391AH Course Descriptions

391AH Course Descriptions

For Fall 2019

Topics for these one-credit Honors Discovery Seminars change each semester based on the particular interests of the faculty instructors. Learn more about Honors Discovery Seminars at Commonwealth Honors College.





Introduction to New England Town Planning

Monday 10:10 am to 11:00 am

The purpose of this seminar is to develop an understanding of how town planners across New England help to guide the future prosperity of communities, ensure an improved quality of life and protect the environment. It will begin with a discussion of the evolution of planning in New England from the time of the Puritans to the present. It will then explain how planning functions today and why it has taken on significant importance. It will then address the functional areas of the field and how these fields are applied in practice. Finally, the class will reflect on the place and importance of planning in an American political ideological context and for the future.

Instructor: John Mullin
Catalog Number: 391AH
Section: 03

Workshop in the Study of Commons-based Peer Production

Monday 12:20 pm to 1:10 pm

You undoubtedly know Wikipedia. But have you heard of other phrases like “Open Source Software,” Open Education,” “Open Source Science,” or the “Maker Movement” and “Makerspaces”? These all are examples of “Commons-based Peer Production” (CBPP) which is a different way for humans to collaboratively – and globally – solve problems or innovate. In this seminar, we will hold sessions specifically to discuss: (1) Open Source Software; (2) Wikipedia; (3) Open Education and Open Access; (4) Making and Makerspaces, and (5) Open Source Science. You will identify and study a case of CBPP of your choosing, perhaps in your field of study, or, alternatively, you can participate in a real-world emerging global CBPP called “World Librarians” that we invented at UMass. In the World Librarians case, students support rural schools, libraries and health clinics in Malawi and Cameroon who are offline by searching for and finding digital information that they request. Past students have enjoyed working on the World Librarian project so much that they’ve continued to work on it in other semesters or for honors projects or theses. The class closes with short presentations or reports about the CBPP project students have researched.

Instructor: Charles Schweik
Catalog Number: 391AH
Section: 05

The Day the Dinosaurs Went Extinct: One Bad Day 66 Million Years Ago

Monday 2:30 pm to 3:20 pm

The end-Cretaceous mass extinction, also known as the K/Pg event, occurred 66 million years ago and is one of the “Big Five” mass extinctions in Earth history. The two leading hypotheses to account for the rapid and widespread loss of both terrestrial and marine organisms are impact by an asteroid and massive volcanism. An impact crater dating to the K/Pg event is preserved at the northernmost tip of the Yucatan Peninsula and fallout deposits from the impact are global. Massive basalt volcanism in western India dates to the time of the K/Pg boundary, but the kill mechanisms are less convincing. We will explore these two hypotheses as an example of how science works, including testing of hypotheses. We will read, discuss, and debate key scientific papers. Students will take turns leading the discussion and presenting the evidence. At the end of the semester, I will ask all students to submit a one-page position paper about the cause of the K/Pg mass extinction. I will likely also offer an optional field trip.

Instructor: R. Mark Leckie
Catalog Number: 391AH
Section: 07

Exploring with Mathematica

Monday 2:30 pm to 3:20 pm

Mathematica is a very concentrated programming language available for free to UMass students from the UMass OIT web site. For example, typing Select[Range[10000],PrimeQ] and then Shift+Return will cause Mathematica to output all prime numbers.

Instructor: Ernest Manes
Catalog Number: 391AH
Section: 08


Revisioning the New Deal

Tuesday 10:00 am to 10:50 am

Knowing the legacy of the 1930s New Deal is essential in understanding key political conflicts of our time: the role of “big government,” a social services safety net, publicly-supported arts programs, and the right of workers to form trade unions. Through the lens of an introductory reader, “FDR and the New Deal for Beginners,” we’ll survey key historical forces and reforms of the 1930s, including the trade union movement, socialist and communist parties, left cultural activism, and WPA programs including the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Federal Theatre Project. Alongside this, we’ll consider the resonance of these historical stands today. As we witness fierce attacks on public sector unions, we also see new labor strategies organizing service workers for a “living wage.” To address both climate change and the unemployment crisis facing urban youth and others, there are those calling for a Green New Deal. The GI Bill’s provision of free public higher education for World War 2 vets is held up by those calling for student loan forgiveness and free public higher education today. To supplement course readings, learners will create blogs to explore and present particular topics of interest.

Instructor: Joel Saxe
Catalog Number: 391AH
Section: 12

What's Love Got To Do With It: The Psychology of Close Relationships

Tuesday 10:00 am to 10:50 am

This course will explore the many psychological mechanisms that play a part in close personal relationships. Using psychological research as our foundation, students will be led in discussions and about attraction, love, lust, and other topics pertinent to close relationships. Students will be asked to think deeply about the social constructs that influence human preferences, and the bio-psychosocial processes at play. The course will begin by dissecting the concepts of attraction and love. Once a basis for understanding these fundamental concepts is established, we will progress into discussions about attachment theory and interpersonal dynamics such as jealousy, power, and communication. Next we will explore oft stigmatized groups including homosexual and transgender individuals and their relationships. Lastly, we will finish the course discussing the portrayal of sex in the media and online, and its implications on sex education and sexual understanding.

Instructor: Mattitiyahu Zimbler
Catalog Number: 391AH
Section: 31

Architectural Adaptation

Tuesday 11:30 am to 12:20 pm

The pressures of climate change, natural and anthropogenic disasters, and unstable demographic shifts have begun to shape cities and towns across the globe, and in compelling ways. In these places--- at sites of conflict, or post-crisis environments, or areas of extreme resource scarcity--- architectural adaptation stands out as an indicator of resilience, spatial agency, and creative problem-solving. This course highlights case studies from adaptive sites in an effort to better understand the design responses of individuals and communities to their challenging environments, and to consider how this design thinking might open up new possibilities for the future of architecture. Students will be expected to research one assigned example of architectural adaptation, and then present findings to the class. Guest speakers and assigned reading will augment these presentations.

Instructor: Carey Clouse
Catalog Number: 391AH
Section: 13

Healthy Soils and Their Impact on Our Daily Life

Tuesday 11:30 am to 12:20 pm

Soils are the foundation of life as we know it on earth. This course will expose students to the importance of soils and how healthy soils play such a crucial role in our life. Soil is not just dirt! There are more living organisms in a shovel-full of soil than the total population of human beings on the planet! Most crucial soil functions are carried out by these living organisms. Soil organisms require food, water, oxygen, and appropriate conditions for living, propagating, and to maximize their functions. It is our work with living soil that provides sustainable alternatives to the triple crises of climate, energy, and food. In this course, the concept of soil health, its relationship with our daily life including farming, and our environmental quality will be discussed.

Instructor: Masoud Hashemi
Catalog Number: 391AH
Section: 14

Nature, Climate Change, and Literature

Tuesday 1:00 pm to 1:50 pm

The Guardian describes climate change as “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” It is not surprising that the British newspaper should cast the unfolding threat of climate change through the lens of a “story.” Climate change has been cast as an environmental problem with economic, political and scientific solutions. However, as the geographer Mike Hulme pointed out: “Science may be solving the mysteries of climate, but it is not helping us discover the meaning of climate change.” In this class, we will read exciting short stories, critical essays and creative non-fiction that engage with the big questions of environment, weather, and climate. We will also watch some short documentaries and analyse some groundbreaking artworks. Through our discussions, we will demonstrate the important role that writers and artists play in helping us understand and conceptualize issues of nature, weather, and climate that are often too large, open-ended and multi-generational to comprehend fully.

Instructor: Malcom Sen
Catalog Number: 391AH
Section: 15

The Beauty of Mathematics

Tuesday 1:00 pm to 1:50 pm

Mathematics is frequently perceived as formulaic, dry, and unrelated to the everyday concerns of humanity. Attributes such as beauty, depth, and elegance, commonly used in descriptions of works of art, rarely characterize mathematics. The premise of this course is that conceiving, and playing with, the fundamental ideas of mathematics from the dawn of time until the present will awaken a certain sense of wonder. This curiosity, paired with inquiry, will naturally unfold a deeper appreciation of the reality and beauty of mathematics

Instructor: Franz Pedit
Catalog Number: 391AH
Section: 16

Reflections on Wellness from a Holographic Perspective

Tuesday 1:00 pm to 1:50 pm

Using a holistic wellness inventory, students explore the multi-dimensional, holographic nature of wellness. Students are guided in an in-depth exploration of what wellness is, behavior change theory, and twelve dimensions of wellness. In-class experiential exercises relating to twelve dimensions of wellness are followed by reflection on their value for the purpose of enhanced wellness. At the completion of the course, students reflect upon a change made in one dimension of wellness, and the impact of this on overall wellbeing. The goal of this course is to improve self awareness, and increase knowledge and ability to use various techniques to enhance wellness. It is an excellent seminar for students seeking to improve their own wellness and/or planning to work with others to improve wellness.

Instructor: Pam Burris
Catalog Number: 391AH
Section: 11

Evolutionary Medicine

Tuesday 4:00 pm to 4:50 pm

Evolutionary medicine is a rapidly growing and relatively new field. In this seminar, we will discuss case studies to understand how evolutionary biology is used to better understand, prevent and treat disease. We will begin the semester discussing principles and applications in large and small groups and then you will work in teams to research case studies and current issues in evolutionary medicine. You will work on improving the following skills: reading primary scientific literature, interpreting graphs, interpreting and critiquing experimental design, and communicating findings clearly orally and in writing.

Instructor: Christiane Healey
Catalog Number: 391AH
Section: 43

American Music as History, Politics, and MetaphysicsAH

Tuesday 7:00 pm to 9:30 pm

Through the prism of American music, Jazz, Blues, Rock and Rap, this course looks at what Aldous Huxley defined as the second most perfect language after silence. Music provides a non-threatening way to look at race, identity, and equality. American music is a hybrid art form influenced by many cultures. It is a source for a discourse that may lead us further down the path to a more perfect union and provide signposts for establishing a global community. Note: Students must co-enroll in the associated Honors Colloquium, Honors H391AH, for an additional credit.

Instructor: Nicholas McBride
Catalog Number: 391AH
Section: 47 
Notes: SEE ALSO HONORS H391AH SECTION 01. This is a 2-CREDIT HONORS COURSE & COLLOQUIUM COMBINATION. It is a two and one-half hour class. 

American Music as History, Politics and Metaphysics

Tuesday 7:00 pm to 9:30 pm

Note: This is an Honors Colloquium. Students must also enroll in the main course, Honors 391AH, sec. 47

Instructor: Nicholas McBride
Catalog Number: H391AH
Section: 01
Notes: This is a 2-CREDIT HONORS COURSE & COLLOQUIUM COMBINATION. It is a two and one-half hour class. 


Living and Working for Change

Wednesday 9:05 am to 9:55 am

What might happen in a person’s life to lead her or him to set a goal of making the world better—and what might then happen to them after they’ve made that commitment? Using stories of people’s lives—biographies, autobiographies, and interviews collected by members of the class—this course will explore these big questions. What values drive the people whose lives we are studying, and how did they come to hold those values? What kinds of experiences lead them to commit to working toward the common good? How do they sustain that commitment over the course of their lives—what Myles Horton calls “the long haul”? And what power do their stories have for other people? After exploring these issues in the stories of other people, class members will conclude by considering how their own lives have been shaped and what impacts they seek to have in the larger world

Instructor: John Reiff
Catalog Number: 391AH
Section: 21

Decision Making under Uncertainty: Risk Taking in Life and Business

Wednesday 10:10 am to 11:00 am

Randomness and uncertainty exist in our daily lives as well as in every scientific investigation. This course helps students better understand randomness and uncertainty and gives them tools to make more informed decisions under uncertain situations. Our intuition is often wrong when assessing uncertain situations, leading us to make wrong decisions. We will provide real-life examples where even professionals have misjudged chances and probabilities. We will then go on to learn tools that are useful when we are faced with uncertainty. In doing so, we will briefly cover some topics in psychology, probability, information theory, and decision theory. Our goal is to learn some key concepts and useful ideas that can be used broadly in uncertain situations. Examples from everyday decisions, success strategies, personal finance and investing, economics, sports, big data, and gambling are discussed. The course is accessible to students from all majors and no advanced knowledge is required. Students will choose a certain decision-making problem early in the semester and will work on the problem based on the tools learned in the class. They will submit a short thesis-style report and present it in class during the last two weeks of the semester. 

Instructor: Hossein Pishro-Nik
Catalog Number: 391AH
Section: 22

Contemporary Paris and Its Surroundings

Wednesday 11:15 am to 12:05 pm

This Seminar intends to introduce the City of Paris, along with its adjacent territories, commonly referred to as the Banlieues, as a built environment. Looking into a series of thematic topics, it focuses on characteristics that define the metropolitan city and distinguish it as a unique constellation of social, cultural, political and economic forces. Tracking the most recent history of the city through the lens of architecture, landscape architecture, and urban design, the seminar sets up a framework for understanding the complex and intricate fabric of the city and sheds light on the perpetual transformation of its boundaries and its inhabitant’s modes of interaction. Looking into the elements that define different cycles of life, the class explores fiction, poetry, film, photography and architectural projects in shaping one’s understanding of one of the most capturing cities of the world.

Instructor: Pari Riahi
Catalog Number: 391AH
Section: 23

Impact of Insects on Human Culture

Wednesday 12:20 pm to 1:10 pm

Insects make up three-fourths of all living organisms and occupied earth even before humans. As a consequence, humans have shared the earth with insects for a long time. During this period, insects have had major impacts on human culture (e.g., the flea, Bubonic Plague, and destruction of two-thirds of all of Europe, mosquito (its pathogen), malaria, and evolution of sickle cell anemia), and the inclusion of insects in the origin and creation myths of many indigenous cultures. Insects, such as the praying mantis, became a symbol of the surrealist movement and such artists as Picasso and Dali recognized this and Dali was an entomophobic. The course will explore the insects in diverse cultures with respect to music, art, superstitions, and even foods.

Instructor: John Stoffolano
Catalog Number: 391AH
Section: 24

Voices of Conservation and Sustainability

Wednesday 12:20 pm to 1:10 pm

In principle, everyone likes farms and forests (and “the environment”) -- at least they say they do. In practice, as evidenced by continuing loss or degradation of forest and farmland and acceleration of global climate change, there is plenty of room for improvement at the local, regional, national, and global scale. In fact, as we strain the ecological limits of this fragile Earth, our island home and the cumulative impact of ~330,000,000 Americans comes more clearly into view, it would be more accurate to say that, now more than ever, there is a conservation and sustainability imperative. So, how can we live more sustainably? Who can we look to for guidance and encouragement? The diverse group of writers, thinkers, practitioners, and leaders listed below can help us to clarify our values, refine our attitudes, develop our communication skills, and sustain conscious actions. By the end of our seminar I hope that you will be: (1) inspired by their ideas and insights, (2) more attuned to the co-evolution of nature, culture, and place (sensu Orion), and (3) highly motivated to keep learning and leading by example

Instructor: Paul Barten
Catalog Number: 391AH
Section: 26

Art Investigations

Wednesday 1:25 pm to 2:15 pm

This course will concentrate on contemporary exhibitions of art on the University of Massachusetts Amherst campus. The course will cover art from a variety of times and places and consider historical contexts, critical analyses, and curatorial issues. The course will include class discussions and bi-weekly visits to campus galleries and museums as well as one or two Five Colleges venues. Students will be responsible for creating a portfolio of exhibition reviews, critical art writing, and other forms of responses to the various exhibitions.

Instructor: Gary Orlinsky
Catalog Number: 391AH
Section: 25

Racism and Asian Americans

Wednesday 2:30 pm to 3:20 pm

This course will explore the concept of racism in the United States through the history and experiences of Asian Americans. The course will start out with stereotypes of Asian Americans in present U.S. society, then proceed with a discussion of what “racism” means and how it applies to historical experiences of Asian Americans, starting with the Chinese Exclusion Act, then on to the colonization of the Philippines, the Japanese internment, the Vietnam War, the entry of hi-tech IT workers from India, and finally the impact of affirmative action. The course will involve reading studies and watching films, documentaries, and videos on the history of Asian Americans, the concept of racism, and “racism” as it applies to Asian Americans. At the end of the semester, the class will be divided into small groups and give a power-point presentation (individual or group) on a particular topic pertaining to racism and Asian Americans.

Instructor: Richard Chu
Catalog Number: 391AH
Section: 27

Our Environment of Light

Wednesday 4:00 pm to 4:50 pm

We are bathed in an ocean of light, from the daily rising and setting of the Sun to moonlit nights, to the darkest skies that still sparkle with thousands of stars. We also routinely use artificial light to extend our activities through the night, often in ways that disrupt our biology and the natural environment. Light can, therefore, be both beautiful and destructive, but because of its ubiquity we may never stop to think about the origins of its positive and negative effects. In this interdisciplinary course we will examine the nature of light and its sources, its interaction with the materials on which it falls, its effects on human and animal behavior, and the subtle ways that our bodies respond to its presence and absence. We will consider its history from oil lamps to LEDs powered by solar panels, and investigate the ways that artists, astronomers, and urban developers use light, along with environmental, medical, and legal consequences. This course will include topical literature as well as computer modeling of lighting through geographic information systems and 3D graphics programs. Students will also engage in individual research in an area of their interest, leading to a final project and presentation

Instructor: Andy Anderson
Catalog Number: 391AH
Section: 28

History of the Book and Printing

Wednesday 4:00 pm to 4:50 pm

Introduction to the evolution of the manuscript into the printed book into the electronic text. Emphasis on the significance of the pre-printing era, the development of the printing press and movable type, the technological advances of the 19th century (especially the Linotype machine), and the state of the "printed" book today and in the years to come. Along with the study of handwriting and printing, we will examine binding, illumination and illustrations, paper making, typefounding, and the application of computer technology to the book. Hands-on experience will include paper marbling, simple bookbinding, typesetting, and perhaps printing (depending on timing and availability of the press at the Renaissance Center). Visits to the Special Collections and University Archives, Campus Center Craft Center, and the Renaissance Center. Paper or project required.

Instructor: James Kelly
Catalog Number: 391AH
Section: 29


Hunter and Hunted: Relationships between Carnivores and People

Thursday 8:30 am to 9:20 am

Humans have mixed emotions concerning carnivores. We admire them as beautiful hunters, cosset them as pets, and use their pelts and other products in clothing, medicines, and cosmetics. However, they are also responsible for killing us and our livestock, carry disease and compete with us for space and food. While some advocate the conservation of predators such as wolves and tigers, others see them as vermin and want them gone. In this course, we will explore the fascinating story of carnivores and our intricate relationships with them. The readings will deal with the wild beauty of carnivores and their conservation, but also with furs and medicine, man-eaters and sheep-killers, explaining in simple terms what the role of carnivores is in nature, how this impacts on human lives, our art and literature, how we instinctively respond to them and why. Individual research projects related to the course material (especially large carnivores worldwide) will be developed and presented by semester’s end

Instructor: Todd Fuller
Catalog Number: 391AH
Section: 30

Controversies in Cancer Epidemiology

Thursday 11:30 am to 12:20 pm

Do cell phones cause brain cancer? Should all women get a mammogram every year? Will eating a low-fat diet keep you from getting cancer? These topics are widely discussed in the media and among the lay public, though often without a full examination of relevant scientific data. In this course, students will read and debate epidemiologic literature related to these and other current controversies in cancer epidemiology. Students will acquire skills in searching medical literature using PubMed, critiquing relevant epidemiologic studies, and synthesizing the current evidence on a given topic in oral and written presentations. A working knowledge of introductory epidemiology and biostatistics will be useful, but is not required.

Instructor: Katherine Reeves
Catalog Number: 391AH
Section: 32

Youth Media, Storytelling, and Civic Engagement

Thursday 11:30 am to 12:20 pm

This interactive course is an opportunity to explore the power and importance of youth voice, utility of digital technology and social media, and necessity to cultivate youth civic engagement in our society, particularly in the Trump-era. Through short films, music, photography, artifacts, scholarly articles, and profiles of youth media and civic engagement organizations, students will develop a greater understanding of youth activism and media production, in the context of the United States, and be able to historicize contemporary youth politicization mediated by media and technology. Specifically, we will examine mission statements and program activities of award-winning national youth organizations including New England Public Radio's Youth Media Lab in Western Massachusetts, Black Youth Project in Chicago, Illinois, Youth Radio in Berkley, California and Youth Speaks in San Francisco, California. Additionally, the course will involve creating collaborative multimodal and multimedia products inclusive of social media campaigns, podcasts, radio journalism, or photovoice projects based on social issues concerning UMass undergraduate students. 

Instructor: Keisha Green
Catalog Number: 391AH
Section: 33

The Building of America

Thursday 1:30 pm to 1:50 pm

During the 19th Century, the settlement and expansion of the continental United States were made possible by significant large-scale engineering projects that took place between about 1790 and 1880. This course will look at 10 of the most important engineering works that created the first series of successful projects in civil infrastructure in the U.S. These projects will include the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, the Allegheny-Portage Railway, the Eire Canal, the Old Croton Aqueduct, the Transcontinental Railroad and other projects. These projects represent the first national public works in the development of rail and water transportation for the movement of goods and people as well as fresh water for the nation that would lead to the development of other similar projects. Students will work in teams to research individual projects of Engineers who directed these works. An oral presentation will be required at the end of the semester. Similar local projects, such as the South Hadley Canal, the Hoosac Tunnel and the Merrimac Canal will be discussed to show how these projects were related to larger national projects. 

Instructor: Alan Lutenegger
Catalog Number: 391AH
Section: 34

Humanities Data Science

Thursday 2:30 pm to 3:20 pm

This course introduces the basics of computer-assisted research in the humanities using the Python programming language. You will learn how to access massive databases of texts, data, and images; how to process that information efficiently; and how to design a program to meet your research needs. The skillset you will acquire is portable to any job that involves data, including journalism, law, politics, business, and more. 

Instructor: Stephen Harris
Catalog Number: 391AH
Section: 36

In a Dark Place, Laughing: A Brief History of the Comedy Film

Thursday 4:00 pm to 4:50 pm

Analysis and discussion of a selection of comedies spanning ninety-five years, from Charles Chaplin’s The Immigrant (1917) to Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom (2012). Besides just sitting there laughing, we’ll also be on the hunt for meaning and metaphor happily lurking beneath the chuckles, hoots, guffaws and other sounds we’ll be making, involuntarily and otherwise. Is Billy Wilder’s gender-blender Some Like it Hot (1959) a pseudo-feminist cross-dressing romp-a-roonie starring 1950’s sex goddess Marilyn Monroe and her ukelele? Or what? Is Laurel and Hardy’s Busy Bodies (1933) an existential Boy Scout manual penned by a semi-hungover Samuel Beckett as a handy guide for survival in our buffalo-scarred nightmare dreamscape of a haunted republic, or just a brochure? I have no idea (and neither do you) so sign up and see what happens---or doesn’t, depending on how things go.

Instructor: Brion Dulac
Catalog Number: 391AH
Section: 38


Blue Gold and World Water Wars

Friday 11:15 am to 12:05 am

The course will provide an overview of the emerging crisis of water scarcity and conflicts throughout the earth system. Using case studies throughout the world, students will learn about the nature, distribution, institutions, and conflicts related to water resources. Each class will involve a mix of video discussion, brainstorming, short lecture, and exercises. Students will be able to share ideas and interact with others through a course website and in classrooms. The course is of interdisciplinary interest and provides a unique opportunity to learn and interact with students from a variety of majors. Grading will be based on weekly blogs that students complete on the topic learned in each week and a final presentation. The presentation will be a particular case selected by the student. The main objective of the course is to provide a scientific basis for understanding the water crisis and strategies to handle current and emerging water issues. Topics that will be covered include water cycle, international rivers, floods, droughts, aquifers, contamination, sewage, water harvesting, compacts, policies, and conservation.

Instructor: Timothy Randhir
Catalog Number: 391AH
Section: 41