Skip to main content

Spring 2022 Honors Seminars

HONS 1810W-73
“Human Sociality and Reality Construction”
TR 9:30 – 10:45 am

Professor Lucius Outlaw
Department of Philosophy
AXLE: Humanities & the Creative Arts (HCA)

Homo sapiens, the human species, is but one of many social species. However, our species has evolved through successful cross-generational dispersions from one geographical context of emergence—continental Africa—to adaptive survival in a variety of geographical contexts across planet earth that have resulted in the formation of diverse forms and modes of shared social life—eusociality—unique among eusocial species. Important factors that have been crucial to this adaptive evolutionary diversification have been specie-particular forms of cross-generational learning, communication, and institution-building, ways of contending with the challenges and opportunities of prevailing and anticipated realities that have made for adaptive survival and evolutionary changes. We will devote immersive, critical, evaluative attention to explorations of accounts of these key factors in the evolution of human eusociality.


HONS 1810W-75
“Body and Mind”
W: 1:25 – 4:15 pm
Professor Lenn Goodman
Department of Philosophy
AXLE: Humanities & the Creative Arts (HCA)

Almost all philosophers today regard the mind-body problem as the core issue of metaphysics, and questions about consciousness raise what is widely called The Really Hard Problem: How can a thinking being be physical – or a physical being think? The problem, for interesting reasons, did not seem to trouble most ancient or medieval philosophers. It comes to the fore in modern times, in the wake of Descartes’ anchoring the modern approaches to philosophy in a system that understood matter and mind in radically different terms. Our aim will be to grapple with questions about the body-mind interaction for ourselves. Our readings will include Descartes’ Meditions on First Philosophy, key passages from Spinoza, Berkeley, Hume, Kant, and Dennett, and Coming to Mind: The Soul and its Body (2013) by Goodman and D. G. Caramenico. The book includes chapters on Perception, Consciousness, Memory, Agency (Free Will), and Creativity, and is replete with brain science, alongside its philosophical argument.


HONS 1810W-76
“Beyond Human/Animal: The Social Lives of Microbes, Fungi & Trees”
F 9:05 am – 12:05 pm
Professor Beth Conklin
Department of Anthropology
AXLE: Humanities & the Creative Arts (HCA)

This class explores the growing recognition in science and medicine of human/non-human interdependence and how symbiotic views of life are upending old thinking about divisions between nature and culture, body/organism and environment, self and other. Exploring how these emerging scientific perspectives intersect with Indigenous and other non-Western world views and patterns for living, we will explore the cultural-political implications for society of these new understandings how humans and non-humans together shape environments, bodies, and political ecologies.


HONS 1820W-37
“Nashville and the Civil War”
TR 2:45 – 4:00 pm
Professor Peter Lorge
Department of History
AXLE: Perspectives (P)

In many respects, the Civil War began and ended in Nashville. Historical markers and sites are scattered all around Nashville, and Vanderbilt University itself sits between the main fortifications of the city and the outer defenses. Once the war in the east bogged down, it was the campaigns in the western theatre that defeated the Confederacy. Nashville was an early objective of the Union army, and it was captured and remained in Union hands for the rest of the war. Hood’s failure to recapture the city at the Battle of Nashville in December of 1864 ended any Confederate hope of military recovery. Just as Nashville was important to the war, the war also left a lasting impression on the city. Many of the African-American neighborhoods developed out of the camps where former slaves had sought refuge under Union guns. This course will cover the Civil War itself, but from the perspective of the western theatre. It will also base the war in the city of Nashville itself, taking advantage of the historical ground in which Vanderbilt sits. Finally, we will avail ourselves of the original documents from the Civil War available here to see Nashville’s Civil War in the eyes of ordinary people.


HONS 1820W-38
“Human Flourishing: What is a Life Well Lived?”
MW 1:25 – 2:40 pm
Professor Michael Bess
Department of History
AXLE: Perspectives (P)

In this course we explore what it means to live a good life. I’ve divided the topic into three thematic levels – societal, personal/psychological, and spiritual. We will look at what it means to be a good global citizen, and how much impact a single individual can make. At the national and community level, we’ll study the socioeconomic systems of the Scandinavian countries, comparing them point by point with the American system – assessing the strengths and weaknesses on either side. The personal/psychological portion of the course will explore what makes us humans distinct from animals and intelligent machines, laying out some key qualities and features of our species. Here we’ll look at two millennia of writings about what constitutes a life well lived, and seek practical ways to apply these ideas to our own lives in the present. The final phase of the course focuses on the question of transcendence – the powerful relationship that many people find (or at least seek) between their individual selfhood and a greater sense of purpose or meaning.  We’ll survey the long and variegated history of this quest for transcendence among the people of many cultures, exploring how their experiences might be relevant to our own lives today.


HONS 1830W-56
“Public Opinion and Democracy in Latin America”
TR 2:45 – 4:00 pm
Professor Elizabeth Zechmeister
Department of Political Science
AXLE: Social and 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. LAC countries hold elections, yet the depth, breadth, and stability of democracy varies across the region. Further, recent times have seen democratic backsliding in a number of countries. The course introduces students to issues in the measurement and analysis of public opinion survey data. Students have the opportunity to gain applied experience working with Vanderbilt’s LAPOP Lab and, specifically, the AmericasBarometer. Students acquire and hone knowledge, tools, and skills to analyze survey data and produce policy-relevant reports that address key issues in democracy and governance.


HONS 1830W-62
“What Makes Us Human”
TR: 11:00 am – 12:15 pm
Professor Megan Saylor
Department of Psychological Sciences
AXLE: Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS)

What is the core of our shared humanity? What traits, abilities or dispositions distinguish humans from other animals? In this course we will draw on a broad base of perspectives that include theorists from Psychology, Linguistics, Philosophy, and Neuroscience. Among other features, we will discuss the possibility that humans are unique in their tendency to cooperate to achieve shared goals and in their affinity for language and communication.


HONS 1840W-38
“Cold War America”
W 1:25 – 4:15 pm
Professor Thomas Schwartz
Department of History
Professor David Maraniss
Department of Political Science, The Washington Post
AXLE: US History and Culture (US)

The era of the Cold War, lasting from the end of World War II in 1945 until the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, had an enormous impact on American politics, society, and culture.  This seminar will explore selected topics in this history through the work of the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and associate editor of the Washington Post, David Maraniss, whose works on McCarthyism, the Olympic games, urban America, and the Vietnam War have contributed greatly to our understanding of the period.  The seminar is co-taught with Professor Schwartz, who will bring another historical and critical perspective to the seminar’s exploration of this period.


HONS 1840W-39
“Going to School in America”
R 9:35 am – 12:25 pm
Professor Christopher Loss
Department of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations
AXLE: US History and Culture (US)

This class will explore the history of going to school in America. We will read and study some of the best work on K-12 and higher education to erase the intellectually expedient but artificial boundary that scholars have erected between the two sectors. By deploying an integrated K-16 approach that considers the education system as a single pipeline, albeit a circuitous one with many blockages and leaks, this class will examine how “going to school” has shaped and been shaped by politics, society, culture, law, economic opportunity, and shifting boundaries of national belonging and identity.


HONS 1850W-24
“What is Real?”
TR 1:15 – 2:30 pm
Professor Randolph Blake
Department of Psychology
AXLE: Math and Natural Sciences (MNS)

We will utilize resources from multiple disciplines including philosophy, art, literature, science, and medicine to address an intellectually vexing question: what constitutes reality? In pursuing this quest, a major focus will be examining the mind/brain’s contribution to the construction of reality; a recurring “sidebar” will be examining disorders of mind/brain and their consequences for disordered constructions of reality. An essential challenge will be characterizing the nature of “evidence” and its bearing on the establishment of truth.


HONS 1860W-25
“Relics, Reliquaries, and Pagodas in Chinese Buddhist Architecture”
R 9:30 am – 12:20 pm
Professor Tracy Miller
Department of History of Art
AXLE: International Cultures (INT)

What do bones, mummies, gems, and blood writing all have in common? Why craft an exquisite vessel of the most precious materials just to bury or hide it? Throughout this course, we will discover answers to these questions and other intriguing paradoxes. You might be surprised to find out that the principles underlying these objects and issues that seem so distant from us are in fact ubiquitous in our contemporary society, from celebrity worship to Horcruxes. Revealing the subject to be transhistorical and transcultural, this course analyzes the veneration of Buddhist relics and the construction of reliquaries from crystal containers to multi-storied pagodas from a visual perspective by focusing on their art, ritual, and devotion. As a seminar course, the first part of each class will be lectures where I draw out certain points from the required readings, provide visual accompaniment, and present additional information to augment the week’s theme. The second half of the class will be student-led open discussions of the readings and topic. The semester assignment will focus on the creation of your own reliquary to digitally house in a Chinese pagoda which you have researched. There are no prerequisites for the class, but students who can read and translate Chinese are encouraged to enroll.


HONS 1860W-26
“Latinx in the US Global South”
TR 9:30 – 10:45 am
Professor Gretchen Selcke
Department of Latin American, Caribbean, and Latinx Studies
AXLE: International Cultures (INT)

What do Dominican American, Nuyorican, Cuban American, and Mexican American literatures have in common? How does place inform writing? Explore ideas of belonging, identity, and borders in literary texts including Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, Once I Was You, and The Kissing Bug. In this class, we will read the “latest and greatest” from contemporary Latinx writers who grew up in the US South. Works like these negotiate cultural, linguistic, gender, and class differences in dialogue with Tato Laviera’s groundbreaking concept of nideaquínideallá. Course performance will be evaluated by three essays, two cultural event responses, one presentation, participation in class discussions, and a final paper. Students will develop critical writing skills while reading and analyzing fiction by cutting-edge Latinx authors.