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General Honors Seminars

Fall Semester 2017

Please note: before registering for any of these seminars, be sure your name is on the appropriate sign-up sheet in the honors center office.

Please sign-up for only one seminar and be certain you intend to take that seminar before placing your name on the sign-up sheet.

HON 112HA — Writing the Coming-of-Age Novella

  • Dr. Ann Tracy
  • R 2–3:15
  • 3 Credits

Coming of age — the passage from childhood to full adolescence or adolescence to full adulthood — is often tumultuous, frightening and confusing. Yet what more universal experience is there? We all make the passage, more or less, and we all, or most of us anyway, come out on the other side. Small wonder then that this period of life and the experiences it brings are the subject of some powerful novels and stories. Gibson’s Ellen Foster, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and Ann Tracy’s What Do Cowboys Like? all fall within this genre. But many other writers from Hesse to Hemmingway to John Irving have been attracted to this unique period in life.

This seminar will engage students in reading and writing about the processes and experiences of coming-of-age. Students will be engaged with issues of identity: Who am I and who would I like to be?; growth and transition: How do I integrate the many changes of life at this period into my personality?; moral responsibility: To whom, besides myself am I responsible? How do I live a life of justice, integrity and courage?; innocence and experience: What do I allow myself to experience? How do I give up innocence and at the same time avoid becoming cynical about life and the world around me?; What should I commit myself to and what should I avoid? These and many other similar questions operate on the personal level and at the same time are universal to virtually all people, cultures and times.

As students explore and struggle with such questions they will try their hand at writing their own coming-of-age novella. This writing may be entirely fictional or, more likely, may be drawn from personal experience. In this way, the process of writing itself will be a path of self-discovery and self-realization that will become part of the coming-of-age phenomenon. The work of this seminar will be intense, but exhilarating, and the reward will be immense.

This seminar will satisfy the humanities component of the Plattsburgh general education program.

This seminar will meet in the honors center — Hawkins 121 Seminar Room B.

HON 113HA — Alienation, Liberation & Discovery of Zen

  • Dr. Jurgen Kleist
  • TR 3:30–4:45
  • 3 Credits

Sooner or later nearly all of us embark on a personal inquiry about the meaning of life and our relationship(s) to the rest of the world. Questions about who we are and what it is that is worth doing with our lives arise and often are not easily answered. It sometimes seems as though we are thrown into an increasingly uncontrollable and chaotic world that is indifferent to our presence. Often this ‘problem’ resolves itself into three choices. We may accept the world as it is; we may seek to escape from it; or we may try to change it. Accepting the world as we find it can induce a passivity that leaves us alienated and powerless, but is nonetheless perhaps the most common method of coping with these questions. Escapism can express itself in many forms. The fundamental premise of this seminar is that American public life is more and more polarized leading to increased alienation. Manifestations of alienation include day-dreaming, alcohol and drugs, violence, internal exile or even suicide. Changing the world requires political will, determination, and stamina…with no guarantee of success.

This seminar will examine these issues through an exploration of the literature of alienation and liberation. How have literary protagonists confronted and resolved situations of extreme distress? Why does the search for meaning often result in feelings of estrangement, of being an outsider, of being different? What circumstances lead literary characters to this crossroad? How do they try to solve this problem? What can literature teach us about liberation from conditions that are alienating? Finally, the seminar will explore literature in which protagonists claim to have found a way of dealing with their discontent. These and many related questions will provide seminar participants with many memorable discussions.

This seminar will satisfy the humanities component of the Plattsburgh general education program.

This seminar will meet in the Honors Center — Hawkins 121 Seminar Room A.

HON 121HA — Conspiracism in America

  • Dr. Tom Konda
  • MW 2–3:15
  • 3 Credits

Conspiracism is the predisposition to view social, political, and economic events through the lens of conspiracy theory. It is a belief system, albeit a very distinctive one with several peculiar features. A substantial body of psychological literature has been devoted to understanding conspiracism, much of which is devoted to whether it is related to conditions such as (but not limited to) paranoia, narcissism, schizotypy, or even anthropomorphism. There is a separate body of academic work that contends that ‘conspiracism’ is just a pejorative label for investigations that threaten the authorities. This course will cover these issues.

Conspiracy theories are the specific manifestations of conspiracism, and this course will cover these as well — mostly, but not exclusively, in the United States. Beginning with the first conspiracy theories (the ones about the French Revolution that introduced the Illuminati), the course will move chronologically through 19th century conspiratorial thinking (Freemasons, Catholics, Abolitionists, Banks) before devoting detailed attention to the evolution of American conspiracy theory over the last 100 years. This will cover well known conspiracy theories such as those about the Kennedy assassination and 9/11, but even more stress will be on more systemic conspiracy theories such as the Hidden Hand, New World Order, and Christian Identity.

I need to warn prospective students that you will read and have to discuss works by actual conspiracy theorists. It is the only way to get a realistic sense of what they think. Some of them, however, are extremely unpleasant individuals and you will certainly find what they have to say objectionable (actually, repellant). Many are deeply anti-Semitic, some are violently racist, and all of them are likely to express sporadic misogynistic, xenophobic, or homophobic views. I do not plan to give any tests in this course. Your work will consist of written assignments, formal presentations and informal participation in class, and some sort of investigative or analytical final project. I think it will be worth your while.

This seminar will satisfy the U.S. Civilization component of the Plattsburgh general education program.

This seminar will meet in the Honors Center — Hawkins 121 Seminar Room A.

HON 124HA — Salem Witch Trials

  • Dr. Tracie Church Guzzio
  • TR 11–12:15
  • 3 Credits

Few other moments in American history continue to fascinate our imagination and inspire further examination like the Salem Witch Trials. This year marks the 325th anniversary of the trials and the executions of 19 citizens (and two dogs) of Salem Village, and yet American culture and history has been unable to resolve the “problem” of the trials. The Salem Witch trials illustrate numerous characteristics of early America – a powerful tension between politics and religion; a deep mistrust of difference – especially based on race, gender, and religious practice; individuality at odds with community norms; and a troubled relationship with Native Americans and the wilderness. Each of these qualities of early American Puritan life reveals profound paradoxes in the American psyche. In an attempt to comprehend these contradictions and how they persist in our own time, this semester we will examine the trials themselves; how historians have attempted to understand them; their popular representations in literature; and the “witch hunts” of the 20th and 21st centuries.

In order to accomplish this, we must consider how the “story” of the Salem Witch trials embodies the history of scapegoating, and its continued practice in American society. The persecution of “outsiders,” political opponents, and innocents is inevitably called a “witch trial” or a “witch hunt.” We will be taking an interdisciplinary approach as we attempt to understand these practices by analyzing the narratives and transcripts of the trials themselves; the writings of the Puritan writer, Cotton Mather; literature by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Arthur Miller (The Crucible) and Maryse Conde (I, Tituba); and films such as The Witch, Good Night and Good Luck, and ParaNorman.

The course will also examine more recent instances of persecution (and hysteria) associated with the internment of Japanese-Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, McCarthyism, the McMartin Pre-School trial and Satanic ritual abuse stories, the AIDS epidemic, and anti-Islamic sentiment following the September 11th attacks. And the class will visit the town of Salem and Salem Village (re-named Danvers) to explore the new historical site (under construction); the Peabody Essex Museum; one of the popular, tourist attraction “Witch” museums; and two Salem Witch Trials memorials. One of these official memorials was commemorated in its opening ceremony in 1992 by Holocaust survivor and writer, Elie Wiesel, who cautioned us in his speech that “we still have our Salems.”

Students will be required to give informal oral presentations, write brief response papers, and complete a research project.

This seminar will satisfy the U.S. Civilization component of the Plattsburgh general education program.

This seminar will meet in the Honors Center — Hawkins 121 Seminar Room B.

HON 133HA — Explorations of ‘Cool’

  • Dr. J.W. Wiley & CDPI Staff
  • W Noon–3
  • 3 Credits

What makes someone cool? At some level most of us have been concerned with this question, but most of us haven’t thought about it deeply or examined the implications of “coolness”. This seminar will provide students with the opportunity to and the framework for investigating this social phenomenon. The main vehicle for this exploration will be a combination of reading and film analysis. The main questions being posed are:

  • What is cool?
  • How is cool related to social class?
  • What are the implications of being labeled cool?
  • Is cool a stratifying, inclusive, or exclusive phenomenon?
  • What are the socio-political dimensions of cool?
  • How is being “cool” related to diversity and social justice?
  • How does gender interact with “coolness”?

The introductory section of the course will establish the framework, theoretical orientation, and methodology of the course. Concepts and constructs essential to the unpacking of coolness will be explored. These include, but are not limited to, social justice, socio-economic class, diversity, and coolness.

Following the introductory sessions, each week thereafter students will engage in film analysis and interpretation. For example, “Casualties of War” a film starring Sean Penn and Michael J. Fox, portrays some intriguing images of cool from the perspectives of soldiers. Using the framework introduced in the initial segment of the course and from the readings, students will investigate the social implications and meaning of the behaviors portrayed in the film.

Each week half the class will write a paper focused on the readings and film analysis and they will make presentations derived from their analysis.

This seminar will satisfy the social science component of the Plattsburgh general education program.

This seminar will meet in the Honors Center — Hawkins 121 Seminar Room B.

HON 141HA — Basic Math Problems Seminar

  • Dr. Robert Keever
  • MWF 9–9:50
  • 3 Credits

Unlike many other math courses, this math seminar does not focus on content but on problem solving. The main objectives of the course are for students to study how to analyze and simplify a range of problems, how to estimate and check mathematical results for reasonableness, and arrive at answers in which they have confidence. Methods of problem solving include teaching oneself by doing simpler problems, translating between English and symbolic language of mathematics, and rewriting problems in ways that extract the mathematical content, ignore nonessential detail, thereby leaving well-defined mathematical problems that are (perhaps) easier to solve.

The assignments and class time are aimed at getting students to understand specific problem solving strategies, and we hope to accomplish this through direct engagement of students in the problem solving process. Students will work together to accomplish this goal. These methods embody the expectations of the Math category of the General Education program, to “introduce students to mathematical thinking and logic and foster students’ ability ‘to interpret and draw inferences from mathematical models such as formulas, graphs, tables, and schematics,’ ‘to represent mathematical information symbolically, visually, numerically and verbally,’ ‘to employ quantitative methods such as arithmetic, algebra, geometry, or statistics to solve problems,’ and ‘to recognize the limits of mathematical and statistical methods.’” We hope to accomplish this in a mutually supportive environment. Students will be graded on their ability to demonstrate this understanding as well as the ability to apply the methods to a wide variety of problems.

The assignments and class time will focus almost entirely on real world problems. The pedagogy will ask every student to actively engage in the education of their classmates as well as themselves. This is the ideal math class for students who lack confidence in their mathematical ability.

This seminar will satisfy the math component of the Plattsburgh general education program.

This seminar will meet in the Honors Center — Hawkins 121 Seminar Room A.

HON 152HA — Outsiders in American Film

  • Dr. Michael Devine
  • R 6–8:45
  • 3 Credits

In the late 19th century film provided a vision “outside” or beyond the constraints of genteel society: Muybridge’s motion studies recorded what the unassisted human eye could not see, while early boxing films provided recordings of a sport considered illegal to watch in most states. Unsurprisingly, this new technological vision—unmoored, kinetic, roving through city streets with early “actuality” films—soon aligned itself with outsiders, characters who critiqued mainstream society in films both comic and tragic. In doing so, the new art form appealed to an audience of poor and disenfranchised immigrants. The story of film’s assimilative, hegemonic powers is well known; less familiar is the medium’s power of anarchic, outsider critique. This seminar will explore this critique. The organizing questions are:

  • What was the nature of this critique?
  • Where did it come from and how did it change over the 20th century?
  • What is the nature of the critique today?

“Outsiders in American Film” focuses on both film and cultural history. It is a survey of film’s intervention in continuing debates over American identity. The class starts with the earliest kinetoscope films to examine the threat and promise they represented to the cultural custodians of the time. Students will develop a better sense of the concerns of film history as an outsider art in the subsequent period of narrative development in films like Laughing Gas (Porter, 1907), which stars a female African American lead. Viewed in the context of writings by Theodore Roosevelt and writers ranging from Stephen Crane to Brander Matthews, these early films show how pop culture had its own say in the most pressing political and literary debates of the era. The nativist turn of the 1920s establishes the next part of the class. The ascendancy of the documentary era—films like Manhatta (Strand and Sheeler, 1921) and especially Nanook of the North (Flaherty, 1922)—gets framed by writers and artist ranging from Jean Toomer to Georgia O’Keefe, a context that emphasizes the dramatic way in which film weighed in on the key question of the “authentic” American.

Turning to issues of genre and strategic pairings, the class considers films such as the pre-Code I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (LeRoy, 1932) and Cool Hand Luke (Rosenberg, 1967) to consider how the image of the outsider is addressed and sometimes suppressed. Fugitive revolves around a displaced war veteran, a figure which leads to other mainstream productions such as the multi-Oscar Award winning The Best Years of Our Lives (Wyle, 1946), which raises the issue of disability as spectacle. We will also address the question of mainstream versus “outsider” cinema; this can be done in a film such as Bunel’s The Young One (1960); a Mexican film by a Spanish director with American actors that tells a tale of racism. The last part of the class considers the contemporary turn, and specifically the way that films explicitly quote, revise, and otherwise rewrite their influences, and in doing so rewrite the image of the outsider. This means viewing groundbreaking films such as Badlands (Malick, 1973) and Moonrise Kingdom (Anderson, 2012). Finally, the major crises of today—familial, social, environmental—are articulated in Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012), circling the class back to its original concerns with outsider visions—of racial others, of what constitutes “realism” of our world.

The classroom approach is an inquiry-based collaborative learning environment. Students will find their voice by interacting with texts (writing on and responding to films in every class), with paratexts (reviews, etc.), and with their peers.

This seminar will satisfy the art component of the Plattsburgh general education requirement.

This seminar will meet in the Honors Center — Hawkins 121 Seminar Room B.

HON 160HA — Insurgency & Ethno Nationalist Conflict in the Middle East

  • Dr. James Armstrong
  • TR 9:30–10:45
  • 3 Credits

Since the beginning of the 21st century there has been almost continual conflict in the Middle-East. You are probably familiar with the War in Iraq, the Libyan and Syrian Insurgencies and other violence associated with the Arab Spring. Perhaps you are aware of the Hamas-Fatah conflict or the Israeli-Hamas conflict that took place in the Gaza Strip. It seems as if conflict is continual and unavoidable in this region. This seminar explores several questions concerning the conflicts in the Middle-East: Is conflict inevitable in the region? What are the sources of the conflict? Could these conflicts be avoided? Why have peace attempts failed or been ineffectual? What does the future hold? We will take a holistic perspective on conflict, looking at historical, political, geographic, and socio-cultural factors and their interactions. We will begin by exploring how the First World War destabilized the region, and how French and British machinations served as the catalyst of post-World War Two conflict.

The seminar will consider the Arab Israeli Wars, the Lebanese Civil War, the Intafada, Israeli Invasions of Lebanon, the Gaza Strip war, and the Arab Spring (Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Syria). The course will consider cultural factors including historical narratives of the different peoples, the rise of nationalist movements, Oil politics, Islamism, the Cold War, and social structure in explaining the events that have transpired.

Students will research a specific conflict and present their findings to the class. There will be weekly reaction papers focused on the assigned readings. Many of the readings will be drawn from the popular media. The text for the course is Avi Shlaim’s War and Peace in the Middle-East.

This seminar will satisfy the world systems component of the Plattsburgh general education program.

This seminar will meet in the Honors Center — Hawkins 121 Seminar Room B.

HON 163HA — The Philosophy & Practice of Yoga

  • Tony D’Angelo
  • TR 2–3:15
  • 3 Credits

The popular conception of yoga may include people who manage to get their bodies into strange or unusual positions or postures, it may generate thoughts of exotic places, or, yet again, it may be associated with poorly understood practices of meditation. As with most popular conceptions there is some truth, but also much that is false in these ideas. This seminar provides students with an opportunity to explore and experience yoga under the guidance of a life-long practitioner of yoga.

To understand yoga entails a familiarity with the cultural, religious and historical contexts in which it arose. Students will be introduced to major themes of Indian civilization, especially as these are manifested in the beliefs of Hinduism. The seminar will be based on the concept of the “Yoga of Synthesis” which is the integration of the four main paths of traditional yoga:

  • Jnana Yoga — the path of knowledge, wisdom and discrimination
  • Bhakti Yoga — the path of transforming emotions into devotion and love
  • Karma Yoga — the path of selfless service to humanity
  • Raja Yoga — the science of control of mind and body

These paths will be the basis to inquire into the most fundamental questions of human existence: Who am I? Why am I here? How can I achieve health and peace of mind?

The philosophy of yoga introduces students to new perspectives on our perceptions of reality, values and the role of the ego or self in daily life. The practice of yoga provides concrete tools for bridging the discord between the mind and body. It strives for integration and new levels of physical mastery, body awareness and mental control. The objective of the seminar is to expose students to all levels of the yoga experience through readings, discussion, yoga exercise and meditation practice. Student evaluation will focus on written papers, class presentations and participation in seminar discussions.

This seminar will satisfy the world systems component of the Plattsburgh general education program.

This seminar will meet in the Honors Center — Hawkins 121 Seminar Room A.

HON 173HA — Animal Communication

  • Dr. Daniel Vogt
  • MW 3:30–4:45
  • 3 Credits

This seminar explores animal communication and associated behaviors related to communication. The foundation for this exploration will require students to develop an understanding of the role of natural selection in shaping animal behavior and communication. Students will explore questions relating to the role of individual learning and cultural transmission in the acquisition of communicative behavior. This foundation will provide the context within which observation, hypothesis formation and testing, and data analysis on questions relating to the development, causation, function and evolution of animal communication will be investigated. Questions to be addressed include:

  • How do animals develop pattern recognition?
  • Are animals capable of deception and lying?
  • What channels are employed in communication?
  • What are the similarities and differences between human language and animal communication systems?

Students will explore the key concepts, such as sign stimuli, pattern recognition, adaptation, and creativity in animal communication.

Students develop a critical understanding of the fundamental assumptions and principles of the scientific method through readings, written assignments, student presentations and class discussions. Case studies will be used as the basis for much of the discussion in the course. The readings will be drawn from the primary literature on animal communication.

This seminar will meet the natural sciences & technology component of the Plattsburgh general education program

This seminar will meet in the Honors Center — Hawkins 121 Seminar Room A.

HON 182HA — Democracy & Education

  • Dr. Jean Ann Hunt
  • W 5–7:45
  • 3 Credits

Over the past few years American politics have been particularly nasty and ineffectual. At times it seemed to some of us that the foundations of our democracy itself are in jeopardy. And perhaps the question of the health of democratic institutions and processes remains in question. For those of us living in an academic community an even deeper question emerges from the recent political context. We may…and should…wonder… what is the connection between democracy and education?

“What the best and wisest parent wants for his or her own child, that must the community want for all of its children.” This statement made by John Dewey epitomizes the spirit of a democratic community. This seminar is designed to explore the connection(s) between democracy and education. Throughout the semester the work of the seminar will be guided by two broad questions:

What is democratic education? and Why is it important?

In pursuing these questions the seminar classroom offers unusual opportunities. As we learn about democracy and education we will also gain experience in democracy by constructing what we might call a democratic classroom. Such a classroom will be collaborative in nature with shared responsibility for contributing to the learning and teaching that will take place. We will in short be exploring democracy as a way of life, not merely as an event such as voting or as an abstract idea. To paraphrase Naomi Wolf, the democratic life is “…difficult, personally exacting and vanishingly fragile.” So the work in this seminar is intense and rigorous, but it will provide each student the opportunity to delve into an exploration of the fundamental purposes of education and what kind of classroom and schools we all want in our communities.

Students will write reflection papers in response to assigned readings. They will also construct a “time-ball” that focuses on significant life events and what was learned through those events. Finally, the seminar will develop a collaborative answer to the two fundamental questions of the seminar.

This seminar will satisfy the western civilization component of the Plattsburgh general education requirement.

This seminar will meet in the Honors Center — Hawkins 121 Seminar Room B.

HON 301HA — Global Politics and the Environment

  • Dr. Jeff Hornibrook
  • MW 3:30–4:45
  • 3 Credits

Note: Students must have sophomore or higher standing to enroll in this seminar.

This course examines several issues simultaneously and as various layers on the global and political stage. We begin by looking at the political and diplomatic institutions that affect decisions about every issue that may alter our lives. What global political structures exist to address economic, military and environmental issues that are central to our future and our planet’s survival? How do we address the economic aspirations of developing countries with the interests of countries that are already industrialized? This class will examine the answers presented by liberals and conservatives, hawks and doves, fiscal conservatives, supply-siders and liberal spenders, and from people who think globally as well as those who work locally.

Then we will quickly see how these policies address the most important environmental problems that threaten our Earth. For example, we can examine questions such as how do we address pollution in our rivers, oceans, and air in the context of the power of massive oil and fossil fuel companies? How does climate change affect military and diplomatic efforts of the world’s most powerful countries? How do we as citizens utilize local and global politics to bring about change in policies of war and peace as well as our determination for a better environment?

Students will read the works of “public intellectuals,” including Thomas L. Friedman, George Will, Naomi Klein, Paul Krugman, and Bill McKibben. These people write and talk about political and social issues of our day using language and analysis geared toward interested people around the world often writing in short, easy to follow, articles that can be quickly read and understood. Then, students will write several papers as they explore these writers and the issues they discuss. And seminar discussions will be evaluated in terms of student contributions to those discussions.

This seminar will satisfy the global issues component of the Plattsburgh general education program

This seminar will meet in the Honors Center — Hawkins 121 Seminar Room B.

HON 302HA — Social Justice — Local & Global

  • Dr. Lynda Ames
  • MW 11–12:15
  • 3 Credits

Note: Students must have sophomore or higher standing to enroll in this seminar.

During this semester, students will examine social justice issues in the United States and in the world. The focus will be on the global economy and its effects on individuals, institutions, and societies. The class will pay special attention to issues such as human rights, migration, trade, poverty, access to health care, and technology, and the ramifications of policies regarding political power, militarization, and the environment (e.g. the relationship between climate change and cultural injustice; the rise of nonviolence and political power).

Some of the readings will include selections from T. Brooks’ New Waves in Global Justice, Malala Yousafzai’s I am Malala, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, and Wesley Lowery’s They Can’t Kill Us All. Discussions, readings, and assignments will address the following guiding questions:

  • What is "social justice/injustice"? (Discussion of gender, class, race, sexuality, etc.)
  • How has globalization increased or decreased these injustices, if it has? (Discussion of water, jobs and wages, wealth, consumerism, political power)
  • How is war related to justice and injustice?
  • What are the social movements that seek to address injustice? Locally and globally. (Labor movements in US and globally; women’s movements, race equality movements, peace movements)
  • What can I (you) do individually and collectively to achieve social justice in the world?

We will finish with reviews of global resistance movements aiming to achieve social justice locally and/or globally.

Students will be asked to write responses to required readings, actively participate in class discussion, give class presentations, and write one essay exam. During finals week, students will meet to consider the following questions: “What is to be done?” and “Are we there yet?”

This seminar will satisfy the global issues component of the Plattsburgh general education program

This seminar will meet in the Honors Center — Hawkins 121 Seminar Room A.

HON 402HA – Gender, Sexuality & Politics in Middle East

  • Dr. Simona Sharoni
  • T 3:30–6:15
  • 3 Credits

This seminar will provide students with an overview of the key issues in the study of gender and sexuality in the Middle East. Students will engage in a critical examination of prevailing discourses, ideologies, and social practices of a variety of Middle-Eastern Societies. We will search for trends within these societies, while examining the political consequences of change. Special focus will be placed on social movements informed by feminist and queer perspectives. This seminar will employ engaged pedagogy and discussion based on reading and research. It is cross-listed with GWS390A. Students may petition for World Systems general education credit. Contact Dr. Church Guzzio

This seminar will satisfy the world systems (by petition) component of the Plattsburgh general education program.

This seminar will meet in the Honors Center — Hawkins 121 Seminar Room B.

Contact Information

If you would like more information about the honors program at SUNY Plattsburgh, please contact

Dr. Tracie Church Guzzio, Director
Email: guzziotc@plattsburgh.edu

Sandy Boulerice, Secretary
Email: sboul002@plattsburgh.edu

Office: Hawkins Hall 121–123
Phone: (518) 564-3075
Fax: (518) 564-3071