2016-2017 Sophomore Research Seminar Student Preference Survey

1.  Slavery in the United States

2.  On Death and Dying: Reflections on Death and What it Means in Our Lives

3.  The Self/Your Self

4.  Sport and the American Identity

5.  Representing Genders and Sexualities in French-Language Cinema

6.  Discovery of Humanity, 1500-1800

7.  Greenwashing, Green Parties, and Greenbacks

8.  1963: Betty Friedan and the Rebirth of Feminism

9.  The Wild West: Frontier and Manifest Destiny in the U.S.

10.  'Unpacking' Hurricane Katrina: What Can Social Science Tell Us

11.  The Leading Role of the Arts and Humanities in the Transformation of Our Society

12.  African-American Protest Movements

13.  Jewish Graphic Novels

14.  The Automobile in American Culture

15.  Art in Ritual Context

16.  Drugs and Cultures

17.  Imagining India: British Colonialism and Indian Society in the 19th and 20th Centuries

18.  Cuba and the Cuban Revolution

19.  Rethinking Iran: Images and Realities

20.  Gender Stereotypes and Immigration in France

21.  From Rome to Istanbul: Religion, Politics, and the Fall of Constantinople

22.  Irony

23.  Nature and God

24.  From Wunderkammer to Museum: Objects, Collections, and Meanings

25.  Import/Export/Convergence

26.  Identity and Security in a Technological World

27.  Colonialism in Africa

28.  Privacy, Trust, and Identity in the Era of Encryption

29.  Computer Simulation and Virtual History

30.  Alexander the Great: Use and Abuse of History

31.  Neanderthals

32.  Mission to Mars! Discovering Earth’s Neighbor in the Solar System


1.  Slavery in the United States  (Professor Kenneth 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.

Top of Page

2.  On Death and Dying: Reflections on Death and What it Means in Our Lives  (Professor Robert Baker)

In this course we read the reflections of physicians, philosophers, theologians--and people approaching death--about what the fact of death means for our lives. We also visit a cemetery and write about tombstones and write our own obituaries. We also think about killing and mass killing by terrorists and in war, and by governments in the form of capital punishments. You will read a book that won the National Book Award, HOW PEOPLE DIE, and an Oxford reader on death, dying and killing. In addition to reading about, discussing and debating issues about death, dying and killing, you will also develop a research project and, with the help of the instructor, hone you skills in researching, developing resources (books, data, etc.), and debating, presenting and writing about your position on some topic related to the course.

Top of Page

3.  The Self/Your Self  (Professor Suzanne Benack)

Modern psychologists have claimed that late-adolescence-and-early-adulthood, the period of the lifespan inhabited by traditional college students, is a critical period for the formation of a “self,” or an “identity,” or a “life narrative.”  In this seminar, we will look at a variety of ways of thinking about this process of self-creation and using research techniques to try to understanding one’s self.  We will read some core writings about the modern self (e.g., Erikson’s Identity, Youth and Crisis; Gergen’s The Saturated Self) as well as memoirs (Dillard’s An American Childhood) and psychological works on basic dimensions of a person.  For your final project, you will conduct ​an ​investigation ​on a topic that is relevant to deepen​ing​ your self-understanding.

Top of Page

4.  Sport and the American Identity (Professor Denis Brennan)

Three years after the U.S. Census Department announced that a fixed line demarcating the American frontier could no longer be drawn, Frederick Jackson Turner delivered his famous address, "The Significance of the Frontier in American History." For Turner, the existence of the frontier had defined the rugged independence of the American individual, i.e., self-reliant, optimistic, adaptable, and ingenious. Furthermore, he warned that with the loss of the frontier the nation required a new means of defining American character. Concurrent with this development, the last decades of the 19th century witnessed an explosion of interest in sports. Long distained, especially by those who held Victorian values, athletic activity and sports developed during this period into an important institution with a vital social purpose in American life. In particular urban, middle-class men and women envisioned sport as an activity that taught the values fundamental to American identity, the values of a frontier society, the values of the rugged individual, of free enterprise, of community, of adaptability, of creativity, and of success. The intertwining of sport and American identity (whether by class, gender, ethnicity, or race) only deepened during the whole of the 20th century. The linkage of sport to the development of the distinctive traits often associated with American identity can be researched from a variety of perspectives. In addition to the expansion and acceptance of particular sports (perhaps especially professional baseball and college football) as well as the lives of late 19th and 20th century sports heroes and personalities, social reformers, business executives, and political leaders embraced and popularized this relationship.

Top of Page

5.  Representing Genders and Sexualities in French-Language Cinema (Professor Michele Chilcoat) 

The overall focus of this course will be on how gendered and sexed identities are produced "cinematically" in mainstream (i.e., popular) French films (and some US remakes). More specifically, the course will divide into three sections: the first considers the “male gaze" and constructions of "normative" femininity in the “hetero-sexualization” of lesbian desire; the second, constructions of masculinity and homosexuality with regards to the "normative" family order; and the third, how bi, trans, inter and other sexualities may reinforce and/or productively disrupt "normative" heterosexuality. After each section, and informed by readings drawn from a variety of disciplines, including film theory, queer theory, women's, gender, class and race studies, anthropology, psychoanalysis, feminism, and even masculinity studies, students will learn how to develop a “critical film analysis” paper (for a total of three 5-6 page papers), a form of scholarship integrating research into a film’s context (historical, ideological, social, cultural, etc.) with close film analysis. Students will also be encouraged to work toward refining one of their essays for submission to Film Matters, UNC-Wilmington’s high quality peer-reviewed undergraduate magazine now published by Intellect/University of Chicago Press.

Top of Page

6.  Discovery of Humanity, 1500-1800 (Professor John Cramsie)

Historians have long recognized that the peoples of Britain had a massive curiosity about the peoples of Asia, Africa, and the Americas. In some cases the curiosity was just that, simple curiosity. At other times curiosity served the interests of commerce, conquest, and colonization -- in other words, curiosity was central to the creation and expansion of the British Empire. In all of these cases, British writers produced a fascinating and diverse array of books describing the peoples whom they encountered. In this seminar we will study books within the genre of "discovery literature" printed between 1500 and 1800. We will analyze the authors, interrogate how their works reported on and constructed non-Europeans, and assess the impact of those works on British perceptions of and relationships with peoples around the globe.

Top of Page

7.  Greenwashing, Green Parties, and Greenbacks (Professor Kara Doyle)

Which is more important, preserving our natural environment or growing our economy? How can -- or can -- people be motivated to change their habits of consumption?  Should natural gas and nuclear power be part of  a worldwide solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions?  In this course, you will acquire and hone research skills, analytical thinking skills, and communication skills (both written and oral) as you pursue a research project about an environmental issue of your own choosing. We will take as our starting point the scholarly disagreements over a proposal to make New York State's energy production entirely "green" by 2030, and then explore recent and current academic articles about a variety of environmental issues. We will closely examine the way researchers use and present scientific and other evidence to support their claims, learn about the way research enters into existing conversations, and discuss how to move past “either/or” thinking into the complexity of real world scenarios.  Along the way you will develop an interest in a particular environmental problem, which will become the springboard for your project. In the second half of the course, after having narrowed your initial idea down to a manageable size, you will work intensively on your own project, researching it thoroughly in order to present a possible solution.

Top of Page

8.  1963: Betty Friedan and the Rebirth of Feminism (Professor Andrew Feffer)

This class begins with Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique, considered by some the most politically consequential book published in the U.S. after the Second World War. After reading and discussing the text in its entirety, the class will work historically through Friedan's sources, in the vast "archive" of popular magazines, TV shows, films and advertising of the late 1940s through early 1960s. The class will then read some of the literature that responded to and elaborated on Friedan's argument and comprised the "Second Wave" of American feminism. We will also look at some of the literature from the era critical of Friedan's approach. Research projects will reassess Freidan's conclusions about the effects, extent and nature of the "feminine mystique." Work will be evaluated in stages -- research design and proposal, outline of paper, first draft and final draft. Assigned texts for the class will include (besides Friedan's) selections from magazines and women's literature (as preparatory to the process of archival investigation), a book of oral history and memoirs on the early years of second wave feminism and other texts from the period.

Top of Page

9.  The Wild West: Frontier and Manifest Destiny in the U.S. (Professor Andrea Foroughi)

During its first century, the United States transformed itself from an embattled new nation to an imperial power extending "from sea to shining sea." In "The Wild West," students will explore how "manifest destiny" and imperialism shaped Americans’ conceptions of themselves, their nation, and "others" during the nineteenth century.  This includes examining policies and practices intended to facilitate the pursuit of economic success, the extension of legal and land systems, and the transplanting of "American" values – all of which would cause incalculable losses for American Indians across the continent. Topics might include: western exploration and expansion, missionaries, reform movements, Indian removal and creation of Indian Territory, the U.S.-Mexican War, slavery, gold rushes, prostitution, the Plains Wars, cowboys and cattle drives, railroads.

Top of Page

10. 'Unpacking' Hurricane Katrina: What Can Social Science Tell Us (Professor Janet Grigsby)

 In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina ravaged the U.S. Gulf Coast and devastated the city of New Orleans. For weeks after, the popular media framed the almost total failure of institutions to adequately prepare for and respond to the disaster and raised stark questions about the role of race and class. New Orleans' history of social problems was painted in ugly terms. Katrina was definitely a social as well as a natural disaster. Since then, social scientists have been studying the many issues raised by these events. In this seminar, we will attempt to 'unpack' the Katrina disaster by examining this research and by doing some of our own.  Eleven years after Katrina, this year's class will focus particularly on the region’s continuing complex struggle to recover and rebuild in the face of more storms, the 2010 Gulf Oil Disaster and the ever-threatening sea-rise from climate change.  Each student will research and write a paper on a specific sociological issue concerning these disasters.

Top of Page

11.  The Leading Role of the Arts and Humanities in the Transformation of Our Society (Professor Christine Henseler)

This is a class that explores the people, organizations and businesses who drive and are driven by artistic and humanistic principles in surprising and transformative ways. Students in this class will get to grapple with who the arts and humanities are, what arguments drive their worth in today’s day and age, and what role the Millennials play in their advancement. They will hear from guest faculty members who will provide examples of exciting developments in the arts and humanities, including from the world of immersive art, pop up theatre, eco-art activism, and maker culture. And they will get to discover and develop deep research projects around specific case studies of leading contemporary innovators who are transforming the way we live, work and interact. For this purpose, and through a guided and thoughtful process, students will get to choose a cross-disciplinary research topic of most interest to them, they will get to argue for the meaning and influence of the arts and humanities in both theory and practice, and they will get to present their findings through an 12-18 page paper as well as a short "case study" portraits presentation, all using professional standards of citation.

Top of Page

12.  African-American Protest Movements (Professor Melinda Lawson)

This course will examine the history of African-American protest movements. Students will learn in rough outline about African-American struggles for freedom from the earliest slave revolts to the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. We will examine such struggles as Gabriel's Rebellion (considered perhaps the largest slave conspiracy in Southern history), abolitionism (with a focus on the strategies of David Walker, Martin Delaney, Henry Highland Garnet, and Frederick Douglass), the anti-lynching movement, Booker T. Washington and the Tuskegee Institute, W.E.B. DuBois and the Niagara Movement, Marcus Garvey, the Harlem Renaissance, the struggle to integrate sports such as boxing and baseball, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, and the Black Power Movement. Students will write a research paper on the movement of their choice.

Top of Page

13.  Jewish Graphic Novels (Professor Judith Lewin)

Jewish Graphic Novels is a course with a specific focus: reading graphic novels on “Jewish” subjects, learning critical analysis and writing a research paper employing at least one graphic text as part of your research. As a group we will investigate the creation of the genre “graphic novel”, learn about its terminology and visual and textual logic and how and why it became associated with Jews and Jewish issues. The graphic novel offers a special combination of narrative devices and unusual rewards for its readers that this course will help us to appreciate and to articulate orally and textually. In addition to a final paper, we will also present our findings publically in a poster session at Union. You will strive to improve your reading and writing skills and to understand what it means to write analytically in general and to make an argument about graphic literature in particular.  Please elect this course if you have a particular interest in researching the combination of word and image. This course is not designed for those who simply want “less reading” or who are “Spiderman/Marvel/DC” fans —  graphic narrative involves new ways of reading and new types of heroes/anti-heroes.

Top of Page

14.  The Automobile in American Culture (Professor Brad Lewis)

Arguably no people in the world have been more in love with their cars than Americans. Certainly no country’s real estate, livelihood, and life have been more reshaped by the automobile than those of the United States, in the course of little more than a century.  Our seminar will explore when, how, and why the automobile came to so dominate our society and how that dominance in American transportation affects our entire culture.  Our common readings (including My Years with General Motors by GM Alfred P. Sloan, Jr. and Crash Course: The American Automobile Industry’s Road from Glory to Disaster) will not be covering the basic material as if studying for a test, but rather to have enough common discussion and understanding to facilitate a useful dialogue on the automobile in American culture and to allow each student to write a meaningful paper on a relevant topic that relates the automobile specifically to American culture.  We will discuss briefly, and students may write on, a wide variety of topics including the changing science and engineering of cars; the economics of the industry, mass production, and niche marketing, design and aesthetics; the reshaping of urban and rural landscapes and life, with a focus on Schenectady as a case study; the changing politics of transportation in the social context of the rise of General Motors and other large companies; the automobile in media, including advertising, music (including the youth culture of the 1950s and 1960s with its “car songs”), and movies; the rise of auto racing and its connection to other social institutions such as the southern moonshine industry; the challenge to the American auto industry from Japan and Europe from multiple standpoints; and views of the auto by its critics and mainstream supporters.

Top of Page

15.  Art in Ritual Context (Professor Sheri 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.

Top of Page

16.  Drugs and Cultures (Professor Joyce Madancy)

Virtually every society has its favorite drugs. We all consume them – for aches and pains, for pleasure and recreation, to alter mood, to wake us up, to help us sleep, and to mark important occasions, among other things – but cultural, economic, and political factors determine whether those drugs are considered beneficial or dangerous, are freely obtained or regulated, etc. Our goal here is to examine several drugs over time and in particular geographical and cultural contexts to analyze how and why those factors emerged and interacted, as well as how they affected popular attitudes. We will focus primarily on opiates, but will touch on other drugs such as caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco.

Top of Page

17.  Imagining India: British Colonialism and Indian Society in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Professor Rajashree Mazumder)

The purpose of this course is to understand what is colonialism and how are ‘knowledge’ and ‘power’ intrinsically linked and are essential tools in the creation of Empire? As Britain conquered India in the nineteenth century, what were the cultural prisms through which the colonial rulers understood this foreign society? How have some of these stereotypes endured even today?  We will explore various kinds of primary sources that we can use in our research and try to understand how contemporary political and social concerns informed the creation of these works. SRS is a writing and research-intensive seminar designed to aid students in developing skills to effectively research, analyze and write about history. As such, this course will not only explore the history of colonial India, but will also teach students research techniques, methods to evaluate historical documents, and how to successfully communicate their ideas in writing.

Top of Page

18.  Cuba and the Cuban Revolution (Professor Teresa Meade)

The focus of the course is the history of Cuba from the 1959 triumph of the revolution led by Fidel Castro and the 26th of July Movement, through the several decade-long period in which Cuba struggled to build an independent communist nation aligned with the Soviet Union, into the post-Cold War decades since the demise of the Soviet bloc and ending with the recent opening of relations with the United States. The course will examine changes within Cuba in revolutionary ideology, problems of scarcity and tensions among different sectors of Cuban society, gender and race relations, economic and political relations with the US, Latin America, and the rest of the world.

Seminar participants will present work in class, will write a research paper based on both primary and secondary sources, and will be expected to participate actively in evaluating the work of their classmates and in revising their own work based on suggestions from others in the class.

Top of Page

19.  Rethinking Iran: Images and Realities (Professor Eshragh Motohar)

The 1979-80 Iran hostage crisis, in which some Iranian university students held U.S. citizens in captivity for 444 days inside the American embassy in Tehran, has left an indelible mark on U.S.-Iranian relations.  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 watershed June 12th, 2009 presidential election and its aftermath, and the recent agreement between Iran, the U.S., Russia, China, the U.K., France and Germany.  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.

Top of Page

20.  Gender Stereotypes and Immigration in France (Professor Claire Mouflard)

This interdisciplinary course explores the public image of immigrant women writers in relation to French institutions (national museums, publishing houses and official media). The goal of the course is to highlight the historical, ideological and socio-cultural background behind the eroticization of the immigrant female in France. The texts (novels, short stories, films) and paratexts (publishing materials, visual, online, and print media) presented in class will include works by Suzanne Cesaire, Calixthe Beyala, Nina Bouraoui, Yamina Benguigui and Geraldine Nakache.

Top of Page

21.  From Rome to Istanbul: Religion, Politics, and the Fall of Constantinople (Professor Hans Mueller)

In this seminar, we will study the religious, political, and military factors that in 1453 led to the capture of Christian Constantinople by Muslim Turks, thus bringing to an end the last surviving outpost of the Roman empire, and establishing a great Muslim power in eastern Europe. We will do much more, however, than focus merely on the siege itself. To understand the significance of this date for subsequent European and Middle Eastern history, we will need some familiarity with the history of the Christian Greek inheritors of the Roman empire after the fall of the West in CE 476 as well as the rise of the Seljuk and Ottoman Turks, whose ancestors migrated to Asia Minor from the East, and converted to Islam. Religious differences have traditionally been cited as a primary cause of, and factor in, the conflict, but a simple scheme of Christian West versus Muslim East fails to comprehend the complexity of the situation. The “Christian West” was divided between Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians. The Turkish armies that besieged the city included Christians of various denominations and even Greeks. Muslims, too, had their doctrinal differences. Some Muslim advisors to the Sultan were favorable to the Emperor of Constantinople, and opposed to the war. It will be our task to assess what role religion played in the complex politics of the time before, during, and after the siege. Was the defeat of a Christian capital a motivating factor for the Turkish army? What can the treatment of the vanquished city teach us? How were Christians and Greeks integrated into the new order of Ottoman rule? Did the Turks, in their turn, adopt institutions from those whom they had conquered? Indeed, the Turks did not consider themselves the destroyers of Rome, but the inheritors of an empire they called Rûm, and their capital became Istanbul.

Top of Page

22.  Irony (Professor Jillmarie Murphy)

Is there irony in Brad Pitt injuring his Achilles heel while playing the role of Achilles in a film? Is a commercial of a cartoon chicken happily clucking about why it’s the tastiest chicken you’ll ever eat ironic? How about when Seinfeld’s Kramer chooses not to wear an AIDS ribbon during an AIDS walk and is subsequently beaten up by the other walkers? Notorious BIG’s “Ready to Die,” or Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab”—ironic? sad? or sadly ironic? Is it ironic that for years philosophers (and pop culture icons) have been vehemently arguing with each other about how to define “irony”? We will begin this course with discussions of classical concepts of irony, and the misuses of, multiple definitions of, and difficulties in defining the term “irony.” We will consider different types of irony—situational, dramatic, verbal—and then we will contemplate the rise and overuse of irony and the ironic in twentieth-century pop culture and its supposed demise in the early twenty-first century. You will be required to work hard. It will be fun.

Top of Page

23.  Nature and God (Professor David Nowakowski)

What is our place, as human beings, in the wider natural world?  How do we come to know and relate to that world?  Must we appeal to God, or to some other transcendent principle, to explain why the world exists and follows predictable laws, or not?  And how do the ways in which people think about nature affect their views about god(s), and vice versa?  The course is designed to improve skills of critical reading, writing, and thinking; and to promote thinking on some big-picture issues, such as happiness, wisdom, spirituality, and knowledge.  Your research project will examine the interplay between ideas about nature and god(s) in a religious, cultural, historical, or literary tradition of your choice.

Top of Page

24.  From Wunderkammer to Museum: Objects, Collections, and Meanings (Professor David Ogawa)

We live in an age of disembodied digital media, rapid-fire visual stimulation, and vast collections of data, but we also continue to inhabit the world of material objects. In this section of SRS, we will investigate the history of collecting, classification, and display in the western tradition from the 15th century to the present day. What kinds of relationships have individuals and groups had with collections of things? What are some of the intellectual, cultural, and political forces at work behind the practices of collecting and displaying objects? What are the boundaries between “original use” for religious or spiritual ritual, the presentation of objects in the modern institution of the museum, and their apparition on-line? Alongside our survey of the growth and metamorphosis of these practices, students will undertake research on individual objects from collections at Union or other local institutions, and sketch out ways to understand them in their shifting series of contexts.

Top of Page

25.  Import/Export/Convergence (Professor Tim Olsen)

Selected texts will examine three related topics: globalization and America's appetite for cheap foreign imports; one of America's most important exports-the blockbuster movie; and the convergence of traditional and new media in our ever-shrinking, information-overloaded world.  The reading consists of four books of general, non-expert interest:  Pietra Rivoli, The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy; Mark Harris, Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood; Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide; and Sherry Turkle, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other.

Top of Page

26.  Identity and Security in a Technological World (Professors Anastasia Pease and Shane Cotter)

The era of cybercrime and terrorism threats is here. And increasingly, biometric data (fingerprints, face images, behavioral patterns, etc.) are collected and used for marketing, personal identification, and security, online and offline. But how do biometric and forensic systems currently work? What are their merits and limitations? In this SRS, students will learn some answers to these questions. Moreover, students will ponder a future world where all biometric and personal data, including genetic and healthcare records, as well as shopping patterns, etc., will be easily accessible in real time. How will the technologies that allow the tracking of individuals anywhere in the world impact everyone’s security, privacy, and identity? How will new technologies like the Internet of Things, Virtual Reality, and Autonomous Vehicles affect all of us? Reading Science Fiction stories, along with news and science articles, students will explore the ethics, the dangers, and the advantages of our globally interconnected world.

Top of Page

27.  Colonialism in Africa (Professor Brian 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.

Top of Page

28.  Privacy, Trust, and Identity in the Era of Encryption (Professor John Rieffel)

At the dawn of the twenty first century, ground-breaking technological advances ranging from gene sequencing to self driving cars have quickly outpaced thoughtful discussions about their ethical, social, and cultural consequences. In many cases, innovation carries unintended costs and consequences: YouTube, for instance, offers viewers across the globe access to a wealth of entertainment and knowledge while at the same time hosting gruesome recruitment videos for terrorist groups. Similarly, the cellphones used by the police to track criminals (or activists) are the very same phones that facilitate citizen documentation of police brutality.

The goal of this Sophomore Research Seminar is to explore, as a group, the interplay between trust and privacy in the era of secure encrypted communication. Strong encryption facilitates a large swath of digital life -- everything from credit card transactions to video calls to anonymous chat boards. This research seminar will provide a foundation in the technological basics of encrypted communication, and then allow you, the student, to pursue meaningful intellectual inquiries about its consequences. Material for this course will draw from contemporary events such as WikiLeaks, the Sony email hack scandal, the Panama Papers, and the struggle between the US Government and Apple Computer over iPhone backdoors.

Top of Page

29.  Computer Simulation and Virtual History (Professor Steven Sargent)

This SRS will help students acquire the skills of controlling how computer software works, using software to produce useful data, and analyzing that data to provide insight into how the world works. Students will 1) select an historical event simulated on commercially available software; 2) find out what game parameters are player controlled and become familiar with how changes in each parameter affect the outcome of the game; 3) fully research the historical situation represented in the game and use the game parameters to replicate the historical situation as accurately as possible; 4) use the parameters to drive the simulation into the most counterfactual configuration possible; 5) play trials, collect data, analyze data; and 6) write a research paper examining the results for what they tell us about which parameters were most responsible for the historical outcome and how likely it was that things could have turned out differently. I expect this course to increase students’ interest in computer simulation as a tool to study a broad range of human phenomena.

Top of Page

30.  Alexander the Great: Use and Abuse of History (Professor Mark Toher)

Over 2,300 years ago Alexander "the Great" conquered "the known world" in less than ten years, creating an empire from Greece to the border of modern India.  And yet, most likely a clinical alcoholic, he died mysteriously at the age of 33 in Babylon.  His career and conquests influenced the political and cultural development of the Mediterranean world for over a thousand years and the effects of his career and legend resonated throughout history down to the early modern era.  Alexander is still prayed to for aid by fishermen in Greece, he is cursed as a "thief" in Iran, and worshipped as a saint in the Coptic Church of Egypt.  After Jesus Christ, no figure of western antiquity has had such a pervasive and enduring impact on our own culture and cultures far removed from our own. This course, through reading the four ancient sources on Alexander and sampling the prodigious modern bibliography, will introduce students to the story of Alexander, and to the "history" of Alexander.  Alexander has fascinated historians from antiquity to the present and he illustrates the problem of writing an accurate account of the past versus a commentary on the present through the use of the past.

Top of Page

31.  Neanderthals (Professor Mark Walker)

The Neanderthals were a type of human, indeed the one closest, but not quite the same as Homo sapiens, modern humans. In a real sense, they represent the “other” and have functioned as a sort of mirror, reflecting our humanity back at us. The study of Neanderthals includes the fields of archaeology and anthropology (fossils, artifacts), art (both by early humans, and modern representations of them), biology (genes and DNA), geology (putting fossils and artifacts in geological/historical context), literature (in particular, science fiction), physics (radioactive dating), and prehistory. Students are welcome to do a research project in any of these fields, and will start out with a basic research question: what does [the subject of their project] tell us about Neanderthals and/or about our perceptions of them? There is a historical current underlying almost all of these fields, because they have roots well back into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and have changed profoundly over time. Readings will include scientific papers, science fiction, visual art, and historical texts.

Top of Page

32.  Mission to Mars! Discovering Earth’s Neighbor in the Solar System (Professor Heather Watson)

This course is designed to introduce students to research and writing about science and scientific discovery. The topic of focus will be our current understanding of the planet Mars, and several recent and planned missions to the red planet. Major questions that will be addressed are (1) How did Mars form, and what is its history? (2) Is there (has there been) life on Mars? How do we know? (3) Is a manned mission to Mars reasonable in the near future? (4) What are the major scientific discoveries coming from our current Mars missions? (5) What are the major open questions regarding Mars that we are still thinking about? A major theme in the course will be about not only what we know about Mars, but how we know it, and the process of scientific discovery. This course is a seminar course, and students will be expected to actively participate in class discussions and presentations. The final product of this course will be a term paper and presentation on a topic of the student’s choice. (Please see syllabus for proposed research topics).

Top of Page