Honors First Year Inquiry Series

HONR 1310-02
Twentieth-Century Espionage

Times: Mon, Wed, Thurs / 1:35-2:40pm
CRN: 15645

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, 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. Alternatively, students may negotiate with the instructor alternative readings/themes not covered in the syllabus.

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

Times: Mon, Wed / 2:50-4:30pm
CRN: 15695
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 one of our real local jewels: the Museum of Fine Arts.

HONR 1310-06
Mathematics, Magic, Games, and Puzzles

Times: Mon, Thurs / 11:45am-1:25pm
CRN: 14874
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 1310-10
Me Tarzan, You Jane! The Uses of Language in Literature: Linguistic Reality or Linguistic Fiction?

Times: Tue, Fri / 9:50-11:30am
CRN: 14880
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 1310-15
Public Education on Trial: Problems and Solutions to “Fix” America’s Schools

Times: Mon, Thurs / 11:45am-1:25pm
CRN: 15160
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 our seminar, which is organized around three projects.  First, we focus on the practice of teaching and learning.  What makes for a successful learning environment?  Through readings, reflection, discussion, and a visit to a school, we consider the key ingredients to a supportive and effective learning environment.  The second project focuses on state education policy.  Each student ‘adopts’ a state and explores key dimensions in the education policy of that state, including the relationship with federal and local school actors as well as the financial and regulatory environments.  In the third project, each student focuses on a particular policy reform that might make a positive contribution to public education.  Individually, or group-based, these projects offer a window on possible reform strategies.

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

Times: Mon, Wed / 2:50-4:30pm
CRN: 16300
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 1310-18
Theology, Ethics, and Practice

Times: Mon, Wed, Thurs / 10:30-11:35am
CRN: 18172
NU Path: ER

Whitney Kelting, Department of Philosophy and Religion

This course is designed to introduce you to the ethical thinking that arises from the basic tenets of a number of the world’s major religions. There will be readings addressing Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The course is designed around the big questions rather than being a tradition-by-tradition survey. The objective of this course is to explore the discourses and interpretations that these religions bring to these key questions in order to illuminate the nature questions themselves and to explore humans experience of those things greater than themselves.

HONR 1310-19
Illusions of Reality

Times: Tue, Fri / 9:50-11:30am
CRN: 18173
NU Path: EI

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 visual illusions and considers auditory illusions as well. It explores illusions based on capture or misdirection of attention, as in magic performances, and also includes “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 free software tools (MATLAB and Psychtoolbox) 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. No prior experience with computer programming is expected, and students contemplating any major are welcome.

HONR 1310-20
Your Eye and AI

Times: Wed, Fri / 11:45am-1:25pm
CRN: 18174

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, briefly surveying the remarkable range of human visual capacities. Exploration of such topics as self-driving cars, machine-assisted medical scans, or computer-based facial recognition will include consideration of which visual tasks are appropriate for transitioning in whole or in part to machines, based on consideration of performance, costs, and ethics, and which should be reserved for our species.  No prior experience with computer programming is expected, and students contemplating any major are welcome.

HONR 1310-21
Algorithms That Affect Our Lives

Times: Mon, Wed / 2:50-4:30pm
CRN: 18175

Tina Eliassi-Rad, Computer Science
Khoury College of Computer Sciences

This course covers many of the algorithms that one uses on a daily basis. Examples include algorithms for web search, online auctions, recommendation systems, crowdsourcing, and social networking. We will also discuss algorithms used in high-stakes decisions such as criminal justice, law enforcement, employment decisions, credit scoring, and public eligibility assessment. Additionally, the course covers individual and collective consequences of using these algorithms such as privacy loss, algorithmic bias, and ethical dilemmas. This course does not have prerequisites. To excel in it, you do not need previous experience with programming, computer science, statistics, or mathematics.

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

Times: Tues, Fri / 9:50-11:30am
CRN: 35849
NU Path: IC, EI

Adam Cooper, Department of Linguistics

This seminar 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 the motivations behind their creation, their internal coherence and plausibility, and their status and effectiveness within the culture (real or fictional) for which they were designed. You will also have the opportunity to apply your emergent knowledge of linguistic structure and linguistic analysis to develop a constructed language of your own.

HONR 1310-10
Algorithms that Affect Our Lives

Times: Mon, Wed. / 2:50-4:30pm
CRN: 37840

Tina Eliassi-Rad
Khoury College of Computer Sciences

In this Honors Inquiry seminar, you will learn about many of the algorithms that you use on a daily basis. Examples include algorithms for web search, recommendation systems, online auctions, crowdsourcing, social networking, and user engagement. The course will also cover individual and collective consequences of using these algorithms such as the loss privacy, algorithmic bias, and ethical dilemmas. Previous coding experience is not required.

HONR 1310-11
This is Our Future: Living in the Era of Climate Change

Times: Wed. / 4:30-8:00pm
CRN: 37862

Rebecca Riccio, Human Services Program

How will climate change shape the futures of today’s youth? What knowledge, skills, and self-care practices will prepare them to navigate the risks and opportunities of a world in flux? This course will provide students with an interdisciplinary perspective on the ways climate change and other global trends such as artificial intelligence will shape the environmental, political, economic, social, and personal landscape of their lives. Working in groups, students will develop communication strategies for raising their peers’ awareness of these issues.

HONR 1310-13
East Meets West: Mindfulness in a Digital World

Times: Mon., Wed., Thurs. / 9:15-10:20am
CRN: 37985
NU Path: IC

Laura Dudley, Department of Applied Psychology
Bouvé College of Health Sciences 

This course provides students with an introduction to mindfulness, with an emphasis on Buddhist traditions. Mindfulness refers to the act of bringing awareness to the present moment, intentionally and without judgement. Mindfulness has gained popularity in recent years, and recent studies suggest that mindfulness practices may have health benefits. This course is highly experiential. Meditation techniques will be taught and practiced, as will accompanying practices such as yoga and breath work. Outside of class meetings, students will maintain and reflect on a daily mindful meditation practice for the duration of the course. An emphasis will be placed on Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, teachings, and practice and how these teachings can be implemented in a digital age where it is becoming increasingly difficult to remain mindful.