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Fall 2018 Honors Seminars

HONS 1810W-66
“Dante and the Foundations of Modern Western Civilization”
TR 1:10 – 2:25 pm
Professor William Franke
Department of French & Italian
AXLE: Humanities & the Creative Arts (HCA)

This course broaches major topics in the history of ideas from love and governance to the possibility and limits of knowing God and the world as they are articulated across disciplines from philosophy and literature to religion. It takes the theoretical and critical texts of Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) as seminal for the birth of the modern world. We will concentrate particularly on The New Life, The Banquet, On the Vulgar Tongue, and Monarchy. Each of these works is monumental in its own right and inaugurates a new secular outlook that, nevertheless, is still firmly ensconced in ancient and medieval processes of theological revelation. Revelation itself, as Dante conceives it, is becoming thoroughly historicized and individualized. He shows exactly how Christian, incarnate revelation renders possible the emergence of the new outlook of the modern world in its autonomy and concrete reality as we know it. All of Dante’s ideas, moreover, are presented as originating from his overwhelming experience of love for a woman, his “beatifier,” Beatrice. Dante’s universal vision takes on renewed relevance today in a world facing the twin challenges of globalization, on the one hand, and ethnic fragmentation and religious sectarianism, on the other.


HONS 1810W-68
“Reading Imperial Russia by Tolstoy”
W 2:10 – 4:40 pm
Professor Frank Wcislo
Department of History
AXLE: Humanities & the Creative Arts (HCA)

One should not graduate university without having read Leo Tolstoy’s two great novels, War and Peace and Anna Karenina. They supply bookends to an arc of imperial Russian history. From the early 19th century Napoleonic wars that marked the apogee of Russian imperial power in Europe to the Victorian Russian high society that would produce one of the great markers of modernity, the 1917 Russian Revolution, the novels open a panoramic vista of the society, cultural symbols, personality, identity, high drama and mores of the Russian imperial elite from which Tolstoy came. Its demise in 1914-1922 is the subject of my current book project. This seminar is thus a research seminar. It will read both novels as primary sources, and use a collaborative, semester-long, multi-disciplinary (given the variety of undergraduate majors represented) approach to discover, identify and analyze fundamental tropes/themes/characteristics of the world that existed before the meteor strike of 1917 destroyed it.


HONS 1820W-33
“The Golden Age of Islam”
MWF 1:10 – 2:00 pm
Professor Philip Lieberman-Ackerman
Department of Jewish Studies
AXLE: Perspectives (P)

Islam occupies a prominent place in our world, but even if Islam appears in our popular media, all we see is the tip of the iceberg. A counterpoint to the characterization in the media of Islamic culture as radical and militant, many have heard of the Golden Age of Islamic Civilization and of the Islamic contributions to astronomy, the invention of algebra, the rise of scientific chemistry, medicine, and biology. Some have seen the brilliant works of art created by Persian miniaturists or have read the wise and worldly sayings of Omar Khayyam and the spiritual musings of Rumi. They wonder how the flowering of Islam led to today’s rivalry between Shi‘ites and Sunnis, or how the fierce partisanship of militants and extremists colored or pushed aside from public attention the cosmopolitan openness of an earlier age. Our goal in this course is to open up to our students a richer, fuller appreciation of Islamic civilization than will be seen in the daily news feeds, to provide the background needed to appreciate the diversity of Islam and to understand the history and the problematic that render a grasp of Islamic religion, culture, and history indispensable for an informed encounter with our present world.


HONS 1830W-56
“Public Opinion and Democracy in Latin America”
W 2:10 – 4:40 pm
Professor Elizabeth Zechmeister
Department of Political Science
AXLE: Social & Behavioral Sciences (SBS)

What can ordinary people tell us about the quality and durability of democracy? How can scholars transform public opinion into a useful resource for the media, analysts, and policymakers? This course considers these questions with a focus on the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region. All LAC countries hold elections, yet the depth, breadth, and stability of democracy varies across the region. Further, recent times have seen democratic back-sliding in a number of countries. The course introduces students to issues in the measurement and analysis of public opinion survey data. The course provides an opportunity for applied experience working with Vanderbilt’s Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) and, specifically, the AmericasBarometer. Students gain knowledge, tools, and skills to analyze survey data and produce policy-relevant reports that address key issues in democracy and governance.


HONS 1840W-30
“Writing 21st Century America”
TR 1:10 – 2:25 pm
Professor Cecilia Tichi
Department of English
AXLE: US History and Culture (US)

“Writing 21st Century America” is a course devoted to narratives (fiction and nonfiction) and documentary films focused on urgent social issues of our time, an era that is often referred to as a second Gilded Age, the term indicating that the glitter and sheen mask a very different and more somber reality. From the beginning of the 21st century American novelists and nonfiction writers have explored such topics as food and water quality, work and wages,  immigration, and the US prison system—issues that American citizens confront in this century. The course promises a “head start,” so to speak, on facets of these and other complex issues that will confront Vanderbilt students in careers and personal lives.


HONS 1850W-25
“Brain and Body Scaling”
TR 8:10 – 9:25 am
Professor Suzana Herculano-Houzel
Department of Psychology
AXLE: Math & Natural Sciences (MNS)

Professor Herculano-Houzel is interested in comparative neuroanatomy, cellular composition of brains, brain morphology, brain evolution, metabolic cost of body and brain, sleep requirement across species, feeding time, and really interested in how all of these are tied together. You can learn more about her research on a recent interview with Chancellor Nick Zeppos on The Zeppos Report: https://www. youtube. com/watch?v=swsei2eW27M


HONS 1860W-11
“20th and 21st Century Art and Politics”
M 1:10 – 3:40 pm
Professor Leonard Folgarait
Department of History of Art
AXLE: International Cultures (INT)

This course will investigate case studies of the relationship of art to politics in the past and current centuries. A wide range of media and examples from Europe and the Americas will provide the material for study. Topics will include the art of the Russian and Mexican Revolutions, the degenerate Art of Nazi Germany, contemporary feminist art, the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, political film, art related to the Holocaust, and street art and graffiti.


HONS 1860W-19
“How to change the course of history”
MW 1:10 – 2:25 pm
Professor Michael Bess
Department of History
AXLE: International Cultures (INT)

Ever since the advent of large-scale civilizations, various individuals and groups have tried hard to exert a major impact on the events of their time, re-channeling the flow of history according to their values and goals. Some have partially succeeded, many have failed, and most have found themselves confronted by all manner of unintended consequences. If humans make their own history, then why is it so difficult to bend events to our will?  In this course we use case studies from the past to examine the nature of historical causation and the space for effective human agency.