Fall 2011 Ideas in Honors First-year Seminars

Prerequisites & Distribution:

First-year standing in the Honors Program, (1) (Excl). May not be repeated for credit.  Offered mandatory credit/no credit.

HONORS 135 is a mini-course intended for first-year Honors students. All sections are taught by Honors seniors, and are intended to introduce students who are just beginning their academic careers to the vast array of academic possibilities in the College and the University. Honors seniors, in collaboration with the Honors Program, will guide first-year students on a journey which will open their eyes to the importance of scholarship and research in an area of the seminar leader's expertise. All sections will be motivated by one common question: "Why does it matter?" The seniors who lead the courses have worked their way through preliminary courses and College requirements and have arrived, as Honors concentrators, at a point where they are conducting original research and writing Honors theses. Thus they can share their enthusiasm and experience with their students and mentor their progress in small seminar-style discussions.

Please note: HONORS 135 does not count towards the 8 Honors courses a student needs for the Sophomore Honors Award. Honors courses must have three or more credits. Grading is credit/no credit.  These courses are available to first-year Honors students ONLY.


HONORS 135- Ideas in Honors

Section 001

Thursdays 4-5pm

Meets September 22, 29, October 6, 13, 20, 27, November 3, 10, 17, December 1

Instructor: Jonathan Jones (jonajone)                                                  


Cannabis, or the ‘Insidious Weed’: Marijuana and the Battle for America’s Youth in Politics, Medicine, and Culture, 1920s-1970s

In this course, students will investigate the fascinating history of shifting American political, scientific, and cultural attitudes primarily towards youth usage of a single, naturally occurring substance—cannabis, marijuana, or if you prefer, weed.   Students will begin their exploration of the history of marijuana use by youth in the U.S. in the 1920s, when the drug first came under scrutiny and taxation by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and end their journey in the mid 1970s, when states such as Oregon decriminalized the substance.  Along the way, we will also be observing how forms of music, political discourse, and a variety of primary and secondary sources defined shifting relationships between marijuana use and ‘youth’ culture.  Coming out of this course, students will have gained a valuable understanding of how our current attitudes towards this substance developed over the past century, and how they could perhaps change in the future!  No prior history courses are required.   Weekly readings, participation in class discussions, and a final project will comprise the means by which the instructor will grade students. 



HONORS 135- Ideas in Honors

Section 002

Tuesdays 5-6pm

Meets September 13, 20, 27, October 4, 11, 25, November 1, 15, 22

Instructor: Kerith Asma (Kerith)                                                          


What Good are Stories?

“What’s the use of stories that aren’t even true?” For that matter, what’s the use of stories that are true? Why do we write, read, and tell stories?

This course will approach the myriad uses of stories by examining several metastories: stories that talk about the value of stories. We will discuss how these stories function within the framework of the text, and within our own realities, looking at different purposes that stories might serve. The course will be primarily discussion based, with one final paper.

Readings will include traditional frame tales, such as excerpts from The 1001 Nights, two novels, Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories and Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, and a film by Tarsem, The Fall. In addition, we will delve into the world of popular media, examining news, YouTube clips, and Facebook as means of telling stories. 


HONORS 135- Ideas in Honors

Section 003

Wednesdays 2:30-4pm

Meets September 14, 21, 28, October 5, 12, 26, November 2, 9, 16

Instructor: Anna Mickols (amickols)                                                  


Displaying Humanity: How People are Portrayed in Museum Contexts


            What’s the difference between an exhibit on life during the Mesozoic and one on the history of Native Americans in Michigan?  Should these two exhibits be housed under the same roof, using the same display techniques?  What kind of message would that send to both visitors and the communities which these displays represent?  In this course, students will make use of their diverse first-hand experiences in museums to examine critically the different ways in which these institutions portray and educate the public about different ethnicities, religions and genders, and how these techniques often reflect the colonialist origins of many museum collections.

            Weekly meetings will be discussion-based and include trips to museums on campus, where students will have a chance to speak with museum professionals and get a behind-the-scenes look at museum work.  In order to receive credit for this course, students must attend  class and field trips, participate in discussion, and submit a final 3-5 page comparative paper.    There will be one optional off-campus day trip to either the Arab American Museum in Dearborn or the Ziibiwing Center in Mount Pleasant, depending on student interest and availability.



HONORS 135- Ideas in Honors

Section 004

Thursdays 4-5pm

Meets September 15, 22, 29, October 6, 13, 20, 27, November 3, 10

Instructor: Seth Soderborg (sethns)                                                     


The Tea Party in American Politics


A stock trader’s 2009 rant gave the name “Tea Party” to the most talked-about force in American politics today. But what is it, really? Some have called the Tea Party a mass uprising against the Democratic Party; others claim that the party is a well-financed fringe operation masquerading as a grassroots movement. In this course we will explore what the rise of this bellicose movement can teach us about politics in the United States.

We will begin by asking what the Tea Party stands for, who supports it, and what motivates them. We will then consider the history of right-wing populist movements to ask how they might (or might not) be related to the Tea Party. After examining the ways in which national politics have changed over the past fifty years, we will explore what the moment means for the future of the Republican Party and the country as a whole.

All political perspectives are welcome; a broad range of opinions will improve the quality and rigor of class discussions. Short weekly reading assignments are drawn from popular magazine articles and book chapters. Come ready to make your voice heard.



HONORS 135- Ideas in Honors

Section 005

Wednesdays 4-5pm

Meets September 14, 21, 28, October 5, 12, 19, 26, November 2, 9, 16

Instructor: Andrew Brown (andrewdb)                                              

Saints and Sex: Understanding Religious Rhetoric about Sexuality

People often think religion and sexuality are in conflict with one another.  Whether the topic is premarital sex, homosexuality, contraception, or abortion, many modern religions have much to say about sexuality, oftentimes critiquing popular viewpoints in western society.  In this mini course, we will explore this perceived tension by examining religious rhetoric about sexuality. The terms “religion” and “sexuality” are deceptively simple: social scientists have shown that defining them is actually quite difficult, if not impossible.  How can we claim that two concepts are in conflict when we cannot even accurately define them?

One way to better understand the categories of religion and sexuality is through the concept of social construction.  This mini course will start with a general discussion that explores the definition of a social construction and its implications. Next, we will read some scholarship that explores the idea of viewing both religion and sexuality as social constructions.  We will look at Catholic rhetoric on homosexuality as a specific case study to further understand how social construction theory can help us to better understand religious debates about sexuality. 

Students will be expected to do assigned readings and actively participate in class discussions.  Please note that students of all spiritual backgrounds (or lack thereof) are encouraged to take this course.  All class discussions, while serious and sometimes critical, will be respectful of all religious beliefs and customs.  To conclude the course, students will choose an intersection of religion and sexuality that interests them and analyze it through the lens of social constructionism in a short paper.



HONORS 135- Ideas in Honors

Section 006

Mondays 12:00-1:00pm

Meets September 12, 19, 26, October 3, 10, 24, 31, November 7, 14, 21, 28, December 5

Instructor: Robin Czerwinski (robincz)                                             


The National Parks—America’s Best Idea?


The National Parks have been hailed in Ken Burns’ recent documentary as “America’s Best Idea.”  But what role do our National Parks really serve?  Are they simply lands of natural beauty—such as Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon—that have been set aside to prevent developers from paving them over, or is there more to it?


This course will examine the mission of the United States National Park Service (NPS) to see how well it is carrying out its intended purpose.  We will look at the best of our National Parks in Ken Burns’ film as well as some failures of the NPS, such as the former Fossil Cycads National Monument and the preservation (or lack thereof) of artifacts.  We will then focus our attention on the controversial formation of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.  Towards the end of the semester, we will broaden our horizons and look at the role of National Parks in the formation of international Peace Parks both here and abroad and compare them to community-based conservation efforts worldwide.


Students of all majors and backgrounds with an interest in the role and impacts of National Parks are encouraged to enroll.  Course requirements include an enjoyable amount of weekly reading, film viewings, class participation, and brief student presentations in the last week of class.  This course may include a weekend field trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.


HONORS 135- Ideas in Honors

Section 007

Mondays 3-4pm

Meets September 12, 19, 26, October 3, 10, 24, 31, November 7, 14, 21

Instructor: Gabe Moss (gwmoss)                                                       




            This course will explore the diverse ways in which humanity remembers and records its past, taking the 1st Century BCE collapse of the Roman Republic as the chronological and geographic focus of its study.  We will work with histories both ancient and modern, examining memories of the Republic’s fall encapsulated in text, marble, and film.  While students will develop an understanding of how and why the Republic fell in the process of working with these sources, greater emphasis will be placed on historiography, on determining the biases and motivations that inspire and constrain the creators of recorded history.  By the end of this course, students will have developed an understanding of how history is conceived and crafted, and an admiration for the complexities of the historical record that is invaluable to any observer of the past.



HONORS 135- Ideas in Honors

Section 008

Wednesdays 5:00-6:00pm

Meets September 14, 21, 28, October 5, 12, 19, 26, November 2, 9

Instructor: Sherry Shen (shensh)                                                           


Abstain, Be Faithful, and Use a Condom: the Ugandan HIV/AIDS Campaign


            Over 33 million people worldwide are currently living with HIV/AIDS, and infections continue to spread at alarming rates. How did this epidemic start, and how has it spread so quickly to all corners of the globe? What is the basic biology behind the HIV virus and how does it infect the body? How are national governments and the United Nations responding to this crisis, and in which particular cases have they been successful?

            After establishing solid background knowledge about the HIV/AIDS epidemic, this course will focus on developmental strategies being employed to alleviate the epidemic. In particular, we will examine the strategy of the Ugandan government in the 1990s with the ABC campaign: “Abstain, Be faithful, use a Condom.” After implementing this program, Uganda became the first African nation to see a decline in annual infection rates, and the program became the model across Africa. However, Uganda has also become heavily dependent on the Global Fund and U.S. aid. This class will analyze why the ABC campaign saw so much success in the prevention of HIV infections in Uganda, and what problems have arisen over the past decade. Since the Ugandan campaign has been the topic of widespread controversy, the class will end with a discussion about the politics and ethics of HIV/AIDS: who should pay for medication and care provided for those living in poverty? What type of education about prevention should be promoted – abstinence or condom use?

            A background in science is not required for this course. Students will be expected to complete short readings for each class, participate actively in discussion, and complete a final project.



HONORS 135- Ideas in Honors

Section 009

Mondays 4-5pm

Meets September 12, 19, 26, October 3, 10, 24, 31, November 7, 14

Instructor: Maggie Cease (mcease)                                                      


Our Malleable Memories: How we mentally shape our experiences


In 1992, a cargo jet crashed into a block of Amsterdam apartment buildings after its engines caught fire. Not even one year later, more than half of a random sample of the Dutch population remembered watching the crash on TV, and could recall such details as the speed and angle of the plane’s descent. Why are these results remarkable? There was no video recording of the crash. What the majority of participants had identified as a memory was in reality a mere illusion born out of written descriptions and photos.

Until recently, memories were thought of as being similar to dried concrete: completely formed, and unlikely to change. However, recent research suggests that memories are anything but stable, and that their malleability has great consequences. These consequences range from flawed eyewitness testimonies to inaccurate evaluations of our own thoughts and feelings. Together we will explore key questions from diverse psychological disciplines.  These include:

  • Do we alter our memories just by remembering them? If so, how much of our memory is accurate?
  • How is memory linked to imagination, and what is the impact of memory loss on creative thought?
  • How does memory of a “near miss” situation, such as a silver medalist almost winning gold, affect sense of success? Why do bronze medalists tend to be happier with their performance than silver medalists?


Readings will include original research articles as well as excerpts from popular books and films. All course materials will be made available on CTools.


HONORS 135- Ideas in Honors

Section 010

Mondays 4-5pm

Meets September 12, 19, 26, October 3, 10, 24, November 7, 14, 21, 28, December 5

Instructor: Naomi Scheinerman                                                          


Commodification of the Human Body: The Ethics and Politics of Selling Ourselves


Would you like one of my kidneys? How about my brain? Can I have a house cleaning business? How about a sexual favors business? What’s the difference between the two?


Commodification is the process of turning something into or treating as a commodity. When you sell your books at Michigan Book and Supply, you commodify your books. But selling your books does not raise too many moral eyebrows. What about your eggs or sperm? What does it mean to commodify the human body and what are the ethical limitations and/or the ethical imperatives of selling different parts or services of our bodies? Equally as important, what should be the role of government in regulating commodification?


The ethical discussion of commodifying the human body will examine the morality of commodifying actions, through discussions of dignity, self-determination, freedom, utilitarianism, universalism, culturalism, altruism, and duty and obligation. The political discussion entails analyzing the role of laws and government oversight: whether they should limit, allow, encourage, or require commodification, using theories including liberalism, conservatism, and distributive justice. This dynamic and engaging seminar will explore the ethics and politics of slavery and labor, prostitution and modeling, human organ trade, surrogate motherhood, and the sale of human blood, eggs, and sperm.