Note that all classes will take a required active learning trip during Fall Break; travel costs, accommodations, tickets, and some meals will be paid for by the Honors College.
In HON 111, you will learn how to encounter and interact with different kinds of writing and texts; how to become a better analytical reader; how to collaborate with your fellow scholars; how to engage in academic debate and discourse; and how to improve your communication skills, both written and oral.
In HON 112, we will go from a focus on asking questions to a focus on answering them. While you continue to hone the skill of asking rich and rewarding questions, you will also begin developing the tools you need to find answers. In short, in HON 112 you will learn how to undertake “research,” broadly defined, what research looks like in various disciplines, the ethics of research, and how research develops organically.
This year’s Honors Colloquium focuses on “Progress,” an idea that motivates thinkers, theologians, explorers, artists, and investigators—and that presumably motivates you, as you embark on your college career. The word “progress” is a paradoxical one: it assumes forward motion, yet what looks like advancement to one person (or society) may not look like advancement to another. Though seemingly straightforward, in short, “progress” is an often-disputed and costly concept that can cause significant political, cultural, and individual conflict. While each section of Colloquium will approach this topic differently and make use of different texts, all sections will begin the year with Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success.
Individual course descriptions follow.
Alisa Lowrey • Tuesday/Thursday 1:15 – 2:45pm • H001
The concept of progress can be defined as moving forward, pressing onward. It is usually conceptualized as something positive, focused on achievement or the attainment of goals. However, movement forward leaves space behind and change often challenges. This course will explore the concept of progress through selected “outliers” involved in the forward movement of the United States. We will look at the progress made by these individuals in specific movements such as Civil Rights, Disability Rights, Women’s Rights, and Innovation as well as the personal costs of being progressive. We will critically analyze the impact of progress on society at large through the lenses of these biographies. The Spring semester will continue our debate of progress through careful exploration of current movements in economics, medical science, climate, and human rights.
Readings include: Coming of Age in Mississippi; The Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg; Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck; Steve Jobs.
Cindy Blackwell • Tuesday/Thursday 1:15 – 2:45pm • H002
Social change is a broad term relating to societal progress that is driven by (among other things) intellectual and technological advancements and changing attitudes and behaviors. However not all social change meets its intended outcome, and the zeitgeist of one era can unwittingly create issues for the next. For example, grocery stores brought greater convenience to society but have, ironically, separated us from food, causing Wendell Berry to argue that we are victims of “industrial eating.” Regarding technology and its impact on modern society, in 1970 Alvin Toffler predicted that, as the pace of technological change accelerates, “millions of ordinary, psychologically normal people will face an abrupt collision with the future.” In this section of Colloquium we will examine significant movements of social change and the legacies (both positive and negative) they leave. We will consider such questions as “Given the amount of waste in our society, is dumpster diving more progressive than grocery shopping?” and “Are early adopters of technology part of positive change or part of a problem?” The spring semester will allow students to explore social change from their unique interests, investigating how social change connects to all aspects of society and considering what progress or complications each change generated.
Readings include: Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer; Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked; How Change Happens; Future Shock.
Josh Hill • Tuesday/Thursday 1:15 – 2:45pm • H003
While “progress” happens differently in different contexts, the word always suggests some kind of forward movement. This, in turn, implies direction and, of course, a goal or “end”—a place that “progress” is meant to take us. In this section of colloquium, we will explore different types of “ends” – from the individual level to the societal level – and examine how the decisions we make about progress affect the outcomes we desire. Are we truly agents of progress, or are we simply products of our environment? Jared Diamond’s seminal work Guns, Germs, and Steel looks at how societies are shaped by elements beyond their control in the environments they arise within [pretty vague to me!]. In Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton ask questions regarding individual identity and the meaning of “vocation”; and in The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Edward Tufte shows how we are affected even by the ways we see information presented. Throughout the year we focus on taking these texts and others and asking what we can do to increase our own understandings of agency and progress, and indeed whether there is an “end” at all.
Readings include: The Visual Display of Quantitative Information; Guns, Germs, and Steel; The Seven Storey Mountain.
Emily Stanback • Tuesday/Thursday 1:15 – 2:45pm • H004
What do artist Vincent Van Gogh, jazz musician John Coltrane, physicist Marie Curie, and the fictional character Victor Frankenstein have in common? All were experimenters, and all are famous for the fruits of their experimentation. In this course we’ll look at historical and fictional accounts of experiments—many of them medical or scientific, but also literary, artistic, musical, and psychological ones—and we’ll also look at some experiments themselves. For example, we’ll look at self-experimental scientists and physicians in the 18th and 19th centuries, and we’ll discuss how such individuals gave rise to the figure of the “mad scientist.” We’ll look at the role of experimentation in developing the first hot air balloon, in discovering the properties of laughing gas, and in cracking 19th century yellow fever epidemics. We’ll ask what scientific and psychological experiments have in common with experiments in music, dance, theater, and literature. Importantly, we also will explore at length the sometimes troubling social and ethical contexts for some of the experiments we examine. By its very nature, experimentation pushes the boundaries of what is possible, but is that always a good thing? If experimentation is key to progress, when is it worth the cost?
Readings include: Frankenstein; Age of Wonder; The American Plague; Medical Apartheid; Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Tales.
Matthew Casey • Monday/Wednesday 3:00 – 4:30pm • H005
In the past, present and foreseeable future, the idea of making progress has held universal appeal. Indeed, the concept of progress has served as a powerful political slogan and a motivation for previously unimaginable heights of achievement. Though everyone agrees that progress is good, there is little consensus on how it should be defined, measured, carried out or paid for. This course will explore historical visions of progress, the unintended consequences of carrying them out and some of the winners and losers who have benefited or been exploited in the process. The Fall semester will focus on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, arguably the height of the obsession with the idea of progress. The Spring semester will focus on contemporary debates and ethical issues tied to biomedical innovations, gentrification, social media, climate change, artificial intelligence and hyper-automation.
Readings include: Coming of Age in Mississippi; The Canal Builders: Making America's Empire at the Panama Canal; They Called It Prairie Light: The Story of Chilocco Indian School; The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.
Don Yee • Monday/Wednesday 3:00 – 4:30pm • H006
"Progress has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it." – Henry Drummond, Inherit the Wind
It’s not easy to make progress, let alone know that we’ve actually done it. How do we know if what we call progress is better, or just different? How do we know when we’re done “progressing” or whether we’re just stumbling along the way to real change? In this course we will examine people and events that have challenged our perception of progress, and have opened up new areas of understanding, while also bringing us new unexpected and unsolved problems. For HON 111 we’ll focus on stories of innovators and accomplishments that went against convention, that led to advances in the human condition, and challenge our way of looking at progress. For HON 112, we’ll turn to situations where progress may force us to grapple with new problems, that like Albert Einstein said, won’t be solved with the same thinking that created them.
Readings include: The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal; The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine; Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age.
Katie Anthony • Monday/Wednesday 3:00 – 4:30pm • H007
“As to diseases, make a habit of two things — to help, or at least, to do no harm.” ― Hippocrates
In this course, we will discuss the progress of modern medicine and advanced healthcare systems as we critically evaluate whether these “improvements” have made for a healthier global population or whether some innovations have been detrimental to our overall well-being. The HON 111 course will take a more focused approach to understand the ways that patients navigate illness and major life changes. How does uncertainty in our personal health affect our outlook on life? How do people manage difficult medical decisions? How often do people consider and communicate their desires for end of life care? Are physicians equipped to assist people in their darkest moments? During the HON 112 course, we will focus on more macro-level concerns as we consider the interplay between health, poverty, and access. Who deserves access to good medical care? What are some of the inequalities present in our healthcare system? What are the major barriers we face in becoming a healthy population? We will also consider the role of culture—both within the United States and abroad—and its affect on people’s understandings of health, wellness, and treatment. This class is not merely for students interested in the medical field. The course covers a wide range of topics including inequalities in healthcare, the seeming incongruencies between life-saving medical innovations and rapidly increasing levels of global chronic disease, public health communication, urban planning and built-environments, and the struggling American healthcare system.
Readings include: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End; When Breath Becomes Air; On Living; Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.
Iliyan Iliev • Monday/Wednesday 3:00 – 4:30pm • H008
"Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything." – Bernard Shaw
We experience progress both as individuals and as societies. Personal progress is how we evolve as thinkers, as members of our society, and as scholars. Our minds are our most powerful tool in our personal progress and in our forward movement; they are a tool that needs to be sharpened and allowed to flex. The way we think, the way we dream, the way we suffer, and the way we succeed are shaping us and the world around us. Our progress is also the progress of a society - our own or other people's. Progress (technological, historical, political) has affected and continues to affect our lives, the way we interact with one another, and the environment around us. In this section of colloquium, we will examine these various aspects of progress. In the fall, we will explore progress as individuals. We will examine what factors contribute to our success and whether those factors are due to our own progress as “outliers” or due to the society we live in; how analytical thinking can shape who we are; how the power of our mind can help us survive and advance; how we can find happiness and continue growing as individuals even in the most adverse scenarios; and how education can be a ladder in personal advancement despite external forces. In the spring we will delve into societal progress – how humanity has progressed to where we are today; how human progress can survive near annihilation; whether progress applies to everyone; and how leaders have shaped that process. Above all, we will embrace the motto: question everything!
Readings include: Thinking, Fast and Slow; Man's Search for Meaning; The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; Educated.
Anna Wan • Tuesday/Thursday 9:45 – 11:15am • H009
“I’m increasingly inclined to think that there should be some regulatory oversight, maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish. I mean with artificial intelligence we’re summoning the demon.” —Elon Musk
In this course, we will look at the progress toward “Artificial Intelligence” (AI) and the opportunities, challenges, and ethical questions that AI raises. The idea that the computing power to land on the moon now fits in the palm of your hand may seem shocking, but given advances in various fields, that idea is very real. With such expansive opportunities come new challenges: how, for example, will a self-driving car make decisions about whom to save in an impending accident? Such challenges need to be addressed in the not-so-distant future. To understand the complexities of AI, we must look at fields like computer science, mathematics, philosophy, psychology, and many more. In HON 111, we will look at innovations in computer science and mathematics that have contributed to developments in AI. There will be some hands-on experience to enable deeper understanding of coding and mathematics, but no previous experience is required. In HON 112, we will expand our focus to fields such as philosophy, psychology, and ethics as we try to better understand the human ramifications of AI.
Marek Steedman • Monday/Wednesday 3:00 – 4:30pm • H010
Progress is a spatial metaphor: it suggests that we are moving towards some place that is before us, leaving somewhere else behind. Implicitly, however, the idea is also that where we are going is better than where we have been—and perhaps that when we arrive, we will (finally) have achieved success. The first part of this course explores the nature of success, and its anxious shadow, failure. Where are we trying to go, and when will we know when we have arrived? What obstacles might we encounter, and how will we react when we stumble along the way? In the second part of the course we consider a variety of ‘destinations’ to (or from) which we might make progress: Ithaca, Tau Ceti, the Galapagos Islands, among others. And the end of all our exploring, as we pull the earbuds out of our ears and shake off the potato chip crumbs, may be to know where we are for the first time.
Readings: How to Fail: Everything I’ve Ever Learned from Things Going Wrong; Theory of the Leisure Class; The Great Gatsby; Cuz: An American Tragedy.