Upper Division Seminars

Two Upper Division Seminars (3 credits each) are required to graduate with Honors. Click for the dropdown menu to see the course description. Western professors can apply to teach an Honors seminar and each year, topics are chosen in a competition like fashion. Each seminar topic is offered no more than once every other year and is exclusive to Honors. Seminars typically have between 10 and 15 students.

Additionally, you can explore past years' seminars by clicking the below button to explore our archive.

Fall 2023

Lori Martindale, Honors 

In this seminar on specters, ghosts, and hauntings, we will discuss international ghost stories across the arts, literature, legends, and folklore. We will read and listen to classic and obscure authors of the gothic and uncanny including ghost stories in the style of magical realism. Works by award winning masters will be read: Shirley Jackson, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Takako Arai, Shveta Thakrar, Victor LaValle, Gabriel García Márquez, Honoré de Balzac, Daphne du Maurier, Elizabeth Gaskell, Susan Hill, Zora Neale Hurston, M.R. James, Aimee Bender, Nikolai Gogol, Thomas Mann, and Okamoto Kido. We will listen to folktales from oral traditions, and study Painting, Music, early Cinema, Photography, Transience, Theory, and other “hauntings.” The ambiguous figure of the ghost reveals endless possibilities for discussions on uncertainty, liminality, the uncanny, the humorous, unruly monsters, tricksters, and the Sublime. However, the ghost can be much more – in how lived experiences are often haunted by the past - the ghost, sometimes a complex figure of injustice, can be a historical specter who haunts the present. Whether they are humorous tricksters, killer phantoms, optical illusions, or uncanny wailings, be ready to get spooked and delve into a variety of media to spark creative ideas. Students will work on crafting their own short story, as well as a reading journal. Students then work on a research paper or creative project for their final project. 

Mary Hunt, Public Health  

This course will explore the changing landscape of abortion over the last 150 years. Through reading, discussion, and reflection, students will examine the politicization, practices, attitudes, legislation, and research related to abortion in the United States. 

Zander Albertson, Geography and Environmental Policy 

This discussion-oriented seminar will utilize the idea of climate change as a topic through which deeper attitudes toward risk, technology, governance, and the ideal society are expressed. Drawing on readings from psychology, geography, anthropology, and sociology, students will be introduced to competing perspectives on why climate change has become a political problem as much as a scientific one and ways in which climate change comes to matter for diverse groups. The insights from this course are applicable to political disputes beyond climate change and should interest any student who asks: “how did we get to this political moment and what can we do about it?”. 

Brenda Miller, English

In this joyful seminar, we will study several writers who show us how to cultivate and sharpen our observational skills in order to broaden the range of our creative writing. In looking closely at the small details of the world, we can often segue into larger themes and insights, perhaps even finding some joy, wonder, and delight along the way. We will study diverse texts by poets, creative nonfiction writers, science writers, and philosophers, as well as music, visual art, film, TED talks, and interviews with writers and artists. You will generate your own creative work that explores the nuances and complexities of joy.

Jimena Berzal de Dios, Art and Art History 

Where is the line between enjoyment and excess? Between individual desire and collective morals? Between liberty and libertinage?    

These are questions framing the influential culture 18th-century France. It was a time where artistic freedom, new philosophical ideas, and scientific discoveries challenged the old authority of King and Church. Painters, writers, and thinkers dreamt up a freer society. They developed new artistic and literary styles, which they discussed in lavishly decorated rooms where gender lines blurred, and women become increasingly influential. In art, this was the age of Rococo, a style of painting concerned with enjoyment and happiness. These endeavors received polarized responses, from popularity to condemnation. Rococo art was censured as a “degradation of taste followed by the debasement of morals.” Towards the end of the century, and bolstered by the ideas of freedom a few had been able to enjoy until then, the French Revolution sought to also make a freer world, finding a reference in the sober histories of the Ancient World.   

This seminar presents an interdisciplinary study of French 18th-Century art and culture, giving gravity to the period’s aesthetic levity and taking seriously its playfulness. Among other topics, we will explore: Rococo painting, the sociopolitical status of women, the new male architype and its critics, libertine literature, philosophies of freedom, identity as performance, the artistic significance of make-up, and utopian social visions.   

Andy Bunn, Environmental Sciences & Jennifer Seltz, History 

Introduction to the history and science of climate change from the 19th century to the present. Focus will be on scientific concepts underlying climate science as told through the history of discoveries, and on the social, political, and cultural contexts in which those discoveries took shape and made sense. 

Arna Elezovic, Honors 

What is time? We all experience time, and never seem to have enough of it. Historians categorize human activity through time into eras, epochs, periods, and ages. Timelines represent events and things on a linear scale simplified scale, one which implies a sense of progression. And our western calendar is culturally Christian because it contains a moment of rupture with the birth of Jesus, with a distinct before and after division of time (BC/AD). We use clocks, watches, phones, calendars, schedules, and other measurements of time to dictate the rhythm and sequence of events in life. But why? How and when did we agree upon these conventions to organize ourselves and society? How has the idea of time evolved in history? How and why do we perceive time differently depending on what we do during the day?  

There are no ready answers to those questions. This course will serve a preliminary investigation, so you have historical context to find your own answers to those questions. The course will approach the history of time from a western civilizational perspective, but we will compare those conventions to other global systems and practices. Readings will be historical texts, selections from work by scientists, and other media. Coursework will be discussions with some writing to assist in the endeavor to understand the complexity of time. Final projects can be creative and in the media of your choice.

Anika Tilland-Stafford, Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies/ Honors 

As climate change challenges food production and globalized systems leave many without land, there exist strong movements where local communities secure food for their people. Food and land rest at the intersections of gender, disability, class, colonialism, and diaspora. The study of food sovereignty movements is therefore intertwined with the efforts of black, indigenous, and migrant communities to create non-exploitative and sustainable food production networks. In order for students to leave this course with concrete ways to support food security in their communities, the term will blend academic study with hosting and visiting communities working for food security and land justice in the local context. Students will have the opportunity to apply their own interest areas to course material and assignments. 

Lauren Dudley, Chemistry, SMATE

This course will cover the history of STEM from a world perspective spanning a period from ancient times to the present. Students will examine the connections between science and the humanities and come to appreciate that science is not done in a vacuum but has consequences for wider society. Students will investigate the historical injustices endured by non-traditional scientists and researchers, examine the impacts of STEM identity, engage in fostering an inclusive STEM environment in their college experience, and strengthen their own STEM identity to be successful in future endeavors. Through a series of written reflections, historical account readings and research in STEM identity and self-efficacy, students will learn how science and society have grown and developed.

Winter 2024

Christie Scollon, Psychology, Honors

Culture is to humans what water is to fish. Trying to understand humans outside the context of culture is like studying fish without considering water.  This course gives students an overview of how culture shapes our everyday lives, including how we think and interact with others.  Some questions we will address are: What is culture? How did different cultures form? How do psychologists study culture? How can we be culturally competent in a globalized world? There is an option to have this course fulfill the Psychology Major Block B requirement (equivalent to PSY341).  Please see Professor Scollon for more information. 

Julie Dugger, Honors 

What do we understand nature to be, especially in a world we increasingly see as shaped by human activity? What is—or what might be—the relationship between nature and human culture, language, or spirituality? Between natural and urban or agricultural environments? And how do we define our individual selves in connection to the natural world?   

The Romantic period developed much of the understanding of nature and of the individual self that many people are still working from today, but others are reconsidering. This class will look at English-language Romantic and revisionist works on nature and the self from the late 18th century to the 21st. Authors we’ll read may include (but are not limited to) William Wordsworth, William Blake, Frederick Douglass, Henry David Thoreau, Lesley Marmon Silko, James Rebanks, J. Drew Lanham, Helen Macdonald, Ada Limón, Lyanda Lynn Haupt, and Rena Priest.   

Students will complete short informal writing assignments throughout the term, and a final project in which they may choose between critical or creative writing options.   

Melanie Bowers, Political Science, Honors 

In academia we often focus on the myriad problems facing society. While this is important, it can also skew our perspective and make us think that the world is irreparably broken. In reality, governments, organizations and private citizens work every day at all levels to improve things. In this course, we will explore the ways that institutions and individuals can, and do, create change. Through academic and popular texts, podcasts, and documentaries we will work to answer key questions like how we define problems and who gets to identify solutions, how those without power find influence, the mechanisms that facilitate systemic change, and the everyday tools that average people can access to alter the environments and situations they face. Through theory and real-world examples, we will evaluate tools for change that range from social media campaigns to long-term community organizing. By looking at these tools and case studies of change, we will also interrogate a central question: is it better to work within the system or try to tear it down? Although we will explore these topics in a US context, many of the theories and ideas we explore have broad applicability and students will have the opportunity to explore international contexts through their class assignments. This class does not assume prior knowledge, but students will be asked to reflect on their life experience as we move through class content.    

Kristen Chmielewski, Health and Human Development 

Historian Douglas C. Baynton writes, “Disability is everywhere in history, once you begin looking for it, but conspicuously absent in the histories we write." Building upon that idea, disability is everywhere in society. Ideas about disability shape our language—“the blind leading the blind”—and our insults. Disability provides motivation for villains in children’s movies, like Captain Hook, and moments of tragic catharsis in classic literature, like in Of Mice and Men. Disability shapes educational policies, practices, and curriculum while also affecting employment policies, like subminimum wage and retirement and disability benefits and stipulations. Everyone, if they live long enough, will experience disability at some point in their lives. Disability is everywhere in the United States but is conspicuously absent from most conversations of identity, justice, and equity.

In this seminar, students explore the historical roots of current issues faced by the disabled community to examine how definitions of disability have changed over time and how current injustices are engineered and enforced rather than inevitable and natural. Each week will focus on a different facet of life—law, education, the medical system, immigration, media representation, recreation, and employment—with one class covering readings and discussion that provide historical context and the other focusing on readings, discussion, and activities related to current issues. The culminating work in the course will be a “Disability Excavation” project in which the students conduct original archival research—either in the WWU archives or online—to trace the history and evolution of a disability issue they have encountered in their own lives or in their field. 

Luis Portugal, Modern & Classical Languages 

The Baroque is generally characterized as the aesthetic of extravagance, exaltation, and exuberance that took place in the 17th century. It is also considered as the aesthetic of colonization exported from Europe to other parts of the world. However, many Latin American artist and intellectuals from the 20th century have reinterpreted the Baroque in Latin America with a different light, viewing it as an expression of resistance and counter-conquest. For these intellectuals, the Baroque was and continues to be an integral part of the ongoing process of the Latin America identity. In this course, we will focus on some cultural influences (especially artistic and theological) of the Baroque in Latin America, examining its role in the colonial period and how it has been constantly reinterpreted throughout the region’s history. We will also explore both positive and negative views of the Latin American Baroque, evaluating its significance as a means of resistance and its association with European domination. By doing so, we will gain a deeper understanding of the Baroque’s impact on the Latin American identity, both in the past and the present. 

G. McGrew, AMSEC

‘Food and Chemistry’ will discuss more than just the chemistry behind food, drink, flavor, texture, and nutrition.  This highly interdisciplinary course will navigate the significant intersections of food and food technologies – historical and modern – with race, class, and gender, culture and trade, survival, the environment, propaganda, and political conflict.  Students will learn foundations of general and organic chemistry alongside topics in home cooking, molecular gastronomy, biochemistry, biology, and even some condensed matter physics.   

What are modern uses of chemistry in food enhancement?  What are the controversies that come with these advances?  How does the chemistry of food shape our daily lives, the future of planet Earth, and everything in between?  

Students will participate in readings, group discussions, and complete a multi-part writing project that ties their major to a topic in food chemistry; it will include instructor and peer feedback and revision. The end of the quarter will include student presentation and discussion of special topics. 

Jose Serrano-Moreno, Biology 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chronic illnesses are defined as those conditions that require more than 1 year of medical attention or limit activities of daily living or both. In this class-seminar, we will   study and discuss the molecular and physiological basis of the most devastating chronic pathologies in the Western hemisphere: diabetes and heart failure 

In this course, students will engage in group discussions, short group presentations, and group and individual written analysis, with the aim of critically examining recent primary literature related to the cellular and physiological mechanisms underlying the etiology and progression of diabetes and heart failure. In addition, given the tremendous individual and social impact of those pathologies, we will also examine some meta-analysis studies showing correlations between the patients’ prognosis and output with their socioeconomic status and race. 

 In a nutshell, the course's overarching goal is to appreciate the scientific and social complexities associated with these illnesses and explicitly show how rigorous scientific knowledge can be helpful to improve life at individual and collective levels.   

Jim Cooper, Biology 

This seminar class will focus on the most recognizably human part of our skeleton, the skull. We will approach the subject from three perspectives: 1) Biological – How skulls develop, skull biomechanics, and the evolutionary origins of the skull; 2) The skull as a symbol – We will examine skull imagery from multiple cultures (e.g., Baron Samedie, La Calavera Catrina), the use of skulls as warnings, skulls as objects of worship or ancestor reverence, and as means of spiritual control; and 3) Historical – We will read The Mismeasure of Man by Steven J. Gould, which explores how European scientists attempted to develop systems for quantifying differences in skull form among different groups of humans and how this approach was misused (often horribly). Each student will also complete a creative project focused on skulls (e.g., they can use the flesh-eating beetle colony in the Cooper lab to process skulls for their own collections). 

EJ Colen, English

Black feminism is a school of thought that looks at the ways racism, sexism, class oppression, and gender identity are inextricably bound. What would it mean to imagine a world outside or beyond the strictures of white supremacy? What does it mean to imagine a world that centers on black feminist voices, queer and trans voices, voices of indigenous populations? These are the questions we will keep in mind as we navigate and engage with the course materials.     

In this class we will read, respond to, and analyze a wide range of texts. We will begin with a short history of feminism, black feminism, and afrofuturism. Operating within this framework, we will examine the work of black feminist authors writing dystopian and apocalyptic narratives that simultaneously lay bare social injustice and failings of contemporary political and social structures of privilege and reimagine worlds that focus on underrepresented and disadvantaged populations. Students will exercise and refine textual and cultural analysis skills by examining how an author utilizes context, form, language, and elements of style. Students will engage in close analytical readings of texts, active engagement on class discussion board, brief presentations, and a final essay or creative project. 

Ryan Castle, Business & Economics 

This course will explore the legal and political foundations of the LGBT and Religious civil rights movements. How is this clash manifesting itself in everyday lives as well as behind the scenes with lawyers, judges, and politicians? What are the legal and policy solutions? Students will attempt to answer these questions in class and in research papers. For a solid foundation, we will start with a general overview of the Constitution and Civil Rights laws. With that needed context, we can then dive into the past, present, and future of the Religious and LGBT rights movements, largely from a legal perspective. Class will be structured using the Socratic method with student discussion, interspersed with lecture. Students will learn how to analyze a body of law, to read court decisions and legislative statutes, to create public policy, to communicate professionally, and to challenge their own biases. 

Spring 2024

Thomas Hummel, Honors

Acousmatic listening and chance-based operation. Erasure and ‘pataphysics. Site, space, convergence, decay. The work of this course is the work of undoing. Rather, of doing anew to potentialize futures.

Through the immersive study and production of disparate, disembodied, and nonlinear forms, our objective will be to reconceptualize the most fundamental practices—reading, writing, saying, doing—for the expansion of imaginative dexterity and critical adaptability. We will create without disciplinary constraint. We will read thinkers and theorists from fields as varied as forensic architecture, improvisation studies, surveillance studies, and biopolitics. Along the way, we will ask: How is reading an aural practice? What is sound without source? How do we know what isn’t yet? What are the limits of our logics?

Michael Slouber, Global Humanities and Religions 

Religion is a powerful social force that people the world over depend on to find meaning in their existence and seek healing for life’s ills. We engage with examples from seven religions—plus a few secular and spiritual parallels—through the lenses of pilgrimage and healing. How do sacred journeys to powerful locations enrich or renew a person’s spiritual life? What theoretical tools best serve us in our own pilgrimage through vastly different religious milieux? Do we have pilgrimage in modern America and what forms does it take? From the well-documented Wixárika pilgrimage to Wirikuta in Mexico, to Catholic pilgrimages in South America and Europe, Muslim pilgrimage across North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, Hindu and Buddhist pilgrimages in India and Japan, and returning back to the United States with fresh perspectives. Join us for an intellectual journey in search of the heart of pilgrimage and the soul of religion

Kathleen Brian, Honors 

A period of being away, of not-being-ness. Mental preoccupation or inattention, often with abnormal movements. Occasionally, with failure. Frequently want, lack, privation. A sudden loss or alteration of consciousness. An instance of this, as contrasted with presence.

Contemporary discourses are infused with imperatives of abundance, becoming, and flourishing.

Why, then, might we desire nullification?

When do we seek decay, vacuity, obliteration?

What possibilities might un-being reveal? How can we metabolize (in) a void?

Kamarie Chapman, Theatre 

This course will examine scripted performance (films/podcasts/plays/poetry/protests/sports/etc.) created by trans artists who live in the United States. Guided by the instructor, the course will engage participants to create the subjects studied in small collaborative groups, and require a final article, research dossier, or performance created by the individuals as a final. 

Sally Scopa, Art and Art History

For generations, to describe an artist’s work as “decorative” was to hurl at them the most bruising insult imaginable to members of the art world. To make work that was “decorative” was to make work that lacked conceptual rigor and was somehow “superficial”; work that departed from dominant art historical narratives of genius and purity; work that could easily be produced in multiple, or—more threateningly still—in community. In other words, to label an artist’s creative output as decorative was to imply that it fell outside the sphere of fine art and was in fact craft: a word negatively coded as “feminine” and “other”, for craft disciplines have historically been associated with women and non-western artists.

This studio seminar will explore the reasons behind the art/craft divide through reading and making. Our goals will be two-fold: the “seminar” portion of the course will be dedicated to understanding the political underpinnings of the art/craft divide, and why it arose in the first place. Our second overarching goal will be to understand the rigor and beauty of craft through making in the studio. In partnership with the Art Studio department, students will complete projects in three craft-based disciplines: shibori dyeing, ceramics, and natural pigment production. Students will acquire foundational knowledge in the chosen craft disciplines, and for their final project will create editioned works of art—i.e., each person will make a “limited edition” of an artwork that can be produced in multiple—using one or more of the techniques studied over the course of the semester. 

No prior experience in studio art is required for this course.

Jill Davishahl, Engineering and Design 

This hands-on, project-based course explores the past, present, and future of makerspaces through a lens of equity and inclusion. The course will provide an overview of makerspaces, the act of making, and associated technologies. Students will examine the traditional technocentric masculine nature of maker culture and will work to deconstruct existing stereotypes by encouraging & inviting new types of making. Using current research and best practices as a guide, students will brainstorm ways to diversify making and create inclusive maker cultures. The class is centered in the physical act of making and will involve a quarter-long, hands-on project. No prior knowledge of maker related equipment or technology required. 

Tracey Pyscher, Secondary Education

Trauma is having a moment. Generations of researchers have exposed the capacity of systemic, intellectual, and popular discourses that contribute to reproducing the inequities of US society in relation to theorizing trauma. In this course, the category of trauma is not taken for granted but rather is unraveled and interrogated to assess the political and cultural work that trauma does especially in relation to our bodies, our social and cultural, and psychic experiences.  In designing final projects, students will move towards envisioning new conceptualizations of trauma based on their unique interdisciplinary interests. The course is a co-facilitated conversation between the professor and students.  

Tom Moore, Honors 

The relative void left by the diminished influence of Christianity in the late 20th c. opened up new ways of thinking about the transcendent, whether one thinks of it as the sublime, the Brachman, Jehovah, the Way or the great goddess.  Some of the texts we’ll read are T. S. Eliot’s The Four Quartets, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter From Birmingham Jail, Hesse’s Siddhartha, and Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies.  As before, we’ll hear speakers representing a variety of religious traditions, including Christianity, Judaism, Zen Buddhism, and others.   We’ll also screen films like Paths of the Soul and look at several of Joseph Campbell’s DVDs from The Power of Myth.

Paul Kearsley, Design 

This course will explore the unique paradigm of Systems Thinking; an interdisciplinary integration of perspectives from the natural and social sciences. Studying these emergent self-organizing patterns reveals system-level models and insights that allow for a deeper understanding of emergent behavior.  Coursework will focus on non-linear analysis of such systems including schematics, mapping, flow charts and diagrams as well as readings and written responses. 

Madison Nelson, Physics 

The world we live in has immense diversity in organism structure and function. While a wild flower appears vastly different than the human body, the underlying physics, which govern the form and function of each, are the same. Both are confined to the same building blocks on the periodic table and both are bound to the same physical laws. These physical laws guide how life is formed and grows. From how large a blue whale is, to how tall a tree may grow, all of these can be studied through a lens of physics. Because at the core, physics is the study of the fundamentals of the universe. 

In this seminar, we will examine how to recast the understanding and fundamentals of physics to more complex and nontraditional systems such as the human body. While these systems are dynamic and multifaceted, we will be using toy models and simplifications to look at the basic fundamentals of what drives processes. We will start on the microscopic scale and transition out to see how the physical constraints of the microscopic influences the macroscopic 

form and function. We will explore how to study the human body through delving into core physics topics such as entropy, diffusion and Brownian motion. Through the simplification of the systems, an understanding of underlying fundamental physics processes which govern everything in the universe will be gained.