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Fall 2020 honr seminars

An HONR Seminar is a small, co-created, multidisciplinary, rigorous, enriched course that leverages a captivating topic to cultivate in talented students the critical reflection proficiency, intellectual and creative courage, and ethical awareness they will require in order to become impactful and responsible leaders in their fields.

HONR208P – Tolkein: Mythmaker
Ingrid Satelmajer

Ever wonder what the story is behind your favorite story? J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings has attracted a large audience and dedicated fandom since its 1954 publication. This course will consider Tolkien's masterwork within its context. How do Tolkien's other works and his sociopolitical environment help us better understand LOTR? In what ways did his friends, family, and life experiences factor into his creation? And how much do we care about context when we’re escaping into the world he created?

Our seminar also will consider how LOTR transcends its original context. Tolkien's stated aim for his fiction was to create a body of mythology for England, an extensive collection of stories about gods and heroes like the northern myths. How unique was his project; how did he succeed; and what other mythic worlds did he inspire? Can we call Tolkien a mythmaker for our time?

HONR209G – Elements of Drawing for Non-Majors
Matthew McLaughlin

Students must pay a $40.00 studio lab fee for this course.
This is a foundation level course on the theory and practice of drawing. Various traditional and non-traditional media techniques include line, painterly materials, color, digital photography, and collage. Theories and principles of composition, form, and space preside over the course. Subject matter and content vary, embracing still life, human form, complex interiors, and personal photography. The course also aims to improve discourse and critical thinking in drawing and art. While intended for non-majors, the curriculum prepares the student for further study in studio art if desired.

HONR218B Making a Difference: The Lives and Words of Leaders Who Shape Our Time
Kevin Klose

Ben Bradlee, The Washington Post’s crusading editor; Andrei Sakharov, father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb who won the Nobel Peace Prize; Joan Kroc, the heiress who gave a record-shattering $200 million bequest to NPR; Vaclav Havel, Czech playwright who emerged from prison to lead his country from Communist repression to parliamentary democracy. Want to know more about the lives and words of these fascinating luminaries? Take this seminar with Kevin Klose, prize-winning journalist and international media exec who knew these historic leaders, can tell you wonderful scenes from their remarkable lives, and will introduce you to new leaders who will visit your seminar and tell you of their efforts, successes, and setbacks.

HONR218L - Language and Mind
Andrea L. Zukowski

When Harry Potter ‘dies’, he has a conversation with Dumbledore, at the end of which he asks: “Professor, is this all real, or is it just happening inside my head?” Dumbledore responds “Of course it’s happening inside your head Harry. Why should that mean that it’s not real?” This seminar is intended to acquaint you with a very real system that only exists inside our heads: language. We will explore what this astonishing mental system looks like. From vision science, and visual illusions, we know that “what you see is what you get” is often wrong: the things that fall on your retina do not determine the visual percept that you experience. You will find that there are many parallels to this in language.

HONR218M – Elements of Music Composition for Non-Majors
William C. Evans

Have you always wanted to write and record a hit song? Want to write an arrangement for your acapella group or instrumental group of your favorite song? Are you curious how composers and songwriters put it all together! Work with the latest computer music software to compose your own masterpiece in HONR218M. Each class is a musical laboratory featuring state of the art computer music hardware and software. Study the form and analysis of famous composers to build your own palate of musical colors.

HONR218T – Political Theater: On Stage and in Washington
Nelson Pressley

Note: This seminar may have a fee of up to $40.
“Should the theater be political? Absolutely not.” That declaration from U.S. playwright David Mamet sums up much of the perplexing anti-political prejudice on the American stage – a stance that artists are now wrestling to change. How can theater effectively respond to social events? Can playwrights still attack through fiction, as Arthur Miller confronted McCarthyism via The Crucible? This seminar will examine the shifting patterns of political theater, and will study the latest practices by attending several live professional shows in Washington, where theaters are increasingly mindful of the platforms they have, mere blocks from the White House and Capitol Hill. No previous experience with theater required.

HONR 218V- Disability Culture and Life Narratives
Jessica Diaz McKechnie

Let’s talk about disability. What does it mean? How has society’s view of disability evolved? What is disability culture? This course examines these questions through the psychosocial and cultural history of disability through life narratives and real-world exploration. We will trace the history of perspectives on disability, examining disability identity and culture, issues such as race, class, gender, as well as the intersections of identities in disability. We will use a cultural lens to understand the evolution of attitudes toward disability in American society, and critically evaluate contemporary social, political, and theoretical perspectives on disability.

HONR229Q – Making Decisions in an Uncertain World
Michael Fu

The process of making decisions in a setting where outcomes are uncertain is clearly critical for everything from managing a business to formulating public policies to personal life decisions such as choosing a major. In this seminar, we will explore the entire decision-making process, starting with problem formulation and choosing objectives and performance metrics/criteria to modeling and analysis tools such as decision trees, optimization (e.g., linear programming), Monte Carlo simulation, game theory, and behavioral economics topics such as prospect theory.

HONR238C – The Future of Energy and Climate Policy
Tyson Slocum

This course brings the Washington, DC policy debate of the future of U.S. energy and climate policy into the College Park classroom. The course reveals far more than what you read in the news, offering students an up-close-and-personal tour of the people and strategies that shape how and why Congress and the President promote their energy and climate initiatives. Students will learn first-hand the behind-the-scenes fights between different competing special interests that shape our legislative and regulatory energy and climate policy outcomes, as the semester will feature numerous DC policy experts who work on the front lines of these high-profile fights. The class explores different grassroots, media and lobbying strategies that organizations utilize to influence the positions that Congress and the Executive Branch take on energy and climate policy. The course also introduces students to the difference between the academic analysis of various energy policy reforms—such as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations to address climate change—and the ways in which well-funded advocacy groups shape the public’s (and lawmakers’) perception of these programs.

HONR238R – Terrorism
Howard Smead

Manchester Arena. Pulse in Orlando. Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Fort Hood. Mumbai. San Bernardino. Hebron. Oklahoma City. Beirut. Tokyo. Political and religious fanatics, suicide bombers, mass murder, fear of flying, fear of foreigners, fear of public places. Welcome to the world of modern terrorism. No part of the world is immune, no humans are safe. Terrorism is a shared nightmare. This course explores this global phenomenon, its nature, causes and consequences. The subject matter might not be for everyone, but it is for those determined to understand this vast, complex problem and how to fight it.

HONR248J – A Most Human Nation
Ingrid Satelmajer

Note: Students who have taken HHUM 205 should contact the instructor for permission.
What does it mean to be represented in the national capital? This course examines the history of Washington, D.C. through written and visual portraits of national leaders and ordinary Americans. What is lost and gained when your likeness is “taken”? How important is it for portraits to be “real”? Human and civil rights struggles; virtual reality in an era of globalization, balkanization, and digital technology; surveillance and privacy rights; and concerns about the human habitation of the city all will be covered.

HONR248V – Music and Poetry: Sound and Sense
Robert Gibson

Why do the arts express meaning in a way that is frequently described by using language that reflects our physical experience in the world? For instance, we talk about melodies that rise and fall as if they were subject to the force of gravity, or about certain aspects of poetry as if poets were singers. In other words, we use metaphor to relate the ineffable qualities of music and poetry to our physical experience in the world. This course will explore the use of metaphor in music and poetry by using another metaphor—“translation”—to reveal commonalities in the way movement, time, space, texture and other perspectives are expressed in art. The primary assignment in the course will be to keep a journal for half of the semester, collecting metaphors you encounter in the world and finding poems and music (of any style) that make use of these metaphors. The final project will be to compile a select mini-anthology of the poems and music that you collect and provide commentary on the connections you find between pairs (a musical work and a poem) of works.

HONR249D – How Can We Study Environmental Problems?
Dana Fisher

Since most environmental issues are actually caused by humans and their societies, this course helps students answer the question: how do we study environmental problems? It introduces students to the social scientific toolbox that is available for doing research on environmental issues. During the course of the semester, students will learn how to ask their own research questions and will then conduct individual studies to answer their questions. Readings will present case studies of environmental protest, climate politics (at the local and transnational levels), and urban stewardship.

HONR258E – Creating the Future through Systemic Thinking and Design
Gerald Suarez

What makes the task of envisioning and creating a desirable future so difficult is the gap we impose between our thoughts and our actions. We create barriers to change because to shape our future, to take control of it, means to take on activities that require purposeful action. How, then, do we overcome these obstacles? Through this engaging and highly experiential course, students learn about a process called idealized design. The methodology is simple, but the implications are profound. Students will engage in a cycle of activities that begins with the mental creation of an idealized future and ends with its realization. Students will uncover and examine assumptions, explore innovative possibilities, engage in problem dissolution, use design thinking tools, assess implications and unintended consequences, and apply frameworks to “dig deep” for answers on how to influence the future. In this course, students will not be passive observers of the future but purposeful designers of the future they wish to pursue.

HONR258O – The Kinesiological Bases of Skilled Performance
Seppo Iso-Ahola

Learning a motor skill may seem like child’s play, but as this course will explore, the learning and performance of motor skills is a complex human endeavor. Using golf as a focal sport, we’ll consider the following questions and issues: How is it that the human nervous system with billions of neurons, a musculoskeletal system of more than 200 bones, 100 moveable joints and over a thousand muscles is able to marshal itself to swing a long stick with a very small striking surface (i.e., a golf club) to contact a small ball and send it 200 yards? Every performer’s goal is to be able to repeat a movement consistently over and over, yet we often fail. Doing well at one time and poorly on the next attempt. Why? How does the human brain process movements consciously and non-consciously? Why is that we often “choke” under pressure? Motor and sport performance is not just an individual matter but also a societal issue. Do sports reflect and mirror society at large? Is there gender, race, and disability discrimination in sports? Why do certain sports have philosophical and spiritual meaning for many people? Students will also have hands-on experience learning motor skills by practicing golf.

HONR259C – Fearfully Great Lizards: Topics in Dinosaur Research
Thomas Holtz

Since their discovery in the early 19th Century, dinosaurs have fascinated both the scientific community and the general public. Alternatively, the exemplars of power and adaptation or obsolesce and failure, the members of Dinosauria have been the best known of Life’s ancient past to the world at large. But how do we know about them? How can we reconstruct their anatomy, their behavior, their evolution, and their extinction? And how can knowledge of these ancient animals help us understand the contemporary world? This Honors Seminar will focus on the nature of that understanding. Students in the program will examine the science behind dinosaur paleontology: how data derived from fossils are used to reveal the life and habits of these animals.

HONR259G – Fairness, Inequality, and Democracy
Allan Drazen

This course focuses on analyzing questions and formulating answers to issues of fairness. This course is meant to challenge you to think about and re-evaluate crucial ideas and concepts. We consider basic concepts of selfishness, fairness, and justice – philosophically, economically, and politically, as well as trade-offs or costs in achieving fairness. Some key questions are: What is “Fair”? How do we decide? What makes an economic or political system “fair” or “unfair”? Is inequality in income and wealth unfair or a necessary part of a functioning market economy? Is rising economic inequality inevitable? What is the relation between economic inequality and political inequality? What should be done to make things “fairer”? As a result of successfully completing this course, you will be better equipped to articulate the reasoning behind your opinions on issues important in society.

HONR268N – Cracking the Secrets of the Universe Using Computers: Re-discovering the Higgs and Searching for Invisible
Shabnam Jabeen and Sarah Eno

This course is part of a two-semester Honors research seminar. Part two of this series will be offered in the Spring 2020 Semester. For more information about the course, please visit For permission to enroll, please contact Dr. Shabnam Jabeen at
Albert Einstein once said, “I would like to know that moon exists even when I am not looking at it.” This quote was in response to a well-known theory that describes, at the atomic level, almost everything that we observe in everyday life. Part of this theory describes the presence of a sub-atomic particle that exists in the whole universe and is considered to be responsible for giving mass to all the particles that it interacts with. This particle was just an idea until 2012, when we finally discovered it at one of the largest and most complex experiments ever built—the Large Hadron Collider. This course takes you on a journey to relive this discovery. Along the way, you learn fundamental physics and the basic tools needed to contribute to experimental or theoretical frontier research in any computationally intensive field. You will learn kinematics, relativity, the standard model of forces and particles, theories of new particles and forces, particle interactions with matter, Linux, C++ and computational tools useful for frontier physics research.

HONR 269E – Exploring Key Issues of Globalization
Dorith Grant-Wisdom

What is Globalization? Is it a new phenomenon, or does it have a longer lineage? What factors should we consider when we think and act globally? Why does globalization mean different things to different people? Why are there winners and losers? Why do some support it while others engage in resistance? And what does resistance against globalization looks like? This course responds to these burning questions as students interrogate the view that globalization relates as much to a way of thinking as it does to a description of the dynamics of political, economic, social and cultural relations and changes. Students will decide what it all means for themselves as they examine the opportunities and challenges that globalization poses to individuals and collectives at the levels of the state, class, gender and race.

HONR269T – Understanding U.S. Foreign Policy toward Afghanistan
Tim Nusraty

This is a Global Classroom course. There will be approximately 3 to 4 classes where this course will meet on a Saturday or Sunday morning for videoconferencing with students in Kabul, Afghanistan instead of meeting at its normal weekly time on Thursday nights (exact dates and times are TBA).
In this Global Classroom, Honors College students at UMD and students at the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul will examine the history of Afghanistan, its political figures, and the empires that attempted to rule the country. Students will also learn about Afghanistan’s turbulent modern history, including the Soviet occupation, the Afghan civil war, and the Taliban era. Students will then analyze the U.S. foreign policy decisions that followed the events of September 11, 2001. This includes key policy decisions such as how the country should be governed, the selection of Afghanistan’s leader, the role and mission of the international community, the adoption of a new Constitution, and the establishment of a new democratic system of government.

HONR269V – Virus Hunting: Emerging Diseases, Social Controversies and Nano-Technologies
James Culver

The term virus invokes visions of sickness, disease and death. But viruses are much more than harbingers of plague; they are an integral part of our environment, present in the air we breathe, the food we eat and in you. In addition, virus studies have impacted social controversies including the vaccine-autism connection and the development and use of genetic engineering. Furthermore, viruses represent remarkable biological nano-machines that are currently being used to produce energy active materials and deliver life-saving drugs. This seminar will explore viruses, their biology and their impact on society. Specific topics will include: 1, viral infectious diseases, their history, epidemiology and control (from the 1918 Spanish flu to the AIDS, Ebola and Zika crises); 2, the role of virus studies in social controversies (vaccine use and genetic therapies); 3, viruses in our genomes and in our environment (agents of evolution, cancer and as beneficial symbionts); 4, the impact of viruses in the development of modern science and nanotechnology (from scientific theory to DNA origami).

HONR278D – National Security Dilemmas
Daniel Rosenthal

A young lawyer at the CIA wakes with a jolt to a call on her cell phone. It’s 2 a.m., and Langley is calling. Something about a newspaper. She rushes out of her apartment and speeds to headquarters. Once at CIA Headquarters, she discovers that a New York Times reporter has learned about an undercover CIA informant in Syria providing crucial intelligence about the leadership of an international terrorist organization. But the asset has a dirty past: Before choosing to cooperate with the CIA, he had killed dozens of Westerners–and four Americans. The Agency is working with a terrorist who has American blood on his hands, and the Times thinks that the public has a right to know. But the story also contains top secret details that could help identify the asset, which if exposed would surely lead to the murder of the asset, thus eliminating a valuable source of intelligence for the U.S. government about the international terrorist organization, and discouraging others in the future from cooperating. National security is on the line. The life of the CIA informant hangs in the balance. The young lawyer is tasked with talking the reporter down. What arguments should she make? What questions should she ask? And what can be done, if anything, to stop the New York Times from publishing. Take this class to find out.

HONR278G – Exploring How Foreign Policy Is Developed
Tim Nusraty

Developing foreign policy is a delicate and complicated matter. How does one walk this tightrope and shape the policies that govern U.S. international relations? This seminar will offer students a window into this process, focusing on the role played by the National Security Council in formulating, coordinating and implementing foreign policy. The seminar will begin by exploring the history of the Council, including the events leading up to its creation and the underlying law that established the Council. As part of this historical review, students will also examine the evolution of the National Security Council and the varying degree of influence it wielded under different administrations. Against this backdrop, students will then conduct a case study of some of the key foreign policy issues over the past 20 years in order to gain a better understanding of the National Security Council’s decision-making process.

HONR278Z – The Philosophy and Practice of Yoga
Susan Dwyer

Approximately 36 million Americans participate in yoga, spending over $16 billion on yoga classes, accessories, and clothing each year. And, all manner of “types” of yoga are on offer, from Power Yoga to Vinyasa to Hot Yoga. But what does any of this have to do with Yoga, one of six great darśanas of Hindu Philosophy? Not all that much, as it turns out. At its heart, Yoga is a practical philosophy, weaving together abstract ideas about the nature of self and consciousness with guidance on how to lead an ethical life of meaning. Tuesday’s class will take a relatively traditional seminar form, during which we shall closely study two primary texts (Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gītā) along with contemporary and more recent philosophical commentary. Thursday’s class will be devoted to asana practice (the physical form of yoga you might be most familiar with). You will need your own yoga mat and at least one (ideally, two) yoga blocks. In addition, please give careful consideration to timing before you register for this course: you will not be admitted to asana practice if you are late and you may not leave asana practice before 10:45am.

HONR 279M – How Does the Brain Speak? Insight from Neuroimaging and Brain Damage
Yasmeen Shah

We speak at an average rate of 200 words per minute! An amazing number of processes occur when we speak: conceptualizing what to say, selecting the words that convey our ideas, selecting the tone of the message, constructing grammatical sentences, uttering the sounds that make up the sentences, and so on. How do our brains enable us to speak creatively at such a rapid rate? And how did we find out about neural operations involved in speaking? This course uses a multidisciplinary approach to address these issues, drawing from neuroscience, brain imaging, psycholinguistics, speech pathology and cognitive neuropsychology.


HONR288O – Why Do Things Fail?
Kevin Calabro

Note: This course is open only to non-engineering majors. High school math and science are adequate for understanding of the material.
Why did the Silver Bridge between Ohio and West Virginia collapse on Christmas Eve, 1967? What caused the top of an Aloha Airlines flight to rupture, creating a convertible airplane? How do these kinds of massive structural damage occur, and how might we prevent them? This course will introduce students to topics of stress and strain and their importance in determining the safety and reliability of engineering structures. Some of the major structural failures worldwide will be identified and researched as to the circumstances leading up to the failures. Reasons for failures will be investigated and are expected to include engineering, social, political, ethical, and economic explanations. Other possible failures to be researched and analyzed would be the collapse of a walkway in Kansas City, the failure of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington, the collapse of a bridge on Interstate 95 in Connecticut, and the collapse of the Twin Towers in New York after 911. Students in the seminar will determine the exact cases to be explored. Students will frequently test materials in the laboratory to better understand different types of failure that can occur and to try to better understand what can be done to prevent these failures. Testing machines in the J. M. Patterson Building will be used for the laboratory component of the work.

HONR289A – The Ecology & Evolutionary Biology of Infectious Disease
Tammatha O'Brien & Marcia A. Shofner

When and where do epidemics begin? How can they lead to a pandemic? How can we prolong the efficacy of medications such as antibiotics? Will drug resistance overwhelm our capacity to discover new lifesaving medicines. How do we adapt to the pressures posed by infectious organisms? What evolutionary tricks do these pathogens have up their sleeves, and how do we keep up? This course takes a deep dive into the evolutionary biology of infectious disease, seeking answers and building competencies in reading original scientific papers. There's no textbook. Instead, we will use current selected readings to build our own understanding and pose new questions. Come with an open and critical mind, ready to read, ready to seek out your own sources of evidence inspiration, and ready to hone your skills at writing.

HONR299A – The Visual Culture of Europe in the “Age of Exploration”
Aneta Georgievska-Shine

Some of the most fascinating developments in the European visual culture are associated with the so-called “Age of Exploration,” a period stretching from the early 15th to the early 17th century. As Europeans embarked on various travels around the world in search of new trading routes, they encountered numerous lands, peoples, and cultures they had never imagined.

In this course, we look at some of the reflections of these encounters in the visual arts and the material culture of the period – from the growth of private collections of wonders, to works of art that express spiritual dilemmas arising from the recognition that the world as the Europeans had known it was gone forever.

HONR299F – Financial Crises: The Foundation of Global Tension
Behzad Gohari
The global financial crisis of 2008 was a watershed moment in American history as the country experienced its worst crisis since the Great Depression. This class will track the factors leading up to this market meltdown and place it within a larger historical context of previous financial crises. In doing so, we will see how financial crises often serve as mechanisms of shock to societal structures that lead to political movements, wars, and massive social change. Then, after studying these past circumstances, we will simulate a hypothetical financial crisis to more fully understand how these economic upheavals impact various stakeholders. Working in teams, students will play the roles of central banks, large market players, government regulators, legislatures and government executives during the run-up to and unfolding of a crisis, putting into practice the lessons learned from the past.

HONR299G – Revolution, Regret, and Reform: The People and Principles of the American Political Tradition
Robert Chiles

“You may not be interested in the state, but the state is interested in you,” noted the eminent American historian William Leuchtenburg in encouraging a revival of political history. Indeed, political history provides a comprehensive window into society: it is fundamentally interested in the interaction of social, economic, cultural, demographic, technological, and ideological developments with institutional and structural forces. This course explores American political history from Independence through the present day. It interrogates the roots of American political ideas, the dynamics of partisan competition, the interaction of class, ethnicity, race, and politics, the evolution of policy preferences, the growth of the state, and the transformation of rank-and- file expectations and ambitions, among other important themes. By exploring the writings of major figures (from Jefferson to Lincoln, Roosevelt to Reagan) as well as the preferences of anonymous voters—and everyone in between, this course will help students identify the overarching themes and the important forgotten moments in our nation’s political development. Students will end the semester armed with a mastery of this history, an understanding of the methods of political historians and scholars in related fields, and a contextualization of our contemporary political world.

HONR299H – Cutting Edge Science: Understanding Current Scientific Issues
Boualem Hammouda
“What is an exoplanet?” “What causes global warming?” “How does gene therapy work?” Scientific terms and topics appear all the time in contemporary news coverage, but what do they really mean, and why are they important? This course aims to clarify some of these ideas, and its main objective is to familiarize non-science majors with the most important and cutting-edge scientific issues today.

HONR348J – Contemporary Social Issues
Howard Smead

A standoff between armed Americans and law enforcement in Oregon, mass marches about a war that ended in 1865. Senators and Congressmen who won’t speak to one another. Leaders who demonstrate little regard for truth or decent behavior. Media outlets that slant or alter the news. Enormous wealth, degrading poverty. Hatred of government, fear of foreigners, contempt for education. Censorship on college campuses, exhibitionism, mass murder, and over-stuffed jails, poor health care despite the most advanced medical science in the world. What’s going on here? Is this the price of freedom? The end of civil society? We are a nation deeply polarized on almost all pressing issues: from abortion to civil rights; from guns to privacy, from race to gender to ethnicity, from the way we worship (or choose not to) to where we live. Come join the discussion where we explore the hot-button issues plaguing our nation in an attempt to answer this question: Why have we become a nation at war with itself, at loggerheads over what the country stands for and where it is headed?

HONR368A – MGA Legislative Seminar
Thomas Lowderbaugh

The Maryland General Assembly Program, limited to 15 students, places interns with legislators in Annapolis during the 90-day spring legislative session which begins in early January and ends in early April (six credits of HONR 379W). HONR 368A writing seminar prepares students for this internship.