Honors Program
Previous Seminars

 


Spring 2011

HONR 122 Culture, Cuisine, Film and Food This seminar will provide a gastronomic tour de force of recipes and experiences with food through various regions of the U.S. and some of the most honored traditions of historic and modern cultures. We will discover methods to make several signature national dishes and beverages, from mead to melba, from haggis to hollandaise sauce and from lobster bisque to lemon curd. We will discuss books and films that focus on food and provide us with respect for the taste and cultural expression that good, healthy food can be for body and soul.

HONR 115 Marriage & Romantic Partnerships This seminar will challenge and analyze the institution, questioning the publicity of its alleged privacy while considering what marriage means. A large unit of the course will be devoted to current affairs, especially in respect to gay marriage or civil unions, or queer and feminist responses to exclusionary legislation. We will also explore the psychological power of romantic love, pair bonding, and security; the social consequences or true rewards of "opting out"; the representations of married or partnered couples as shown in visual texts.

HONR 160 Urban Experience in Film Invented towards the end of the Industrial Revolution, motion pictures have often paralleled and depicted this growth and change in our societies. This class will explore the ongoing relationship between cinema and city life. The class will offer a broad cross-section, spanning the history of the medium, and looking at the development of cities and films across the globe. This course will include films by Charlie Chaplin (USA), Satyijat Ray (India), Terry Gilliam (UK), Majid Majidi (Iran), Luis Bunuel (Mexico), Ridley Scott (USA), David Cronenberg (Canada), and Wong Kar Wai (China), among others.

HONR 119 Music of New York City This seminar explores the cultural history of New York City through its music. The course will focus on four types of music: folk music, modern jazz, punk/new wave, and hip-hop. Specifically we'll listen to a lot of music from the folk music revival of the early 1960's (e.g., Bob Dylan playing at the Gaslight Cafe in Greenwich Village), the formation of bebop jazz and beyond (Thelonious Monk at Minton's in Harlem in the 1940's and John Coltrane at the Village Vanguard in the early 1960's), the downtown punk rock/new wave explosion (The Ramones and Talking Heads at CBGB's in the late 1970's) and the genesis of hip-hop (Afrika Bambaataa and Boogie Down Productions in the Bronx to Eric B & Rakim, Public Enemy, and De La Soul on Long Island).

HONR 147 Comedy and Humor What makes a joke funny to one person but not to another? Can we understand what the 'comedic perspective' is and what role it serves in society? What is meant by a "good sense of humor"? Why is laughing considered "therapeutic"? This course will explore the meaning of humor, examining differences between slapstick, aggressive humor, wit, and irony. Students will be asked to bring in their favorite comedian (on film or CD) and/or comedy film for analysis. Readings will focus on the therapeutic benefit of laughter and taking a humorous perspective. Theoretical discussions will challenge students to explore questions about the function, meaning, and benefit of the comedic perspective.

HONR 108 A Recipe for a Murderer Blend together an unassuming appearance, a dash of charm, a pinch of narcissism, intelligence (optional) and make sure to leave out the remorse. Have you ever wondered what makes some people capable of murder and others not? Could your neighbor or your best friend have a dark and murderous side? In this course we will delve into the minds of some of the world's most infamous serial and mass murderers and explore what makes otherwise seemingly normal people become ruthless killers. Using popular fiction and film, we will examine the many theories of violence that have developed throughout the ages and some of the world's most heinous killers.

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Fall 2010

HONR 215 The Janus Substance Dihydrogen Momoxide (DHMO aka water) is a unique chemical. Its excess or lack causes billions of dollars in economic loss and hundreds of thousands of deaths annually. DHMO’s unique properties enable life on Earth, generate the beauty of rainbows and snowflakes, determine the awesome power of glaciers and iceberg, and provide the ubiquitous flush. Its unequal distribution drives history and politics. Join us as we non-technically explore just how unique and vital water was, is, and shall be.

HONR 117 The Sopranos: The Psychopathology of Everyday Violence This seminar will consist of our watching, discussing, and reading about the television series The Sopranos. This series is one of the greatest artistic achievements in the history of American television. We will interpret the show from 3 key perspectives: as an exploration of human psychology, as a part of the gangster genre in American cinema, and as an exploration of American materialism and its political, cultural, and spiritual effects. No familiarity with the series is required: we will watch most—if not all—of one complete season over the semester. Students will write three short analyses of different episodes from the 3 key perspectives of the course.

HONR 208 Happiness The Declaration of Independence states that each person has a basic right to the pursuit of happiness. But it is in one thing to exercise this right; it is another thing for the pursuit to be successful. Philosophers, psychologists, and economists have recently become very interested in the nature of happiness and the reasons why people succeed or fail in attaining it. Questions addressed will include, for instance, how much difference such things as age, health, wealth, work, luck, pleasure, love, temperament, status, and community make to whether people are happy. We will conduct experiments in savoring, mindfulness, novel pleasures, gratitude, selflessness, service, and unforgettable moments of intellectual joy.

HONR 121 Notes and Numbers: A Duet According to the German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, "Music is the pleasure the human soul experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting." The goal of this seminar is to uncover such awareness by exploring the relationships between mathematics and music. How are octaves like the Richter scale? What do the counting numbers sound like? Can we compose music based on arithmetic? Using only high school mathematics we will answer these questions, and more, through reading, discussing, listening, performing, and composing.

HONR 120 Movement and Stillness: Yoga and Meditation Although meditation is often thought of as a practice of stillness and yoga a practice of movement, the two disciplines have much in common. Both cultivate awareness of our bodies and our changing states of mind. Both cause us to examine the habits that govern our daily lives. Both teach us to look deeply into the present moment. This course will provide comprehensive instruction in the practices of yoga, meditation, and contemplative movement. During the first half of each session, we will concentrate on the principles of Kripalu yoga: breath, posture, alignment, and deep relaxation. During the second, we will practice seated meditation, walking meditation, and contemplative movement. Integrating these practices, we will explore ways to maintain stillness in movement and peace in the midst of everyday life.

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Spring 2010

HONR 215 The Janus Substance
Dihydrogen Momoxide (DHMO aka water) is a unique chemical. Its excess or lack causes billions of dollars in economic loss and hundreds of thousands of deaths annually. DHMO’s unique properties enable life on Earth, generate the beauty of rainbows and snowflakes, determine the awesome power of glaciers and iceberg, and provide the ubiquitous flush. Its unequal distribution drives history and politics. Join us as we non-technically explore just how unique and vital water was, is, and shall be.

HONR 117 The Sopranos: The Psychopathology of Everyday Violence
This seminar will consist of our watching, discussing, and reading about the television series The Sopranos. This series is one of the greatest artistic achievements in the history of American television. We will interpret the show from 3 key perspectives: as an exploration of human psychology, as a part of the gangster genre in American cinema, and as an exploration of American materialism and its political, cultural, and spiritual effects. No familiarity with the series is required: we will watch most—if not all—of one complete season over the semester. Students will write three short analyses of different episodes from the 3 key perspectives of the course.

HONR 208 Happiness
The Declaration of Independence states that each person has a basic right to the pursuit of happiness. But it is in one thing to exercise this right; it is another thing for the pursuit to be successful. Philosophers, psychologists, and economists have recently become very interested in the nature of happiness and the reasons why people succeed or fail in attaining it. Questions addressed will include, for instance, how much difference such things as age, health, wealth, work, luck, pleasure, love, temperament, status, and community make to whether people are happy. We will conduct experiments in savoring, mindfulness, novel pleasures, gratitude, selflessness, service, and unforgettable moments of intellectual joy.

HONR 121 Notes and Numbers: A Duet
According to the German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, "Music is the pleasure the human soul experiences from counting without being aware that it is counting." The goal of this seminar is to uncover such awareness by exploring the relationships between mathematics and music. How are octaves like the Richter scale? What do the counting numbers sound like? Can we compose music based on arithmetic? Using only high school mathematics we will answer these questions, and more, through reading, discussing, listening, performing, and composing.

HONR 120 Movement and Stillness: Yoga and Meditation
Although meditation is often thought of as a practice of stillness and yoga a practice of movement, the two disciplines have much in common. Both cultivate awareness of our bodies and our changing states of mind. Both cause us to examine the habits that govern our daily lives. Both teach us to look deeply into the present moment. This course will provide comprehensive instruction in the practices of yoga, meditation, and contemplative movement. During the first half of each session, we will concentrate on the principles of Kripalu yoga: breath, posture, alignment, and deep relaxation. During the second, we will practice seated meditation, walking meditation, and contemplative movement. Integrating these practices, we will explore ways to maintain stillness in movement and peace in the midst of everyday life.

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Fall 2009

HONR 167 - Tightwaddery, or the Good Life on a Dollar a Day
The basic idea underlying much of contemporary life and culture is: spend money and you’ll be happy. This is a lie perpetrated by capitalists in order to sell their products.  The current recession, while undoubtedly causing hardship for many, also offers an opportunity for us to critically examine the assumptions and values of our consumer society.  This seminar will do this both in theory and in practice. At bottom, though, the course is less concerned with cutting coupons than with the question Socrates asked long ago: What is the good life for a human being?

HONR 217 - Dreams, Dreams, Dreams
What are dreams all about?  Are they really meaningful, interpretable stories that are relevant to our lives or simply irrelevant neuron-firings that amount to unintelligible gibberish?  What is the value of examining one’s dreams closely?  What is the function of dreams for the human organism?  Are all of the prominent ‘dream theorists’, like Freud and Jung, just blowing smoke (cigar or pipe smoke, perhaps)?  We will explore these questions and plunge into the world of dreams in this seminar. Artistic, scientific, social-scientific, and even business perspectives will be considered.   

HONR 130 - The Art of Meditation
To practice meditation is to open what is closed, reveal what is hidden, and balance what is reactive in the body, heart, and mind. Amidst the pressures and distractions of daily life, meditation affords a return to the ground of being and a path to authentic presence.  Employing a variety of methods, including seated meditation, walking meditation, and exercises in contemplative movement, we will focus on awareness of posture, breath, and movement; mindfulness of feelings, thoughts, and speech; and the transformation of negative states of mind.

HONR 219 - Hannibal Lecter's Book Club
We will examine the good, the bad, and the ugly in crime fiction. As theories about the causes of crime and what to do about crime emerged in academic scholarship, popular fiction seized the idea and made away like a bandit. Crime fiction developed not just its own genre, but a multitude of subgenres ranging from the British cozies to gritty police procedurals to the ultra-niche series linking mysteries to gardening, home repair, and cooking. Along the way, some authors managed to depict crime theories before they were ever coherently expressed by criminologists while other works of crime fiction played up our greatest social fears and perpetuated common crime myths. We'll explore, criminologically speaking, whodunit well and whodunit not-so-well.

HONR 218 - Bob Dylan and America
With Bob Dylan as our guide, we will journey into that strange place called modern America. We will focus primarily on what Dylan himself has admitted was his greatest work: the songs on the albums from The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963) to John Wesley Harding (1967) with a look at some songs from later in his career. Looking closely at these songs-as performed poetry of the highest order-we will ask how Dylan the artist responded to such calamitous times. This course will allow students to come to terms with what Dylan has to offer them today and, by extension, students may ask which poetic voices, perhaps including Dylan’s, figure in their vision of the cultural landscape of early 21st century America.

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Spring 2009

HONR 124 - T'ai Chi: A Way of Life
T'ai Chi is a way of life that has been practiced by the Chinese for many centuries. This meditative, peaceful "martial art", is known and regularly practiced daily by millions of people throughout the world. This course intends to have dual emphases. Academically, students will be introduced to T'ai Chi's early history and its evolution into the contemporary era. To this end, we will explore T'ai Chi's philosophical background as it links with Chinese culture, with occasional comparisons and contrasts to Western thought. Readings will provide additional stimuli for class discussions, which will include what is meant by the energy "Chi" and the internal power of "Jing". Students will also learn approximately half of the 64 movements of the form and the physical/mental/meditative preparation required for proper learning. Proper practice will provide the student with a balanced mind, spirit, and body!

HONR 213 - Purity and Porn in America
If porn is a central feature of American popular culture, then is a return to modesty necessary? This course is a seminar that includes thoughtful discussion, a weekly reading journal and a final position paper with an oral defense. We begin with basic cultural studies articles from Simon During's Cultural Studies: A Critical Introduction in order to analyze Linda Williams' Porn Studies and Wendy Shalit's A Return to Modesty. Our purpose is to debate the repercussions according to Williams and Shalit of cultural expressions of sexuality in the U.S. during the last decade, especially for adolescents and young adults by applying concepts about how culture works.

HONR 214 - Eating Locally, Thinking Globally
This course is designed to explore the local-food movement developing throughout the country and taking root in our own backyard. Through select readings, class discussion, and field trips to area farms & businesses--students will examine the relationship between where and how food is grown/produced and its impact on the environment.  The course will culminate in the spring with the design and planting of an organic vegetable garden and a meal prepared with local food.

HONR 215 - The Janus Substance aka "good stuff" or "bad stuff"?
Learn more about the political, social, economic, and scientific aspects of the most vital substance on earth--water. Dihydrogen Monoxide (DHMO) is unique among chemicals-it shapes our planet and makes us what we are. It provides the beauty of rainbows and snowflakes, while its abnormal properties underlie the awesome power of glaciers and icebergs. In both excess and in deficiency, it can cause billions of dollars in economic loss and hundreds of thousands of deaths. Its unequal distribution has caused wars and lawsuits. Join us as we non-technically explore and seek to understand how unique and vital DHMO, aka water, truly is.

HONR 172 - Maple Syrup: The Real Thing
"Wanted: Someone with a background in meteorology, chemistry, botany, forestry, art, and cookery who is also a nature lover with lots of patience. Must enjoy long hours of hard work in the snow, cold, and mud." Even though this is an accurate description of a maple syrup producer, don't let it scare you! The method of producing maple syrup is one of the things in our society that has endured even in today's culture of constant change; fundamentally it's the same process Native Americans used centuries ago. This class will explore the history of maple syrup production, discover the ins and outs of making syrup, create (and eat) some sweet confections, and take field trips to local producers, restaurants and festivals. No prior experience expected.

HONR 216 - Earth Works: An Honors Seminar on the Nature of Life and Literature
Earth Works will focus on essays, scientific articles, art, literature, and films about nature, the outdoors, and our cultural and individual attitudes toward the earth we all inhabit. Classes will center on discussions of such works as Desert Solitaire, The Monkey Wrench Gang, An Inconvenient Truth, Walden, Self Reliance, Silent Spring and examine case studies of changing practices and changing attitudes. Journals kept by class members will aim to inventory outlooks and behaviors to document potential individual changes and/or to develop plans of action.

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Fall 2008

A Great Characters Seminar:
A lot of the people we carry around in our heads and our hearts are people we've only met in literature. Even though they're not "real," they're often the people we think of when we wonder how to handle a situation, or when we consider the human qualities we value, or when we are scared in the dark in the middle of the night. In a sense, other characters are how we know who we are. So what makes a character memorable? Who are the enduring characters in our literatures and our lives? How do writers take words and make someone as clear and real to us as the person next door? In this reading and writing class, we'll explore some great characters from literature, children's literature and genre fiction. Possible texts: Dracula, The Trumpet of the Swan, Anna Karenina, To Kill a Mocking Bird, The Tempest, Harry Potter, even romance novels and detective fiction. We'll also develop characters of our own, practicing techniques we learn from Tolstoy, Shakespeare, J.K. Rowling, and E.B. White.

"Mirror, Mirror":
Is beauty really in the eye of the beholder or do some things appeal to all humans? People have found beauty in diverse phenomena-the human form, Fibonacci series, nature, and art-and beauty ideals vary from culture to culture. Yet, all humans want (need?) beauty in their lives. We will investigate practices such as body decoration, fashion, and art in order to compare cultural conceptions of beauty. The value of beauty is also an issue. Navajo wisdom, for instance, held that to walk in beauty was the greatest good fortune, while Dada artists, facing the atrocities of World War II proclaimed that people did not deserve beauty. Students will be asked to present one cultural practice and analyze what it tells us about the role of beauty in human life. Our exploration of these topics will take place through videos, virtual tours, readings, slides, and field trips in search of beauty.

Happiness:
The Declaration of Independence states that each person has a basic right to the pursuit of happiness. But it is in one thing to exercise this right; it is another for the pursuit to be successful. Philosophers, psychologists, and economists have recently become very interested in the nature of happiness and the reasons why people succeed or fail in attaining it.

The seminar will have both a scholarly and a personal component. On the scholarly side, we will discuss some of the most interesting ideas and recent research findings concerning happiness. Questions addressed will include, for instance, how much difference such things as age, health, wealth, work, luck, pleasure, love, temperament, status, and community make to whether people are happy. On the personal side, each of us will seek to better understand what kind of happiness we seek and what might help us to secure it. As well as keeping reflective journals, we will conduct experiments in savoring, mindfulness, novel pleasures, gratitude, selflessness, service, and experiencing unforgettable moments of intellectual joy.

The World According to "The Far Side":
One of the most fascinating aspects of Gary Larson's comic "The Far Side" is that he does a masterful job of delving into human nature. Larson also uses "The Far Side" as a humorous medium to illustrate history and scientific fields ranging from biology and chemistry to physics and math. In this seminar we will perform a historical, scientific, psychological, and sociological analysis of our world using "The Far Side." We will not only delve into human culture; we will also analyze the behavior of other organisms using "The Far Side."

Chaos Under Control:
Life is often complicated, sometimes exceedingly so. Much of our everyday experience is unexpected, apparently whimsical, seemingly beyond our control. How is it that some aspects of our experience are regular, predictable, and tamable while others appear to be the outcome of some cosmic game of chance? Is the universe a crazy patchwork of phenomena, some understandable, some beyond explanation? In the process of answering these questions we will construct a variety of fractals (including a fractal tree), define fractal dimension, study various forms of chaos and growth, and finally enter into the depths of the Mandelbrot set. If there is time we will also look at cellular automata, sometimes known as the game of life. All of this using just high school mathematics!

Science and Psychology of Harry Potter:
Attention Muggles! By order of Educational Decree #101, it is hereby announced that a seminar shall be given at Alfred University on the "Science and Psychology of Harry Potter." While a fantasy series may not seem like a valid starting point for studying science, J.K. Rowling was meticulous enough in her world-building that we can investigate how her world works. Rowling's world also provides a window into the psyche. We will expect you to be familiar with all 7 novels before the class starts, and will read two additional books, "The Science of Harry Potter" and "The Psychology of Harry Potter."

We will consider the aerodynamics of Quidditch, time travel and time turners, traveling with Portkeys and Floo Powder, the Natural History of Magical Creatures, teenage angst, friendships, psychological defense mechanisms, wisdom, and all sorts of psycho-isms.

The Story of Jazz - From Sinners to Sophisticates:
This seminar will examine the origins of Jazz, why and how it was created, the directions it has taken. We will discuss the history of jazz from its origins in New Orleans, to Chicago, New York and beyond. We will consider social reactions to the music and artists by listening to a variety of jazz styles, viewing documentaries, and through historical readings. Such artists as Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Bessie Smith, Bix Beiderbecke, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, and Oscar Peterson will be considered.

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Spring 2008

Comedy and Humor
What makes a joke funny to one person but not to another?  Can we understand what the 'comedic perspective' is and what role it serves in society?  What is meant by a "good sense of humor"?  Why is laughing considered "therapeutic"?  This course will explore the meaning of humor, examining differences between slapstick, aggressive humor, wit, and irony.  Students will be asked to bring in their favorite comedian (on film or CD) and/or comedy film for analysis and enjoyment.  Readings will focus on the therapeutic benefit of laughter and taking a humorous perspective.  Joke-telling will be a primary focus and students will work on their comedic skills throughout the course.  Theoretical discussions will challenge students to explore questions about the function, meaning, and benefit of the comedic perspective.  This course will, indeed, be a laughing matter!

Nip, Tuck, Perm, Pierce, and Embalm: Adventures with Embodied Culture
Never content to leave almost well enough alone, people the world over modify their bodies in culturally prescribed ways.  From foot-binding to whalebone corsets, from circumcision to scarification, from big hair to orthodontia, from “six-pack abs” and “buns of steel” to anorexia, we express our somatic selves in cultural contexts.  Do you have a tattoo? Or piercings? We will examine the body from head to toe in far-flung societies, but especially in our own, asking “How?” “Why?” and “What does it mean?”  Field trips to a tattoo parlor and a funeral home, and relevant films [Robert Flaherty’s Moana (1926, tattooing in Samoa); Pumping Iron (1977, Arnold competes for Mr. Olympia and Mr. Universe titles); Pumping Iron II (the women do it too)] are required.  Does anyone know a good mohel?

A Folk History of Alfred
Alfred is two hundred years old!  Our bicentennial will gear up this spring with  this seminar focusing trends and tales of the last two centuries.  Alfred has a rich history of revolutionaries and researchers, assertive citizens and certifications.  Investigate the history of Alfred as a town, Alfred University as an academic institution and the intertwining of the two.  Participation in town events is an option.  Field trips, interviews with long-time local residents, research in the University Archives and other collections, and guest speakers will provide students with a basis for understanding the movements and changes that have made Alfred the unique place that it is.  Discover early trends that may have made recent developments in this valley possible.  Where the nearest body of water was, circa 15,000 B.C.E.?  What industries brought white settlers to the area?  What resources sustained the new arrivals?  What weather and what disasters beset Alfred? 

Superior Beings: If They Exist, How Would We Know?
Dr. Gaze In this course we will use the text of the same name to study game-theoretic implications of Omnipotence, Omniscience, Immortality and Incomprehensibility. Game Theory was developed over 50 years ago by John von Neumann, John (A Beautiful Mind) Nash and their colleagues and instantly revolutionized the way we think about an array of subjects from finance and economics to law and natural science. In this course we will apply game theory to theology, leading us to provocative questions about religion from a game theorist’s viewpoint. There are absolutely no mathematical prerequisites for this course, we will lay the necessary foundation for game theory, discuss the emerging science of competition, and think deeply about some ancient questions that humanity has struggled with throughout the millennia.

The Films of Stanley Kubrick
This seminar examines the achievement of the late American director Stanley Kubrick, beginning with Killer’s Kiss (1955) and ending with Eyes Wide Shut  (1999).  During the five decades between Kubrick's debut and his final exit, he proved both consistent and unpredictable, always focusing on the dark side, yet radically altering the image from film to film, from the erotic to the warlike, or the realistic to the supernatural, or the extraterrestrial to the down-to-earth.  We’ll watch and discuss twelve Kubrick feature films: Killer's Kiss (1955), The Killing (1956), Paths of Glory  (1957), Spartacus (1960), Lolita  (1961), Dr. Strangelove (1964), 2001 (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Barry Lyndon (1975), The Shining (1980), Full Metal Jacket (1987), and Eyes Wide Shut (1999).  You’ll also have an opportunity to compare one of these films to the work of fiction on which it was based.  Kubrick was drawn to fiction as cinematic raw material early on, and was capable of turning either a masterpiece like Lolita or a summer read like The Shining into an outstanding film.

It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
This class will study the notion of the apocalypse or "the end of the world" in mythology, literature, film, graphic novels, and science. Why are people drawn to these stories, and why do we continue to tell them? What do the different causes/incarnations of The End say about our culture? And how the heck did the darkest apocalyptic novel in recent memory end up as an Oprah Book Club selection? We will begin by considering early apocalyptic myths, such as the floods in the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Old Testament. We will then move on to such novels as Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, Cormac McCarthy's The Road and Tim LaHaye's Left Behind, films such as On the Beach, Planet of the Apes and Children of Men, the graphic novel Y: The Last Man, and other eschatological texts. We will also consider the new popular science book The World Without Us, which explores what would become of the planet Earth and its natural and manmade structures if human beings suddenly ceased to exist. The course will culminate with a "Design Your Own Apocalypse" project, in which students either write their own fictional end-of-the-world stories, or present a scientifically-based what-if scenario (dirty bombs? global warming? the die-off of honeybees?) that could spell disaster for our culture.

Wiseguys, Whackos and Whiners
This course is based on the assumption that those considered lunatics, ranters or doomsayers by our society’s mainstream frequently have very interesting things to say. Using a mix of highly controversial short essays, indy films, and internet websites, we’ll explore a wide variety of impassioned riffs - from third-wave feminism, queer theory, and radical environmentalism to race nationalism, revolutionary anarchism and religious fundamentalism.  Each week we’ll be asking the same basic question: are these people nuts, or what?!  No prior experience with fanaticism required; weirdos welcome; open mindedness a must.

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Fall 2007

Inside and Out: Exploring Appearance and Eating
Ever plan to go on a diet, but then eat a piece of chocolate cake? Ever wonder how someone who is stick thin could think they are overweight, as is the case for those experiencing anorexia nervosa? Why do women think that they need to be very thin to attract men, but men are more likely to prefer that women have some curves? This seminar will address some of the many contradictions that exist regarding eating, weight, and appearance.

From Paris to Penguins: Contemporary French Cinema
Did you like the colorful, quirky Amélie (2001) and the Academy Award winning documentary The March of the Emperor (2005)? or how about those crazy frog-eating sisters in the animated film Les Triplettes de Belleville (2003)? Then come learn about more French films of the 21st century. All films will have subtitles so no previous knowledge of French is necessary.

Western Civilization in Python Perspective
This seminar is all about exploring the answers to questions raised by the entertainers known as Monty Python’s Flying Circus. We will be looking at the quintessential Python expressions of an historical perspective shaped by the Pythoners’ classical educations and comedic outlook, such as The Life of Brian and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. We will also watch and discuss more serious productions of individual Pythoners such as Terry Jones and Michael Palin. Finally, we will consider some of the other films written and directed by Pythoner Terry Gilliam, including Time Bandits, The Fisher King, and Brazil, which seek to contrast the past with a dystopic present and future. In order to help us explore the historical perspective of Monty Python, we will also be reading texts that influenced that historical outlook, from medieval romance to modern theory. Silliness is mandatory. Of course.

Bullhorns, Breastplates and Brunhildes
Luciano Pavarotti, a famous tenor, once said “Singing is controlled screaming.” So what’s all the screaming about? Why do people either love or hate opera? Is it really enjoyable to hear someone singing at the top of their lungs, executing trills and roulades while they expire from tuberculosis? In this seminar we’ll investigate the stories of some of the great operas, talk about the divas, castrati, murder, betrayal, sex and yes, true love as can only be described in an 8-10 minute aria (song). We’ll listen to and watch some of the great operas on CD and DVD and take a trip to Tri-Cities Opera in Binghamton and in the end, some of you might just get hooked on Opera.

The Science and Psychology of Super-Heroes
Mutants, genetically engineered spiders, alien powers and technology fill the comics and movie screens. Do these things even exist? Could there be any kind of rational explanation for a teenage boy squirting spider silk from his wrists? Could a genetic mutation allow someone to walk though walls, give them the power of a magnet or to read minds? Let's bring a rational mind to the study of superheroes and see just how we could make them work. Getting the DNA of rock from a solar flare isn't even trying at a rational explanation. Bring us your favorite comic/movie characters, and as a class we'll rip 'em to shreds and put them back together.

HONR 224 The Art of Meditation - A translation of the Pali term bhavana, “meditation” originally meant “mental cultivation.” To practice meditation is to open what is closed, reveal what is hidden, and balance what is reactive in the heart and mind. Amidst the pressures and distractions of daily life, meditation affords a return to the ground of being and a path to authentic presence. In this course you will gain experience in the art of meditation. We will focus on awareness of posture, breath, and movement; mindfulness of feelings, thoughts, and speech; and the transformation of negative states of mind. Cultivating the energy of mindfulness, we will explore ways to relate to others, to our environment, and to ourselves with wisdom and compassion.

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Spring 2007

Rebels, Mystics, Outcasts, and Visionaries - Outsider artists describe themselves as being “compelled” to create. On the fringes of society-self-taught, imprisoned, or institutionalized-these obsessive makers create objects of disturbing beauty. Nek Chand, working secretly at night, covered acres of public forest with figures made from re-cycled materials. Grandma Prisbey constructed a house entirely of bottles. What attracts us to this beauty? Is their creativity different in kind from mainstream artists? We will explore the work of contemporary outsider artists through videos and slides. Students will be asked to find and present their own outsider artist.

The Good, the Bad, and the Revolting -  Some things are just revolting, yes? Some things are good and some bad, right? In this class we will approach the discussions of good and bad by first spending most of our time trying to understand our feelings of revulsion. This will allow us to see the play of what might be called the evaluative emotions. Evaluative emotions are central to evaluative judgments. Along with disgust and revulsion we will talk about many powerful emotions like shame, pity, fear and sympathy. In addition to some handouts and visual aids we will read William Miller’s, The Anatomy of Disgust. Students will be asked to participate actively and to work on a co-authored paper.

Classic American Films  - In this seminar we will view and discuss some of the most honored and beloved American films. In no sense will this be a “history of” American Cinema; rather, we’ll try to figure out what it is about these films that makes them cultural icons.  We’ll watch and discuss The Wizard of Oz, The Philadelphia Story, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, It’s a Wonderful Life, Shane, On the Waterfront, Psycho, Bonnie and Clyde, Chinatown, Taxi Driver, Annie Hall, and Pulp Fiction.

Comedy and Humor - What makes a joke funny?  Why are some films hilarious to one person but not to another?  What is meant by a “good sense of humor”?  Why is laughing considered “therapeutic”?  This course will explore the meaning of humor, examining differences between slapstick, aggressive humor, wit, and irony.  Students will be asked to bring in their favorite comedian (on film or CD) and/or comedy film for analysis and enjoyment.  Readings will focus on the therapeutic benefit of laughter and taking a humorous perspective.  Theoretical discussions will challenge students to explore questions about the function, meaning, and benefit of the comedic perspective.  This course will, indeed, be a laughing matter!

 T’ai Chi: A Way of Life 2 hours. T'ai Chi is a way of life that has been practiced by the Chinese for thousands of years. The Chinese conceived the human mind to be an unlimited dimension, but the scope of human activity to be moderate. T'ai Chi evolved through attempts to unify these perceptions into a philosophy of how one should live in balance with oneself. This course is intended to introduce T'ai Chi philosophy to the beginning student primarily through learning its initial movement forms.

Weaving the Web: Reading, Writing, and Drawing [upon] the Literature of Childhood  - E.B. White got it right when he tied the good writer to the good friend in the character of Charlotte, the large gray spider who stars in Charlotte’s Web. For many of us the characters in early literature, in fact the books themselves, were among our first friends. In this course we will read/think through children’s literature from the books for the very young, Goodnight Moon, Olivia, to the intermediate reader, and on to the publishing phenomenon of Harry Potter and other YA literature. We’ll think about the way literature invents ideas of childhood, as well as how it responds to changing cultural ideals and demographics. We’ll also try our own hands as writers/shapers of childhood. For readers, writers, and illustrators.

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Fall 2006

What’s That Stuff? -“Plastic,” used as an epithet in the 1960’s for “false” or “unreal” and now as a replacement for “money” actually denotes the most common material around us today. Without plastics, we’d all be naked and without entertainment in an Alfred winter.  From the early celluloid shirt collars and cuffs that fueled anti-Chinese sentiment in the 19th century through movies and Frisbees to the flood of plastic toys, clothing, and consumer goods, plastics are important stuff.  Availability of their raw materials wins/causes wars and shapes foreign policy; their unique properties make them the key materials for the information age; their synthetic origins make them an environmental issue.  We’ll explore the many faces of plastic stuff and its complex relationship to society through books and videos (no scientific skills are assumed).

Alfred Hitchcock - Called the “Master of Suspense," an avid proponent of black-and-white film, and a great experimenter, Alfred Hitchcock crafted films which explored the dark side of human behavior and the breakdown of civilized restraint.  Early in his career, he directed silent films, then moved gracefully into the “talkies.”  Later still, he worked in both black-and-white and color. He experimented with translating the film medium to television and hosted a popular long-running show.  Our classroom discussions will focus on the aesthetics, politics, and social views expressed in such classics as Psycho, The Birds, Vertigo, Rear Window, and Suspicion

Tightwaddery, or The Good Life on a Dollar a Day - The basic idea underlying much of contemporary life and culture is: Spend money and you’ll be happy. This is a lie perpetrated by the capitalists who want us to buy their products. This seminar will prove its falsity both in theory and in practice. On a theoretical level, we will consider how living frugally benefits your mind, your body, your relationships, your community, and the environment. On a practical level, we will examine personal spending habits, sharpen bargain-hunting, rip-off-detecting, and haggling skills, make field-trips to yard sales and thrift shops, and prepare a class banquet for less than $10.

The Art of Meditation - A translation of the Pali term bhavana, “meditation” originally meant “mental cultivation.” To practice meditation is to open what is closed, reveal what is hidden, and balance what is reactive in the heart and mind. Amidst the pressures and distractions of daily life, meditation affords a return to the ground of being and a path to authentic presence.  In this course you will gain experience in the art of meditation. We will focus on awareness of posture, breath, and movement; mindfulness of feelings, thoughts, and speech; and the transformation of negative states of mind. Cultivating the energy of mindfulness, we will explore ways to relate to others, to our environment, and to ourselves with wisdom and compassion.

Water Treatment Solutions for Underdeveloped Countries - Water borne disease is responsible for the death of millions of people, and clean water is a critical issue in most developing countries. Further, rural areas often lack employment opportunities, leading to migration of the populace to cities where conditions may be no better. Our proposal offers an integrated approach to these problems: Local production of filtration systems by local craftspeople, using local waste and recyclate materialsAn interdisciplinary design team will develop and investigate the full range of economic, environmental, socio-economic, scientific and engineering design issues required to implement the approach. The work will be carried out by 1) a business/socio-economic team which will investigate issues related to local needs for water treatment as well as the economic profile of potential target regions and a 2)  team of engineers, chemists and biologists who will tackle the technical aspects of the problem, including an experimental survey of potential waste and recyclate materials.Permission of instructor required.  Contact Dr. LaCourse at  lacourse@alfred.edu

England’s Literary and Cinematic Places: London and Beyond - In this seminar, we’ll explore the creative, intimate, and often essential connections writers and filmmakers share with place. In this case, with the varied and dynamic landscape of England. We’ll look at how London, England’s vibrant and history-rich capital, has influenced writers as diverse as Joseph Conrad and Virginia Woolf. We’ll also explore the landscapes of such cities as Bath and Canterbury, examining their influence on writers like Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy. Filmmakers have also enjoyed a kinetic relationship with England’s many places, and we’ll look at the work of such diverse British filmmakers as Ken Russell, John Boorman, and Guy Ritchie.  By enrolling in the class, you are also committing yourself to six-night visit to England during fall break. We’ll stay in London but also travel to the other literary and film landscapes that are so much a part of English culture and history.  It may cost as much as $1,400.

Local History: Eat it Up! - Compared to many other countries, we live in the proverbial “land of milk and honey.” What does that really mean and how does it connect with Alfred’s pioneers?  Some in our culture are moving back toward the domestic arts, organic foods, and paying closer attention to what types of pesticides are being used to grow food. Alfred, originally settled as an agricultural community, is and has been home to a variety of people who produce and sell many of the foods we generally take for granted. Alfred’s history contains local lore, homegrown recipes, and even businesses centered on these foods. Field trips, cooking, readings, and guest lecturers will offer participants the chance to explore Alfred’s history and some of its people through the examination (and tasting!) of locally produced food: maple syrup, honey, milk, cheese and apples. Field trips will involve a dairy farm, a cheese museum, a cider mill, a maple restaurant, and an apiary.

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Spring 2006

The Films of Stanley Kubrick - This seminar examines the achievements of the late American director Stanley Kubrick.  During the five decades between Kubrick's debut and his last exit, he proved himself to be both consistent and diverse, always focusing on the dark side of human experience, yet radically varying the image from film to film--from the erotic to the warlike, or the realistic to the supernatural, or the extraterrestrial to the down-to-earth.  The films we'll examine are Killer's Kiss (1955), The Killing (1956), Paths of Glory (1957), Spartacus
(1960), Lolita (1961), Dr. Strangelove (1964), 2001 (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), Barry Lyndon (1975), The Shining (1980), Full Metal Jacket (1987), and Eyes Wide Shut (1999)

Food for Thought - Food is a part of our family histories, our personal tastes, our obsessions, our friendships and our rituals. This course will work as a kind of literary pot luck.  We will combine reading food in the form of novels, memoir, poetry, and cookbooks, with writing food in the form of our own autobiographical food narratives, and cooking food from the recipes in our literature (and eating) together. Students will be encouraged to share their native and familial cuisines.

T'ai Chi: A Way of Life - T’ai Chi is a way of life that has been practiced by the Chinese for many centuries. This meditative, peaceful “martial art,” is known and regularly practiced daily by millions of people throughout the world and is considered widely to be a valuable “holistic” movement/meditative form which enhances one’s health and mental well-being, providing important tools for effectively coping with the stresses of modern life. Students will be introduced to T’ai Chi’s early history and evolution into the contemporary era and its philosophical background as it directly links with Chinese culture, and will learn approximately half of the 64 movements of the form.

Editorial Cartoons - One goal of this seminar is to learn how to interpret/analyze editorial cartoons covering a wide range of topics; another is to learn how to recognize the styles of some of the prominent American editorial cartoonists. In addition to drawing our own editorial cartoons on subjects ranging from college life to current events/issues (artistic ability not expected or required), students will be asked to give a presentation using editorial cartoons to examine an important historical event such as the Civil Rights Movement, the end of Apartheid, or Vietnam.

Extinctions, Evolution and the Environment - In this seminar we will seek to understand extinctions and their role  in the evolution of our planet and the life on it. We will study what is known about the fossil record and the extinctions it records, and will see that extinction rates are anything but constant.  We  shall see how a new paradigm, “punctuated equilibrium”, has been  developed to reflect the episodic nature of extinction events.  The  Mass Extinction at the end of Cretaceous time - the one responsible  for the demise of the dinosaurs - will receive particular attention.

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Fall 2005

Comedy and Humor - What makes a joke funny? Why do some people find a particular joke to be hilarious whereas others think it is stupid or banal? What role does humor play in our general well-being; is it therapeutic or just an idle distraction? Why is a "good sense of humor" such an important criterion for choosing friends or lovers? We will explore these questions through an examination of several modes of humor -- films, joke books, sitcoms, stand-up comedy, and animation.

Nip, Tuck, Perm, Pierce, and Tattoo - Adventures with Embodied Culture Never content to leave almost well enough alone, people the world over modify their bodies in culturally prescribed ways. From foot-binding to whalebone corsets, from circumcision to scarification, from big hair to orthodontia, from "six-pack abs" and "buns of steel" to anorexia, we express our somatic selves in cultural contexts. We will examine the body from head to toe in far-flung societies, and especially in our own, asking "How?" "Why?" and "What does it mean?" A field trip to a tattoo parlor and relevant films [Robert Flaherty's Moana (1926, tattooing in Samoa); Pumping Iron (1977, Arnold competes for Mr. Olympia and Mr. Universe titles)] are required.

Risky Business - Being 18 or so is a risky business. The are a gazillion reasons why: parents to deal with, teachers and school, falling in love for the first time, not to mention sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll. Most of all, it's a time of letting go of the past and "breaking away." In this seminar we'll take a look at the way these issues have been treated on film. We'll see such films as Risky Business, Breaking Away, Saturday Night Fever, Good Will Hunting, The Graduate, Splendor in the Grass, Election, Gas Food Lodging, Say Anything, The Last Picture Show, Roger Dodger, and Maria Full of Grace.

The Theory and Practice of Time Travel - The whole idea of Time Travel is preposterous, isn't it? Despite the paradoxes, some physicists think time travel may not be impossible. In fact, there is no law of physics that time travel contradicts and there are even solutions to Einstein's equations for general relativity which allow time travel to take place. No we won't really build a time machine. The "practice" part of the class will look at time travel as portrayed in science fiction.

The Politics of Country Music - Country music is often dismissed as an emanation from the Red states - or worse: simpleminded, predictable, kneejerkishly God-fearing and flag-waving. In this survey of the genre, we'll take a more complex view of the cultural work of country music, exploring how it emerges from and responds to social and political contexts. We'll be especially interested in the outlaws of country music and their friends -Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, John Prine, and more - and we'll listen to some representatives of contemporary country (like Toby Keith and the Dixie Chicks) to explore how the politics of country music have changed over the past few decades. We'll also try to find a good concert to attend together - and we might try writing some songs of our own.

Zen in the Art of Chess - The ancient game of chess is recognized as both a technical skill and an art form. In this course we will study both aspects. The technical side will be developed by studying opening and end-game strategies, as well as studying games played by grandmasters. The artistic side will be approached through Zen in the Art of Archery, which gives an excellent introduction to Zen philosophy through the practicing of archery. The games of Go and Chinese chess will also be introduced. Absolutely no knowledge of chess is required, just a willingness to participate in games of chess both inside and outside the classroom.

Mind the Gap  Art + Science - Why would an artist find it necessary to make a rabbit glow green?   How does growing  human ears on the backs of mice affect the culture's image of science? Artists not only critique science and technological "advancements," they are a conduit for new knowledge as it flows from scientists to the general population. In this seminar, we will explore recent responses by artists to new technologies and scientific advances, and the historical roots of this response.  We will come to an understanding of how science and the public may benefit from this line of inquiry and how society may benefit from the impact of science and art collaborations.  The seminar will be team taught by a scientist/artist and an artist/scientist.  Over the course of the semester students will have the opportunity to create and exhibit artwork with science as its subject or medium.

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Spring 2005

Vampires - This seminar will examine many facets of the vampire. Central to the course will be the development of the vampire figure in fiction (Polidori's The Vampyre, Le Fanu's Carmilla, Stoker's Dracula, King's Salem's Lot and Rice's The Tale of the Body Thief, films (several Dracula films, The Hunger, The Lost Boys, and Van Helsing), and television Buffy, Dark Shadows, and Forever Knight). We will also study the history of vampires and the contemporary place of vampires in a world of Goths and deadly blood diseases such as AIDS.

Planetary Geology - NASA missions to the planets have provided huge advances in our knowledge of the Solar System, dramatically changing much of our thinking about planets and other bodies. Consider this: There are eight planets and at least 60 satellites in our Solar System, and no two bodies are the same! We will examine NASA missions to the terrestrial planets and other solid bodies, learn about what we now understand better, but perhaps more importantly, learn about the new questions inspired by this new knowledge. In the process, we will learn how our knowledge of the Earth has dramatically increased from such planetary explorations.

A Great Characters Seminar - A lot of the people we carry around with us in our heads and our hearts are people we've only met in literature. Even though they're not "real," they're often the people we think of when we wonder how to handle a situation, or when we consider the human qualities we value, or when we are scared in the dark in the middle of the night. In a sense, other characters are how we know who we are. They are the beating heart at the center of every story. So what makes a character memorable? Who are the enduring characters in our literatures and our lives? How do writers do it? How do writers take words and make someone as clear and real to us as the person next door? In this reading and writing class, we'll explore some great characters from literature, children's literature and genre fiction. Possible texts: Dracula, The Trumpet of the Swan, Anna Karenina, To Kill a Mocking Bird, The Tempest, Harry Potter, even romance novels and detective fiction. We'll also develop characters of our own, practicing techniques we learn from Tolstoy, Shakespeare, J.K. Rowling, and E.B. White.

The Human Genome Project - The Human Genome Project and the technological advances and innovations it will produce will confront American society and with a wide range of new and challenging ethical and social issues. The seminar will introduce students to some of the bioethical issues that will inevitably confront them and help them to develop the intellectual tools they will need to participate in making informed decisions. The seminar will look at the scientific bases, the moral dilemmas and the social implications of such practices as genetic screening, gene therapy, DNA testing, and the development of genetically modified organisms.

Maple Syrup - The Real Thing: "Wanted: Someone with a background in meteorology, chemistry, botany, forestry, art, and cookery who is also a nature lover with lots of patience. Must enjoy long hours of hard work in the snow, cold, and mud." Even though this is an accurate description of a maple syrup producer, don't let it scare you! The method of producing maple syrup is one of the things in our society that has endured even in today's culture of constant change; fundamentally it's the same process Native Americans used centuries ago. This class will explore the history of maple syrup production, discover the ins and outs of making syrup, create (and eat) some sweet confections, and take field trips to local producers, restaurants and festivals. No prior experience expected.

Remaking Horror Films - Horror films can be viewed on one level as simply funhouse rides intended to shock their viewers, but deeper analysis of movies in this genre can provide a window into a society's culture, including the fears it wants to face and even the ones it doesn't. Within the past decade, classic horror films from the 1960's and 1970's, such as Psycho, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Night of the Living Dead, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre have been remade by contemporary filmmakers, "updating" the stories to fit the periods in which they are being viewed. In this course, we will view the originals and these remakes to compare the ways in which horror films seek to shock, comfort, and sometimes challenge their intended audience.

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