The Common Curriculum

Sophomore Research Seminar 2021 -2022

Fall 2021

  • Harlots, Heretics, and Hell-Raisers: Badly Behaved Women in the English-Speaking World, 1500 to the Present | Professor Ellis | MWF 10:30-11:35

    In 1976, well-known American historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich observed, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” Ulrich was writing a scholarly article about funeral sermons eulogizing women in pre-Revolutionary New England. She never intended to coin a female-empowerment catchphrase. Yet, the popular consciousness subsequently has latched onto Ulrich’s statement, or slight variations thereof, and turned it into a feminist slogan that adorns merchandise from bumper stickers to T-shirts, coffee mugs to tote bags, and beyond.

    In this research seminar, we will investigate how women who challenged tradition and authority made history. We will look at various examples of “badly” behaved women in the English-speaking world, 1500 to the present. These include seventeenth-century English witchcraft accuser Anne Gunter, eighteenth-century Irish-American pirate Anne Bonny, and twentieth-century American Civil Rights protestor Anne Moody: three women connected by little but their shared first name and the outraged response, justified or not, that their refusal to be “good” elicited. We will consider, for example, some of the prevailing expectations for women’s behavior over the centuries, the consequences for failing to live up to those cultural norms, and how both have (and have not) changed over the centuries. In sum, we will examine at how badly behaved women continue to infuriate, intrigue, and even inspire us.

  • The American Civil War Era: "A People's Contest" | Professor Foroughi | MWF 10:30-11:35

    On the Fourth of July 1861, President Abraham Lincoln characterized the conflict dividing the North and South as "a people's contest" to determine whether the U.S. would have a government "whose leading object is, to elevate the condition of men." In the ensuing 160 years, historians have studied not only how the Civil War tested the country's political principles but also how people on and off of the battlefield -- women and men, enslaved and free, native and foreign born, soldier and citizen, northern and southern -- experienced and understood their roles in the war. In this SRS, we will examine how gender, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic class, and geographic location shaped the experiences of people and communities during the Civil War era. To explore how these factors were integral to the "people's contest" and its outcome, students will pursue research in printed and online Civil War diaries, letters, newspapers, speeches, and images.

  • Arts and Humanities: Don't Leave College Without Them | Professor Henseler | TTH 9:00-10:45

    “Don’t leave college without the arts and humanities.” This is not the advice most-often heard among college students. We all know not to leave college without a plan, a skill-set, a career path, but without the arts and humanities? Why not? This class explores the transformative value of the arts and humanities to your education and to contemporary society. Students in this class will reflect on the role of the arts and humanities in their own lives and careers and in partnership with other disciplines and professional fields. They will get to conduct research on a topic of their choice that explores how artistic and humanistic learnings are transforming the way we think, live, and work in surprising and exciting new ways.

  • Music and the Holocaust | Professor Liu | MWF 10:30-11:35

    This seminar views multiple aspects of the Holocaust through the lens of music. The period beginning in 1933 in which many musicians were gradually dismissed from orchestras and mainstream musical life in Europe is a rich subject of musical study. Music played a variety of roles ranging from bringing comfort to victims to providing material for Nazi propaganda videos. The diverse roles that music played in the lives of the victims of the Holocaust will be examined during the time stretching from the rise of the Third Reich to 1945, with a special emphasis on the organized events of the Jüdischer Kulterbund, Eastern Ghettos, and Concentration Camps. The ability to read music notation is not a prerequisite for this course.

  • Music as Activism | Professor Matsue | TTH 10:55-12:40

    From Green Day’s iconic American Idiot (2004) to the strumming of Middle Eastern lutes in Syrian refugee camps, music is an integral means of expressing individual and collective identity, critiquing injustice, and enacting change. This course explores the forms such activism may take and how music and the arts may increase awareness of real social and environmental problems and potentially help resolve conflicts. Both through theoretical arguments and concrete case studies, we will see that music—and the individuals who make it—play a central role in shaping social interaction and inspiring social activism, from advocating for autistic children in the United States (Bakan 2015), to motivating anti-nuclear demonstrations in post-Fukushima Japan (Manabe 2015). Students will also develop their own critical reading and argumentative writing skills through a series of assignments covering a variety of research and composition styles, including a song analysis, a community-based project proposal, and creative expression project. Throughout the course, we will also work through the research and writing techniques presented in Craft of Research (2016). Students will further explore their own musical interests and a particular activist approach in a final research project (consisting of an oral proposal, an outline with annotated bibliography, a presentation, and a final paper). Students thus will expand their knowledge of research methodology while also exploring the power of music to move people.

  • Love and Revolution in the Latin American Cold War | Professor McGrath | MWF 10:30-11:35

    In 1953, a young Fidel Castro delivered a four-hour speech entitled, “History Will Absolve Me,” defending his vision of revolutionary Cuba to an unsympathetic, and soon-to-be overthrown government. This class is your chance to decide if he was right. Between 1946 and 1989, the global Cold War was very hot on the ground in Latin America, erupting into violent struggles between competing visions of the future. The Latin American Cold War featured not just guerrillas fighting against military dictatorships and communists fighting capitalists, but the growth of new social movements of women, young people, LGBT activists, indigenous communities, and Afro-Latin Americans struggling to gain rights and defend their communities. In this class we will learn how to find and amplify their stories by asking good research questions, collecting and reading primary sources, applying different research methods to different kinds of archives, and following your investigative impulses. As you complete your own 12-18 page research paper on a topic of your choice, we will explore how to effectively communicate findings and support arguments with persuasive evidence in written, visual and oral form.

  • Mythology, Religion, and Society in Archaic Greece | Professor Mueller | MWF 10:30-11:35

    In this seminar, we will study the evidence provided by Homer's Iliad and Odyssey (in English translation) for understanding ancient Greek attitudes to mythology, religion, and society. The ancient Greeks thought that Homer wrote history. Most modern readers, on the other hand, might assume that he writes fiction. In fact, Homer's epics offer a curious combination of both. How then do we separate facts from mythology in texts that are almost three thousand years old, and that present a worldview that, if it ever existed at all, was nothing like our own? We shall begin with a close reading of our ancient sources, the Iliad and Odyssey. We will place this ancient evidence in the context of work by modern scholars who rely on this same evidence in their own investigations of Homer's attitudes toward the gods, their stories, and the mortals caught in the crossfire both human and divine, but we will also expand our view to include the contributions of classical archaeology. With the assistance of the instructor, students will also formulate their own questions (about aspects of ancient Greek myth, religion, society, war, etc.), and then delve deeply into finding answers to their questions in light of their own close reading of the sources and in conversation with modern scholarship on related topics.

  • Time, Changer of Seasons | Professor Pease | MWF 10:30-11:35

    From ancient calendars to the theory of relativity, humanity has always been preoccupied with Time. And human ideas about Time have changed through the ages. Time has been perceived as linear or cyclical, as a flow or as another dimension of the universe. But what *is* Time really? What is the "space-time continuum"? How did our species learn to measure time? From sundials to hourglasses to cellphones, how were timepieces invented and perfected? How were they used? How do different cultures view time? Why does time seem to slow down when you're bored? Why does it fly when you're having fun? These and many other questions will be explored in this section of the SRS. Students will be encouraged to research related topics of particular interest to them. The SRS will encompass Physics, Astronomy, Sociology, History, Biology, Psychology, Geology, Theology, Philosophy, and Literature.

  • Theories of Human Nature | Professor Wegter-McNelly | TTH 9:00-10:45

    Theories of Human Nature is a seminar addressing some big questions that have occupied religious thinkers, philosophers, writers, and scientists over hundreds (well, thousands, really) of years. Discussion of ‘human nature’ touches on questions such as: What does it mean to be ‘human’? Are there certain capacities that only human beings have and that are common to all humans? (Suggestions such as: rationality; a ‘soul’; the propensity to relate to the divine; and more generally the question of whether humans are only an animal species or more than animals.) Do human beings have a purpose, and does human life (and society) have a goal? Are understandings of human nature socially constructed? How does one go about answering a question such as ‘what is human nature?’

    The seminar reviews a variety of theories on the topic of ‘human nature’ selected from various religious traditions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism) and from ancient, early modern and modern European philosophical and scientific perspectives (Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Darwin, Marx, Freud, Sartre, as well as recent neuroscience and feminist approaches). Students will develop their own research topic and situate it in the broader conversation about human nature.

Winter 2022

  • The Ethics of Artificial Intelligence | Professor Bergamaschi-Ganapini

    Artificial intelligence (AI) is evolving very rapidly and is increasingly becoming essential to many aspects of our lives. This course will ask important philosophical questions about the ethical implications of our evolving AI systems. By the end of the term, students will write one research paper tackling these key questions: Should we build self-driving cars? Can AI systems become moral agents and be held accountable for their actions? Can algorithms be biased or racist? Should our moral principles apply to AI systems and data analytics? Is it permissible to fall in love with robots?

  • Harlots, Heretics, and Hell-Raisers: Badly Behaved Women in the English-Speaking World, 1500 to the Present | Professor Ellis

    In 1976, well-known American historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich observed, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” Ulrich was writing a scholarly article about funeral sermons eulogizing women in pre-Revolutionary New England. She never intended to coin a female-empowerment catchphrase. Yet, the popular consciousness subsequently has latched onto Ulrich’s statement, or slight variations thereof, and turned it into a feminist slogan that adorns merchandise from bumper stickers to T-shirts, coffee mugs to tote bags, and beyond.

    In this research seminar, we will investigate how women who challenged tradition and authority made history. We will look at various examples of “badly” behaved women in the English-speaking world, 1500 to the present. These include seventeenth-century English witchcraft accuser Anne Gunter, eighteenth-century Irish-American pirate Anne Bonny, and twentieth-century American Civil Rights protestor Anne Moody: three women connected by little but their shared first name and the outraged response, justified or not, that their refusal to be “good” elicited. We will consider, for example, some of the prevailing expectations for women’s behavior over the centuries, the consequences for failing to live up to those cultural norms, and how both have (and have not) changed over the centuries. In sum, we will examine at how badly behaved women continue to infuriate, intrigue, and even inspire us.

  • Confronting Grand Challenges | Professor Ghaly

    Human progress from the stone age to the present revolution of information technology required overcoming an extraordinary array of countless grand challenges. The last century alone witnessed unthinkable engineering and scientific achievements that transformed people’s lives in an unimaginable way. The knowledge base presently in place, coupled with powerful computer and communication tools added to the desire to take on even more daunting grand challenges that, if tackled successfully, will have the potential to significantly alter the course of humanity.

    The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) compiled a list of formidable challenges considered to be of great importance to address in the present century. Some of these challenges are enhance virtual reality, reverse-engineer the brain, engineer better medicines, secure cyberspace, manage the nitrogen cycle, and develop carbon sequestration methods. As the world’s only universal global organization, the United Nations (UN) published a list of global issues that transcend national boundaries and cannot be resolved by any country acting alone. Some of these issues are population, poverty, food, health, water, energy, migration, security, and the environment. Despite the sharp contrast between the highly sophisticated list compiled by the NAE and the seemingly conventional list compiled by the UN, challenges remain a serious encounter hindering progress and development in various societies. As the NAE indicated, the ultimate goal of confronting both traditional and spectacular challenges is to improve life through four intersecting themes: sustainability, health, security, and joy of living. Although addressing grand challenges faces numerous roadblocks, the never-yielding and ever-aspiring human spirit has shown throughout history that it has always risen to the level of challenge. This course will study the circumstances surrounding past human achievements, and the aspects needed to take on greater challenges and inspire an accelerated move toward a brighter future.

  • The Vikings | Professor Grayburn

    From a young age, we learn that the Vikings are the arch-villains of medieval Europe, that they were a plague that swept down from Scandinavia to destroy Christian villages and monasteries. In popular culture, Vikings are instantly recognizable as warrior men, complete with blonde hair, beards, and horned-helmets. But who were the Vikings really? Did they, as we think we know them, even exist in the Middle Ages? Do their art and records tell us another story? This course will follow the Vikings as they journeyed from North America to Russia, exploring the adaptability, creativity, and diversity of these long-denounced villains. Along the way, we will grapple with many controversies of the Viking Age, including the possibility of female warriors and the forgery of Viking discoveries in North America. In the process, you will practice critical research skills, including the development of a Vikings-related research topic, identification of relevant print and digital resources, and composition of an evidence-based argument.

  • Making Meaningful Writing | J. Johnson

    This course is an opportunity to reflect on your life as a writer, and enhance your ability to talk with other people about their writing. We will study the role of writing in academic contexts and beyond, paying special attention to themes of audience, genre, situation, and context, as well as agency, motivation, and creativity. We’ll think deeply about how we write and why, and we’ll spend significant time sharing our own writing and writing practices. During the first few weeks of the course, students will propose a “meaningful” writing project of their own choosing. Students will plan, draft, and revise this project throughout the term. The final project will be submitted during exam week, along with student plans for publication of their work.

    If you’re a writer, or if you just want to learn something about writing, this course is for you!

    NOTE: This course will be conducted as a writing workshop. Our special focus will be on collaboration, peer review, and group work. Throughout the term, you’ll be encouraged to pursue your own interests in dialogue with your classmates and the guiding concepts of the course.

  • Media Critique | Professor Mafi

    Most people agree that the media play an increasingly important role in the management of public opinion and perception. A Gallup’s study shows that “Americans' Trust in Media Remains at Historical Low”. The mainstream mass media have been problematic when it comes to informing people about important issues. People who rely on the mainstream mass media, as the only source of information, are at a disadvantage when it comes to important issues that affect their lives, rights, health, and pocketbooks, while they are kept busy with trivial issues.

    In this course, the students will learn how to become critical thinkers who can intelligently analyze the effects of ownership, consolidation, advertisement, advertisers, special interest groups, logical fallacies, and other aspects of the media trade. They will become better informed citizens that won’t be easily bamboozled by the mainstream mass media sound bites. They can defend or refute a claim by logical arguments and can support the reasons for their claims with evidence.

  • The Incarceration of Japanese-Americans During WWII | Professor Morris

    This research seminar will focus on the internment of Japanese-Americans and Japanese citizens in the United States during World War II. This topic offers the chance to explore a variety of important historical issues with contemporary resonance: the tension between national security and civil liberties during wartime, the impact of racism on the shaping of American wartime policy, ethnic identity and assimilation in the United States, resistance and accommodation by minorities facing discrimination, and the evolution of American attitudes toward past injustices. We will address these issues by examining a wide range of types of primary sources, including government documents, newspapers, legal documents, photographs, camp newsletters, oral histories, and memoirs.

  • Rethinking Iran: Images and Realities | Professor Motahar

    In this course, we will study the economic, political, cultural, historical, and other factors that have shaped today’s Iran. We will take, as our point of departure, one of the most important events in modern Iranian history: the CIA-sponsored coup that overthrew the democratically-elected government of Iran in 1953. We will study this event, and the subsequent 25 years of repression and de-democratization, in the context of Iran’s anti-colonial struggles and modernization efforts of the previous 150 years or so. This approach will illuminate the genesis of the 1979 revolution, and the hostage crisis, and the evolution of the Islamic Republic since then. We will also study the historic 2015 JCPOA agreement between Iran, the U.S., Russia, China, the U.K., France, Germany, and the EU. We will examine the consequences of the U.S. government's unilateral withdrawal from this agreement in 2018. The goal is to enable students to contextualize, and thus better understand, current issues such as the role of petroleum and nuclear energy in Iran’s political economy and in its relationship with the rest of the world, the role of Islam in Iran, the position of women in society, and related issues. In this journey, students will develop an appreciation of Iran as a highly complex, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, modern, vibrant society with an ancient history and a rich cultural heritage.

  • Theories of Human Nature | Professor Wegter-McNelly

    Theories of Human Nature is a seminar addressing some big questions that have occupied religious thinkers, philosophers, writers, and scientists over hundreds (well, thousands, really) of years. Discussion of ‘human nature’ touches on questions such as: What does it mean to be ‘human’? Are there certain capacities that only human beings have and that are common to all humans? (Suggestions such as: rationality; a ‘soul’; the propensity to relate to the divine; and more generally the question of whether humans are only an animal species or more than animals.) Do human beings have a purpose, and does human life (and society) have a goal? Are understandings of human nature socially constructed? How does one go about answering a question such as ‘what is human nature?’

    The seminar reviews a variety of theories on the topic of ‘human nature’ selected from various religious traditions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism) and from ancient, early modern and modern European philosophical and scientific perspectives (Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Darwin, Marx, Freud, Sartre, as well as recent neuroscience and feminist approaches). Students will develop their own research topic and situate it in the broader conversation about human nature.

Spring 2022

  • Slavery in the United States | Professor Aslakson

    The topic of this course is Slavery in the United States, but its primary objective is to teach you to become fully versatile in conducting research and fully competent in writing long research papers. In the first few weeks of the course you will become familiar with the issues and debates that have driven the scholarship on American slavery. This will provide the necessary context for you to conduct primary source research on the topic. The course will then turn its attention to research and writing. To this end, you will be responsible for a research project which defines a topic related to Slavery in the United States, locates sources, analyzes these sources in an appropriate way, and presents the results in an accessible fashion.

  • The Ethics of Artificial Intelligence | Professor Bergamaschi-Ganapini

    Artificial intelligence (AI) is evolving very rapidly and is increasingly becoming essential to many aspects of our lives. This course will ask important philosophical questions about the ethical implications of our evolving AI systems. By the end of the term, students will write one research paper tackling these key questions: Should we build self-driving cars? Can AI systems become moral agents and be held accountable for their actions? Can algorithms be biased or racist? Should our moral principles apply to AI systems and data analytics? Is it permissible to fall in love with robots?

  • Comparative Philosophy | Professor Cruz

    Comparative philosophy is the attempt to build bridges across different cultural traditions in philosophy. Questions like ‘what is a good life?’, ‘is time real?’, and ‘do we have free will?’ have been studied in many different parts of the world for millennia. Some philosophers think that we can gain new insights on these questions by explicitly comparing the ways thinkers in different parts of the world have approached them. In this course, you will learn about the nature, motivations, and methodological challenges of comparative philosophy. You will also conduct a research project in which you will practice not only the methods of comparative philosophy specifically, but also the fundamental research methods you will need throughout your academic life.

  • Going "Green" in New York State | Professor Doyle

    In this course, we’ll examine New York State’s most recent reports on waste, energy, and conservation – reports that not only contain data but also set ambitious goals in each area. With these state goals as starting points, you will develop, focus and pursue a research project. Your project goal is to research and evaluate a new solution to a New York State environmental issue of your own choosing. Your goal in writing the 15-to-20 page research paper is to clearly communicate the problem, describe the proposed solution, and present your evaluation to your audience: New York State residents.

    We will develop a sample project topic together for the first three weeks as you learn how to formulate and focus a research question, beginning with a general area of interest and narrowing down to something much more specific and manageable. We will explore how best to track down sources of information, beginning with footnotes and bibliographies and expanding outwards to databases, indexes, and other resources. Meanwhile, you will formulate and focus your own questions about a particular environmental issue in New York, which will become the springboard for your project. We will discuss effective notetaking, motivation, and project journaling strategies. During the last six weeks of the course, you will work intensively on your own project, researching it thoroughly in order to discuss the feasibility of your possible solution, and writing/revising successively longer drafts of the final paper.

  • Arts and Humanities: Don't Leave College Without Them | Professor Henseler

    “Don’t leave college without the arts and humanities.” This is not the advice most-often heard among college students. We all know not to leave college without a plan, a skill-set, a career path, but without the arts and humanities? Why not? This class explores the transformative value of the arts and humanities to your education and to contemporary society. Students in this class will reflect on the role of the arts and humanities in their own lives and careers and in partnership with other disciplines and professional fields. They will get to conduct research on a topic of their choice that explores how artistic and humanistic learnings are transforming the way we think, live, and work in surprising and exciting new ways.

  • Media Critique | Professor Mafi

    Most people agree that the media play an increasingly important role in the management of public opinion and perception. A Gallup’s study shows that “Americans' Trust in Media Remains at Historical Low”. The mainstream mass media have been problematic when it comes to informing people about important issues. People who rely on the mainstream mass media, as the only source of information, are at a disadvantage when it comes to important issues that affect their lives, rights, health, and pocketbooks, while they are kept busy with trivial issues.

    In this course, the students will learn how to become critical thinkers who can intelligently analyze the effects of ownership, consolidation, advertisement, advertisers, special interest groups, logical fallacies, and other aspects of the media trade. They will become better informed citizens that won’t be easily bamboozled by the mainstream mass media sound bites. They can defend or refute a claim by logical arguments and can support the reasons for their claims with evidence.

  • Art and Revolution in Europe | Professor Oram

    While it is difficult to create art in the midst of a revolution, revolution and art nevertheless tend to work together hand-in-hand. Revolutionary political and social movements inspire – and provide enormous funding for – the arts, while the arts occasionally even lead to revolution. This course will explore the multi-faceted and often morally complex relationship between art and revolution in European history. With works such as Beethoven’s Ode to Joy and Hugo’s Les Misérables taking center stage, this class will examine the story of revolution as it is told in art, architecture, music, literature, and theater. Occasional “field trips” to other continents will illuminate similar narratives in more recent times. Through short multi-media assignments and a scholarly writing project, students will sharpen their tools for analyzing primary and secondary sources. The goal of this class is that students would understand the relationship between art and revolution and, through critical thinking and original research, apply this understanding to our world today.

  • Colonialism in Africa | Professor Peterson

    This course will explore the history of European colonial rule in Africa from the period of exploration and conquest during the nineteenth century to the era of decolonization in the 1950s and 1960s. The course will explore different interpretations of imperialism and colonialism, through a careful examination of case studies drawn from diverse colonial contexts. The central questions for the course will be: How and why did Africans lose control over their lands following the wars of conquest? What impact did European colonialism have on Africa? How did colonial states manage to stay in power? The course will be structured as a seminar, which means the focus will be on the discussion of readings. Furthermore, we will spend considerable time focused on student research projects.

  • The Practice of Truth | Professor Singy

    Why do I believe that the earth is round? The answer that most readily comes to mind—“because it is true!”—obscures the complexity of the problem. A fuller and more honest answer is that my belief stems from my trust in the expertise of a group of knowledgeable people, who themselves are convinced that the earth is round. But what makes these people “experts,” how did they obtain their knowledge, and why is this knowledge so trustworthy that I would bet my life on it?

    Understood as a practice more than a concept, truth is not something that naturally reveals itself to us. It requires the cultivation of virtues like skepticism, objectivity, and patience. It rests on the ability to think logically, to read thoroughly, and to communicate persuasively. It demands both a fortitude against the temptation of lies or the thrills of conspiracy theories, and the humility to acknowledge one’s mistakes, ignorance, and biases. It is produced, not unveiled.

    In a reflexive fashion, this course will encourage you to exercise these qualities as you write a research paper on an aspect of truth or its enemies. Possible topics include, but are not limited to, the history of objectivity, the psychology of conspiracy theories, journalistic ethics and standards, the rise and demise of expertise, the weaponization of doubt, and the invention of double-blind scientific studies.