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Honors Seminars

2xxx-level courses are intended for freshman and sophomore students. 3xxx-level courses are typically taken by juniors and seniors. This list is subject to change.

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The American Quest for Security

Spring 2018
HSem 2018H
Instructor: Elaine Tyler May
3 credits
Fulfills LE Core: Historical Perspectives
Fulfils LE Theme: Civic Life & Ethics

For more than half a century, Americans have been concerned about security—national security as well as personal security. What do Americans mean when they talk about security? What are they worried about, and how do they try to keep themselves safe and secure? The quest for national security has taken shape at the level of foreign policy and military engagement. At the same time, Americans have endeavored to achieve their own safety and security through political and personal efforts. This seminar examines the various ways that citizens have addressed the issue of security in their own lives, whether their fears have been justified, and whether their efforts have kept them safe. The goal is for students to understand the issue of security in a historical context, and to enable them to be effective citizens in a world that often feels dangerous.

Elaine Tyler May is Regents Professor of American Studies and History. Her teaching and research center on the intersections of public and private life in America, with a particular focus on how the big issues of politics, war, security, social and cultural change, resonate at the level of personal life and experience.

The Psychology of Paranormal Phenomena

Spring 2018
HSem 2053H
Instructor: Charles Randy Fletcher
3 credits

Research has shown that most Americans hold one or more supernatural, paranormal, or pseudoscientific beliefs. These include beliefs in mind reading, fortune telling, psychokinesis, remote viewing, therapeutic touch, out-of-body experiences, alien abduction, and cryptozoology (Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, etc.). This course has two goals. The first is to introduce students to critical thinking and behavioral research methods, and the second is to critically evaluate the evidence for a variety of supernatural, paranormal, and pseudoscientific claims. Students will design and carry out their own experimental tests of these claims. The course will also include a guest lecture and demonstration by a local psychic.

Charles Randy Fletcher conducts research on the psychological processes involved in reading and language comprehension. He teaches the Psychology Department’s Honors Research Practicum and a course on The psychology of language.

Housing Matters

Spring 2018
HSem 2208H
Instructor: Becky Yust
3 credits
Fulfills LE Theme: Diversity & Social Justice

Housing directly affects our physical and mental health, children's educational attainment, our economic opportunities, our transportation patterns and dependencies, and the environment. However, not all people are able to achieve the same levels of well-being because of disparities due to race, ethnicity, and class as they seek to obtain stable, secure, and affordable housing in supportive neighborhoods and communities. We will explore issues of power and privilege that contribute to those disparities. Public policy at the local and national levels will be examined as it both creates and minimizes social inequities in housing.

Becky Yust is Professor in the Housing Studies Program. Professor Yust teaches courses on the socio-economic aspects of housing; multifamily housing development, finance, and management; and, interior structures, systems, and life safety. Her research has included investigations of housing adequacy and affordability, healthy housing initiatives, and design of affordable housing. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Sustainable Resources Center and as executive editor of Housing and Society, the research journal of the Housing Education and Research Association.

Slow Death by Rubber Duck: Chemicals in the Environment and Us

Spring 2018
HSem 2516H
Instructor: William Arnold
2 credits

We use chemicals every day–we bathe in chemicals, we apply chemicals to our lawns—and these chemicals wind up in the environment and in our bodies. This seminar will exam how our use of chemicals drives our exposures and where these chemicals ultimately wind up in the environment and what their impacts are. Each week will be devoted to the discussion of a different chemical. Readings will including popular books, news articles, and a few scientific papers. There will be weekly writing assignments and a semester project.

Bill Arnold is the Joseph T. and Rose S. Ling Professor of Environmental Engineering. His research is focused on the where water pollutants wind up in the environment and what products are formed when they react. He also seeks to develop remediation technologies. He has taught various environmental engineering and environmental chemistry classes.

Social Justice and Health

Spring 2018
HSem 2716V
Instructor: Debra DeBruin
3 credits
Fulfills LE Theme: Diversity & Social Justice in the United States
Fulfills Writing Intensive Requirement

This seminar explores matters of social justice related to health. Class sessions predominantly focus on discussion of specific practical issues such as the promotion of race-specific therapies as an approach to ameliorating health disparities, the inclusion of homeless persons in research providing free access to healthcare, and the allocation of HIV medications in impoverished developing countries. Readings from multiple disciplinary perspectives ground the examination of these social justice issues. Discussions incorporate consideration of the institutional and broader social contexts of these issues.

Debra DeBruin is Associate Professor in the Center for Bioethics and has also served as a Health Policy Fellow in the United States Senate. She has worked as a consultant to the National Academy of Sciences' Institute of Medicine, the National Bioethics Advisory Commission, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. She has been a member of a number of working groups relevant to public health in Minnesota, and co-directed the Minnesota Pandemic Ethics Project. She teaches and conducts research on the ethics of research and public health policy; her scholarship focuses on social justice issues.

Zombies and their Souls: Philosophy, Bioethics and the Undead

Spring 2018
HSem 2725H
Instructor: Carl Elliott
3 credits

We want money, love and fame. They want brains. Who is to say that our values are superior? This seminar will use zombie movies as a way of exploring fundamental issues in bioethics, the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of psychology. Are zombies conscious? Do they have free will? Should they have rights? If zombies could be safely controlled, would it be unethical to make them slaves or pets? What about experimenting on them, or using their organs for transplantation? If I were to become a zombie, would I still be me, or would I be something else? Safely controlled, would it be unethical to make them slaves or pets? What about experimenting on them, or using their organs for transplantation? If I were to become a zombie, would I still be me, or would I be something else?

Carol Elliott is Professor in the Center for Bioethics at the University of Minnesota and an affiliate faculty member in the Department of Philosophy. He is the author or editor of seven books, including White Coat, Black Hat: Adventures on the Dark Side of Medicine (Beacon, 2010) and Better than Well: American Medicine Meets the American Dream (Norton, 2003.) His articles have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The London Review of Books and Mother Jones.

Cinematic Representations of American Law

Spring 2018
HSem 2802H
Instructor: Chang Wang
3 credits
Fulfills LE Theme: Diversity & Social Justice in the United States

The artistic representations of American law in 20th century American film offer unique perspectives to understand the greater context in which the legal order operates and a visual angle to supplement the case method and blackletter laws. This course will discuss how cinematic interpretations of American law were and are perceived and accepted in the United States and elsewhere, both inside and outside the legal community. The class will progress by teaching and discussing some fundamentals of American law using legal films to illustrate the doctrinal concepts and rationales in civil procedure, criminal law and criminal procedure, the jury trial, evidence, contracts, torts, constitutional law and the First Amendment, legal ethics, and professional responsibility. Legally sophisticated concepts can and will be visualized and discussed using illustrations drawn from filmic clips selected from masterpieces of cinematic productions. This interdisciplinary approach—teaching law through film—will engage students in a more visually literate way to understand and discuss legal concepts; it will also provide a broader context in humanities and arts in which legal discourse evolves, especially in a global era.

Chang Wang is currently an adjunct professor in the Law School. He is also Associate Professor of Law in the College of Comparative Law at the China University of Political Science and Law and Chief Research and Academic Officer at Thomson Reuters. He is an elected member of the prestigious American Law Institute, a member of the Central Civil and Judiciary Committee of the China Association for Promoting Democracy, and serves on several steering groups for the American Bar Association. Professor Wang received his JD from the University of Minnesota Law School and also holds advanced degrees in American Art History and Comparative Literature and Comparative Cultural Studies, not to mention a BFA in Filmmaking. He is licensed to practice law practice in Minnesota, the District of Columbia, and in the United States Federal Courts, and has published widely on law, critical theory, and history.

Caravaggio: Bad Boy of Baroque

Spring 2018
HSem 3013H
Instructor: Steven Ostrow
3 credits
Learning Abroad component: Spring break in Rome
Fulfills LE Core: Arts & Humanities
View a video on this course!

This seminar explores the life and art of Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610), one of the most arresting and controversial painters in the history of art. Our examination will range from issues of style and self-portraiture to questions of biography, patronage, and iconography, and will include a viewing of Simon Schama’s 2006 film, Caravaggio. Special emphasis will be given to problems of methodology and to various ways of "reading" and viewing his complex and provocative works. During Spring Break the seminar will incorporate a study abroad component in Rome, where we will be able to see some of his most important paintings, in context, as well as works by many other Baroque masters.

Steven Ostrow is Professor of Art History. Professor Ostrow specializes in early-modern Italian (especially Roman) visual culture, with an emphasis on the post-Tridentine period and seventeenth-century sculpture. He has published on a diverse range of subjects, from late-sixteenth-century tomb sculpture to early-eighteenth-century illuminated manuscripts, engaging issues concerned with patronage, iconography, and historicism; art theory and artistic practices; the interplay among art, politics, science, and religion; and the literary construction of artist biographies. His current research focuses on sculpture in Rome between the death of Michelangelo and the emergence of Gianlorenzo Bernini.

The Agile Mind: Cognitive and Brain Bases

Spring 2018
HSem 3054H
Instructor: Wilma Koutstaal
3 credits

This seminar will examine recent research findings from the cognitive, brain, and social sciences to arrive at a better understanding of the conditions that foster, or impede, flexible thinking. A recurrent theme will be that creatively adaptive thinking centrally depends both on our ability to vary our level of cognitive control (from more automatic and intuitive to more controlled or deliberate processes) and our level of representational specificity (from more specific to more abstract). Representative topics will include: the effects of reinforcing variable rather than habitual behavior; the need for both highly specific and more abstract ways of accessing our knowledge and memory for experiences; the ways in which emotions may enhance or impair flexibility in thought; and the importance of mentally stimulating environments in adaptive cognition and behavior, and the brain changes that both accompany, and support, flexible thinking. We will read original research papers from several areas of psychology and cognitive neuroscience so as to arrive at a broad, integrated, and empirically informed view of flexible thinking.

Wilma Koutstaal is Associate Professor of Psychology. Dr. Koutstaal's research on human memory, thinking, and judgment focuses on factors that influence how and when we successfully "use what we know," particularly the levels of detail at which we encode and use information, and how this contributes to effective problem solving and creative thought. Research in her lab draws on many methodologies: cognitive-behavioral studies both with healthy young and older adults and neuropsychological populations (e.g., global amnesia, semantic dementia), clinical psychology (e.g., effects of depression on thinking and judgment), and brain imaging (functional magnetic resonance imaging). Dr. Koutstaal also teaches the Psychology of Human Learning and Memory (PSY 5014) and a Proseminar in Cognition, Brain, and Behavior (PSY 8960).

Incarceration and the Family

Spring 2018
HSem 3308V
Instructor: Rebecca Shlafer
3 credits
Fulfills Writing Intensive Requirement

It is now estimated that more than 2.7 million children have a parent currently behind bars. When parents are incarcerated, there are collateral consequences for children, families, communities, and society. Children of incarcerated parents are at risk for a number of adverse outcomes, including behavior problems, academic difficulties, substance abuse, and criminal activity. In this class, we will use an interdisciplinary perspective to explore the issue of mass incarceration in the United States, with a specific focus on the impact of incarceration on children and families. Students will have opportunities to visit local correctional facilities and engage with community-based programs serving families impacted by incarceration. Topics will include parent-child contact during incarceration, intersections between incarceration and child welfare, systemic disparities by race and class, programs for children impacted by incarceration, public policies related to incarceration, and intergenerational cycles of incarceration.

Rebecca Shlafer is Assistant Professor in the Division of General Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine and has regularly taught courses through the Institute of Child Development. Dr. Shlafer's research focuses on understanding the developmental outcomes of children and families with multiple risk factors. She is particularly interested in children with parents in prison, as well as the programs and policies that impact families affected by incarceration. Dr. Shlafer is currently the research director for a prison-based pregnancy and parenting support program and is leading an initiative for young children with incarcerated parents in partnership with Sesame Street.

Exercise Is Medicine: Its Central Role in Healthcare

Spring 2018
HSem 3701H
Instructor: Jim Langland
2 credits

This seminar will explore in depth the important role that exercise plays in medicine. The benefits of exercise and cardiorespiratory fitness are frequently overlooked and under-emphasized in American health care delivery. Seminar participants will learn of the evidence basis for the use of exercise in a wide variety of conditions including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, mental health, and cognition. Related issues such as fitness assessments, nutrition, exercise complications, and sedentary physiology will also be presented. Seminar format will include lectures, discussion, and participant presentations. All seminar participants will be required to research a different aspect of exercise as medicine and present their findings.

Jim Langland M.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine. Dr. Langland practices and teaches general internal medicine at the University's Primary Care Center. He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Sports Medicine, and Geriatric Medicine. He is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist by the National Strength and Conditioning Association. His academic interest is in the therapeutic and prophylactic use of exercise in health care.

The Nature of the Cosmos

Spring 2018
HSem 3941H
Instructor: J.B. Shank
3 credits

One of the defining features of every human civilization is its collective understanding of how the natural phenomena present to all earth dwellers—stars, planets, the earth and its transformations, plant, animal, and human life, etc.—are conceptualized into systems of knowing. "Cosmology" is the term we use to describe these shared understandings, and this interdisciplinary course proposes a comparative study of different cosmologies in different civilizations and historical periods. We will explore the nature of the cosmos by first examining the category itself and what is involved in trying to study cosmology comparatively with sensitivity to cultural difference. We will then look at some different understandings of the nature of the cosmos (i.e. cosmologies) offered by different peoples in the past and around the world. We will start with two ancient, non-Western cosmologies: the Sanskrit Hindu and Buddhist traditions and the traditions of the native peoples of North America. We will then examine the history of Western cosmological thinking by looking at Greco-Roman Antiquity, Medieval Christian and Islamic cosmology, and the birth of modern, scientific cosmology in the Scientific Revolution (Galileo, Newton, etc.). Our overall goal will not be to establish a single, absolute, and universal understanding of the cosmos, but, rather, to develop an understanding of the value and power of each of the different cosmologies we will encounter and the consequences that follow from accepting one or the other of them as our point of view. Ultimately, this course should help you to think more deeply, reflectively, and humanistically about the cosmologies present in our own modern globalized society today.

J.B. Shank is an intellectual historian and historian of science who studies the ongoing development of our modern understanding of natural knowledge by thinking about it historically in relation to the knowledge traditions of other peoples, places, and times. He is an associate professor in the department of History but works across the modern disciplines in his scholarship—combining perspectives from anthropology, sociology, and philosophy, along with an interest in the relationship between science and architecture, literature, music, and the visual arts.

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