General Honors Seminars

Fall Semester 2015

Please note: before registering for any of these seminars, be sure your name is on the appropriate sign-up sheet in the honors center office.

Please sign-up for only one seminar and be certain you intend to take that seminar before placing your name on the sign-up sheet.


HON 114HA — Latin Via Ovid

  • Dr. Ann Tracy
  • TR 2–3:15
  • 3 Credits

It is common knowledge that much of the English language is rooted in Latin vocabulary and grammatical structure. Clearly mastery of English is enhanced by knowledge of Latin. Therefore, the primary focus of this seminar will be the acquisition of the Latin language. Through the study of Latin, students will discover the etymological roots of words in the English language. Using the study of language as a foundation, the seminar will verify and/or challenge the validity of the assertion that knowledge of classical language and literature is an integral part of a liberal arts education.

A language, however, does not stand in isolation from the rest of culture. In fact, it could legitimately be argued that language is the primary bearer of culture. Learning Latin, therefore, is much more than learning an ancient language.

How have the language, literature, and mythology of the Romans affected our artistic traditions in literature, music and art? What are the purpose, place, and influence of myth on culture, both ancient and modern? How do Latin vocabulary, grammar and style shape appreciation of our own language? Why does Latin continue to exert such a strong influence on contemporary languages? Through individual research and group projects, students will pursue possible responses to these and many other questions while developing their own individual areas of inquiry.

This course has been developed for students with little or no background in Latin. The intent is for students to develop enough skill in the language to understand material taken from a number of Roman writers with special emphasis on the writings of Ovid. To enhance this process, students will also read works of Roman literature and history in translation.

Latin Via Ovid offers an immersion in Latin, its characteristics and influences, to students who have not previously studied it and are unlikely to be moving on to the Gallic Wars. The course includes a foundation of Latin grammar (with some notice of its influence on English grammar), readings from simplified Ovidian stories of mythology and other texts, etymology and vocabulary, the meanings and applications of surviving Latin phrases, some measure of Roman culture and history, and the writing of brief original compositions in Latin.

This seminar will satisfy the Humanities component of the Plattsburgh general education program.

This seminar will meet in the Honors Center — Hawkins 121 Seminar Room B

HON 119YHA — Fear & Form: Aspects of the Gothic in American Culture

  • Dr. Tracie Guzzio
  • TR 1–2:15
  • 3 Credits

***This seminar is open to freshmen only***

This course examines significant works of American culture and literature that are considered “gothic.” However, it is not about style, genre, or even period. The idea of gothic transcends a historical era, representing our cultural anxieties about our character and society. It reveals the horrors of our past, while it highlights our fears of the future. Therefore, the gothic can be found in our Puritan beginnings; our wilderness; in the haunted landscape of Southern slave plantations; in our environmental disasters; in our suburbs; and in our definitions of our own humanity. The American gothic is also an expression of the human psyche and a reflection of sin, guilt, and violence both as individuals and as Americans. As Leslie Fiedler points out, this is a “Literature of darkness and the grotesque in the land of light and affirmation.” In this seminar we will come to understand the historical roots of the gothic in American culture, and its continuing appearance and transformation in the contemporary world. We will also focus on American literature and popular culture’s unique contribution to this narrative: the domestic gothic, female gothic, racial gothic, suburban gothic, and apocalyptic gothic. As a general rule, students are incredibly responsive to gothic tales and images. Our goal, as a class, will be to contextualize those responses within a historical framework and to articulate what both delights and disturbs us about the gothic.

The seminar takes a multi-disciplinary approach to understanding the gothic in our culture. It asks why the gothic remains such a pertinent metaphor of human experience, especially in the contemporary era. We will draw on several academic disciplines as we seek to better realize what is gothic and how it reflects our cultural anxieties. We will address the following questions:

  • How did these cultural anxieties take root and why do they continue?
  • How does the gothic help readers/viewers navigate their fears?
  • How does the gothic present a historical narrative of some of our most traumatic cultural experiences?

Students will write short essays on the reading assignments and on the visual culture presented in class. Students will also write one research paper that investigates aspects of the gothic and make a presentation on their research to class.

This course is also an experimental gateway course for the new general education program that will be introduced next year. Gateway courses are intended to help students better grasp the place of General Education within their total college academic experience. They also highlight the ways different disciplines examine the human experience.

This seminar will satisfy the Humanities component of the Plattsburgh general education program.

This seminar will meet in the Honors Center — Hawkins 121 Seminar Room A

HON 126YHA — The Irish in America

  • Dr. Erin Mitchell
  • MW 11-12:15
  • 3 Credits

***This seminar is open to freshmen only***

Irish-Americans have contributed much to the dynamic, volatile, and tumultuous history of the United States, as students in this seminar will discover through reading historical and fictional texts, and by viewing films. The seminar will explore the ways in which an immigrant group ultimately assimilated into white, middle-class, protestant American society between the 1840’s to the present. Although the Irish have been in America since colonial times, during and after the Great Irish Famine of the 1840’s, masses of rural, Catholic, Irish-speaking survivors emigrated both voluntarily and involuntarily, to American cities. They worked as domestics, barmaids, laborers, factory workers, criminals, writers, nuns, priests, union organizers, race-rioters, police, politicians, entertainers, conscripts, prostitutes, and artists. Their reception was stormy, sometimes admired, more often discriminated against and feared. They slowly became both middle class and “white.” Increasingly, Irish-Americans are able to become returnees and tourists in an (often romanticized) Ireland their ancestors fled, where they amuse, puzzle, employ and support the Irish who live there. Students will, thus, be grappling with ideas about diaspora, colonial and postcolonial regimes, rural flight, urban communities and poverty, the definitions of race, nostalgia, religious insularity and diversity, and tourism.

The required reading for the course includes The Irish in America, edited by Michael Coffey and Terry Gollway and How the Irish Became White, by Noel Ignatiev. We will also view films such as Gangs of New York and In America. Students will engage in group research projects and presentations derived from the Irish in America text, such as the Scotch Irish, fleeing the Great Famine, and life in the tenements. Students will also do a short research paper on their topic.

This course is also an experimental gateway course for the new general education program that will be introduced next year. Gateway courses are intended to help students better grasp the place of General Education within their total college academic experience. They also highlight the ways different disciplines examine the human experience.

This seminar will satisfy the U.S. Civilization component of the Plattsburgh general education program.

This seminar will meet in the Honors Center — Hawkins 121 Seminar Room A

HON 132HA — Sexuality and the Law

  • Dr. Raymond Carman
  • MW 2–3:15
  • 3 Credits

The United States has more laws governing sexuality than anywhere else in the world. It would be almost impossible to teach a course that systematically investigates local, state and federal regulations of sexuality. Furthermore, many of the regulations, especially at the local and state level are just plain weird. Therefore, this seminar will focus primarily on the investigation of government regulation sexual orientation, identity and expression. Topics to be covered include:

  • Theories of sexuality
  • State control and definitions of “family,” including issues surrounding marriage and parenting
  • Sexual criminalization and sexual privacy
  • Military policies that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, or gender identity and expression
  • Discrimination by private entities on the basis of sexual orientation, or gender identity and expression

In addition, we will explore the extent to which beliefs regarding sexual identity, religion, race, morality, and gender have shaped the law's approach to sexuality, and the ways in which the movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights is different from and similar to other rights movements.

Students will write weekly reaction papers and be graded on their participation in discussions. Everyone will make a book review presentation.

This seminar will satisfy the Social Science component of the Plattsburgh general education program.

This seminar will meet in the Honors Center — Hawkins 121 Seminar Room A

HON 141HA — Quantitative Reasoning in Basic Math

  • Dr. Robert Keever
  • MWF 9 - 9:50
  • 3 Credits

Unlike many other math courses, Quantitative Reasoning in Basic Math does not focus on content, but on problem solving. The main objectives of the course are for students to study how to analyze and simplify a range of problems, how to estimate and check mathematical results for reasonableness, and arrive at answers in which they have confidence. Methods of problem solving include teaching oneself by doing simpler problems, translating between English and symbolic language of mathematics, and rewriting problems in ways that extract the mathematical content, ignore nonessential detail, leaving well-defined mathematical problems that are (perhaps) easier to solve.

The assignments and class time are aimed at getting students to understand the problem solving presented, and we hope to accomplish this through the direct engagement of students in the problem solving in a process in which they help teach each other to accomplish this goal. These methods embody the expectations of the Math category of the General Education program, to “introduce students to mathematical thinking and logic and foster students’ ability ‘to interpret and draw inferences from mathematical models such as formulas, graphs, tables, and schematics,’ ‘to represent mathematical information symbolically, visually, numerically and verbally,’ ‘to employ quantitative methods such as arithmetic, algebra, geometry, or statistics to solve problems,’ and ‘to recognize the limits of mathematical and statistical methods.’” We hope to accomplish this in a mutually supportive environment. Students will be graded on their ability to demonstrate this understanding as well as the ability to apply the methods to a wide variety of problems.

The assignments and class time will focus almost entirely on real world problems. The pedagogy will ask every student to actively engage in the education of their classmates as well as themselves. This is the ideal math class for students who lack confidence in their mathematical ability.

This seminar will satisfy the Mathematics component of the Plattsburgh general education program.

This seminar will meet in the Honors Center — Hawkins 121 Seminar Room A

HON 153HA — Power of Music: Elusive Force

  • Dr. Jun Matsuo
  • MW 11–12:15
  • 3 Credits

The aim of this seminar is to investigate the effects of music on the mind and body, while cultivating the skill of active listening. The goal is to make students’ better and more engaged listeners. Active listening means being fully present and preoccupied by the music you are listening to. You might think of it as interacting with the music. It is a skill and it can be learned.

Philosophers and musicians have discussed and debated the effects of music on humans for centuries. In the last few decades scientists also have become concerned with the impact of music on humans. What does listening to music do to us? In this seminar students will read three books: The World is Sound: Nada Brahma by Joachim-Ernst Berendt, The Power of Music: Pioneering Discoveries in the New Science of Song by Elena Mannes, and Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society by Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said. Berendt’s book focuses on the philosophical approach to the effect of music and Mannes’ book will provide a scientific overview. Said and Barenboim focus more on the societal impact of music.

Students will be required to prepare questions about these readings and to lead class discussions on them.

Music surrounds us, but we rarely reflect on how we are listening to it. Listening is a skill, and like other skills it can be trained and training makes listening more meaningful. Reading selected chapters of Aaron Copland’s What to Listen for in Music will help students develop and explore active listening. You will be asked to share your thoughts on the music you listen to and you will write about what you hear and what it means and how it affects you in a Listening Journal.

The course will begin with an exploration of what music is. Much of the course will look at the effect of music from the positions of science and philosophy. Students will become familiar with various types of music, including classical, popular, jazz, an ethnic or indigenous styles.

This seminar will satisfy the Arts component of the Plattsburgh general education program.

This seminar will meet in the Honors Center — Hawkins 121 Seminar Room B

HON 161HA — The Visual Arts in Colonial Latin America

  • Dr. Karen Blough
  • TR 11-12:15
  • 3 Credits

This seminar addresses the use of the visual arts as a means employed by the Spanish Colonial system, particularly the Roman Catholic Church, to enculturate indigenous populations of Latin America in accordance with early modern European norms, and the variety of visual responses the Colonial program elicited. For feasibility’s sake, this very large topic is delimited chronologically, geographically, and artistically. Thus, the emphasis will be on painting and sculpture created in the vice-royalties of New Spain, New Granada, and Peru (principally present-day Mexico and the Andean region) during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Within this context, the overarching theme is the ongoing appearance and significance of indigenous elements within art sponsored by European authorities or reflective of European cultural practices. A number of individual, but frequently interrelated, focal points emerge from this framework, including the evolution of the visual language of Christian narrative and the iconography of sacred figures; history painting; colonial topographies and natural phenomena in European-style painting; portraiture of European and indigenous subjects; racial identity; social status; and Asian influence in the arts of Colonial Latin America. These themes form the basis for class discussion, readings, and research. Additionally, students are introduced to traditional and contemporary art historical methodologies, particularly those that prioritize the creating and viewing experience of the non-European artist and audience, and they are familiarized with the formal evolution and iconographical language of European art in relation to Colonial production as well as with the visual traditions of pre-Columbian Latin America.

Class time will be used primarily for discussion. Students will all make three presentations of works assigned by the instructor. Each of these assignments will count 10% of the grade. In addition students will write a short research paper (i.e., 10 page minimum). There will be a mid-term and final exam. These exams resemble the responses you make on reaction paper assignments.

This seminar will satisfy the World Systems component of the Plattsburgh general education program.

This seminar will meet in the Honors Center — Hawkins 121 Seminar Room A

HON 171HA — Science, Evolution & Human Origin

  • Dr. James Armstrong
  • MW 4–5:15
  • 3 Credits

Since the publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species in 1859 the topic of evolution has raised controversy. Should such a controversy exist? In order to critically assess the theory of evolution it is necessary to understand the fundamentals of the scientific method. What is a ‘naturalistic explanation’ and how does it differ from other forms of explanation? What is the difference between a hypothesis and a theory? Why is experimentation and repeatability essential to scientific methodology? The seminar will evaluate creationist and intelligent design criticisms of science and evolution and evaluate the evidence of each.

The seminar will also focus on the concept of natural selection and will assess the evidence for evolution drawn from modern living organisms and the fossil record. What are the strengths and weaknesses of both forms of evidence? How does evidence from such fields as genetics, primatology, paleoanthropology, epidemiology and other fields relate to evolution? What is the difference between hereditary and acquired traits? How do we account for the biological adaptations humans have made to changing environments? And are we still evolving? Does the theory of evolution have predictive power?

This seminar will focus on the following topics: the debate over evolution; the process of natural selection; the implications of the theory for racial arguments; patterns of disease; evolutionary medicine; the evolution of human behavior; and measures of human intelligence, the evolution of sex using comparative primatology and the disappearance of the Neanderthals, among others. Students will be required to write weekly reaction papers and make a presentation and lead a discussion on a question derived from these topics.

This seminar will satisfy the Natural Science component of the Plattsburgh general education program.

This seminar will meet in the Honors Center — Hawkins 121 Seminar Room B

HON 187HA — European Modernism: The Shock of the New

  • Dr. Jurgen Kleist
  • TR 3:30–4:45
  • 3 Credits

The immergence of modernism is marked by sudden and unexpected breaks with traditional ways of viewing and interacting with art. Ezra Pound’s slogan, “Make it New!,” led to experimentation and individualism in literature, painting, music, etc. In Modernism the individual interpretation of the object is foregrounded, rather than the “realistic” representation of it. The main preoccupation of this movement is with the inner self and consciousness — and the world is viewed as a decaying entity which causes growing alienation from it in the individual. Modern capitalist society is seen as impersonal and antagonistic to the artistic impulse. The modern artist becomes the outsider who wants to shock the Bourgeoisie and undermine their core beliefs. This seminar will examine the new approaches to art and the new understanding of art and the artist. The close reading of selected texts and their critical interpretation in the context of cultural, political, economic, and technological change will reveal the significance of this art movement and period. The time period under consideration begins in the late 19th Century and extends into the early 20th Century. The class will be divided into two main parts, Modernism in the Visual Arts and Modernism in Literature.

In addition to the study of primary literature (i.e., Joyce, Kafka, etc.) students will read Peter Gay’s comprehensive opus, Modernism. Each student will present a chapter and lead the discussion. In addition, worksheets will contain questions related to a particular work of literature to prepare students for the discussions of this literature. Visual interpretation works of art by artists, such as Dali, and Picasso, will also be required.

This seminar will satisfy the Western Civilization component of the Plattsburgh general education program.

This seminar will meet in the Honors Center — Hawkins 121 Seminar Room B

HON 301HB — Modeling Dynamic Systems

  • Dr. Kevin O’Neil
  • TR 9:30–10:45
  • 3 Credits

This course introduces you to system dynamics modeling and systems thinking applied to the analysis of global complexities. You will learn to visualize the environmental, social, economic, physical and biological policy arenas in terms of the structures that create dynamics and regulate performance.

Accelerating economic, technological, social and environmental change requires policy makers to adapt. Increasingly, we must learn how to manage complex systems with multiple feedback effects, long time delays, and nonlinear responses to our decisions. Yet learning in such environments is difficult precisely because we never confront many of the consequences of our most important decisions. You can probably think of a host of examples illustrating this point from the AIDS epidemic to global climate change. Effective learning in such environments requires methods to develop systems thinking, to represent and assess such dynamic complexity — and tools that can be used to accelerate learning by policy makers.

System dynamics allows us to create “micro-worlds,” manage flight simulators where space and time can be compressed, slowed, and stopped in order to assess the long-term side effects of decisions. We can also explore new strategies and develop better understandings of systems. In this class we will use role playing games, simulation models, case studies, and policy flight simulators to develop principles of policy design for the complexities we now face.

This course will help you understand the dynamic, simultaneous, and inter-relational nature of intra and extra systems activity through causal loop making and system dynamic simulations. Students will create models that represent complex, non-linear feedback systems of personal or professional interests to them. Some of the simulations we will explore include global concerns such as population growth, epidemics, economic, environmental and social change, among other policy arenas.

The course objectives include the following:

  • Understanding of basic positive and negative feedback mechanisms.
  • Use of feedback thinking in developing causal loop models of dynamic systems.
  • Translation of dynamic causal loop models into system dynamics structures for policy development.
  • Development of dynamic, simultaneous understanding of complex systems in the global context.

Students will keep a weekly journal and participate in a group project formulating, designing and simulating a systems project that is interesting to you and your team. You will also complete other

assignments focused on individual modeling and problem solving homework.

Students will need their own laptop computer in order to participate in this class.

This seminar will satisfy the Global Issues component of the Plattsburgh general education program.

This seminar will meet in Au Sable 126

HON 308HA — Debt as Power

  • Dr. Richard Robbins
  • T 4–7
  • 3 Credits

***This seminar is open to students with sophomore standing or above***

Currently the world is awash in debt — public and private — over $200 trillion worth, or some 300 percent of global GDP. Countries, both in the developing and developed world, are under assault from creditors demanding they cut health, education, and poverty programs, and even cancel negotiated pension rights, just to pay the interest on debt. Farmers in India are committing suicide by the hundreds of thousands because they cannot pay creditors, indebted farmers in Thailand are trying to satisfy creditors by selling bodily organs or giving their daughters over to sex traffickers, while college students in the United States collectively owe over a trillion dollars as the cost of the education sold to them virtually from infancy. And these are just the readily visible problems.

This course will explore why the global economy is now best characterized as a “debtocracy.” To understand how this happened we will need to explore the history of finance, specifically how the right to issue our money supply as debt to private individuals evolved. We will also need to examine the most significant consequence of this development, the creation of the necessity for perpetual economic growth, and how this, in turn, has led to continuing environmental despoliation, massive global and domestic inequality, and the continuing centralization of political power.

The course will also explore some of the ways that the damage inflicted by granting private parties the right to issue money as debt can be reversed and some of the strategies through which this can be accomplished. Thus, students will be engaged in discovering the source of the debt crisis, understanding the implications of debt, and trying to determine ways in which the damage inflicted can be remedied.

One of the primary texts for this course is Debt as Power written by Tim Di Muzio and Dr. Robbins.

This seminar will satisfy the Global Issues component of the Plattsburgh general education program.

This seminar will meet in the Honors Center — Hawkins 121 Seminar Room A

HON 309HA — Genocide & Atrocity in Historical Perspective

  • Dr. Vincent Carey
  • MW 2–3:15
  • 3 Credits

***This seminar is open to students with sophomore standing or above***

The seminar topic in this particular course will be genocide and atrocity in broad historical perspective while focusing specifically on causes and implications for relations between peoples. Genocide is a gross violation of human rights. Studying genocide and other forms of mass killing can illuminate the conditions under which these events are likely to occur, and perhaps lead to means of preventing such atrocities. This course will raise the question as to how mass killing has been used and/or abused to contribute to identity and to serve political purposes. A central issue in terms of causation and of use/abuse in the aftermath of mass killing is the role of the nation and nationalism, racism, and the rise of the hegemonic state. As well as informing students as to the extent of genocide in the past, this course will help them explore the larger question of the cultural construction of hatred and its impact on modern society.

At the core of this course is a substantial research paper on a particular genocide or an issue relating to genocide. The course will guide you through the process of researching and writing a major history paper, from proposing a project to choice of method and the final preparation for submission and presentation. All of the assignments are designed to enable the student to accomplish this task.

This seminar will satisfy the Global Issues component of the Plattsburgh general education program.

This seminar will meet in the Honors Center — Hawkins 121 Seminar Room B

HON 402HA — Conspiracy and Controversy in America

  • Dr. Kurtis Hagen
  • TR 5–6:15
  • 3 Credits

***This seminar is open to students with sophomore standing or above***

From the conspiratorial assertions in the founding document of this country, the Declaration of Independence (i.e. King George was conspiring against the colonists in all his actions), to controversy over the defining event of this century, the September 11 attacks, this course addresses the role that conspiracies have played in shaping America.

The first six weeks focus on the philosophy of conspiracy theories, which involves exploring a variety of actual historical conspiracies as well as controversial political conspiracy theories that have, or may have, significantly influenced the American political landscape. Also under consideration are the institutions that evaluate competing narratives, supporting some and suppressing others, either legitimately or illegitimately.

The next 3-4 weeks look at the events of September 11, and the related 2001 anthrax attacks. Taking time to cover various sides of these events, as well as responses to conspiracy theories — and responses to the responses — will reveal the extent of the difficulty in sorting out truth from falsity. It also allows us to evaluate the adequacy of the institutions responsible for determining the official narrative of the events, in this case the 9/11 Commission and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

After a session on the media, the last 3 weeks address scientific controversies. Here again we are not only interested in questionable activities, such as inappropriate experimentation on unwitting persons, but also the institutions involved in the evaluation of scientific claims, and the structural influences that can bias these evaluations.

The purpose of the course is to enhance students’ understanding of American clandestine operations as a significant influence nationally and internationally, and to enhance the understanding of the limitations of the institutions responsible for determining and disseminating truthful information regarding controversial issues. This should stimulate students to become engaged and critical citizens, perceiving a responsibility to think for themselves about controversial claims. Furthermore, students should develop strategies and competencies that support them in doing this.

U.S. Civilization by petition — see Dr. Armstrong about this

This seminar will meet in the Honors Center — Hawkins 121 Seminar Room B

Contact Information

If you would like more information about the honors program at SUNY Plattsburgh, please contact

Dr. James Armstrong, Director

Sandra Boulerice, Secretary

Office: Hawkins Hall 121-123
Phone: (518) 564-3075
Fax: (518) 564-3071