Honors Interdisciplinary Courses for Spring 2017

Social Science Interdisciplinary 

Game Theory (Professors Elizabeth Jurisich and Calvin Blackwell): Game theory is a mathematical approach to studying situations involving both co-operation and competition.  We will study games like the prisoner’s dilemma,  placing bids on contracts, to paper/rock scissors  Any situation in which one person’s actions can potentially influence another person’s actions can be modeled as a game, making Game Theory a powerful means of understanding human behavior. With applications ranging from business to biology to political science to economics, Game Theory is an exciting, interdisciplinary field that has something to offer almost anyone.

We the People (Professor John Culhane):  These three iconic words introduce us to the US Constitution. Our revered founding document was written 230 years ago. Our then new government was considered doomed to failure. How could “the People” of these new United States govern themselves? In truth we did a pretty good job as the decades rolled by. Yes, we had to endure a civil war to extinguish slavery. Yes, we had to wait 133 years before women were given the right to vote. And yes, the Supreme Court had to intervene in our Presidential election of 2000, ignoring the winner of the national popular vote in favor of the little understood Electoral College. No one ever expected that democracy would be easy. This course will confront the realities of our divided nation of 2017. Can “We the People” still govern ourselves? Should we exercise our right to hold a second Constitutional Convention? If we could amend our Constitution what would we do to make our governing process more responsive to our significant national problems? Can we solve Congressional gridlock?  Do we have an independent non politically biased Supreme Court?  Should the President have greater or less executive authority? This course encourages research and discussion. There are no simple answers. There are no foolish questions. The public forum, your classroom, awaits your reasoned thinking test.

Humanities Interdisciplinary 

Value and Tradition in Asian Civilization (Professor Zeff Bjerken):  This course will explore the visions, values, and practices that motivate the religious traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism and Christianity, which have formed the civilizations of South and East Asia. The course is designed around major conceptual themes, including discerning between illusion and reality; meditation and the diversity of religious experiences; pilgrimage and spiritual journeys; death, the afterlife, and ancestor worship; religion, gender and sexuality; monasticism, asceticism and the hermit’s life; the transformation of foreign traditions to fit native worldviews; and the effects of modernization on religions today. We will also watch a number of contemporary films that explore the conflicts between tradition and modernity in contemporary cultures in Asia. The course will follow an easterly route, beginning in India and moving to China and Japan, at the same time as we move from ancient times down to the present day. We begin with the ancient Indian civilization that appeared some 3,000 years ago and end with religious debates over the topics of abortion and organ transplant in Japan today. The course will call into question our common distinctions between self and society, church and state, and religion and spirituality.

Performance Studies (Professor Susan Kattwinkel): Performance Studies is the examination of the performative aspects of everyday life, using the language and theories of theatre, ritual, play, communication, gender, cognitive studies, and other fields of study. Performance Studies scholars study anything that can be described as “twice-behaved behavior,” in other words, anything that is repeated and embodied. Examples are as diverse as political campaigns, children at play, sporting events, activism, religious ceremonies, laboratory science, and virtual spaces, as well as more traditional performance forms.
This course is an introduction to Performance Studies and its methodologies. We will explore how the language of performance can be used to discuss and deconstruct power (in its many and varied forms), personal expression, cultural negotiation and constructs, and creation in the many public and private human performances that take place on and off of the theatrical stage. We will explore some of the foundational writings in the field, as well as more recent applications, and students will have the opportunity to choose some of the topics for analysis. At the end of the course students will be able to deconstruct performances to examine the means and methods of creation, as well as the purpose, implications of, and responses to those performances. The course should be of interest to students of all majors, especially those who are concerned with how people present themselves and their ideas to the public.

Memory, Politics, and the Holocaust (Professor David Slucki): This course examines different controversies, tensions, and debates surrounding the Holocaust since the 1940s. It will examine ways that the Nazi persecution of the Jews has been interpreted and reinterpreted by survivors, by Jewish communities, by European, American, and Israeli societies, and by scholars across a range of disciplinary backgrounds. Beginning with controversies around Jewish resettlement in the aftermath of the Holocaust, this course will look at a range of issues that arose in the decades after the Holocaust. We will examine the controversy surrounding restitution and reparations in the 1950s, debates around various forms of justice from the 1940s through the 1990s, historiographical debates about the origin and nature of Nazism and Nazi antisemitism, and controversies about different ways that the Holocaust has come to be remembered and represented.  Moreover, we will locate controversies around the Holocaust within the broader historical context and wider historical debates that shaped these debates.

Values and Science of Sustainable Agriculture (Professors Todd LeVasseur and Seth Pritchard):  This course is an interdisciplinary investigation into the technology of domesticated plant and animal species that began with the Agricultural Revolution 10,000 years ago. Students will explore cultural values and narratives that inform farming practices of the Agricultural Revolution, through the current Green Revolution of industrial farming, while learning how this type of food procurement is contributing to many environmental and social justice issues, ranging from farm worker labor rights to issues of gender equality to issues of environmental justice. Students will then explore cultural values and narratives devoted to supporting a variety of alternative sustainable agricultures.  These include permaculture, organic, biodynamic, and traditional ecological knowledge, with this exploration situated within insights from contemporary ecological agrarianism.  In addition to exploring cultural and value-based aspects of food production systems, we will also delve into the biology of food production systems with a particular interest in elucidating the relationships between agricultural inputs (fertilizers, biocides), mechanization, soil carbon management, biodiversity, water quality and global biogeochemistry. This element of the course will help students understand the environmental metrics behind whether certain farming practices are sustainable or not.

Special Topics Interdisciplinary 

Technology, Innovation, and Sustainability (Professor Lancie Affonso): A new generation of profitable technology businesses are actively engaged in clean tech, renewable energy, and financially successful product system designs that attempt to meet our economic development aspirations while addressing our social and ecological challenges. Computational Sustainability is an emerging field that aims to apply techniques from computer science and related disciplines to help manage the balance of environmental, economic, and societal needs for sustainable development. The range of problems that fall under Computational Sustainability is rather wide, encompassing computational challenges in disciplines as diverse as environmental sciences, economics, sociology, and biological and environmental engineering. Students in this interdisciplinary course will analyze organizations whose strategies and technology products are designed to offer innovative solutions to some of the twenty-first century’s most difficult societal challenges.