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The Macaulay Honors College (MHC) is not affiliated with the Thomas Hunter Honors Program. For more information about the MHC, please visit the Macaulay Honors College website.


Honors Colloquia - Fall 2023


Click on a course name to read a description.

Course Name
Course Number/Section
Reading List
Sanskrit Epic & Hindu Thought: The Ramayana & Modernity
HONS 2011P/01 To be posted
Porcelain: Collecting, Display, & Global Circulation
HONS 2012A/01
To be posted
The Debt Trap: Implications for Race & Gender
HONS 2012L/01
To be posted
Human Value
HONS 2012M/01 To be posted
Seminar on Caribbean Philospher & Political Militant Frantz Fanon
HONS 3011P/01
To be posted
Energy and Environment
HONS 30131/01 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


Sanskrit Epic and Hindu Thought: The Ramayana & Modernity

Vishwa Adluri (Philosophy)

HONS 2011P
Mondays & Thursdays; 10:00-11:15 a.m.
Room: 412HW
3 hours, 3 credits

This course explores the Sanskrit epic, the Ramayana, from the perspective of psychoanalytic theory and theories of modernity. The Ramayana tells the story of the hero and heir apparent Rama-his pedagogy, initiation, maturity, conquest, exile, and battle to recover his wife, before he can be installed as the rightful king of the ideal, just polity. We will contrast Rama's experiences with Oedipus's. How does Rama's journey differ from Oedipus's? What is the role of initiation in maturity? How do Rama and Oedipus, each in their own way, offer alternatives to and parables for modernity, understood as an anti-heroic age (Nietzsche)? And how do psychoanalytic insights permit us to simultaneously recover the heroic perspective and offer a diagnosis of modernity?

 Required Texts:

Swami Venkatesananda, The Concise Ramayana of Valmiki
Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, vol. 7
Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus (Meineck and Woodruff trans.)

 Course Requirements:

  1. All students are responsible for a mid-term paper (10 pages min.) which counts toward 50% of their grade.
  2. The mid-term paper will be on one of two questions pertaining to general aspects of Hinduism. I will distribute the questions in class one week before the paper is due. You are required to edit your papers for correct spelling and grammar. I reserve the right to reject any paper that does not meet these standards.
  3. You will have the option of rewriting your mid-term paper for a better grade if you wish. I do not accept late assignments.
  4. There will also be a final exam with two short questions. The final exam is 30% of your grade.
  5. Regular reading counts toward 10% of your grade.
  6. Class participation counts toward a further 10% of your grade.
  7. Regular attendance is required; any student who misses more than three classes without notice will have to see me before he/she can continue attending. I take attendance for every session.

 Course policies

Every student is required to meet with me at least once a semester during office hours to discuss his/her progress.

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Porcelain: Collecting, Display, & Global Circulation

Professor Tara Zanardi (Art & Art History)

HONS 2012A
Thursdays; 4:00-6:50 p.m.
Room: 412HW
3 hours, 3 credits

First produced in China during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE), porcelain was made initially for the local market and the imperial court. Prized for its translucency and strength, porcelain was eventually exported on a global scale, reaching the Americas, Persia, Africa, and Europe, along with spices, silk, and lacquer. In order to accommodate the increasing desire for this ceramic and facilitate commercial trade, the Chinese established ports in various cities. As one of the most highly coveted luxury objects, porcelain played important decorative and political roles in interior displays, from the homes of West African merchants and the viceroys of the Spanish colonial world to the palaces of Ottoman sultans and European sovereigns. European nobility attempted to replicate the production of porcelain, with no true success until the foundation of the Meissen Porcelain Factory in 1708-1710 under Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland (1694-1733). With the manufacture of both hard- and soft-paste porcelain by Europeans, porcelain's circulation widened. 

In this course, we will evaluate porcelain's material properties, fabrication, use, and aesthetics, and tie these considerations to broader social practices of display, collecting, trade, and consumption. We will look at key players and sites in the promotion and development of porcelain. We will address fundamental questions, such as how did porcelain, whether produced abroad or at home, contribute to the shaping of individual or collective identities? How did the introduction of Chinese and Japanese porcelain transform pre-existing ceramic traditions or help shape new ones? How did the blue and white palette used primarily for export porcelain become the first global brand under the Ming dynasty? How was porcelain integrated into international networks of exchange and systems of empire?

The course will include weekly readings and discussions, an exam, an oral presentation, and a final research paper. As a discussion-based course, students are expected to participate. We will also go on select field trips to enrich our understanding of both historic and contemporary porcelain.

Evaluation Criteria:
Participation: 20%
Exam: 30%
Oral Presentation: 15%
Research Paper, including Paper Assignments:

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The Debt Trap: Implications for Race & Gender

Professor Rupal Oza (Women & Gender Studies)

HONS 2012L
Wednesdays; 4:00-6:50
Room: 412HW
3 hours, 3 credits

When President Biden announced the Student Debt Forgiveness plan, it drew the ire of Republican members of congress as well as private banks, investors, and companies. By September 2022 six Republican-led state attorney generals had filed a suit which has made its way to the Supreme Court. The implications of student debt forgiveness emerged in the context of the ballooning of student debt which at its highest was $1.7 Trillion. Current policy recommendations around student debt forgiveness need to be understood in the context of decades of student organizing and protests against student debt which disproportionately affects students of color. This course seeks to understand the history of debt, by looking at the ways in which slavery and colonialism are tied to debt. We will also examine the crisis of the 1970s and the manner in which Third World debt rose and the implications it had for those countries and its impact on the contemporary crisis.

Expected Learning Outcomes

  • Understand the historical origins of debt.
  • Analyze the implications of the shifts in the global political economy in the 1970s that led to the debt trap.
  • Consider the relationship between Third World debt and student debt.
  • Understand the roles of the IMF and the World Bank as well as the U.S. Federal Reserve's role in Third World and student debt.
  • Make the connections between the racial and gender implications of debt on working class families in the U.S.
  • Acquire a familiarity with key debates in the financialization of the economy.
  • Question established orthodoxy that debt is inevitable.
  • Look at the organizing efforts that have called to cancel student debt.

Required Texts : TBA


  1. Participation and engagement (10% of final grade).
  2. Research paper outline and brief annotated bibliography (15% of final grade)
  3. Group project (10% of final grade)
  4. Weekly response to Professor Oza's questions, via postings on Blackboard (20% of final grade).
  5. One critical response paper (3-5 double spaced pages) (20% of final grade).
  6. Final Research paper (10-12 double spaced pages) (25% of final grade).Final Research paper (10-12 double spaced pages) (25% of final grade).

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Human Value

Professor Jonathan Shannon (Anthropology)

HONS 2012M
Mondays and Thursday; 1:00-2:15p.m.
3 hours, 3 credits

It is impossible to escape the impression that people commonly use false standards of measurement It is impossible to escape the impression that people commonly use false standards of measurement - that they seek power, and wealth for themselves and admire them in others, and that they underestimate what is of true value in life.
- Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents.

What is "of true value" in life? What is the value of life, of a single life? How is the value of human life and of humanity socially constructed in particular political, economic, and cultural contexts? When one society honors athletes and movie stars more than factory laborers, does that mean people with fame, wealth and beauty are inherently more valuable? How do individuals create value and meaning in their lives in different contexts?

Drawing on multiple disciplines, from archaeology, political economy, and moral philosophy to literature and the creative arts, this seminar will deconstruct the historical definition of human value across a variety of cultures, from foragers to members of contemporary global capitalist societies. We will examine human value in terms of such themes as worth, utility, beauty, status, wealth, origin, and fulfillment via close engagement with texts, the arts, and mass media. We will engage such texts as Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions, Albert Camus's The Stranger, Epictetus's The Art of Living, and Peter Singer's Ethics in the Real World. We will also engage with such films as Wolf of Wall Street, Crazy Rich Asians, and Blindspotting, among others.

The seminar will include a mixture of lectures, presentations, and critical discussions based on the analysis of texts and various artistic examples. In addition, an applied component of the course will challenge students to explore concepts of human value through artistic practices ranging from sketching and poetry, to photography and multi-media projects. Practical sessions will include time for students to learn and engage with the technical tools used for expressing human value: pencil, pen, photography/videography, animation, video editing, and the like. No experience necessary! We are all artists and thinkers!

Students will be expected to write short responses papers and assemble a dossier of creative work culminating in a final project and analytical essay. In the end, this seminar is meant to provoke deep thinking on the value of life from a broad variety of perspectives, including exploration of students' own experiences of and engagement with the world. There are no finite answers to the questions, "What is of true value in life?" and "What is the value of (a) life?" Together we will explore, debate, and confront them in sensitive yet bold, analytical yet creative ways.

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Seminar on Caribbean Philosopher & Political Militant Frantz Fanon

Professor Robyn Marasco (Political Science)

Guest Speakers

HONS 3011P
Tuesdays and Fridays; 11:30-2:25 p.m.
Room: 412HW
3 hours, 3 credits

This course will offer an intensive study of the life and work of Frantz Fanon, a philosopher, psychologist, revolutionary militant and among the most significant voices in the black radical tradition.  We will explore his early life in Martinique, his encounter with the negritude movement and the influence of Aimé Césaire on his first major work, Black Skin/White Masks. We will read this work both for the substance of its arguments about racism, the construction of identity, and the effects of an "epidermalized" domination and for its experiments in poetic form.  We will look at Fanon's training in Paris and explore the mutual influence on thinkers like Maurice Mealeau-Ponty, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Simone de Beauvoir.  And, finally, we will follow Fanon to Algeria, to the hospital at Blida-Joinville where he was appointed lead psychiatrist and to the FLN and his participation in the struggle to defeat European colonialism.  We will study Fanon's masterpiece, The Wretched of the Earth, for how it advances a critique of colonialism and what it contributes to a political theory of liberation.  We will also examine some of his other political writings from this period, on the family and gender relations, on matters of political education and organization, and the role of religion and tradition in a revolutionary movement. Our semester will conclude with reflections on Fanon's influence on generations of revolutionary writers and thinkers and the lasting significance of his work for contemporary political struggles.

Course Requirements:

Weekly writing assignments in the form of response papers/reading memos and one final essay 12-15 pages in length.

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Energy & Environment

Professor Allan Frei (Geography)
Professor Steven Greenbaum (Physics and Astronomy)

HONS 30131
Mondays and Wednesdays; 4:00-5:15 p.m.
Room: 412HW
3 hours, 3 credits

The energy portion of this course will begin with the fundamental concept of energy as the capacity to do mechanical work, which forms the basis of transportation, electricity for industrial and home use and residential heating and cooling. Basic concepts beginning with the difference between energy and power and numerical conversion between different energy units (e.g., kWh - kilowatt hours and BTU - British Thermal Units) will be discussed with many examples provided. We will cover energy generation schemes, from fossil fuels, nuclear, and renewable (wind and solar) sources as well as infrastructure issues such as electrical transmission, storage, and the opportunities and challenges of widespread adoption of electric cars and buses.

The environmental portion of this course will address energy production in the context of coupled human and natural systems. Such interactions, which have long been a key area of interdisciplinary study for geographers, include processes related to the earth sciences (e.g., atmospheric science, hydrology, geology, ecology) as well as social sciences (e.g. history, economics, political science) and even humanities (e.g. environmental philosophy). We will consider how different modes of production of energy affect the environment, and how the environment affects energy production. We will also consider how social forces affect decisions about energy production, including case studies.

There will be one field trip, depending on COVID and other contingencies, and subject to approval by the utility company to the Big Allis (Rise Light & Power) natural gas-fired electric power plant in Astoria, Queens.

Profs Greenbaum and Frei will give lectures on alternate weeks of a two class per week schedule (and attend each other's lectures). Course grades will be based on an in-class midterm, in-class final, and team (3-4 students/team) presentations on topics to be determined.

The prerequisite for this class is one year of high school physics or high school chemistry (some review may be required!)

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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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