The Common Curriculum

Sophomore Research Seminar 2022 -2023

Fall 2022

  • Slavery in the United States| Prof. Aslakson

    This course, a Sophomore Research Seminar, is intended to provide every student with the tools for researching and writing. Our topic is Slavery in the United States, but the primary objective of the course is for all of you to become fully versatile in conducting research and fully competent in writing long research papers.

  • The Ethics of Artificial Intelligence | Prof. 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 | Prof. 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 how badly behaved women continue to infuriate, intrigue, and even inspire us.

  • Arts and Humanities: Don't Leave College Without Them | Prof. 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.

  • Art in Ritual Context | Prof. Lullo

    Many of the works we see on display in museums, from African masks and Buddhist statuary to Chinese bronze vessels and Egyptian relief carvings, were not simply considered “art” in their original contexts. Though they were often created to be pleasing to the eye—in many instances, the most expensive and precious materials available were used—these works were primarily intended to provoke and activate much more profound feelings or emotions related to the spiritual, and were frequently intended to facilitate communication with participants beyond the human realm.

    This research seminar aims to explore and restore the use contexts, performative spaces and architectural frameworks that are frequently lost when works of visual culture are hung on museum walls or placed within a glass case. We will read about anthropological and art historical approaches to art and ritual and analyze case studies of the ways in which ritual practice, both sacred and secular, can be integral to our understanding of how the works of art were created, used, viewed and experienced across global contexts. Your research project in this course will focus on an object chosen from Union’s own rich collection of works.

  • Music as Activism | Prof. Matsue

    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 | Prof. McGrath

    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.

  • German Romanticism in Literature and the Arts | Prof. Oram

    The German romantic movement eludes easy definition. To understand it, one must explore the cultural, religious, and historical influences that led to its first stirrings as the Sturm und Drang movement in the 1770’s. Even though it ended almost as quickly as it began, giving way to other trends as early as the 1830’s, its influence can be felt throughout its century and even today.

    This class is designed to give students a research perspective of the German Romantic movement in art, music, literature, and philosophy. It will focus on the figures who first spawned the Romantic movement in their respective fields – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Novalis, Robert Schumann, and Caspar David Friedrich – as well as its later development in the visionary writings of Karl Marx and the operas of Richard Wagner. Short "field trips" to other continents will reveal some of the ramifications of these ideas and ideologies in more recent times.

    The class will culminate in the final writing project, in which students will sharpen their tools for analyzing primary and secondary sources on the topic. The goal of this class is that, through critical thinking and original research, students will understand the complex impact of the German romantic movement on our world today.

  • Time, Changer of Seasons | Prof. Pease

    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 | Prof. Wegter-McNelly

    In this Sophomore Research Seminar you will learn how to do effective, college-level research and write a well-constructed, well-argued undergraduate research paper. This seminar is broadly oriented toward one of life's "big" questions that has occupied religious thinkers, philosophers, writers, and scientists over hundreds (well, thousands, really) of years: What does it mean to be "human"? Of course, there is no way to write a meaningful paper over the span of just one term on such an all-encompassing subject. For the sake of specificity, you will be tasked with constructing a related but more focused and manageable topic and question to write about.

    Our collective "muse" for the course is Wesley Wildman's book, Science and Religious Anthropology. The point of our reading this text together is not to learn to think like Wildman about human nature or even to agree with his argument. Rather, it is to provoke our thinking on the topic and to learn something from him about what it looks like to be a curious scholar who asks questions and marshals resources to answer them. Spurred in whatever way by his view of human nature, you will develop your own focused research topic, question, and thesis on some aspect of human nature. Along the way, we will work together to understand, analyze, and critique Wildman's argument in order to sharpen our skills at engaging, and ultimately producing, scholarly writing.

    Here are some questions developed by students previously in this course: How is the internet changing who we are? What do atheists think about war? How natural is patriarchy? What is human nature from the neoliberal political perspective? Why does men's mental health receive disproportionately little attention in the U.S.? Why are most people around the world ignoring the climate crisis? How does moral character change through adolescence? What factors contribute to the development of mathematical ability in children? Why is social isolation detrimental to people's well being? What was the impact of social media on recent U.S. presidential elections? When and why could the term "functional psychopathy" be applied to people who achieve success in the business world? Why do some people resist traveling to unfamiliar places despite the opportunities travel affords? How is rape culture on college campuses affected by the teaching of texts that contain sexual violence in classics courses? How has the use of surnames changed in the U.S. since World War II? What qualities allow introverts to become successful leaders? How do the personal sexual preferences affect serial killer's methods of killing? What types of parenting styles are most likely to produce well-adjusted children? Why are Americans gaining weight? Where do gender stereotypes come from? Why do people react differently to fear? Why do charitable organizations sometimes become predatory? What does neuroscience have to say about free will?

    As you can see, just about anything is in bounds. You will set yourself up for success in this and subsequent courses by crafting a specific research question that interests you.

Winter 2023

  • Gender Trouble at the Movies | Prof. Chilcoat

    Hollywood overwhelmingly creates, reinforces, and promotes “hetero-normativity,” meaning films with storylines made for central characters who are usually white; display biology-appropriate gender; have “opposite sex” relationships only. Our job is to become skilled in identifying the specific cinematic elements a filmmaker puts into their film to communicate “hetero-normativity” to viewers. We learn why this skill is so valuable as we go along.

    To accomplish our goal, we focus on a selection of French thrillers, dramas & comedies, plus some US remakes, from the 1960s to now. I divide the course into three sections: Part 1 centers on the “male gaze,” a key concept in film theory thought to unite director, actor and spectator (all male) in the construction of “femininity” as pure surface, “only-to-be-looked-at”; Part 2 analyses how masculinity and homosexuality are made to come together to preserve the traditional family order; and Part 3 looks at gender nonconforming children in main protagonist roles, whose very presence forces conventional heterosexuality “out of the closet” and into the light of reason—where it doesn’t quite hold up.

    After each section, using a group of films, and informed by interdisciplinary readings in film analysis, queer theory, anthropology, psychoanalysis, masculinity studies, and trans studies, among others, students learn to develop their writing with three 5-6 page “critical film analysis” essays (plus three rewrites), a form of scholarship combining cinematic context (i.e., historical, ideological, social, cultural, etc.) with close film analysis.

  • The Bright Ages | Prof. Creamer

    The word medieval conjures images of the "Dark Ages"--centuries of ignorance, savagery and poor hygiene--but the European Middle Ages were actually an incredibly vibrant period of human history. This course will recast the Middle Ages in all its complexity and humanity, bringing to light both its beauty and its horrors, through themes of interest to us today.

    In this SRS, we will explore various encounters in the history of Medieval Europe. This includes examining encounters among religions, races, genders, between power and the holy, and between faith and reason. Potential research topics include but are not limited to, magic, witch trials, saints, crusades, science, barbarians, cathedrals, romantic love, heresy, the development of limited government, reason and revelation, and the battle between church and state.

  • Harlots, Heretics, and Hell-Raisers: Badly Behaved Women in the English-Speaking World, 1500 to the Present | Prof. 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 how badly behaved women continue to infuriate, intrigue, and even inspire us.

  • Confronting Grand Challenges | Prof. 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 | Prof. 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.

  • Walls | Prof. Madancy

    This research seminar explores the very timely topic of walls (we'll look at some other kinds of barriers, too). We will explore the historical motivations for building walls in many countries at different points in time, analyze whether the walls did what they were intended to do, explore the intended and unintended consequences, examine how various walls have been remembered over time, and talk about what walls say about those who build them, those who seek to evade them, and those who want to tear them down. We will learn about walls intended to protect environments, borders, and ideologies and beliefs. Students will learn how to read, interpret, and document a variety of sources, a process that will culminate in a research paper and accompanying presentation.

  • Media Critique | Prof. 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 | Prof. 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 | Prof. Motahar

    The relationship between the U.S. and countries in Southwest Asia (the Middle East) and North Africa has been turbulent for several decades. Why? We will argue that one important factor has been 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 Iran under US influence. We will argue that the 1979 revolution in Iran, and its major ramifications throughout Southwest Asia and North Africa, can be traced to 1953. We will show that a deeper comprehension of these issues will likely lead to a more peaceful world, and save the US trillions of dollars that it badly needs for its domestic constituencies. We will also situate our analysis in the context of broader geopolitical and geoeconomic dynamics (China-Russia-US) in the world.

    In this course, we will study the economic, political, cultural, historical, and other factors that have shaped today’s Iran. We will also study the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran, the U.S., Russia, China, the U.K., France and Germany. In addition, we will examine the subsequent tearing up of that agreement by President Trump, and resulting developments in Iran and the rest of the Middle East and North Africa. 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.

    This is a research-oriented course. As such, in addition to the above, by the end of this course you should be able to do the following tasks well:

    • Formulate a clear and focused research question, or thesis, appropriate to the topic of inquiry.
    • Locate, evaluate, and synthesize varied, relevant, and valid sources of evidence/information.
    • Develop an effective argument that supports or refutes the thesis, including analysis of evidence in support of conclusions.
    • Organize information logically and clearly in a report that guides a reader through the text, smoothly incorporating ideas from sources (demonstrating that you can integrate the ideas of others within your own argument).
    • Express ideas clearly and appropriately, with few, if any, grammar, usage, and spelling errors (demonstrating competence and care with communication).
    • Cite evidence from sources correctly and/or include complete, accurate and appropriately formatted references (demonstrating an understanding of academic conventions).
    • The final report (the Term Paper in this course) must demonstrate all of the above skills.
  • The Practice of Truth | Prof. 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.

  • Theories of Human Nature | Prof. Wegter-McNelly

    In this Sophomore Research Seminar you will learn how to do effective, college-level research and write a well-constructed, well-argued undergraduate research paper. This seminar is broadly oriented toward one of life's "big" questions that has occupied religious thinkers, philosophers, writers, and scientists over hundreds (well, thousands, really) of years: What does it mean to be "human"? Of course, there is no way to write a meaningful paper over the span of just one term on such an all-encompassing subject. For the sake of specificity, you will be tasked with constructing a related but more focused and manageable topic and question to write about.

    Our collective "muse" for the course is Wesley Wildman's book, Science and Religious Anthropology. The point of our reading this text together is not to learn to think like Wildman about human nature or even to agree with his argument. Rather, it is to provoke our thinking on the topic and to learn something from him about what it looks like to be a curious scholar who asks questions and marshals resources to answer them. Spurred in whatever way by his view of human nature, you will develop your own focused research topic, question, and thesis on some aspect of human nature. Along the way, we will work together to understand, analyze, and critique Wildman's argument in order to sharpen our skills at engaging, and ultimately producing, scholarly writing.

    Here are some questions developed by students previously in this course: How is the internet changing who we are? What do atheists think about war? How natural is patriarchy? What is human nature from the neoliberal political perspective? Why does men's mental health receive disproportionately little attention in the U.S.? Why are most people around the world ignoring the climate crisis? How does moral character change through adolescence? What factors contribute to the development of mathematical ability in children? Why is social isolation detrimental to people's well being? What was the impact of social media on recent U.S. presidential elections? When and why could the term "functional psychopathy" be applied to people who achieve success in the business world? Why do some people resist traveling to unfamiliar places despite the opportunities travel affords? How is rape culture on college campuses affected by the teaching of texts that contain sexual violence in classics courses? How has the use of surnames changed in the U.S. since World War II? What qualities allow introverts to become successful leaders? How do the personal sexual preferences affect serial killer's methods of killing? What types of parenting styles are most likely to produce well-adjusted children? Why are Americans gaining weight? Where do gender stereotypes come from? Why do people react differently to fear? Why do charitable organizations sometimes become predatory? What does neuroscience have to say about free will?

    As you can see, just about anything is in bounds. You will set yourself up for success in this and subsequent courses by crafting a specific research question that interests you.

  • Responding to Wrongdoing | Prof. Zaibert

    We are all familiar with the experience of judging someone’s action to be wrong. It is not important for our purposes in this course to establish whether we are correct or mistaken when we so judge: plainly, there exist actions we (rightly or wrongly) deem to be wrong. The question that will concern us is: How should we (as individuals, but also as societies) respond to wrongdoing?

    One option, of course, is to do absolutely nothing: to refuse to respond. To always refuse to respond to wrongdoing strikes me as neither a credible stance nor a theoretically interesting position. Thus, we shall focus instead on the justification for two of the most salient and interesting responses to wrongdoing: punishment and forgiveness. We shall explore the theoretical proximity between the justificatory enterprise vis-à-vis each of these two responses to wrongdoing, and the implications that this proximity has both for our personal lives, and for our views on public policy.

Spring 2023

  • Interdisciplinary "Chaos" | Prof. Calandra

    In Greek and Roman mythology, “chaos” is the word used to describe the origins of our universe. In 20th-century scientific and mathematical discourse, chaos theory emphasizes, among other things, new relationships between order and disorder and the seemingly disproportional impact of original conditions on future outcomes--a notion made famous by Edward Lorenz’s assertion that “the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil” just might be able to “set off a tornado in Texas.”

    In this course, we will explore why the science of chaos appeals so strongly to scholars in the humanities and social sciences, asking what insights follow from the use of chaos theory to understand our modern age of decolonization (and neocolonialism), international migration, and globalization. Conversely, we will explore the benefits and limits of applying evolving scientific concepts (either as metaphors or as models) to work in other disciplines: namely literature, history, and cultural studies. Most importantly, you will be pursuing your own interest in chaos theory by shaping, drafting, and producing a research paper on the subject.

  • The Politics of Free Speech in the U.S. and Abroad | Prof. Collinge

    Freedom of expression is viewed as central to the functioning of democratic society. It is an issue that protects as well as restricts our conversations about politics, race, gender, religion, art, education, and citizenship.

    In this Sophomore Research Seminar, students will explore key differences in the way speech is protected in the U.S. and several other countries, in addition to looking at a variety of case studies on the matter. These will include notable legal battles and uproars from the last 100 years, brought on by comedy routines, hate speech, desecration of the US flag, trigger warnings, protest music, and puppeteers. Students will be expected to produce a research paper of 12-18 pages, which will be informed and guided by regular reading, daily writing exercises, and presentations and debates.

  • Media Critique | Prof. 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.

  • Archaic Greece: Myth, Religion, and Homer's Iliad | Prof. Mueller

    In this seminar, we will study the evidence provided by Homer's Iliad (in English translation) for understanding ancient Greek attitudes to mythology, religion, and war. 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 legend and fiction 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 source, the Iliad. 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 Greek mythology, ancient warfare, and pagan religion, but we will also expand our view to include the contributions of ancient historians and archaeologists.

    With the assistance of the instructor, students will also formulate their own questions (about aspects of ancient Greek myth, religion, and/or war), 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 | Prof. Pease

    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.

  • Colonialism in Africa | Prof. 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.

  • Conservation and Promotion of Biodiversity | Prof. Ramasubramanian

    Biodiversity refers to richness of plant and animal life that surrounds us. According to National Geographic "Biodiversity refers to the variety of living species on Earth, including plants, animals, bacteria, and fungi. While Earth’s biodiversity is so rich that many species have yet to be discovered, many species are being threatened with extinction due to human activities, putting the Earth’s magnificent biodiversity at risk." Modern humans spend most of their time in climate-controlled indoor spaces and have fewer and fewer opportunities to commune with Nature. And yet, new research indicates that a more thorough involvement with Nature is not just important, but essential.

    An important aspect of this course is its emphasis on the local environment. At both the global and local levels, we will discuss the richness of local area biodiversity, how it is threatened, and what is being done to protect it. Students will be encouraged to participate in the conservation effort, at least at the thought-process level. Another thread that will be explored throughout the course is the shockingly low participation by underrepresented minorities in almost all activities that bring people closer to Nature, e.g., hiking, skiing, kayaking, visits to National and State Parks, etc.

    This course will first explore the richness of life on Earth. We will start with a global perspective, but we will also spend considerable time on our local environment, i.e., Schenectady, Albany, and Montgomery counties in upstate NY.

    Next, we will consider threats to biodiversity. the continual pressure from "development" is an obvious threat, but equally perilous is the apathy that stems from the modern lifestyle with decreasing intimate connections to the Natural World. Again, we will consider global perspectives first and then quickly "drill down" to the local level.

    Finally, we will discuss the efforts being undertaken to preserve and promote biodiversity. Again, we will start with global efforts (e.g., those undertaken by organizations such as the Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund) and move on to local efforts (e.g., efforts by local bodies such as the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, Albany Pine Bush etc.) We will also consider efforts by local bodies such as Conservation Advisory Councils (CACs) and local land trusts.

  • The Practice of Truth | Prof. 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.