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Spring 2019 Honors Seminars

HONS 1810W-69
“Women Who Kill”
TR 11 am – 12:15 pm
Professor Julie Fesmire
Department of English
AXLE: Humanities & the Creative Arts (HCA)

Clytemnestra. Medea. Lady Macbeth. Women who kill (or otherwise transgress) are nothing new in literature. Indeed, the tradition of the defiant, criminal, and often-defeated woman has endured throughout Western literature from Shakespeare (King Lear, Macbeth) and Ford (‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore), to Ibsen (A Doll’s House) to Brecht (Mother Courage) to Pinter (The Homecoming).  In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, writers have adapted these characters and created a body of work that ultimately shares a common theme that all of society is responsible for its evils— not only the villains, but even those who stand idly by.  We will compare classical views of the female-aggressor-monster with contemporary views that humanize women, focusing specifically on how feminist legal theory has sought to propose an appropriate framework in which to adjudicate situations where women kill.  Texts will include, among others:  Medea, The Oresteia, Alias Grace, Trifles, Flyin’ West, Death and the Maiden, Thelma and Louise, and Weldon Rising.

This class is Eligible for both English and Women’s and Gender Studies majors/minors.


HONS 1820W-23
TR 9:35 – 10:50 am
Professor Jay Clayton and Professor Robert Scherrer
Department of English and Department of Physics
AXLE: Perspectives (P)

This class will explore the relationship between science and science fiction (SF).  Drawing on classic works of scientific writing and SF, we will examine the distinctive modes of imagination and style in the two spheres, as well as their social and cultural influences.  What are the ground rules for introducing original ideas in each arena?  How are ideas embedded and developed in a SF story in comparison with their presentation in a science article?  What roles do prediction and falsification play in the respective pursuits?  Fiction will range from the origins of the genre in Wells to the “golden age” of Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, and Bradbury to new wave fiction, cyberpunk, and emerging twenty-first century writers, and will include readings from exemplary works of science writing.  No scientific background is required, but scientific concepts will be introduced and discussed. For more information, see the class blog:


HONS 1820W-34
“Virtual Worlds”
T 3 – 5:30 pm
Professor Lynn Ramey
Department of French and Italian
AXLE: Perspectives (P)

When Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook had purchased Oculus VR in 2014, he talked about the importance of feeling connected and “present” with others, unbounded by the constraints of space. He might well have mentioned time, too. Virtual reality promises to allow users to feel immersed in places and moments that were once inaccessible. What does this notion of presence offer us, and how does it fall short? We will explore the long history of human attempts to conquer space and time to achieve “presence” with the distant past, faraway lands, future, and even God. While there will be a strong historical component to this course, we will experiment with different augmented and virtual reality devices, and students will design and create their own immersive experiences (analog or digital), using virtual worlds as a storytelling device.


HONS 1850W-26
TR 2:35 – 3:50 pm
Professor Jeff Schall
Department of Psychology
AXLE: Math and Natural Sciences (MNS)

The discoveries of modern neuroscience research have important, some would say frightening, implications. Neuro-ethics refers to the personal, political, religious, social, legal, and philosophical implications of neuroscience research findings and applications. This course will explore that space guided by my experience and animated by your interests.  No background in neuroscience or biology or even science is needed. We will make sure basic facts and concepts are explained. Topics that we can consider include but are not limited to decoding thoughts, free will and determinism, consciousness and dreams, law and neuroscience, lie detection, neuro-economics, neuro-marketing, mental illness and neuro-enhancement, brain-machine interfaces, artificial and natural intelligence, ethics of human and animal experimentation, brain death, and neuroscience in popular culture and the media.


HONS 1850W-27
“Nanoscience and nanotechnology”
TR 11 am – 12:15 pm
Professor Sokrates Pantelides
Department of Physics
AXLE: Math and Natural Sciences (MNS)

The words nanoscience and nanotechnology have become commonplace, but for the average layperson they are rather mysterious. Laypersons also hear that semiconductors have to do with modern technology (electronics, computers, lasers, LEDs, cell phones), but they do not know what semiconductors really are. I will take the class on a journey with brief general lectures to demystify the connection between materials and technology; what semiconductors are and how they became the backbone of the modern technology juggernaut; how “nano” entered the picture about 20 years ago; and what is the new miracle of graphene. The journey will include virtual excursions to the Washington world of politics and research funding agencies, to social and economic issues, to medicine, space exploration, and future frontiers. A list of topics, culled from the above, will be provided for students to choose from and research, and finally present to the class for discussion. Examples of topics: Moore’s law and the relentless miniaturization of electronics in the last 60 years, replacing incandescent light bulbs with LEDs (the science, economics, the explosion of lighting options), nanoparticles for targeted drug delivery in humans, nanoparticles for catalysis (e.g., catalytic converters in cars), two-dimensional materials and their potential for new applications, brain-computer interfaces (BCIFs), etc.


HONS 1860W-20
“Language and Identity”
MW 2:10 – 3:25 pm
Professor Virginia Scott
Department of French and Italian
AXLE: International Cultures (INT)

The language you speak is an integral part of your identity. Like nationality, religion, and membership in a community (such as Vanderbilt!), your native language and the language(s) you use in your daily life are part of who you are. For people who speak a language other than the dominant language of the country in which they live, issues of identity and belonging become critical. In this seminar, we will explore the complex issues related to language and identity, with a specific focus on non-native speakers of English. We will discuss the meaning of various terms, including native speaker, bilingual, code-switching, pidgin, and creole to understand the ways language shapes a person’s sense of self. Readings will include novels and articles about identity and multilingualism. Each student will engage in a semester-long case study of a non-native English speaker in our community to examine the ways multiple language use informs that person’s sense of self. Students who are interested in world languages and study abroad will find this seminar especially relevant.


** The following two honors seminars are offered at Peabody College and are open to College Scholars just like an honors seminar. You will earn 3 honors points for taking one, and 3 or 4 credit hours towards graduation, but as a non-VU course, they will not carry AXLE credit. College Scholars have permission to enroll in this course directly.

HONS 1837-01
“Growing up in America”
T 1:10 – 3:40 pm
Professor Catherine Loss
Peabody College, Department of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations

What is childhood? When does it begin and end? And what makes childhood a unique phase of life that has been largely defined and dictated by adults?  In this seminar, we will explore the history of childhood and adolescence in the modern United States. The seminar will introduce students to changing conceptions of childhood drawn from a wide range of fields, including history, education, psychology, medicine, law, and social policy. We will explore the lived experiences of children and adolescents, both past and present, while placing those experiences against the broader backdrop of social, political, economic, and cultural change. We will consider children growing up at different points in time and in a range of contexts—at home and in school, at work and at play—with attention to race, class, gender identity, ethnicity, and disability. Topics to be covered include but are not limited to:  children’s freedom and rights; child development and sexuality; parenting advice literature and professional expertise; child welfare; consumerism; privacy, technology, and social media.


PSCH 1837-02
“Coping with Stress: Resilience, Adaptation & Thriving”
R 1:10 – 3:40 pm
Professors Leslie Kirby and Craig Smith
Peabody College, Department of Human and Organizational Development, Psychological Sciences

Life, inevitably, is stressful.  However, stress comes in a variety of forms and how we cope with it can greatly affect how the impacts stress has on us.  On the one hand, too much stress can push us to the point of physical and/or mental breakdown, but on the other hand, positive stress often serves as the engine for both personal and societal achievement and gain.  Scientific evidence demonstrates that there are huge individual differences in how people cope with stress and with the subsequent outcomes they experience.  This course is designed to give you an in-depth look at empirical research on stress and coping, as well as concrete tools for managing and making the most of the stress in your life.

Topics we will consider include:  What is resilience – what characteristics enable some individuals to recover from potentially harmful stress and profit more from positive stress than others?  What are various ways of coping with stress, and when are they most likely to be effective or ineffective?  How can you make the most of the positive stress in your life to thrive in a high pressure environment, like the one in which you are currently a student.


** The following two honors seminars are offered at Fisk University and are open to College Scholars just like an honors seminar. You will earn 3 honors points for taking one, and 3 or 4 credit hours towards graduation, but as a non-VU course, they will not carry AXLE credit. Please email Dean Morgan if you’d like to enroll in this course and he will explain the process for cross-registering in a Fisk course. The course will show up on your Vanderbilt transcript as a graded VU course.

HON 212Q
“Life’s Big Questions”
Tuesdays 4:00-6:30 (3 credits)
Dr. Jens Frederiksen

This class will cover a series of ‘life’s big questions’ through the writings of some of history’s most prominent thinkers from around the world, such as Plato, Thomas Aquinas, Confucius, Karl Marx, and W. E. B. Du Bois. These questions will include among others the nature of reality, the purpose of life, the case for justice, the difference between right and wrong, the constitution of identity, death and the afterlife, what it means to be human, the existence of God, and the construction of gender, class and race. Through the readings, we will investigate a series of different perspectives and how each of them informs the world in which we live. Students will be required to present from the readings and write short response papers throughout the semester.

HON 212B
“The History of Fisk”
Wednesdays 10:00-12:30 (4 credits)
Dr. Reavis Mitchell

This course will serve as a history of a unique American institution: Fisk University. It will focus on the cause and the need for such an institution of higher learning. The course will avoid a parochial view of the institution and will instead place it within the national focus. There is a focus on the institution’s leadership and those dominant individuals who have helped shape the course of the university’s evolution. During the semester, students will develop and utilize historical methodology, analytical skills, and sound reasoning to discover a broader understanding of an institution that’s been identified as “one of America’s truly great universities.”