Honors First Year Inquiry Series

Nathan Hostert

Nathan Hostert, CSSH'21

“[Politics of the Veil with Prof. Liz Bucar] was such a fascinating, well-organized, and engaging course, and I learned an incredible amount about what goes into the decision to wear a veil for Muslim women, and how that decision intersects with politics around the globe.”

Gauri Dandi

Gauri Dandi, Khoury'22

“During the fall of my freshman year, I took a First Year Honors Inquiry class called Beautiful Data: The Art and Science of Visualization with Professor Michelle Borkin. At first, I took the class mainly because it was in line with my major at the time, computer science. However, by the end of the semester, I fell in love with the course content and had changed my major to data science.”

HONR 1310-01
Of Princes and Utopias: the Foundations of Modern Political Thought

Times: Mon, Thurs / 11:45am-1:25pm
CRN: 14620
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, which 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 art.

HONR 1310-02
Twentieth-Century Espionage

Times: Mon, Wed, Thurs / 1:35-2:40pm
CRN: 14581

Jeffrey 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, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Six-Day War (1967), and assassination.

HONR 1310-03
Mathematics, Magic, Games, and Puzzles

Times: Mon, Thurs / 11:45am-1:25pm
CRN: 18673
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 1310-04
Illusions of Reality

Times: Tue, Fri / 9:50-11:30am
CRN: 18674

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 capacity to attend to our surroundings play tricks on us, leaving our understanding 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. It explores illusions based on capture or misdirection of attention, as in magic performances, and also considers illusions of hearing and “cognitive illusions,” where judgments made by humans vary as a function of the narrative framing of a question. 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 or pre-programmed online 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.”

HONR 1310-05
Your Eye and AI

Times: Tue, Fri / 1:35-3:15pm
CRN: 18675

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

Today’s computer vision is as good or better than human vision for some tasks and not as good for others. What makes machines able to “see” certain things well, and what aspects of our visual systems have yet to be emulated by machines? This course offers a nontechnical introduction to the capabilities of today’s visual artificial intelligence, including such concepts as convolutional neural networks and deep learning for computer vision. The course also includes an introduction to the neuroscience and behavioral foundations of the study of human visual perception, surveying the remarkable range of human visual capacities. Exploration of such topics as vision for self-driving cars or computer-based facial recognition will include consideration of which visual tasks are appropriate for transitioning in whole or in part to machines. Such decisions depend on relative performance, costs, and ethical considerations. No prior experience with computer programming is expected, and no computer coding is required in the course. Students contemplating any major are welcome.

HONR 1310-06
The North of Ireland: Colonization, Armed Conflict, and the Quest for Peace with Justice

Times: Mon, Wed / 2:50-4:30pm
CRN: 14930
NU Path: DD

Michael Patrick MacDonald, Professor of the Practice
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.

HONR 1310-07
Angels and Demons: Study Violence in the 21st Century

Times: Tue, Fri / 1:35-3:15pm
CRN: 18924
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. These conflicts are often bloody, prolonged and characterized by interpersonal and intergroup violence. However, 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. As we explore different instances of conflict, we will also examine innovative ways to intervene, reduce and even prevent violence. Examples will range from Boston to the global arena.

HONR 1310-08
Me Tarzan, You Jane! The Uses of Language in Literature: Linguistic Reality or Linguistic Fiction?

Times: Tue, Fri / 9:50-11:30am
CRN: 18935
NU Path: DD, ND

Heather Littlefield, Linguistics Program

The acquisition and use of language are 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 Burrough’s 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 1310-09
Invisibility, Disability and Family Life

Times: Mon, Thur / 11:45am-1:25pm
CRN: 18947

Linda Blum, Department of Sociology and Anthropology

According to the World Health Organization, some 20 percent of the world’s population lives with disability – and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, finding similar rates, coined the apt slogan, “Disability Impacts All of Us.”  Yet what exactly is a disability? While we most often think of a person in a wheelchair or with a cane or leg braces, there is much we do not see. From President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) concealing the extent of his impairment from polio, to social-emotional and learning issues like depression, anxiety and ADHD, to those struggling with the mysterious symptoms of long-haul Covid-19, many disabilities are far from visible. Moreover, there are many ways to live and even thrive with varied bodies and minds.

In this course students will consider invisible disabilities from multiple perspectives but emphasizing – just as in FDR’s case – that disability is lived and experienced within families – and families of diverse backgrounds and social locations. Through readings, films, and social media, we will explore the voices of disability self-advocates and activists; and in conversations with guest experts, we will learn of important contributions from researchers across the disciplines. Students will become conversant with theories of stigma and of neurodiversity, the social-historical construction of disabilities, the contributions of disability rights activism, and the thorny bioethical questions about difference raised by medical technologies.

HONR 1310-10
Medicinal Plants: Drugs or Poisons?

Times: Tue, Fri / 3:55-5:05pm
CRN: 19631

Brian Fulton, Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology

This course presents a broad overview of plants that have been used over the centuries for their medicinal properties. Relying on Native American and traditional medicine folklore, the history and use of native herbs endogenous to New England will be discussed. The botany and chemistry of the plants and how materials are obtained and used from them will be explored. Regulatory aspects of herbal medicine will be discussed.

HONR 1310-11
Competent Renewable Energy Technologies

Times: Mon, Wed, Thurs / 9:15-10:20am
CRN: 19775

Eugene Smotkin, Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology

Policy drives the deployment of energy technologies. Policy makers require basic understanding of geographic, economic, and scientific factors if inequities in energy distribution are to be mitigated (e.g., all three factors play into why the efficacy of lithium ion batteries in Boston differs from that in Sub-Saharan Africa). Competent Renewable Energy Technologies teaches and applies underpinning concepts of conservation of mass, stoichiometry, thermodynamics, and unit conversion, to renewable energy technologies with inclusion of experiential activities such as solar siting, assembly of solar energy conversion and storage devices.

Upon completion of this Honors Inquiry course, students will be able to effectively articulate the impact of energy technologies, on climate change, to their peers and to policy makers. This Inquiry course is open to students from all disciplines; however, knowledge of high school chemistry is highlyrecommended

HONR 1310-01
Reimagining Everything: Systems Thinking and Social Change

Times: Mon, Thurs / 11:45am-1:25pm
CRN: 37942

Rebecca Riccio, Department of Human Services

This class will explore how systems thinking can provide insights into complex and dynamic problems like climate change and systemic racism and inequality. Students will use systems mapping techniques to visualize their emerging understanding of persistent social problems and examine approaches to addressing them that disrupt conventional models. Case studies will include mutual aid networks and community-based safety.

HONR 1310-03
Creating a Happier World

Times: Mon / 5:00-8:00pm
CRN: 37984

Yakov Bart, Department of Business

Why are some people and societies happier than others? From ancient times, this question has been explored across multiple scientific disciplines and research areas. This interdisciplinary course introduces happiness research and focuses on relevant economic, political, psychological and societal issues concerning happiness and well-being. We will review the metrics and methods used to measure happiness, investigate qualitative and quantitative data to contrast drivers of happiness across multiple countries, and discuss various strategies for improving individual and societal well-being.