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Honors Colloquia: Fall 2009

Click on a course name to read a description.

Course Name
Course Number/Section
Reading List
Representations of the "New Woman" in the US
HONS 201.39/011
A Social History of New York City Architecture
HONS 201.53/01
Representations of War
HONS 201.60/51
Horror in Film
HONS 301.24/01
South Africa & Southern Africa After Apartheid
HONS 301.67/01
Interdisciplinary Independent Study
HONS 301.99/01
Advanced Interdisciplinary Study
HONS 491.51/01

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


Course Descriptions

Representations of the "New Woman" in the US

This course explores representations of the “New Woman” in a variety of media and contexts in the United States from around 1890 to the early 1940s.  A product of the late 19th century, the New Woman was the embodiment of the fears and promises of modernity: she was college educated and remained single through her twenties; she smoked, drank, gambled and was “fast.”  In this course we will discuss how the image of the New Woman emerged, mutated (into the flapper, the mannish lesbian, the Harlem socialite, the Greenwich Village bohemian, the “working woman,” and so on) and endured through the 20th century.  The New Woman entered the U.S. imagination at a crucial moment in the development of American culture -- a time in which changing conditions (such as industrialization and urbanization) were radically altering gender relations across class and race.  Texts will include Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull-House; Djuna Barnes, Nightwood; Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Herland; Nella Larsen, Passing; Anita Loos, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; Anzia Yezierska, Bread Givers; Edith Wharton, The Custom of the Country.

Course Requirements:
Students will write two papers, one shorter textual analysis (4-5 pages) and one longer research based paper (8-10 pages) and will prepare an oral presentation.  Attendance and class participation is mandatory.

This course satisfies Pluralism and Diversity Requirement, Group C.

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A Social History of New York City Architecture

This course is designed to allow students to have a richer, deeper and more comprehensive understanding of what are commonly considered to be historically and architecturally significant neighborhoods and buildings.  It is to emphasize that, when viewing buildings, it is not only their “skins” -- their style, decoration, windows and doors -- that are important but the circumstances, events, ideas, and sometimes – ideals -- that gave rise to them.  We can only initially “see” history through the often literally concrete remnants of it in our midst.  Yet to understand the significance of a building or a neighborhood, we have to take the time to read and study and learn about it. This course is a brief attempt to do just that in our own city --- lush with architectural and urban planning prototypes and problems.

I will use architectural elements, including building types, monuments, and neighborhoods, as starting points to better understand the social conditions and processes that led to their construction and to the larger environment in which we live today.  This examination can be a way to understand historic achievements and failures in the built environment as interesting stories, and most importantly, as a means to better understand and address contemporary urban issues.  

The first month of this course is devoted to teaching architectural styles so you aesthetically sharpen your eyes and enhance your visual sensitivity to, and appreciation of, the city around you.  But after that month, we will use a variety of readings, including fiction, to better understand that social issues that resulted in what are now considered to be historically significant neighborhoods and structures, including Battery Park City, Soho, the Lower East Side, the rise of apartment living, and the importance of skyscraper design in the city.

We will examine architectural developments that either directly or inadvertently address social concerns about class, gender, and race; however, all topics address the rise and expression of New York City culture: from our department stores, apartment houses, parks, and docks to unique experiments like socialist and communist housing. Few “historic” structures (or neighborhoods for that matter), unless they are deemed museums, operate or are occupied by organizations or people who resemble their first inhabitants.  New York City is unusually dynamic – the energy of this city has emerged in many buildings that testify to their creators’ great wealth and prominence and others to dreamers and designers who sought to redress the ills created by those who saw land and buildings solely as symbols of their power or commodities to be bartered and sold: so we will also look at these developments, as much as possible, in the context of “then” and “now.”

Course Requirements: Take-home Midterm Exam and a final paper (10-12 pages).

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Representations of War

In recent times, we have seen a heightened preoccupation with the question of war which consequently has become a prevalent topic in multiple domains.  The discourse on war, which can be both historical and figurative, will reevaluate relationships between the individual and the collective and their confrontation with the other. Such a discourse raises questions on perception of “otherness,”  the operative metaphor in discussions surrounding war.  By considering this question, it is possible to begin an inquiry on analogous notions of “identity,” “fanaticism,” and “imperialism,” and examine the tropes of “violence,” “madness,” “women’s activism,” and the “child’s perception of war.”

The primary objective of this course is to address many issues pertaining to war through a combination of theoretical, fictional and visual works (films). We will analyze the representation of a multiplicity of wars (WWII, the Algerian War of independence, the civil war in Lebanon, etc.), as “a structure of feeling” and as an objective reality by writers who have either lived through or who have been affected by these conflicts. The reading of novels by Chedid (Lebanon/Egypt/France), El-Sheikh (Lebanon), Kristof (Hungary/ Switzerland), Mahfouz (Egypt), Nemirovsky (France), Yacine (Algeria), will open up discussions on the origin, nature and results of war with reference to both cultural particularity and worldwide scope.

Grading will be based on two 10-page papers, a midterm, oral presentations, and participation in class discussions.

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Horror In Film

Efforts to explain the appeal of horror films have ranged from Freudian psychoanalytic to feminist theory to cultural studies to romantic longings to Jungian archetypes. Threatening evil and erotic danger have figured prominently in most of these perspectives.  What has been largely missing from film analysis up until very recently has been our burgeoning understanding of fear, disgust and sense of horror as an outgrowth of our evolutionary heritage, indeed the evolutionary heritage of social animals in general.  Enough has emerged from recent research to bring cognitive neuroscience and behavioral biology into the critical mix.   As Joseph Carroll has written recently, in an analysis of Pride and Prejudice, “[A Darwinian perspective provides] conscious theoretical access to the elemental forces that have impelled all human beings throughout time and that have fundamentally informed the observations and reflections of all writers and all readers.” And, we now add, all filmmakers.

Throughout the term, the class will view several films that represent the wide range of the horror genre.  We will then try our own hand at interdisciplinary film analysis by using sources from the arts and the sciences.  Our goal will be to see why horror, danger and mayhem appeal to us so compellingly, as well as how we respond to peril and how our brain and body react when we believe we’re seeing frightening monsters, whether they’re bizarre, alien or — the scariest of all — familiar.   

Class participation is a critical component of our endeavor and your grade. We expect everyone to come to class prepared to discuss the readings and films. (They will often be provocative.)  There will be two short essays and one term paper that examine a topic relevant to the horror film genre.  Paper topics require the approval of either Professor Persell or Professor Pinedo and must be discussed with either or both of them before the date your formal paper proposal is due.  

Final Grade:
Class work 25%, Short papers 20%, Research Paper presentation 25%, Research paper 30%

Sample readings:

  • Jones, D. The Depths of Disgust, Nature 447; 768-771, 2008
  • Clancy, S. How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2005
  • Knutson, B. Sweet Revenge, Science 305, 1246-1247, 2005
  • Gardner, D. The Science of Fear, Dutton, 2008
  • Morgan, J. The Biology of Horror:  Gothic Literature and Film, Southern Illinois University Press, 2002
  • Öhman, A. Fear of a Face, Science 309, 711-712, 2005
  • Mobbs, D. et al. When Fear Is Near, Science 317, 1079-1083, 2007
  • Cherry, B. Horror, Routledge, 2009
  • Hills, M. The Pleasures of Horror, NY: Continuum, 2005                                                               
  • Petley, J. “Cannibal Holocaust and the Pornography of Death,” in The Spectacle of the Real, ed. Geoff King
  • Pinedo, I.  Recreational Terror: Women and the Pleasures of Horror Film Viewing, SUNY University Press, 1997

Screenings or Selections from:
Night of the Living Dead (1968) US; Halloween (1978) US; Alien (1979) US; Cannibal Holocaust (1980) Italy; Audition (2000) Japan; The Exorcist (2000 nee 1973) US; The Others (2001) US; Wolf Creek (2005) Australia; The Strangers (2008) US


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South Africa and Southern Africa After Apartheid

This course will examine the events and forces which have shaped the history of South Africa and Southern Africa and America’s special relationship with South Africa.   

The course will consider the history of the expansion of Dutch and British colonialism and eventual Afrikaner rule in South Africa culminating in the system of Apartheid and the opposition that it spawned. This will lead to an analysis of the dramatic transformation that took place in South Africa from February 1990 to April 1994- the negotiated end of Apartheid and the first democratic elections. We will also analyze the 15 years  of South African democracy and possible future scenarios in South Africa and the region.

Beyond South Africa, the course will also study developments in other countries in Southern Africa  in particular Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola, and Mozambique and past and present United States policy towards South Africa and the region.  The new post-apartheid era also makes necessary the consideration of South Africa’s new role as a regional and continental power.   

The course will compare and contrast the history of racism – and the anti-racist struggles- in the United States and South Africa. Black-white relations have been central to the historical narratives of both countries.  

In general, South Africa and its recent history provide a useful comparative case study for other countries that have made the transition from authoritarian rule to democracy.  

The course will culminate in The Southern Africa Simulation Game. This exciting simulation game has been run every time this course has been taught since the early 1980s. With faculty guidance, students select and research team- and individual roles based on the important players in the South African and regional situation. The simulation game is conducted on a weekend at the end of the semester. It has very carefully constructed rules and controls and begins with an interesting scenario projected some time into the near future. More details will be provided in class.

Grading for the class is based primarily on a research paper and preparation for and the participation in the simulation game.

This course satisfies Pluralism and Diversity Requirement, Group A.

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Interdisciplinary Independent Study

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 and does not count towards the three Honors Colloquia required of every member of the Program.

HONS 301.99 cannot replace any of the three required Honors Colloquia.

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Advanced Interdisciplinary Study

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 491.51 cannot replace any of the three required Honors Colloquia.

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