Boston University Honors College

First-year seminars

  • Revolutions in Conceptualizing the Mind: 1950s to the Present

    Catherine Caldwell-Harris, CAS (Psychology)
    In the 1950s, the mind was first viewed as a computational, symbol-processing machine, and information-processing models of mental abilities sparked an explosion of new research from linguistics to cognitive behavioral therapy. By the end of the century, computers had become omnipresent in daily life, but they were no longer the best model for the mind; new technologies for studying the brain’s mental activity enabled the brain itself to serve as the model for understanding the mind. This seminar traces this history of attempts to conceptualize the mind and focuses on some of the most pressing topics in current research.

  • Music as Social Experience

    Steven Cornelius, CFA (Music)
    Drawing on a variety of theoretical perspectives, this seminar investigates the ways in which musical practice serves as a reflection of, and model for, social ideas and understandings. Specific topics include gender relationships in Bizet’s Carmen, the spiritual efficacy of Tibetan Buddhist chant, dystopia in Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, and the politics of Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock performance.

  • History, Society, and Numbers

    Louis Ferleger, CAS (History)
    A distrust of (and sometimes a hostility toward) numbers tends to be fashionable in some quarters. But since many issues are supposedly resolved by statistical evidence and political disputes are often couched in statistics, it is critical to understand that—in many cases—numbers matter. The numbers may be incomplete, difficult to interpret, or not even necessarily critical. Yet, the images, reactions, misunderstandings, or misconceptions people infer from statistics presented in historical articles and books need to be examined. This seminar examines how historians write about and use numbers in their work and explores what these numbers mean, focusing on how a historical narrative can be enhanced when statistics are included.

  • Property

    Aaron Garrett, CAS (Philosophy), and Wendy Gordon, LAW
    Could you own the ocean? If you alter a song written by someone else, when (if ever) should it become your property? If you let land lie fallow when others are needy, do they have a right to use it? Should a harmless crossing of a property boundary be considered wrongful? These are some of the sorts of questions and problems involved in thinking about property, one of the most pervasive, important, contested, and slippery concepts in our world. This course will approach the concept of property from three main perspectives: the history of ideas about it, philosophical disputes about it, and current legal issues involving it.

  • Energy

    Sheldon Glashow, CAS (Physics)
    Ours is an energy-intensive society. American energy consumption per capita is now over ten times what it was when our nation was founded, and the rest of the world is following our example. This is leading to increasingly severe worldwide problems such as competition for scarce resources, pollution, congestion and, most likely, global climate change. Many governments and industries are aware of these issues and numerous attempts at remediation (some sensible and some not) have been proposed or adopted. The goals of this seminar are to explain the underlying physical principles related to the production and consumption of energy and to use this knowledge to explore and to discuss matters such as energy conservation, the so-called hydrogen economy, electric cars, nuclear power (both fission and fusion), carbon sequestration, and the feasibility of various alternative energy sources.

  • Wind

    Sheryl Grace, ENG
    The earliest devices that could transform the kinetic energy present in wind into mechanical energy were invented around 200 BCE. Horizontal axis windmills appeared in the 11th century and historically were used to grind and pump. More recently, modern wind turbines have begun to play an important role in the production of electricity. This course explores fluid dynamic and thermodynamic concepts as they apply to wind technologies and offers an introduction to the fundamentals of energy measurement, energy availability, energy transmission, and energy consumption. The seminar will also examine the entangling of politics, human nature, and technology in current discussions about the role of wind technology in addressing the energy crisis.

  • The Culture of World War I

    James Johnson, CAS (History)
    This seminar approaches this watershed moment in European history through works of literature, music, and art. The course’s three chronological divisions—the lead-up to war, the experience of war, and its aftermath—will each consider representative works from prominent artists, writers, and intellectuals. Principal historical themes of the course will include: the widespread conviction that war would cleanse and regenerate Europe; the brutally inglorious reality of trench conditions, chemical weapons, and the destruction of cultural patrimony; the ideals combatants claimed and the effects of events upon them; and the political and cultural consequences of the armistice. A textbook will ground discussions in the political context and particular events. Historical readings will also include excerpts from memoirs and diaries, letters from the front, and artistic manifestos.

  • Making Ideas: Historical & Philosophical Perspectives on Reading, Note-Taking, and Writing

    Manfred Kuehn, CAS (Philosophy)
    The science-fiction writer Stanislaw Lem once observed, “Just as a cow must eat grass in order to produce milk, I have to read large amounts of genuine scientific literature of all kinds… and the final product, my writing is as unlike the intellectual food as milk is unlike grass.” We know considerably more about the biological processes that lead from grass to milk than we do about the intellectual processes that lead from reading to writing. And one of the things we understand least in this is the role that various material tools—from wax tablets and papyrus to notebooks, index cards, and desktop wikis—play in these processes. This seminar will trace the history of the materials and instruments that have been used in reading, writing, and note-taking, and examine the theoretical presuppositions and implications of these activities. In particular, it will explore the degree to which the tools we use in these activities may influence how we think and write.

  • Mathematics and Society through the Ages: Codes and Cryptosystems

    Emma Previato, CAS (Mathematics)
    This seminar will probe the relationship of society with mathematics, especially its changing nature in the areas of encryption from the time of the Romans (Julius Caesar’s secret code) to modern compact discs and satellite imaging. It will equip students with tools that enable them to produce encrypted messages and efficient codes, as well as appreciate the innovative breakthroughs in these areas, the remaining open questions, and the techniques currently available to researchers.

  • Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice”

    William Waters, CAS (Modern Languages & Comparative Literature)
    Thomas Mann’s novella “Death in Venice” (1912), one of the great short works of modern literature, shows a dense weave of literary, philosophical, musical, psychological, historical, biographical, and visual sources. This course introduces central methods and problems in comparative literature through a reading of the inter-texts of Mann’s story, the text itself of “Death in Venice” (in two different translations), and two films and an opera based on it. Questions regarding the nature of artistic borrowing; the discreteness of the literary work; authorial intention; irony; allusion; pastiche; adaptation; historical, social, and political context; narrative technique; relations among the arts; translation; sexuality and text.

  • The Secret Lives of Corporations

    Stephanie Watts, SMG
    While most corporations want to do the right thing, they are legally accountable only to their boards of directors and are constrained by the need to produce profits within short-term reporting cycles. This course explores the many mechanisms available to reward ethical corporate behaviors and discourage less-than-ethical ones, including socially responsible investing, sustainability measurement and reporting, stockholder activism, and consumer influence. It will focus, in particular, on the potential that information technology holds for consumers with information that can motivate corporations to behave ethically toward all their stakeholders: employees, consumers, the environment, stockholders, and local communities.

  • Moses

    Michael Zank, CAS (Religion)
    This seminar will examine the history of the reception and the modus vitae embodied by the great figure of the Exodus story and will wrestle with attempts to construe a Moses for our time. Its goals include: a) gaining a basic familiarity with major ancient, medieval, and modern engagements with biblical tradition; b) engaging in close reading of texts that deal with interpretive issues such as truth and manifestation, esoteric meaning and exoteric form; c) evaluating modern moralistic, sentimentalist, and scholarly approaches to pre-modern revealed traditions; d) engaging with modern secular literary and artistic adaptations of the Moses figure.

Curious? Interested?

Students in the University Honors College also must be enrolled in one of the BU undergraduate schools, colleges, or programs. Information about these undergraduate programs and the application process is available on the Admissions website.

Are you interested in being considered for University Honors College? Check "Yes" to this question on the BU Common Application Supplement. Students who are offered a place in the Honors College will be notified at the time of their admission decision.

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Contact Information
Phone: 617-358-5900
Program Contact: Shannon Conrad
Academic Contact: Amanda Scobie
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