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Honors Colloquia - Fall 2018

Click on a course name to read a description.

Course Name
Course Number/Section
Reading List
Thinking About Animals: Humans, Beasts, & the Question of Consciousness
HONS 2011Z/01 To be posted
Plato: History, Philosophy, & Poetry
HONS 20130/01

Required Books
  • Essential Dialogues of Plato. Tr. Benjamin Jowett. Ed. Blas. Barnes and Noble, 2005. ISBN 159308269X [= Jowett]
  • Great Dialogues of Plato. Tr. W. H. D. Rouse. Signet Classics, 1999. ISBN 9780451527455. [= Rouse]Xenophon.
  • Conversations of Socrates. Tr. Tredennick and Waterfield, Penguin. ISBN 0-14-044517-X [= Xen]. Provides "historical" confirmation and disconfirmation of Plato's presentation of Socrates.
  • Four Plays by Aristophanes: The Birds; The Clouds; The Frogs; Lysistrata. Tr. William Arrowsmith. New American Library. ISBN 0452007178 [= Clouds]
  • G. Press, Plato: A Guide for the Perplexed. Continuum. 2007. ISBN: 0-8264-9176-6. Also available as an e-book through the HC library [= Press]
Law and Literature
HONS 20135/01
  • Shakespeare, William. The Tempest
  • Melville, Herman. Billy Budd
  • Hawthorne, Nathaniel. The Scarlett Letter
  • Glaspell, Susan. Trifles
  • Miller, Arthur. The Crucible
  • Childress, Alice. Wedding Band
  • Okada, John. No-No Boy
  • Miller, Sue. The Good Mother
  • Irving, John. Cider House Rules
  • Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye
Race & Visual Culture: Cognition, Perception, and Affect
HONS 3011N/01
To be posted
Latin American Thought
HONS 30138/01 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


Thinking About Animals: Humans, Beasts, and the Question of Consciousness

Professor Richard Kaye (English)


HONS 2011Z
Mondays and Wednesdays; 5:35-6:50 p.m.
Room 412 West
3 hours, 3 credits


The question of what it means to be human lies at the core of Western philosophical and scientific inquiry. As conceptualized in the Western tradition, "humanity" typically has been defined in opposition to the animal, which is said to lack the rationality, consciousness, and language that we adduce as the clearest evidence of our difference from beasts. However, recent scientific research has raised fundamental questions regarding the relationship between humans and animals. This course explores the science, ethics, aesthetics, and politics animating the relations between animals and humans with attention to British and American literary representation from the nineteenth century to the present as well as to current theoretical debates on animal rights, ecological ethics, and "post-humanist" philosophy. 

We will begin with Jeremy Bentham's landmark section of his 1789 "The Principles of Morals and Legislation" on the "rights of non-human animals" and then explore excerpts from Darwin's 1859 "The Origin of Species" and 1871 "The Descent of Man." We will consider Rudyard Kipling's richly allegorical "The Jungle Book" (1894) and H.G. Wells' fantastical dystopian and anti-vivisectionist "The Island of Dr. Moreau" (1896).  Throughout Britain, anti-vivisectionist critiques forged a connection between Englishness, egalitarian ideals, kindness to animals, and anti-colonial politics, a set of connections also explored in the Russian writer Turgenev's 1854 story about serfdom, "Mumu."  Recent contemporary debates dealing with animal consciousness, the ethical treatment of animals, and the rights of non-human creatures will be considered through readings in behavioral science, psychology, religion, philosophy and the law through the writings of Peter Singer, Vickie Hearne, Barbara Hernstein Smith, Sandra Harding, Josephine Donovan, Temple Grandin, Richard Posner, Daniel Dennett, Steven Wise, and Donna Haraway.

We will explore three films that meditate on the question of the animal-human divide: Robert Bresson's 1966 "Au Hazard, Balthazar," Werner Herzog's 2005 "Grizzly Man," and Louie Psihoyos's 2009 documentary "The Cove."

Requirements: a mid-term paper and a final paper.


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Plato: History, Philosophy, and Poetry

Professor Gerald Press (Philosophy)


HONS 20130
Tuesdays and Fridays; 11:10-12:25 p.m.
Room 412 West
3 hours, 3 credits


Plato is usually thought of as a philosopher; but from the philological standpoint he was a poet as well. In fact, his dialogues are widely considered the best Attic Greek ever written. Besides the philosophical ideas and arguments in them, the dialogues are stories, comic and tragic dramas of astonishing brilliance in some cases. The dialogues are not history, though they are often taken to be; and Plato is not a historian, though some modern readers - anachronistically - fault him for this. Nevertheless, the dialogues can be used, with caution, as sources for the reconstruction of Greek political and cultural history. Moreover, a grasp of the dialogues as poetry or philosophy requires some knowledge of their historical contexts.

In this colloquium, we will read Plato in an interdisciplinary way, from the standpoints of history, literature, and philosophy. This will illustrate an approach that can be fruitfully applied as well to other "great books" and great authors. I hope that students will come to appreciate that what Plato is doing in the dialogues transcends modern disciplinary distinctions.

We will read some of the shorter dialogues, such as Ion, Euthyphro, and Apology, and some of the medium-length dialogues, such as Meno, Protagoras, and Phaedrus. We will note differences between the more richly literary and dramatic, such as Symposium, Protagoras, and Phaedrus, and the more dryly argumentative, such as Parmenides and Republic, of which we will read not only the central books 5 - 7, but also the important books 1 and 10.

Students will have guided practice in the research methods of history, literature, and philosophy, and will be encouraged to create final projects that relate Plato to their individual majors or areas of interest.

We will also listen to some music and look at some attempts to perform the dialogues on stage and in films, and, if possible, attend a local performance.

Required work and grades

A.     Each student will be required to write a short (800-1,000 word) paper on a topic reflecting each section of the course. Short papers will constitute 40% of the course grade.

B.     Students will also be required to write a term paper of 3,000-4,000 words or produce an equally substantiual creative product. Term papers may be research papers or non-research interpretative papers. Instructor will provide individual guidance on all phases of term paper writing. Term papers will constitute 40% of the course grade.

20% will reflect student's participation and contribution to in-class on on-line discussions.

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Law and Literature

Professor Lynne Greenberg (English)


HONS 20135
Mondays and Thursdays;
2:45-4:00 p.m.
Room 412 West
3 hours, 3 credits


This course introduces the interdisciplinary field of law and literature.  We will read several genres of literary works (poems, plays, short stories and novels) spanning several centuries alongside a wide range of primary legal materials, including statutes, case holdings, legislative records and critical legal theory.  Bringing together literary and legal texts, the course will examine the ways in which the two can mutually illuminate each other.  All of the works chosen are fundamentally concerned with questions of law, justice and equity, legal institutions and the risk of abuse of legal power.  Many challenge conventional assumptions about the social and cultural consequences of the law.  Several of the works also offer literary indictments of legal injustice, interrogating the supposed objectivity and fairness of the legal system-its adjudication, enforcement and methods of punishment.  The works often suggest that the idea of justice is complex and problematic and that questions of guilt and innocence cannot always be easily answered.  A significant portion of the semester will be devoted to questioning the racial and gender equality of the American legal system, both historically and presently.  Class discussions will explore such issues as: How does the work offer a critique of the law or of legal institutions?  What are the legal methods of control used to subordinate a particular group of individuals?  How should the law be enforced-rigidly or flexibly?  How does the law work to enforce particular cultural values?  How does punishment measure against the need for human dignity?  What roles do culture, class, and gender play in crime and punishment?  What are the psychological and sociological consequences of punishment?

Course requirements will include an oral report, a mid-semester paper, and a final research paper.  Grading will also factor in class participation.

The following is a tentative book list:
Herman Melville, Billy Budd; Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlett Letter; Susan Glaspell, Trifles; Henry Miller, The Crucible; Alice Childress, The Wedding Band; John Okada, No-no Boy; Sue Miller, The Good Mother.

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Race and Visual Culture: Cognition, Perception, and Affect

Professor Janet Neary (English)
Professor Mariann Weierich (Psychology)

HONS 3011N
Mondays and Thursdays; 1:10-2:25 p.m.
Room 412HW
3 hours, 3 credits


In this course we will examine a broad range of cultural production from the 19th century to the present pitched at the intersection of race and visual culture. Focusing primarily on African American art and literature, we will examine cultural producers' responses to the experience of visual objectification alongside psychological research on cognition, perception and affect. Beginning with the subjective nature of sight, the course addresses African American authors and artists as theorists of perception and pairs their examination of stereotype, for example, with an examination of the neurocognitive science of categorization. We will examine the ways authors and artists use representation (external) across media and genre-photography, animation, narrative, film, news media-to intervene in racial discourse while investigating the science of visual perception (internal) and the possibilities of transforming individual and collective responses to visual material over time. Throughout, we will examine scientific treatments of how and why visual representations of race are experienced differently by different people (between and within race) and will consider ways of mobilizing both art and science towards the goal of social justice. Readings and artwork under consideration will be loosely organized around four critical flashpoints that have come to organize scholarship on African American visual culture: the claim that African Americans have been primarily the object, rather than the subject of visual discourse; the ambivalent effects of abolitionist iconography; the subjective nature of looking; and the problem of depicting black suffering. Art and literature under consideration will span from the early 19th century through our contemporary moment.

Requirements include attentive reading and engaged participation in class discussion, participation in BlackBoard forum discussions before each class, an assignment addressing contextualization, an in-class midterm exam, and a final research paper.

Representative Readings and Visual Texts

Psychology and Related Perspectives

  • Cosmides, L., Tooby, J., & Kurzban, R. (2003). Perceptions of race. Trends in Cog Sci, 7, 173-179.
  • Eberhardt, J.L., Dasgupta, N., & Banaszynski, T.L. (2003). Believing is seeing: The effects of racial labels and implicit beliefs on face perception. Personality and Social Psych Bulletin, 29, 360-370.
  • Sturken, M., & Cartwright, L. (2017). Practices of Looking: An Introduction to Visual Culture, 3rd Edition. New York, Oxford University Press.

Critical Readings

  • John Sekora. "Black Message/White Envelope: Genre, Authenticity, and Authority in the Antebellum Slave Narrative," Callaloo 32 (1987): 482-515.
  • Maurice O. Wallace and Shawn Michelle Smith, "Introduction," Pictures and Progress: Early Photography and the Making of African American Identity.

Slave Narratives

  • Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave (1845) pp. 1-24.
  • Mattie Jackson, The Story of Mattie J. Jackson (1866).

Art Works

  • Willie Cole, "Stowage," woodcut (1997).
  • Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gomez-Peña, Couple in a Cage (film).
  • Ken Gonzales-Day, Erased Lynching series, photographs (2000-2013).
  • Hank Willis Thomas, "Absolut Power," inkjet print on canvas (2003); "Absolut No Return," photograph (2008); "Hang Time Circa 1923," inkjet on canvas (2008).

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Latin American Thought

Professor Linda Alcoff (Philosophy)
Professor Rolando Perez (Romance Languages, Spanish)


HONS 30138
Tuesdays and Thursdays; 4:10-5:25 p.m.
Room 412 West 
3 hours, 3 credits


Latin America's rich tradition of essay writing, philosophical debate, and cultural criticism spanning several hundred years has received too little attention in North America. Collectively, this tradition is sometimes referred to as pensamiento, or 'thought,' to mark it as a broader domain of public discourse than that which occurs only within academic institutions. The Cuban José Martí, for example, one of the greatest thinkers of Latin America, wrote much of his writings for journals and newspapers. The Argentinian Faustino Sarmiento wrote his most influential work in a form that is part memoir, part travel writing. The founding conceptualization of human rights that emerged from the discussion between Spanish priests Las Casas and Sepúlveda was developed in the form of theological debate in church courts. The Inca Garcilaso de la Vega's critical commentary on the Conquest takes the form of a historical account. The world-renowned Chilean Pablo Neruda used the poetic form to convey the values of the Conquest, and the historical uniqueness of the peoples and cultures it helped to produce. And Peruvian theorist José Carlos Mariátegui developed his ideas through a sociological analysis of how to make radical social change in Peru.  Each one of these thinkers, whether through literature or philosophical analysis, has contributed to a body of knowledge that constitutes a philosophical outlook on the history and culture of the region that is crucial for an understanding of present day Latin America. The object of this course, then, is to explore the way in which questions of colonialism, politics, economics, human rights, etc., have been dealt with across disciplines and genres. And as such, many of the texts we will read operate simultaneously as philosophy, as essays, and as literature. Our team-teaching approach, based on our diverse academic specializations and teaching experience, will help students learn to read the texts through multiple frames of analysis.  These will most likely include the following:  Tzetvan Todorov, The Conquest of America; Latin American Philosophy for the 21st Century edited by Jorge Gracia and Elizabeth Millan-Zaiber; Gloria Anzaldua Borderlands/La Frontera;  Cesar Vallejo Tungsten;  Pablo Neruda Canto General; Enrique Dussel Twenty Theses.  Thus, the course will draw out the lessons of methodology that can be found in these diverse modes of argumentation.

Course  Requirements:
There will be two short paper assignments (2-3 pages each), one mid-term, and one final paper. The final paper will be turned in as a draft for revision based on comments from the instructors.

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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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