General Honors Seminars

Fall Semester 2013

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.

Also, 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 117HA – Metamorphosis in Children’s & Young Adult Literature

  • Dr. Elaine Ostry
  • TR 12:30–1:45
  • 3 Credits

This course examines the motif of human–animal metamorphosis in children’s and young adult fiction. This motif has been extraordinarily flexible, communicating a range of ideas including the development of morality, animal rights, anthropocentrism/speciesism, consciousness, animal subjectivity, ecocriticism, maturation, social satire and criticism, child abuse, and posthumanism. What is the meaning of metamorphosis? What do animals signify to us? Is it punishment, or an avenue to power and perspective, to transform into an animal? What can metamorphosis tell us about our relationship to animals? How has this relationship changed over time, and how does literature reflect or inspire these changes? While in an animal body, what happens to human consciousness, and what does that say about its stability? How can metamorphosis be used to satirize our human world? Can it be used to communicate trauma? Can it show agency and maturation, major themes of young adult literature?

In this course we will examine these themes and questions. Writers use metamorphosis to effect change in young readers, making them not just better people, but better citizens in relation to the natural world. We will also trace how the motif of metamorphosis in children’s and young adult literature has itself changed from the later 1700s to the present day. Students will read a variety of genres of children’s and young adult literature, including, fairy tales, myths, early children’s literature, fantasy, and liminal fantasy. The main course objectives are:

  • To acquaint students with the uses of the metamorphosis motif.
  • To acquaint students with the forms and functions of children’s literature.
  • To acquaint students with associated historical, cultural, and theoretical issues.
  • To move students towards more objective articulation of their responses to literary works, developing a greater ability to interpret literature.
  • To guide students in understanding the unique pressures that work upon children’s literature in terms of audience, agenda, and censorship.

Students will be given a series of short assignments: a creative micro-paper, a personal response, and passage analyses. They will also write a short formal essay, and a longer researched essay that will examine aspects of the motif of metamorphosis. Students will also make two presentations of their work for this class.

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 118HA – Time & The Writer: Boston Edition

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

Writers of fiction (when it really is fiction) find themselves stretching into the sensibilities of other people, perhaps people of different ages or genders or climates of opinion, sometimes antithetical to the writer’s own point of view. It’s liberating. But suppose that we move into another time period as well, a place unfamiliar in its appearance and assumptions. That ups the ante. This seminar will immerse itself in 1918-1919 Boston and, owning it, turn it into stories with enough of the past for authenticity but not so much that the writer appears to be conducting a museum tour. Background in fiction writing is not required. It can be taught as needed.

The first half of the semester will begin with the general context of the time frame, with lots of oral reports on history, art, music, public figures, the details of domestic life. We’ll watch at least a couple of period pieces from the PBS American Short Story series, and read such widely admired writers as Booth Tarkington (2 Pulitzer Prizes) and Gene Stratton Porter. We’ll look into the flavor of World War One, and the ravages of the infamous Spanish Influenza. And at last we’ll focus on events peculiar to Boston, sampling old issues of The Boston Globe and paying particular attention to the legendary Boston Molasses Flood of January 1919.

The second half of the semester, conducted as a workshop, will produce two pieces of writing. The first, and shorter, will be an interesting, well written non-fiction piece that explores some surprising contrast between then and now. The second, longer and more important, will be a short story of perhaps 25 pages, set in 1918 or 1919. As in other writing workshops, students will read their installments aloud, raise questions, praise good bits, and generally help their fellow travelers bring the past back to life.

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 119HA - Fear & Form: Aspects of the Gothic in American Culture

  • Dr. Tracie Guzzio
  • TR 11–12:15 
  • 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 B.

HON 120HA – Animals & Society in U.S. History, 1877-Present

  • Dr. Gary Kroll
  • TR 11–12:15
  • 3 Credits

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

Does petting your dog lower your blood pressure? A:Usually. How much do Americans spend on pets every year? A: An estimated $53 Billion (not a misprint). How many birds do cats kill every year? A: 2.3 Billion (mostly by feral cats). Can Dolphins actually heal children who suffer from autism? A: Probably not, but it appears as if they do.

Human lives are intertwined with the lives of non-human animals in fascinating and surprisingly ubiquitous ways: from the tuna we eat to the leather shoes we wear, from the horses we ride to the mules we pack, from the foraging deer on the roadside verge to the bored elephant at the zoo, from the obviously happy dolphins at the aquarium to the devoted dogs and cats and birds that we bring into our homes. Our entanglements with non-human animals are multi-dimensional. There are economic, social, psychological and moral sides to almost every connection. And, of course, there is a historical dimension to these relationships, and this will be our focus in this seminar. How have human animal and non-human animal relationships changed since the Civil War?

The course will be organized topically rather than chronologically. It will focus on (at least) the following:

  • Working Animals: From Warhorses to the Oncomouse to dolphin mine-sweepers.
  • Entertaining Animals: From Jumbo to Shamu.
  • Pet Animals: From table scraps to Fancy Feast’s Elegant Medley.
  • Food Animals: From New York City pigs to Texas feed lots.
  • Wild Animals: Beavers and wolves in the Adirondacks and California.
  • Trash Animals: Why we should give Canada Geese a break.
  • Dead Animals: From Natural History Museums to Road-kill.

Each of these sections will be treated historically. For example, the first section on “working animals” will focus on the use of animals in war. So we will sweep through the Civil War, the Spanish American War, WWI, and the Iraq War. The goal is to simultaneously cover US politics and foreign affairs and its entanglement with animals. In another example, “Food Animals” tackles subsistence, consumerism, mass consumerism and gender and racial stereotypes.

The assignments will be divided between reflection papers and research. Students can expect a journal requirement and flash assignments in class. The semester will conclude with oral presentations or an oral exam final.

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. History component of the Plattsburgh general education program.

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

HON 135HA – Consumer Society

  • Dr. Lauren Eastwood
  • R 9:30–10:45
  • 3 credits

Recently the Wall Street Journal touted increased consumer comfort with indebtedness as a positive sign for the economy. In doing so the WSJ is articulating the idea that consumer debt is linked somehow to social and economic good. How did an idea like this develop? How is it that the connections between “consumer confidence” and economic growth are commonplace in both print and television news? How did it come to pass that consumerism is ubiquitous in our society? How have we come to identify our society and even ourselves with consumerism?

This course is designed to delve into the dynamics that have created—and serve to maintain—“consumer society.” Students will read from an interdisciplinary body of work that analyzes production and consumption processes along with their cultural and social significance. These readings will include some classic historical sources, such as Veblen’s “Conspicuous Consumption and Marx’s “Capital.” Other more recent sources will explore the cultural dynamics of materialism, the ideology of economic growth, planned obsolescence, and the role of advertising in creating needs among other topics.

The seminar will introduce a sociological approach to consumer society, allowing students to investigate the social structures and ideological elements that help shape the context within which we live our daily lives. Students will come to understand how consumer society has become commonplace and taken for granted. The role of the sociologist is to understand social organization. Being imbedded in it makes it difficult to see its parameters and machinations. However, the assignments and readings for this course should lead to a deeper understanding of the components, structure, and ideological underpinnings of the “consumer society.” Ultimately, we will discuss the implications of a society within which we see ourselves primarily as consumers, rather than citizens.

Assignments are structured to develop students’ ability to interpret and analyze the elements of the “consumer society.” Students will be assessed on essay tests focusing on reading materials and on research that combine traditional library research with a sociological methodology called “botanizing.” This methodology is designed to investigate ideology—not as an abstract entity divorced from social practices, but as an organizing force shaping those very practices. Students will collect the “specimens” or social practices and everyday behaviors, and subject them to analysis. In addition students will keep a journal of their reactions and opinions.

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

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

HON 146HA – Mathematical Theory of Games

  • Dr. Gregory Quenell
  • MWF Noon–12:50
  • 3 Credits

Games have been an important part of human culture even in pre-historic times. Sports and athletic games are found in all cultures from ancient times to the present. More recently with the advent of computers and information technology games have become an immensely popular pastime or even pre-occupation for millions of people from young children to adults. But did you know that game theory is an important subtopic of mathematics?

Mathematical game theory seeks to describe, among other things, a rigorous and logical approach to decision making in both simple and complex situations. For example, perhaps you have heard the term ‘zero sum game’. What is a zero sum game? How does it differ from a ‘non-zero sum game? What considerations come into play in making decisions in these two different kinds of games? Perhaps you have heard of the simple game called the “Prisoner’s Dilemma.” It goes something like this: Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police separate the suspects and offer each one the same choice. If one accuses the other and the other refuses to speak, the first one goes free and the second gets a 10 year jail sentence. If both remain silent they each are given a minor six month sentence. If each accuses the other, they both get 5 yrs. Each one, therefore has the same choice; make an accusation or keep quiet, but neither knows what choice the other makes in advance of his own choice. How should the prisoners act? Should they cooperate and minimize their sentences or should they try to maximize their own interest and to get off free? What is the optimal outcome for both suspects? How do we know?

This is a fascinating seminar. Not only will the seminar explore the mathematics of game theory, but it will explore applications in such diverse fields as ecology, business, philosophy, foreign relations, psychology, evolutionary biology, business, politics and voting systems. Thus game theory is a subject that abounds in applications and dramatically demonstrates the versatility and interdisciplinary nature of mathematical modeling.

Each student will make a class presentation on an aspect of game theory and/or its application. Each student will write a short expository paper on a topic exploring game theory and/or its application.

Students registering for this course should have a math background. You should have a good knowledge of calculus from high school or a four or five score on the advanced placement exam.

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

This seminar will meet in Hawkins 131.

HON 162HA – Suffering, Evil and the World’s Religions

  • Dr. Becky Kasper
  • MW 11–12:15
  • 3 Credits

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

This seminar explores the structures of the world’s major religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Students will exam both Eastern and Western traditions as a means of cultivating a critical, historical, and comparative perspective on the related elements of myth, symbol and ritual in these traditions. The course is organized around questions of evil and suffering, and the construction of theodicies* (or lack thereof) in the doctrines, faiths and practices of believers. We are interested in how myths, symbols, and rituals are shaped to address the experiences of evil and suffering. We will explore how religious belief provides identity and meaning for members of religious organizations. We will also consider whether the theological responses to suffering offer insight into the human condition. The main objectives of the course include the following:

  • Communicate understanding of the foundational religious concepts.
  • Identify the philosophical concepts articulated by religious belief.
  • Understand the evolution of religious belief as response to historical context, particularly with reference to questions of suffering and evil.
  • Demonstrate understanding of the function of myth, symbol, and ritual in the religious expression of diverse communities of belief.

Assignments will include an analytical paper, a number of critical reading assignments, in-class debates, and essay exams.

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 SUNY World Systems general education requirement.

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

HON 164HA - In Search of Justice

  • Dr. James Armstrong
  • MW 3:30–4:45
  • 3 Credits

The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians seems almost intractable. Two peoples with their own particular visions of justice claim rights to the same territory. This seminar focuses on this particularly contentious case as a way of understanding the role of ethnic nationalism in modern societies. Beginning with the Israel/Palestine case, the seminar poses the following questions: What factors led to the overlapping claims to the same land? How did Zionism and Palestinian Nationalism construct their own visions of justice, and how did these visions serve to negate each other? How did the Israelis come to dominate the Palestinians? What are the consequences, economic, political, social and cultural, of domination and subordination?

A careful analysis of the case will raise questions about ethnic nationalism and ethnic politics. The seminar will then explore other similar cases in the search for answers. Can other cases in developed and developing societies (i.e., Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Northern Ireland, Canada and even the United States) shed light on the Israel/Palestine Case? What can we learn about ethnic politics, nationalism, and conflict from comparing the experiences of different societies? What is the emotional and rational appeal of ethnic nationalism? What theories have been developed to explain the impact of nationalism on societies in which it is politically and socially significant?

Finally, returning to the Israel/Palestinian case, the seminar will consider the possible strategies for managing, containing or possibly resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Participants in this seminar can expect an atmosphere of dialogue and discussion, with perhaps a bit of contentiousness, as the issue at hand is emotionally loaded. Students will be expected to complete writing assignments focused on their readings on a weekly basis. Other assignments will include a comparison of the Israel/Palestine case to some other instance of ethnic nationalism and a biographical study of one of the important figures in Zionism or Palestinian Nationalism.

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

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

HON 171HA – Science, Evolution & Human Origin

  • Dr. Mark Cohen
  • MW 2–3:15
  • 3 Credits

Since the publication of Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Speciesin 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 explore the emergence of scientific methodology in the classical and medieval periods laying the ground work for modern science.

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? If so does the theory of evolution have predictive power? Students will apply the theory of evolution to modern problems drawn mainly from medicine and disease. This exploration of the real-world application, significance, and consequences of evolution will constitute a main part of this course.

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, among others. Students will be required to write a term paper and lead a discussion on a topic or question derived from these topics. In addition students will write weekly reaction papers about the reading assignments.

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 A.

HON 183 HA-Rebellion and the Status Quo: “A Critique of Cynical Reason”

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

Cultural systems of all levels of complexity are inherently conservative. They are structured and rationalized in order to preserve themselves. The ideas that sustain them, religious and political, are often system maintaining ideologies. Nonetheless, they do change, and often this change is rapid, violent, and destabilizing. The main emphasis of this seminar focuses on the antagonism between the forces that constitute the status quo at any given point in time and the forces that oppose the status quo, rebellion against the system maintaining structures and ideologies. For many philosophers in the Western tradition this dialectic exchange and dynamism is the structural foundation of historical progress, cultural achievements, political institutions, and a large part of philosophical inquiry. Students will gain a deeper understanding of the power structures of the modern world through an in-depth study of these forces. In addition, the student will explore the main topics of philosophical thought, while examining the history of philosophy from the ancient Greeks to contemporary thinkers. This goal will be achieved in two parts. The first part will introduce the student to the history of philosophy through the novel Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder. In this novel a fourteen year old Norwegian girl receives lessons in the history of philosophy from the pre-Socratic to the present. This introduction makes philosophy accessible, while laying the foundations for the second part of the course. The second part of the course focuses on Critique of Cynical Reason by Peter Sloterdijk. This book describes in detail the dialectical process of rebellion and status quo in Western history.

In essence this course constitutes an introduction to 2000 years of Western philosophy through the exploration of the tension between the status quo and forces of change.

Students will engage in a number of learning activities, especially critical thinking and writing assignments used to construct a portfolio and class presentations.

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

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


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

Rumi, the noted Persian poet said, “All language is a longing for home.” This is especially true when we consider the homeless, the displaced, and Diaspora communities. For example, Palestinian refugees living in camps in the Gaza Strip long for their homes in what is now Israel, and this longing is central to the conflict between these two peoples, just as the longing for home is central to the nationalist movement that created Israel. In our current global environment full of movement and dislocation of people, where societies are increasingly plural and culture increasingly hybrid, the idea of home has become complicated and contested. In this multidisciplinary seminar students will explore the concept of home/homelessness against the background of globalization.

The seminar will consider the following questions. What does home mean? How does ‘home’ the interpretation differ across sexualities, genders, races, ethnicities, nationalities, classes, and times. Is statelessness equivalent to homelessness? Can people have multiple homes without conflict or tension between them? Tentative answers to these questions will be derived from an exploration of memoirs, literature, and popular culture, not to mention history, psychology and art.

This promises to be a highly interactive seminar. Everyone brings their concept of home to the table and everyone has experience longing for home. Students will keep a reaction journal for the assigned readings. A research paper and other “creative” assignments will be required.

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 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 SBE/CS 126.

HON 401HA – Women in the Bible

  • Kari Tulling
  • MW 2–3:15
  • 3 credits

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

***cross listed with GWS300A.***

As a foundational text for multiple religious traditions and cultures, the Bible shapes societal attitudes regarding gender roles, family structures, and interpersonal responsibilities. In this course these attitudes are evaluated in light of feminist theory as well as biblical criticism. Students will also learn about life in the ancient Near East in order to gain a greater sense of the context of the biblical narratives. The goal of this course is to develop greater sophistication in reading this text. By the end of the course students will understand the difference between pious and scholarly arguments, and they will know how to build a convincing argument for their own interpretation of the Bible through the use of academic sources.

This course will address the following questions:

  • What assumptions regarding gender roles and family life were made in the time of the Bible?
  • What does it mean to re-read the text from the perspective of feminist criticism?
  • How has the Bible been used to reinforce patriarchal assumptions?
  • How might the text be read in ways that subvert patriarchy?

Although this course is not approved for a particular general education category, students wishing to use it to fulfill Western Civilization or Humanities should talk to Dr. Armstrong.

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