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Honors Colloquia - Spring 2017

Click on a course name to read a description.

Course Name
Course Number/Section
Reading List
The Search for Knowledge & the Problem of Certainty
HONS 2011H/01 To be posted
"The Good War": Representations of the Spanish Civil War in Literature, Film, and Art
HONS 201J/01
  1. Cercas, Javier. Soldiers of Salamis. New York: Bloomsbury, 2004.
  2. Sender, Ramon J. Requiem for a Spanish Peasant. Oxford: Aris & Phillips, 2007.
  3. Tejera, Nivaria. The Ravine.Trans. Carol Maier. Albany: SUNY Press, 2007.
  4. Orwell. George. Homage to Catalonia. Boston: Mariner Books, 1980.
The Silk Road
HONS2011T /01
  1. Liu, Xinru. The Silk Road in World History (Oxford, 2010). ISBN-13: 978-0195338102
  2. ----. The Silk Roads: A Brief History with Documents (Bedford, 2012). ISBN-13: 978-0312475512
  3. Whitfield, Roderick et al. Cave Temples of Mogao: Art and History on the Silk Road. Second edition (Getty, 2015). ISBN-13: 978-1606064450
  4. Whitfield, Susan. Life Along the Silk Road. Second Edition (University of California, 2015). ISBN-13: 978-0520280595
The Experience of War: Moral Transformation, Injury, and Repair
HONS 2011V/01
  1. Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo
  2. Epictetus, The Handbook
  3. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics
  5. Phil Klay, Redeployment
  6. Nancy Sherman, Afterwar
  7. Jonathan Shay, Achilles in Vietnam
Evidence and Inference HONS 3011F/01 To be posted
Cross-currents in the 20th Century Avant-Garde
HONS 3011K/01
  1. Andre Breton, Nadja.  Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Grove, 1960.  ISBN: 0802150268
  2. Aime Cesaire.  Notebook of a Return to the Native Land.  Trans. Annette Smith and Clayton Eshelman. Middletown: Wesleyan UP, 2001.  ISBN: 0819564524
  3. Gertrude Stein.  Tender Buttons. Ed. Seth Perlow. San Francisco: City Lights, 2014.  ISBN: 978-0-87286-635-5
  4. Djuna Barnes.  Nightwood. New York: New Directions, 2006.  ISBN: 978-0-8112-1671-5
  5. Susan Howe.  Singularities.  Mioddletown: Wesleyan UP, 1990.  0-8195-2192-2
  6. Claudia Rankine.  Citizen.  Minneapolis: Graywolf, 2014.  ISBN: 978-1555976903
Class packet available provided for free at the beginning of the semester.
Revelation: East and Near East HONS 3011L/01 To be posted
Interdisciplinary Independent Study HONS 30199/01 TBD
Advanced Interdisciplinary Study HONS 49151/01 TBD


All course materials can be purchased at Shakespeare & Co. Booksellers, located at 939 Lexington Avenue.

Course Descriptions

The Search for Knowledge & the Problem of Certainty

Professor Spiro Alexandratos (Chemistry)


HONS 2011H
Mondays and Thursdays; 1:10-2:25 p.m.
Room 412 West
3 hours, 3 credits


Reality is a concept that has been the focus of philosophers and scientists. What is reality? Is what we observe exactly as we see it? The problem of defining Reality is tied to the search for knowledge. From the earliest times, we asked "Ti esti?" (What exists?), then "How do you know?" followed by "Are you certain?"

This course explores philosophical and scientific views of reality and how we approach the question of knowledge in the Western tradition from antiquity to the present.

We begin at the beginning, with the pre-Socratic philosophers, then, in a seamless arc, proceed to the search from the perspective of scientists in modern times.

Course objective: to understand what it means to know; to know Reality; and whether we can be certain of what we know.

Assigned Readings:

  1. Plato - the Theaetetus
  2. Rene Descartes - Meditations on First Philosophy
  3. George Berkeley - A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (chapters 1 - 24)
  4. Lord Rayleigh - The Discovery of Argon (Nobel Lecture, 1904)
  5. John Dewey - The Quest for Certainty (chapters I - III)

Requirements: biweekly essays (2-pages), one oral assignment, one mid-term, one final exam

This course is self-contained; it does not have prerequisites in either philosophy or science. Brilliant lectures and intense discussions provide all that can be known.


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"The Good War": Representations of the Spanish Civil War in Literature, Film, and Art

Professor María Hernández -Ojeda (Romance Languages, Spanish)


HONS 2011J
Tuesdays and Fridays; 12:45-2:00 p.m.
Room 412 West
3 hours, 3 credits


This course will examine, in English, the literary and artistic cultural production inspired by this fascinating historical conflict of international significance.  Students will read texts by major authors, watch films and documentaries that reflect this event, and discuss symbols and images of the War. For their final project, students will visit the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives to research the invaluable documentation that this institution offers, and choose a topic for their final paper. In this course, students will learn about the historical, political, and cultural contexts that surround the readings, films and art studied during the semester.

Course Requirements:

Writing requirement: Students will write one final paper based on their archival research at the Abraham Lincoln Brigade archives. It will be approximately 10-12 pages long. They will also write a two-page commentary on Blackboard for each one of the seven films assigned. I will revise every writing assignment at least once before final submission.

Midterm and Final Exam: The format of the midterm and final exam may include any combination of the following: short-answer identifications, passages for commentary, and long essay questions.Oral presentation: Students will prepare a presentation individually for the class using PowerPoint.  This oral evaluation should last no more than fifteen minutes and no less than ten. The presentation will focus on their research for the final essay.

Sample works to be studied:

  • - Novel: Cercas, Javier. Soldiers of Salamis
  • - Poetry: Neruda, Pablo. Five Decades: Poems: 1925-70
  • - Testimonial Narrative: Hemingway, Ernest. The Fifth Column and Four Stories of the Spanish Civil War
  • - Interdisciplinary Essay: Labanyi, Jo. "Memory and Modernity in Democratic Spain: The Difficulty of Coming to Terms with the Spanish Civil War"
  • -Theory: White, Hayden. "The Historical Text as Literary Artifact"
  • -Film: Pan's Labyrinth/ El laberinto del fauno
  • -Documentaries: The Good Fight: The Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War
  • - Art: Guernica by Pablo Picasso
  • -Posters and Photography: Capa, Robert. Death in the Making
  • -Music: Miguel Hernández by Joan Manuel Serrat


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The Silk Road

Professor Mary Anne Cartelli (Classical and Oriental Studies, Chinese)


HONS 2011T
Tuesdays and Fridays; 
11:10-12:25 p.m.
Room 412 West
3 hours, 3 credits


The Silk Road was the overland trade route that connected China to the West from the first to seventeenth centuries C.E. In actuality, the Silk Road did not consist of one road, but rather a variety of routes on the Eurasian continent. These routes were major conduits of cultural exchanges between Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and Africa, and were a significant stimulus for early globalization. The Silk Road gets its name from the export of Chinese silk. However, it also promoted the transmission of other commodities, as well as science, technology, agriculture, cuisine, art, literature, and religion among the cultures on its path.

In this course we will examine the Silk Road's major contributions to the development of Chinese culture, as well as its influence on world civilization. Major themes will include the transmission and exchange of science, technology, agriculture, cuisine, art, literature, and religion between East and West. We will analyze and discuss primary sources from ancient Silk Road cultures, including court histories, geographies and philosophical treatises, letters, travelers' accounts, inventories, inscriptions, laws, and religious texts, along with major works of art and archaeological finds to achieve a deep understanding of this important intercontinental link.

Requirements will include a major research paper (about 4000 words) with proposed thesis, outline, and first draft, an oral presentation paper (about 1000 words), and a book review (about 1000 words) from a recommended list provided by the instructor. Oral presentations will be based on the weekly course topics. Suggested research paper topics will be posted on the course website. Students will present their research papers for discussion during the final week of the course.

Readings (in alphabetical order) will be drawn from the following books: E.N. Anderson, The Food of China (1990); Charles Benn, China's Golden Age: Everyday Life in the Tang Dynasty (2002); Richard Foltz, Religions of the Silk Road (1999); Stephen G. Haw, Marco Polo's China: A Venetian in the Realm of Khubilai Khan (2009); Peter Hopkirk, Foreign Devils on the Silk Road (2006); E.E. Kuzmina, The Prehistory of the Silk Road (2007); Jung-en Liu, Six Yuan Plays (1972); Xinru Liu, The Silk Road in World History (2010) and The Silk Roads: A Brief History with Documents (2012); Victor Mair, Tun-huang Popular Narratives (1983); Qiang Ning, Art, Religion, and Politics in Medieval China: The Dunhuang Cave of the Zhai Family (2004); Edward Schaefer, The Golden Peaches of Samarkand: A Study of T'ang Exotics (1963);Tansen Sen, Buddhism, Diplomacy, and Trade (2003); Robert Temple, The Genius of China: 3,000 Years of Science, Discovery, & Invention (2007); Arthur Waley, Ballads and Stories from Tun-huang (1960); James C. Y. Watt and Anne E. Wardwell. When Silk Was Gold: Central Asian and Chinese Textiles (1997); Roderick Whitfield et al, Cave Temples of Mogao: Art and History on the Silk Road (2000); Susan Whitfield, Life Along the Silk Road (2015); Sally Wriggins, The Silk Road Journey with Xuanzang (2004).


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The Experience of War: Moral Transformation, Injury, and Repair

Professor Christa Acampora


HONS 2011V
Wednesdays; 10:10-1:00 p.m.
Room 215 West
3 hours, 3 credits


During the past two decades, scholars, researchers, and clinicians have come to recognize that among the injuries deployed service members may experience are those affecting one's sense of oneself as a moral being and one's place in a moral community; this is the heart of what is called moral injury. While there is no fixed definition of the phenomenon, consensus is emerging that moral injury is distinct from post-traumatic stress and resistant to therapeutic measures that have proven effective for treating those who have experienced trauma. Moral injury is global. It may-but does not necessarily-arise from guilt about something one has done or one's inability or failure to act in a way one believes one should. It can be triggered by betrayal by one's command or comrades. It often entails a loss of trust and hope, and it might further be described as an injury to one's humanity. This class explores the idea of moral injury in the context of the experience of war drawing on European and American perspectives.

Moral injury, as currently examined in scholarly, clinical, and therapeutic communities is related to but distinguished from: moral distress, experienced when one is uncertain or ambivalent about what should be done; moral conflict, when what is called for conflicts with other moral beliefs; and moral contradiction, when it is the case that satisfying one moral belief presents a contradiction with another that is also, perhaps equally, affirmed.

The scope of moral concern in war is much broader than the dilemma of the moral status of killing in war, simply stated, and moral injuries are sustained beyond commission of specific actions that would be immoral in a non-combat environment. Moral injuries arise from critical compromises to the webs of care and concern-and our access to them-that make meaningful and enriching social interaction possible. Such injuries result in malformed relationships, withdrawal, and the inability to form new attachments with others.

Moral injuries often become apparent only after deployed service members return home. Once home, in a context that should be safe, veterans are susceptible to re-injury. In taking up these concerns, we can guard against the stereotype of returning service members as "broken" while recognizing that the response of the community to service members after war is potent and pregnant with moral risk. What does reciprocity look like in these distinctive cases? What are appropriate responses? What is a helpful way to respond to persons who are the most proximal causes of the activities of war-the persons who may feel the greatest weight of responsibility- even though such responsibility is arguably shared by the society that authorizes such engagements? And what do such persons expect and need from their command, their comrades, their most immediate and, in this, most intimate, communities? 

Dialogue is a form of reciprocity that draws out and shares the wealth of insight into human experience that endows it with meaning. It is a necessary if not sufficient condition for expansion of and reintegration in the moral community. Engaging in dialogue about the experience of war and the profound ways in which war experience can be transformative extends opportunities to be plunged into a kind of doubt that comes only from confronting extraordinary ambiguity, when life hangs in the balance. Such doubt may be edifying and potentially ennobling because it provokes us in truly distinctive ways to search for answers. Students will have opportunities to engage in this kind of exchange in class and at public events that include veteran participants.

Course Requirements:

  1. Four reflection papers will form the basis of discussion ofr each module and will allow students to reflect basic compreshension.  These will be assessed on the basis of a rubric; 40%;
  2. Facilitate a class discussion for a portion of a class meeting, based on a prior meeting with the instructor, 10%;
  3. A final paper on a topic of choice (with approvoal in advance, due in stages), comprising 30% of the grade for the term;
  4. Engaged participation, including attenance at events outside of class, graded using a rubric, 20%


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Evidence and Inference

Professor Sandra Clarkson (Mathematics and Statistics)
Professor Steve Gorelick (Film and Media)

HONS 3011F
Mondays 5:35-8:05 p.m.
Room 1042 East
3 hours, 3 credits


In a world of uncertainty, randomness, and contradictory versions of "truth," informed decision-making by individuals and institutions can be frustrating and confusing.  People want to make fair and wise decisions, but the flood of information available in the digital age, as well as the seeming absence of unambiguous answers, can frustrate even the most vigilant citizen.  When can we be confident that we have enough evidence to decide? What types of evidence can or should we rely on in a specific situation? Should some forms of evidence be considered more legitimate and authoritative than others? Are there times when it might be in our interest, even crucial, to make a decision before we believe we have adequate evidence? Put most simply and directly, how do we know what we know and when we know it?

The course will be an exploration of the widely diverse forms of evidence that are available for decision-making in a complex world. While a special emphasis will be placed on the evidence that can be inferred from statistics and other quantitative data, a myriad of other forms of evidence will be defined, explored, and compared.

Consider a jury trying to decide the guilt or innocence of an accused burglar. Criminal law has very specific rules in which some forms of evidence are inadmissible, while others are required to prove guilt. But think of just how many different types of evidence might come up in the course of a trial. Many people think of physical, forensic evidence in the age of CSI. But circumstantial evidence, eyewitness testimony, expert testimony, the defendant's previous record, the words spoken by the accused during interrogation, and even statistical evidence are also frequently introduced.   How does a jury distinguish the different types of evidence introduced and decide which should be believed? Why do some of the most popularly accepted forms of evidence - confessions, identification of suspects by victims - turn out to be so fallible and problematic?

The problem of evidence is also central in the realm of public policy-making. No one would dispute that public health and safety is an important objective of law and policy. But the era of evidence-based science and medicine presents us with a seemingly infinite number of sometimes-contradictory studies. Does caffeine improve focus or does it aggravate existing cardio-vascular conditions? Do changes in speed limits and driving ages affect the rate of automobile accidents? Do age restrictions on the purchase of tobacco reduce use? Not surprisingly, each of these and many other questions yield contradictory evidence, and the class will explore the intricacies of data and the sometimes hidden and variables that explain these contradictions.

Finally, the class will examine the significant issues and problems that arise when complex evidence enters the public sphere and is interpreted, shaped and sometimes distorted in news and media accounts.

Some mathematics and statistics will be illustrated in class, but students will not be assessed on those skills.  The course will require extensive reading, writing and discussion.

Pre-requisite:  One college-level math course or permission of one of the instructors. 


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Cross-currents in the 20th Century Avant-Garde

Professor Sam Di Iorio (Romance Languages, French)
Professor Amy Moorman Robbins (English)


HONS 3011K
Mondays and Thursdays; 4:10-5:25 p.m.
Room 412 West 
3 hours, 3 credits


Combinatory aesthetics - montage in film, collage in visual art, the hybrid text in literature and poetry - have been central to avant-garde movements since the dawn of modernism.  Foundational texts like Charles Baudelaire's Petites poèmes en prose (1869) wed formal experimentation with an uneasy fascination for the rapid industrial, technological, and economic changes that characterize what Eric Hobsbawm has called western history's Age of Capital.  Modernism and, more specifically, the avant-garde sought new forms to articulate the subjective experience of modernity: its social conditions, its intellectual horizons, its structure and its texture.  In many cases, artists, writers, and filmmakers shaped and responded to the feeling of the new through hybrid means, triangulating connections between the developing world, the written word, and nascent fields of visual representation.  Later in the 20th century, the search for new forms leads to the creation of texts and images that defy bourgeois expectations for consolation in the arts and that reflect the chaos created by global warfare, scientific innovation, mass movements of peoples across international borders, and the economic depravity of the alienated worker, as well as a general sense that, in the words of Yeats, "the center cannot hold" ("The Second Coming").

This course proposes to study the combinatory aesthetics which accompany these tremendous shifts in Western culture.  We begin with foundational 19th century texts, including writing by Baudelaire and Lautréamont, moving into the proto-surrealist work of Guillaume Apollinaire, the cubist poetics of Gertrude Stein, and the tenor and form(s) of the manifesto, and arriving at early and mid-century films by Jean Epstein, Germaine Dulac, and Nicole Vedrès that extend the mixed aesthetic of montage.  Later in the semester, we will consider the linguistically experimental writing of the Language movement and the hybrid poetics rooted in that tradition of experimentation, concluding the course with more recent projects by Jean-Luc Godard that emerge from this modernist trajectory.


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Revelation: East and Near East

Professor Vishwa Adluri (Religion)
Professor Robert Seltzer (Jewish Social Studies)


HONS 3011L
Mondays and Thursdays; 2:45-4:00 p.m.
Room 412 West
3 hours, 3 credits


"Revelation: East and Near East" compares and contrasts religious ideas and traditions of Hinduism and Judaism. These complex traditions, each of at least three millennia old, have much in common but also notable contrasts on such matters as a holy life and the cosmic dimension of human existence. Hinduism and Judaism both originated and remained closely connected to their ancient original cultural traditions, in contrast to their "daughter religions," Buddhism and Christianity, which made great efforts to break away from that matrix. Hinduism and Judaism remained tied to their classical languages Sanskrit and Hebrew and to the literary compilations of the teachings of their sages, even though they expanded their socio- historical connections and forms of expression in the course of many centuries. There are similarities between the Indian and Jewish traditions on religious leadership, hermeneutics, ritual practices, and so forth. In this course, we take a comparative look at these two traditions, focusing especially on their relationship to modernity. Why were Hinduism and Judaism regarded as instances of non-modern traditions, paradigmatically in need of reform? How did they adapt to the challenge of modernity? What were they trying to preserve? And what role did Buddhism and Christianity play in modern critiques of Hinduism and Judaism? We shall focus on three areas: (a) the relation of reason to faith; (b) the relation of revelation to exegesis; and (c) the relation of law to ethics.

The Jewish Study Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.
e Upaniá¹£ads: A New Translation by Patrick Olivelle. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996. 


  1. Class Presentation (30%): All students are required to present a paper in class on a topic related to the subject of the course and of special interest to the student. Topics should be chosen in consultation with the instructors at the beginning of the semester. A week before your presentation is due, you should submit a one page presentation proposal, which we will comment on. These comments must be incorporated into your in class presentation. On the day of the presentation, you must have a hand-out ready for distribution in the class.
  2. Term paper (40%): All students are responsible for a term paper (10 pages minimum). The term paper should be a fuller exposition of your presentation topic. Your paper should be in proper academic formatting, using a standard citation style. It should be edited for grammar and accurate spelling.
  3. Final exam (30%): The final exam will consist of three questions. You may answer any two of them. The answers must be essay style.
  4. Regular attendance is required; any student who misses more than three classes without notice will have to see us before he/she can continue attending. Attendance will be taken every session.


  • Every student is required to meet with the instructors at least once a semester during office hours to discuss his/her progress.
  • Acts of academic dishonesty (e.g., plagiarism, cheating on the final exam, obtaining unfair advantage, and falsification of records and official documents) are serious offenses. You must cite all sources used (e.g., websites, books, or other materials) in footnotes or in parentheses. Students found guilty of plagiarism will automatically receive a grade of "F" for the course and will be reported to the Dean.
  • The use of electronic devices (laptops, cellular phones, etc.) is not permitted in class without explicit permission.

Please inform us in advance if you have any disabilities requiring special arrangements.


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Interdisciplinary Independent Study

HONS 30199
3 hours, 3 credits
Hours to be arranged

Students wishing to take this course will need two readers, from different disciplines, one of whom generally should be a member of the Council on Honors.  In principle, the Council must approve the subject matter of such a paper before the student can register for the course.  This course may be taken only once.

HONS 30199 cannot replace any of the three required Honors Colloquia.

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Advanced Interdisciplinary Study

HONS 49151
6 hours, 6 credits
Hours to be arranged

Upon completion of 90 credits, certified Honors Program students may be admitted by the Council on Honors to Advanced Interdisciplinary Studies, with the opportunity of engaging in advanced independent study under the Council's supervision. A project for a thesis or other appropriate report of the results of the student's research is presented to the Council, which must approve it the semester previous to registration. Three sponsors, from at least two departments, one of whom must be a member of the Council on Honors, will supervise the work. The final product must be approved by all three sponsors and the Council.

HONS 49151 cannot replace any of the three required Honors Colloquia.

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