal thirteenth through seventeenth centuries, in both Mediterranean and Atlantic World contexts, helping to shed light on a period that ushered in modern categories of racial and ethnic constructs. Readings will address the Iberian Peninsula in the context of Spain and Portugal’s global empires, and will examine Spanish and Portuguese efforts to come to terms with their own Islamic past even as the Crowns propagated increasingly exclusionary statements of Catholic identity.

HNRS 2200
On the Nature of Mathematics
Prof. Alissa S. Crans

The majority of non-science/engineering/mathematics students typically have at least a vague idea of what it means to perform scientific research or to be an engineer, but most tend not to understand what it means “to do” mathematics or be a mathematician. Many think that all mathematics is known and that is what they are taught in their mathematics courses. But, perhaps surprisingly, this couldn’t be further from the truth! Mathematics is an incredibly creative and exciting field, filled with active researchers working in numerous areas. This course serves as an introduction to the ‘mathematician’s mathematics,’ as opposed to the preconceived notion of mathematics as formula and memorization and exercises, by posing and addressing questions such as:

  • What is mathematics?
  • What does it mean to do mathematics? To perform research in mathematics?
  • What does it mean to be a mathematician? What do mathematicians do?
  • Who can be a mathematician? Is there a math gene?
  • Is mathematics algorithmic or creative?
  • Is mathematics created or discovered?
  • Where, and by whom, is mathematics used and practiced?
  • How is mathematics similar to, and different from, the sciences? From engineering? From the humanities?

Most importantly, this course aims to improve students’ ability to think logically, critically, analytically, and abstractly, as well as improve their abilities to read, communicate (both orally and in writing), and understand the language of mathematics as it appears in a variety of areas.

HNRS 2300
Literary Analysis: The Frankenstein Project
Prof. Alexandra Neel

To celebrate the 200-year anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, we will be embarking on a digital humanities project that maps the novel, from its interest in chemistry and optics to its critique of contemporary education models and philosophies of mind. What books did Mary Shelley read? What kind of travel writing inspired the polar landscapes that frame the novel? What were the artistic trends in literature and painting during the Romantic period? What kind of afterlife does Frankenstein have in literature and film? What were the discourses around reproduction and animation during the period? Our digital mapping of Frankenstein will begin to answer some of these questions, and a lot more.

HNRS 3110
Beyond Good and Evil
Prof. Trevor B. Zink

Beyond Good and Evil is an exploration of moral problems through the study of ethics, considering select issues in social justice, science and technology, business and society, medicine and bioethics, and environmental protection. We will examine complex modern moral problems using the approach of philosophical ethics—learning and then applying the classic ethical theories.

Although moral problems pervade nearly every aspect of our lives, one key area in which they are particularly prominent, and which is especially significant to university graduates is in business management. Everyone, in one capacity or another, will engage in decisions relating to the operation of an organization. Therefore, this class will primarily be taught from the approach of business ethics. However, because business touches all aspects of life, business ethics are necessarily broad.

Accordingly, we will contemplate a wide variety of problems ranging from offshoring labor to human organs and complexities in conserving endangered species.

HNRS 4000
Portfolio and Assessment
Prof. John D. Dionisio

Only Honors students who are on their last semester before graduation should register for this zero-unit course.
This course tracks fulfillment of the following:

  • Completion of Senior Exit Survey
  • Submission of Honors Thesis to Digital Commons (with accompanying permission letter)
  • Dissemination attempt of Honors Thesis (e.g., Undergraduate Research Symposium, other appropriate venues)
  • Fulfillment of Honors grant obligations (if you have received an Honors grant)

Honors Core Requirements


General Core Curriculum
CSE Core Curriculum

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