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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.

Please note: Details such as LE themes and writing-intensive status are not yet finalized for some spring 2017 courses. Details will be posted as they are available.

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Spring 2017 Honors Seminars

Documentary Filmmaking: From Moving Image to New Media

Spring 2017
HSem 2010H
Instructor: Meng Tang
3 credits

This course will focus on documentary film production which includes research, examination of social/ethical issues, cinematic field work, editing and peer critiques. Through this course, students will gain knowledge of documentary filmmaking theory and practice including the multiple stages, levels, and systems involved in the process and develop an understanding of acting as a member of a video production team involved in planning, scheduling, and crewing. Students will also obtain fundamental understanding of the basics of digital film production and post-production, including: video technology (including shooting digital video), camera techniques, lighting, audio, non-linear editing (including sound editing), titling, voice-over narration, and music. Students will create, direct, and edit their own short documentary film over semester.

Meng Tang is an internationally recognized video and installation artist and a lecturer in the Department of Art, where she teaches digital filmmaking, introduction to art, and art and politics courses. Her life has provided her with almost daily experiences in dealing with the cultural differences that inspire much of her work. She works in many different media—including film, video installation, photography, sculpture, and performance art. For each project, she selects the medium with which she can most clearly express her concept. Drawing upon her own life and cultural experience, Meng currently creates works primarily on the topics of gender and communication.

IAS Thursdays: Across the University and Beyond

Spring 2017
HSem 2039H
Instructor: Susannah Smith
3 credits

In this seminar the best of the University’s research and creative work is brought to you. Every Thursday afternoon, the Institute for Advanced Study offers a presentation—a lecture, discussion, performance—by leading scholars and artists from around the world and within the University. Seminar participants will attend the Thursdays at Four series and meet on Tuesdays to discuss the presentations, which will draw upon disciplines across the University. Students will do supplemental readings related to the presentations and talk with presenters as their schedules allow. This semester's presentations will explore visual representations of time, the music of Schoenberg performed by the Bakken Trio, human rights in post-Stalinist Europe, spirituality after Darwin, the future of the Mississippi River, how to understand mass images, and more—see the IAS calendar for the complete schedule. This is the perfect seminar to introduce students to the rich variety of work done at the University.

Susannah Smith is a historian and the Managing Director of the Institute for Advanced Study. Her research is on Russian and Soviet music and national identity in the Stalin period. In her spare time she studies and performs Javanese gamelan. Her position at the Institute allows her to exercise her curiosity about a wide set of subjects, from physics to art, animal behavior to human psychology, and archeology to foreign policy.

Linguistics and Biolgy

Spring 2017
HSem 2046V
Instructor: Jeanette Gundel
3 credits

Connections between linguistics (the scientific study of human language) and biology (the scientific study of life and living forms) have a long history. Most contemporary linguists view language as part of human cognition, rooted in biologically determined predisposition to acquire language and constraints on the properties of what can be acquired. Before the Chomskyan revolution in the early 1960s, the connection was largely restricted to anatomical properties of the human vocal tract involved in articulation of speech sounds and the role of evolution of the vocal tract in making human language possible. Other connections included metaphorical borrowing of terms from biology, such as "genetic" relationships among related languages grouped into "language families," whose members shared the same "ancestor language." More recently the focus has turned to the biological basis of human language, the existence of "language genes" and connections between the evolution of language and the evolution of the human brain. There has also been some influence of linguistic methodology on the field of biology, with researchers proposing similarities between generative models of linguistic codes (grammars) and the genetic code. This course will examine the relationship between linguistics and biology, and how it reflects the development of the field of linguistics and cross-disciplinary influences in general.

Jeanette Gundel is professor of linguistics and has been teaching at the University of Minnesota​ for over 30 years. She has always been interested in how language interacts with other cognitive systems and in its biological basis. She has published over 60 articles and is currently associate director of the Center for Cognitive Sciences.

The Psychology of Paranormal Phenomena

Spring 2017
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.

Don't Bet on the Prince: Fairy Tales and Their Retellings

Spring 2017
HSem 2326V
Instructor: Marek Oziewicz
3 credits
Fulfills LE Requirement: Diversity & Social Justice in the United States
Fulfills Writing Intensive Requirement

The fairy tale is the toughest, most adaptable narrative species we have created. Told and retold in countless versions, the fairy tale enjoys a profound formative influence on modern culture. In this seminar we will study fairy tales from around the world, compare multicultural variants of selected tale types, and discuss their modern retellings. Our focus will be on the cultural role of the fairy tale and on how fairy tale retellings break old patterns to create hope for a world of diversity and equality.

Marek Oziewicz is Marguerite Henry Professor of Children's and Young Adult Literature. Dr. Oziewicz studies the power of stories to nurture empathy and understanding across cultures. His research is focused on speculative fiction and literature-based cognitive modeling for moral education, global citizenship, environmental awareness, and justice literacy. He is the author of One Earth, One People, the winner of the 2010 Mythopoeic Award in Myth and Fantasy Studies—and of Justice in Young Adult Speculative Fiction.

Number Theory from Scratch

Spring 2017
HSem 2534H
Instructor: Ian Whitehead
3 credits

This seminar is an exploration of the deep and surprising properties of whole numbers. Topics will include the axioms of arithmetic, modular congruences, and quadratic forms. One central theme of the course is a famous theorem of Fermat, describing exactly which whole numbers can be expressed as a sum of two perfect squares. Unlike in most math courses, lectures will be minimal -- students will frequently work in groups and present their discoveries to the class. Students will learn to gather data, seek patterns, formulate conjectures, and prove theorems. The goal is for students in all fields to experience how mathematicians actually work and think, with minimal prerequisites.

Ian Whitehead is an analytic number theorist. His research is on the properties of prime numbers and their relationship to symmetries in infinite-dimensional spaces. He is a graduate of Columbia University, and has taught at the University of Minnesota for two years.

Social Justice and Health

Spring 2017
HSem 2716V
Instructor: Debra DeBruin
3 credits
Fulfills LE Requirement: Diversity & Social Justice in the United States
Fulfills Writig 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.

Human Disease and Environmental Factors

Spring 2017
HSem 2722H
Instructor: Richard Nho
3 credits

This seminar aims at understanding whole organisms and cellular functions in response to various macro-environmental events (such as radiation, food carcinogens, global warming, pollution etc.) that promote the disease process. Cells are consistently exposed to changing conditions, and they are programmed to effectively respond to diverse stimuli or insults under normal physiological conditions. However, when such conditions exceed the cell's inner capacity, cells can change in ways that lead to the progression of various human diseases. In particular, environmental changes can significantly affect human health and ecosystems, and there are growing concerns about emerging new diseases that threaten human health. In order to understand the concept of disease process, students in this seminar will examine the development of several human diseases as study models and explore how cells have acquired "abnormal" from "normal" in response to environmental conditions, eventually promoting the disease process. Students will acquire a better understanding of how various environmental conditions affect micro-organisms, cells, and our body's defense system, as well as an advanced knowledge of human diseases caused by gene and environment.

Richard Nho is Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine. His major research interest is to elucidate the mechanisms by which the extracellular matrix regulates human lung fibroblast proliferation and viability, and to cure Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF).

Cinematic Representations of American Law

Spring 2017
HSem 2802H
Instructor: Chang Wang
3 credits
Fulfills LE Requirement: 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.

State Formation in the Middle East—Ancient and Modern

Spring 2017
HSem 3018H
Instructor: Eva von Dassow
3 credits

Current events in the Middle East not only threaten the structure of nation-states established during the 20th century, they call into question what states and nations are. Is the Islamic State a state? How about Rojava, the self-declared Kurdish state? If Kurds are a nation, should there be a corresponding state? Why is Syria a state? Commentators tend to trace present-day conflicts to the poor fit between national or sectarian identities and the new states created after the Ottoman Empire's demise. But these political developments also raise the question of how states form to begin with—and the place where states first formed was the Middle East, five millennia ago. This seminar will consider two poles of history: the origins of states in the ancient Near East and the transformation of states in the modern Middle East. We shall inquire into pristine state formation in ancient Mesopotamia and its vicinity, examining theories of the development of civilization and the state in light of archaeological and textual evidence. We shall examine the creation of present-day Middle Eastern states and look into the laboratory of counter-state formation that has developed there in the 21 st century. It is often supposed that there is a categorical difference between ancient and modern states; we shall consider whether and why that should be so. We shall inquire what makes a state, what kinds of states there are, and what are the alternatives. In antiquity as well as in the present, anti-states or non-state communities have emerged alongside states. The revolutions of the Arab Spring—mostly thwarted—promised reformation of the existing political order; rebel organizations seek to join or change it; and violent transnational insurgencies aim to sweep it away, even as they too may adopt the garb of statehood. What qualifies a state or its opposition as legitimate, and in whose terms? What aspirations for governance and political status do these various movements represent? By the time the course begins, the political situation of the Middle East as well as the United States will already have been altered, and during the term things will change before our eyes. Our comparative investigation of the origins of states and anti-states, ancient and modern, will help us understand what transformations are underway.

Eva von Dassow is Associate Professor in the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Studies. Her research examines how ancient states formed, functioned, and failed; conceptions of freedom and rights in ancient Near Eastern societies; and the nature of writing as an interface between language and reader. Professor von Dassow was interested in this field of study specifically because one must learn many extinct languages and scripts in order to study it. She can read some of the world's oldest written records and wants to show you how to read them, too.

Giving: Global Philanthropy, Charity, and Power

Spring 2017
HSem 3036H
Instructor: Rachel Schurman
3 credits
Counts toward major requirements for Global Studies

Philanthropy plays an increasingly important role in the economy and society, on the national and global levels. Americans gave away $358 billion dollars in 2014, or a little over 2% of our country's GDP. A few "mega-philanthropists" -- Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Michael Bloomberg, Mark Zuckerberg, George Soros, and others -- gave away mind-boggling sums of money. These individuals and their foundations are having an significant impact in specific sectors, changing the way public education is carried out, how global health priorities are defined, how public policies are made, and how African agricultural systems are organized. Forbes magazine reports that there are 1,645 billionaires in the world today, 80% more than a decade ago. While some observers look very positively on this philanthropic outpouring, others are more circumspect (or even critical), suggesting that it may be eroding our democracy. In this course, we will study the "new philanthropy," looking at it from a variety of angles.

Rachel Schurman is Professor of Sociology and Global Studies. She is broadly interested in food and agriculture, social movements and technological change, and the political economy of biotechnology. Her 2010 book, Fighting for the Future of Food, analyzed social activism against agricultural biotechnology, exploring how the contending "life worlds" of anti-biotech activists and the biotechnology industry shaped the development and deployment of GMOs at a global scale. She is currently working on a new book project, "Science for the Poor": Foundations, Firms, and the New Green Revolution for Africa, which focuses on the efforts being made by philanthropic, corporate, state and other actors to catalyze a new green revolution in Africa. She is very excited about teaching an honors course on the new philanthropy!

Dangerous Voices: Mysticism, Evil, Musical Power

Spring 2017
HSem 3048H
Instructor: Matthew Rahaim
3 credits

A sinner is converted upon hearing the voice of a saint; a courtesan's song induces obsessive love in a the heart of an otherwise upstanding citizen; a protest song binds a demonstration together into a powerful political weapon; a Sufi singer brings a spiritual aspirant into a rapturous trance state at a ritual gathering. A rich cluster of texts, from 12th century sufi apologia to 20th century marketing materials, testifies to the power of the voice. Even in the age of the mp3, we know that the voice has capacities beyond mere entertainment—to move us to tears, to rouse us to action, to elevate us spiritually. This seminar explores the power of the voice from many points of view. Students will be grounded in historical and anthropological readings about voices from many places and times, from 18th century Venice to 19th century South Africa to 20th century Egypt to 21st century India. We will learn to digitally map out vocal acoustics, and we will delve into the philosophical and theological traditions of making sense of the voice's power in a larger universe of sound, morality, spiritual striving, and political ambition. No background or training in music is required; all are welcome.

Matt Rahaim is Associate Professor of Musicology/Ethnomusicology and specializes in Indian music. He has been performing Hindustani vocal music both in India and North America since 2000. His musical life includes playing oud, Afro-Cuban drumming, simulogue, shape-note singing, experimental vocal performance, chamber rock, free improvisation, and Javanese gamelan. Matt teaches undergraduate World Music and Indian Vocal Music courses, as well as a range of seminars that are open to graduate and undergraduate students, including Sonic Ecology, Indian Music History, Ethnography and Performance, Disciplines of Listening, and What do Voices Do?. Matt believes in the liberal arts, and he believes in going slowly.

Incarceration and the Family

Spring 2017
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.

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