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.
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.
Daniel Picus, Global Humanities and Religions
In this class, we push backwards in time to the early centuries of the Common Era to examine and analyze the ways that Jews, Christians, and practitioners of other religions interacted. While we will focus closely on divergences and conflict, our study will reveal surprising convergences as well. The period in question, known as Late Antiquity, was a time of active boundary building, violence, and antagonism between groups; at the same time, it saw the efflorescence of forms of literature, art, and thought shared between Jews, Christians, and others. We will use a variety of evidence, from literature to material culture, to think about how different groups saw themselves as related and distinct, and the surprising alliances and enmities individuals might have formed in the process of constructing their others. This will provide us with both a deeper knowledge of the histories behind ideas and institutions that remain influential today, as well as an analytic framework for considering contemporary claims about them.
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.
Dan Pollard, Biology
This course surveys the field of human genetics and applies this knowledge to critically examine the history of scientific argumentation for human oppression and liberation. Research in the 21st century has radically rewritten our understanding of human biological and genetic variation. This new paradigm provides an opportunity to modify our perspectives on the meaning and accuracy of human categorization. Through this lens we will interpret the history of scientific reasoning about race, sex, gender, and ability as falling on the spectrum of oppression to liberation. We will also discuss ongoing gaps in our understanding of human genetics and what role science may play in the struggle for social justice in the future.
Mark Neff, Environmental Studies
“I believe in science!” Many of have been taught to expect that science is how we achieve rational decision making in our complicated and politically charged moment. But… how many of us have actually thought through how science actually works in the various venues of decision making? This course uses both theory and contemporary case studies to explore the tensions between our societal expectations of science and the actual processes and products of our various sciences. Together, we will develop a more sophisticated understanding of how the sciences develop and hone factual claims. We will then use that knowledge to explore ways in which society might better be able to make use of the strengths both of science and of democratic deliberation to make robust decisions. This course should be of interest to science and engineering majors, as well as students across the humanities and social sciences interested in our current moment of profound political dispute.
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.
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.
Mary Erickson, Communication Studies
This class explores how gender and technology are intertwined in various social and cultural contexts, including identity construction, media, health and medicine, work, and the home. The overlap of technology and gender, and how they each impact the other, is particularly important to explore and critique in the contemporary moment. Today, we are surrounded by new and ever-more intrusive technologies. Do these technologies reinforce gender norms, as some scholars propose with gendered voice assistants like Siri and Alexa? Or do technologies give us opportunities to turn gender norms upside-down? Older technologies from the 19th and 20th centuries (for example, the telephone or the refrigerator) have helped structure how we have learned to interact with each other, how we have learned our gender roles, and how opportunities have been created or dismissed. Similarly, gender dynamics have determined technological innovation and adoption; this is apparent in the STEM fields, for example. This course examines how technology has structured gender and vice versa. We will emphasize critical questioning and discussion in the classroom, and the course assignments bridge the course material with lived experiences, helping students make connections between theories and real-world examples.
Ryan Walker, Honors
How does a term like “witch hunt” still find its way (often misappropriated) into modern political discourse? What are the cultural forces that inspire and bewitch societies into moral panics? How and why has modern thinking relegated cultures that practice magic to “primitive” or “developing” groups? Could modern notions of rationality and objectivity contain their own bits of magical thinking? How old, really, is our modern understanding of the term “magic?”
Despite individual beliefs on the reality of magic, there is no denying the impact this concept has had on the modern world or how deeply it permeates modern cultures. Serving as a spiritual sequel to Honors 104, this seminar aims to introduce students to the cultural history of magic— as a tool to induce wonder, an instrument of colonialism, and as a weapon against “the Other.” Additionally, magic will be explored through the complicated relationship it shares with religion and science in the context of the Enlightenment and (post)colonialism. Finally, the course will question how the authority of being “modern” is constructed (and contested) in relation to contemporary valuations of reason, science, enchantment, and imagination.
Our coven of participants will discuss topics as diverse as the history of witchcraft, the viability of “enchantment” in the 21st century, and how the commodification of the human body shapes our understanding of gender and sexuality. Primary readings will be diverse, from the Malleus Maleficarum to Starhawk’s The Spiral Dance to films, gaming, and other media. In accordance with the Honors Program’s interdisciplinary approach, secondary readings are drawn from the intersection of several academic disciplines including history, anthropology, sociology, religious studies, philosophy, and literary studies. In addition to scholarship, students will engage with literature, film, and other media to further interrogate modern notions considering magic.
Lori Martindale, Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies/Honors
In this seminar, we will delve into Magical Realism, an international, artistic genre characterized by inclusion of the mythical with elements of folk lore and fairy tales into a blend of the realistic and fantastic in art and fiction. We will study international literary and visual arts of magical realism from Cuba, Chile, Columbia, Argentina, Mexico, America, Russia, the Czech Republic, England, and India. A few authors under study include prominent short stories and works by Isabel Allende, Gabriel García Márquez, Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortazar, Salman Rushdie, Franz Kafka, Zadie Smith, Angela Carter, Leslie Marmon Silko, Eowyn Ivey, and more. Students will work on critical responses and journal writing throughout the quarter, and a final researched paper or their own creative project.
Jordan Sandoval, Linguistics
In this course, we’ll explore the grammatical rules that govern the language of different domains of the internet. Current undergraduate students have actually been the creators of these new grammatical rules manifest in various domains; that is to say, many of you all are native users of this particular variety of English. We'll approach this topic in a few ways throughout the quarter: We’ll read the recent literature on the new trends in language emerging in various internet spheres and analyze specific domains to identify some of the patterns that we have read about. We’ll discover new patterns and provide analysis thereof, by looking at the internet domains of our choice, or alternatively considering the ways in which specific linguistic patterns originating online are making their way into off-line communication (both spoken and written). The course will culminate in presentations of the linguistic research conducted by students throughout the quarter.
Derek Moscato, Journalism
Using the historic launch of the Seattle Kraken NHL franchise as a focal point, this seminar examines the material underpinnings of professional ice hockey, including history, media, communication, branding, and diplomacy. It draws extensively from Canadian historian Harold Innis’s notion of promotional culture, which connects cultural institutions and commercial media production to larger social dynamics, including corporate and government systems. Given the focus on the sport’s internationalism and global media audiences, this course also connects hockey to public diplomacy, which is defined as communicating strategically on behalf of nations in order to establish dialogue and influence with national constituencies. The facilitation of sporting exchange highlights the role of hockey in mediating country-to-country relations between established and emergent hockey nations from North America, Europe, and Asia. But it also provides a diplomacy role in mediating U.S./Canada international relations, including the cross-border region of Cascadia.
Hud Hudson, Philosophy
In this Honors Seminar we will examine the role of engaging literature when doing philosophy, and we will work our way through John Milton’s magnificent epic – Paradise Lost – identifying and critically discussing a number of philosophical themes and problems raised by the poem. Seminar topics will include, the problem of hell, theodicy, well-being and happiness, freedom and foreknowledge, moral luck, vice, blame, vainglory, lust, and envy.
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, markets, and governance are expressed. Drawing on readings from psychology, geography, history, and sociology, students will be introduced to competing perspectives on how climate change might be addressed, why climate change has become a political problem as much as a scientific one, and models for embracing disagreement to craft policy solutions to move beyond gridlock. 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?”.
A. Longoria, Secondary Education
Since March, 2020 millions of students—from kindergarten to higher education—have had to shift and adapt to virtual online instruction. What might be the lasting effects of the COVID-19 global pandemic on schooling? How might educators and child and youth care (CYC) professionals effect social justice and liberatory approaches to education amid the current, sudden refashioning of schooling? This honors seminar will examine the rapid changes to schooling in the United States amid the backdrops of the COVID-19 global pandemic, ongoing visibility of gender expansive identities, and renewed calls for racial justice. This course has a particular focus on examining the roles and complexities teachers and CYC professionals navigate in the contemporary era. Major outcomes for the course are for students to interrogate their own schooling experiences and identities and to imagine and articulate changes they might envision to improve schooling and CYC. A culminating opportunity to participate in a dialogue with education and CYC professionals will make meaningful and transformative students’ final papers and/or synthesis projects.
Adrian Villicana, Fairhaven
This course is designed to increase students’ awareness and knowledge of issues related to human diversity. Diversity is conceptualized as differences among social groups, such as race, ethnicity, sex, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, socioeconomic status, among others. Concrete knowledge of various groups, their experiences, and their ways of meaning-making are important to understanding and navigating our increasingly diverse world.
This class has three sections where we will use psychological, sociological, and critical frameworks to examine the presence of, as well as the problems and issues associated with, social and cultural differences in our society. The first section emphasizes the basic concepts in the study of diversity. We will cover topics such as dimensions and definitions of diversity, social categorization and stereotypes, and prejudice. The second section uses psychological and sociological perspectives to explores the various “-isms” associated with the social categories we will cover. We will evaluate diversity as a cause as well as a product of oppressive structures; evaluating the (dis)advantages associated with social groups positioned at various levels of the social hierarchy. Finally, the third section highlights ways in which we can address inequalities seen or experienced in our various communities.
Katherine Anderson, English
From ongoing attempts to identify Jack the Ripper, nineteenth-century London’s mysterious murderer, to the devilishly charming depiction of Villanelle in the BBC’s Killing Eve, Anglo-American popular culture is obsessed with depictions of sadistic killers and their gruesome crimes. Using an interdisciplinary approach to analyze literary, visual, and audio texts, this seminar will examine representations of the serial killer in relation to cultural anxieties over public and private spaces, race, gender, sexuality, class, genetics, and religion, among other things. You will read, think, and write critically about phenomena and issues in (popular) culture, and analyze a variety of cultural texts – written, aural, and visual – closely and critically. Some of the questions we will consider include: Why do we single out the serial killer from other forms of murder and violence? What is the difference between judgment and justice, both in cultural texts and in our own reactions? What are the fears and desires that we embody in the serial killer, and how do representations of the serial killer transform in response to changing cultural demands? Ultimately, what do cultural constructions of the serial killer teach us about ourselves?
Stephanie Gomez, Communication Studies
This course uses foundational principles of surveillance studies to investigate the intersections of surveillance, technology, big data, and media as they occur in everyday life, with a particular focus on the ways in which surveillance disproportionately affects people who hold marginalized identities.
Melanie Bowers, Political Science
Despite decades of work to try to end homelessness, it continues to be an issue in virtually every community in the US. While many people conceptualize homelessness as a personal problem, the reality is that it is a community-level issue, one that both affects and is affected by larger structural dynamics. US cities play a distinct role in this realm, both because they house the bulk of the nation’s homeless population and because their policies and practices simultaneously help ameliorate and amplify the problem. In this class we will explore homelessness through the lens of the city, investigating how policy, social norms and the urban landscape shape and are shaped by those who reside in them without shelter. Though we will briefly cover the personal drivers of homelessness, this class focuses on community-level dynamics like the history of housing provision in the US, structural determinants of homelessness (housing prices, economic inequality, mass incarceration, etc), local policy responses, anti-homeless protest and organizing, and the ways that social entrepreneurs are innovating to address some of the most difficult challenges of our time. This is an inherently interdisciplinary topic and we will take an interdisciplinary approach, with insights from public policy, non-profit/charitable service providers, and academic disciplines like history, urban studies and political science. In doing this we will ask pressing questions like whether housing should be a right, how personal interest intersects with public interest, and what responsibility housed residents have for those who lack shelter. In many cases, the questions we ask do not have a single, clear answer. Because of this, students should focus on engaging fully in the course, challenging and developing their thinking on these topics in ways that critically assess alternative ideas and participating in the learning community rather than focusing strictly on the “right answer. The course is appropriate for students of all majors and does not assume any prior knowledge of the US housing and homelessness issues.
Susan DeBari, Geology
This seminar provides a multidisciplinary look at how volcanic eruptions have played an integral role in shaping Earth, life, civilizations, cultural traditions, climate, economic systems, and even art and literature. Four main themes of the course will be developed through student discussions of relevant readings from the popular scientific press, review articles and book chapters, and cultural storytelling. These themes are as follows: 1) Volcanism and development/eradication of life on Earth are intricately entwined; 2) Volcanism has impacted culture and society (powerful mythology in religion, the fall of civilizations; 3) Volcanism has and will continue to impact climate (which in turn affects economic and political systems); 4) Human/political/educational decision-making strongly affects the impacts of volcanic eruptions on nearby populations. Students will help develop discussion prompts for discussion leaders and will be asked to produce two open-ended writing projects.
Kirsten Drickey, Modern and Classical Languages
We will study three island nations in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean--Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico--to examine the divergent but interconnected paths these countries took from Spanish colonial rule to the twenty-first century.
In all three, fierce debates about national sovereignty and economic independence, as well as deep concerns about racial and gender equality, illustrate broader trends in Latin America as well as the thorny issue of US involvement in the Caribbean basin--and the growing influence of Spanish-speaking communities in the United States. Our study of these interconnected processes challenges us to think deeply about history’s influence on our contemporary world and expands our ability to think critically about the complex legacies of those who came before us.
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.
Sara Baskentli, Marketing
This course will provide students with the skills for understanding developing marketing strategies for sustainability. It will cover key concepts such as triple bottom line, conscious consumption and tools related to marketing mix decisions, such as product design-for-environment, pricing based on full cost accounting, greening of the supply chain, and avoiding greenwashing. Strategies for reducing the environmental impacts of consumers., products and services will be emphasized.
Andrew Boudreaux, Physics
You settle into your seat, headed on your first vacation in too long. Comfortable and relaxed, your eyelids droop. When you wake, all is quiet – window shades closed, hum of the AC. Suddenly you wonder: are we already in the air? You pour some water into a cup – which might be moving at 600 mph – without a hitch. You absent-mindedly flip a coin, which moves straight up and back down. In fact, what experiment could you perform to know whether you are moving or still?
This course explores the principle of relativity, from its emergence in the work of Galileo through the birth of modern physics with Einstein, who recognized the principle’s deep implications for the fundamental nature of space and time. Previously regarded as absolute and independent, time is inextricably linked with space, and the notion of simultaneity itself is a relative property, differing between observers. These mind-bending aspects of Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity will be our central focus.
Both qualitative and quantitative reasoning will be included (but the math level will be modest). The course will be student-centered, with few lectures. We will develop concepts through small group activities and discussion. Out of class work will include readings, as well as frequent, short homework problems to apply and extend concepts developed in class. In a 6-8 pg. paper at the end of the course, students will retrace the development of their understanding of one key concept in relativity – for example, the relativity of simultaneity.
Jeanine Amacher, Biochemistry
In this course, we will discuss the importance of science communication, including how scientific theories and facts are disseminated in cultures and how public opinion and media can distort scientific conclusions. Specifically, we will focus on science in society by using viral pandemics in history as examples of times when scientific knowledge may be limited or its accumulation ongoing, and how that directly affects pandemic responses. While we will learn and read about Ebola, the Plague in 14th century Europe, the 1918 Spanish Flu, and AIDS, this course will mainly look at Sars-CoV-2 (or COVID-19). We will use available media (e.g., news articles, podcasts, videos, literature) to better understand viral pandemics and to analyze the different responses around the world to COVID-19. We will also spend time looking at the race to develop vaccines and therapies, and their subsequent roll out. Our class time will be spent with discussion-based activities (including "town halls") and guest speakers. Students should expect to gain a deeper understanding of different points-of-view in extreme situations, such as viral pandemics, and hopefully come away with a greater appreciation for the importance of effective scientific communication to non-experts in society.
Leo Bodensteiner, Environmental Sciences
This course will be an integration of classroom, field, and lab experiences focusing on the relations among the aquatic inhabitants and understanding how these may change as the climate warms. The effect of physical and chemical conditions on the diversity of flora and fauna in a local lake ecosystem will be characterized through identification of their habitat in the lake and their roles in the food web. Based on this outcome, the potential effects of longer, warmer summers on these inhabitants will be explored.
Rich Simon, Fairhaven/Honors
The short story is a specific literary art form in fiction. In this class, we will study the form to understand how to read the short story – and how to write the short story.
But how might we also use this form to engage the ideas we are shaping and exploring in the rest of our studies – ideas about politics and equity and justice and environment and climate and physics and disease and food systems and urban design? In evolutionary biology, planetary geology, or human history? In visual arts, music, or law? How can we use fiction to approach problems and solutions and knowledges of all sorts?
Short stories deal in the depths of human experience, the macrocosm in the microcosm. In this interdisciplinary Creative Writing workshop, we will explore the short story, with an eye to bending its shape to accommodate innovation in the form itself, and in the subject matter that the story might address. We will read exemplary published short stories that might engage the realms of other ways of knowing. Centrally, we will craft and critique and revise our own short stories. We will employ artmaking as an essential epistemological process, as a way of knowing, about the other fields of our interest – and the short story as a form for exploring ideas about the world.
Emily Curtis, Linguistics
Who is bilingual in our communities? How does bilingualism happen and un-happen? “Heritage language” describes diverse experiences of having a language that has been spoken in one’s family and is now lost or being lost at individual, family, or community levels. This language loss occurs at various ages (resulting in diverse “kinds” of bilingualism) and for a variety of sociopolitical reasons, often based on myths and misconceptions about language that make the heritage language phenomenon a social justice issue.
We will consider social, educational, historical, and political contexts and discuss published research in bilingualism, sociolinguistics, and language education to deepen our understandings and motivate further study. The capstone project is a case study of a minority language and its community. Students will engage in library and on-the-ground research about their chosen language community and have opportunities to hear from heritage language speakers and scholars.
Tristan Goldman, Honors