Spring 2022 Honors First Year Seminars

Course times and offerings subject to change




ANTH 060H.001 | Crisis & Resilience: Past & Future of Human Societies

TR, 9:30 am – 10:45 am. Instructor: Patricia McAnany. Enrollment = 24.
In this FYS, we take a long view of human societies by examining responses to crises engendered by political, economic, and environmental factors over the longue durée. Perspectives on societal change—both apocalyptic and transformational—are critically examined in light of a suite of case studies that span the Pleistocene to current times. Particular attention is paid to the idea of the Anthropocene—that humans have entered an epoch in which climate change is driven by humanly produced atmospheric conditions. We also examine critically the concepts of resilience and sustainability in terms of the future of human society. Students gain familiarity with evaluating archaeological, historical, and environmental information that is pertinent to understanding change. The aim of the seminar is to foster critical thinking and the ability to evaluate narratives (in both scholarly and popular media) about societal crises and human resilience.

Seminar research materials include books, journal articles, films, and student-run interviews. Class meetings generally consist of a short, introductory lecture followed by discussion headed by student discussion-leaders. Each student selects a topic or a case study to research in depth, develops a short class presentation, and writes a final research paper.


Patricia A. McAnany is Kenan Eminent Professor of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. A Maya archaeologist, she serves as co-principal investigator of Proyecto Arqueológico Colaborativo del Oriente de Yucatán and as Executive Director of InHerit: Indigenous Heritage Passed to Present (www.in-herit.org). She is particularly interested in societal transformation and she works with descendant Maya peoples on cultural heritage programs. She is the author/co-editor of several books, most recently Maya Cultural Heritage: How Archaeologists and Indigenous Communities engage the Past (2016); and earlier, Questioning Collapse: Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability, and the Aftermath of Empire (2009) co-edited with Norman Yoffee. She is the recipient of several research awards from the National Science Foundation and of fellowships from the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, and the Institute for the Arts & Humanities (UNC, Chapel Hill).


CHEM 073H.001 | From Atomic Bombs to Cancer Treatments: The Broad Scope of Nuclear Chemistry

MW, 1:25 pm – 2:40 pm. Instructor: Todd Austell. Enrollment = 24.
Nuclear chemistry is a broad field which we all are affected by almost daily in some way, shape or form. In this course we’ll explore many aspects of nuclear chemistry in an attempt to better understand the historical development, the present technology and the future of the field. A general chemistry background in atomic history and theory will first be provided, followed by a survey of the applications and research topics of nuclear chemistry today. Many topics discussed in the course are surrounded by controversy. In each of these cases, student will research and discuss the various sides of each argument to better understand the topics.



Todd Austell is a Teaching Professor and currently serves as the Associate Director of U’grad Studies for the Department of Chemistry. He serves as an academic advisor for STEM and pre-health science majors in UNC Academic Advising.  Prof. Austell received his BS in Chemistry in 1987 and his PhD in Chemistry in 1996, both at UNC. He spent one year working in the pharmaceutical industry prior to graduate school and another year as an Assistant Professor at the United States Air Force Academy prior to returning to his current position in 1998. As an undergraduate, he participated in the Department of Energy and American Chemistry Society’s Summer School in Nuclear Chemistry. Topical studies in nuclear chemistry have been a hobby of his since that time. His graduate research involved separation science, and he is currently involved in both curriculum development within the chemistry department and in a long-term study of how middle school and secondary math education/preparation affects student performances in college general chemistry. His hobbies include hiking, camping, disc golf and gardening as well as following all UNC athletics.  He has two young daughters whom he says are “his greatest accomplishment” and a wife who works as a physical therapist.


CLAS 051H.001 | Greek Drama on Page & Stage

MW, 4:40 pm – 5:55 pm. Instructor: Alexander Duncan. Enrollment = 24.
Taking a participatory approach to ancient Greek drama, this course pairs readings from three Athenian playwrights (Aeschylus, Euripides, and Aristophanes) with performance-oriented activities and scholarship.

At its most traditional, this course surveys the historical and cultural context of the so-called “classical” Athens of the fifth-century BCE, emphasizing the political, religious, and aesthetic forces that gave rise to humankind’s first recorded theater. More innovatively, this course probes the dual nature of theater, its distinct but intertwined existences as codified script and socially-embedded performance, through sustained investigations of some of its most influential texts and their modern reception in a global context with case studies focused on post-Apartheid South African and 21st-century Chicanx experiences.

Through a variety of original compositions (including Tweets, TikTok/FlipGrid videos, character backstories, stand-up routines, director’s notes, and scholarly analyses), students gain practical experience and theoretical insight into the ways text, performance, and culture interact. Through improvisational activities, recorded videos, and scene rehearsals, students become thespians in their own right, pressing the limits of how far performance might extend beyond the traditional stage. Class trips to Davis Library and the Forest Theater introduce first-year students to some of the academic and cultural resources UNC offers.


Al Duncan is Assistant Professor in the Department of Classics. He holds a B.A. in English and Classical Languages & Literature from the University of Michigan, and a Ph.D. in Classics and the Humanities from Stanford University. Having previously taught in Classics and Comparative Literature at the University at Utah, he joined the Carolina faculty in 2015, where he teaches a variety of courses on ancient Greek language and literature and ancient Mediterranean culture.
Professor Duncan’s research focuses on theatrical production, aesthetics, and genre. He is currently preparing a book on ugliness in Greek drama, as well as several chapters and articles on the material and cognitive aspects of ancient theater.


ENGL 071H.001 | Healers and Patients

MWF, 10:10 am – 11:00 am. Instructor: Kym Weed. Enrollment = 24.
When medical anthropologist Arthur Kleinman writes that “illness has meaning,” he reminds us that the human experience of being sick involves more than bodily symptoms. Moreover, the effects of illness and disability are rarely confined to one person. In this course, we will analyze a diverse collection of writers who have taken as their topic the human struggle to make sense of suffering and debility through a range of genres including fiction, non-fiction, graphic memoir, podcasts, and oral histories.

Divided into five units, the course will allow us to explore not just the medical, but also the personal, ethical, cultural, and political facets of illness from the perspectives of patients, healers, and families. Central texts will include /Ask Me About My Uterus/ by Abby Norman, /Black Man in a White Coat/ by Damon Tweedy, /Mom’s Cancer/ by Brian Fies and /The Farewell/ directed by Lulu Wang. Additionally, students will utilize the growing archive of oral histories from the Stories to Save Lives project to learn more about the experiences of patients, healers, and families from across North Carolina.


Kym Weed is a Teaching Assistant Professor in English & Comparative Literature and the Co-Director of the HHIVE Lab and Associate Director the MA program in Literature, Medicine, and Culture. She earned her PhD from UNC and recently returned to Chapel Hill via Vanderbilt University’s Center for Medicine, Health, and Society. Her research focuses on the intersection of science and literature in late-nineteenth-century American literature and culture as well as historical and contemporary understandings of illness, health, disability, and embodiment. She teaches courses in health humanities, disability studies, American literature, and writing.

ENGL 089H.001 | American Poetry in Motion

TR, 11:00 am – 12:15 pm. Instructor(s): Eliza Richards. Enrollment = 24.
This course focuses on fascinating questions about poetry as a creative practice: what do poets say about the poems they write? What kinds of contributions do poems make to the world we live in? Are poems “useful”? If so, what kinds of uses do they have?  We will read poems, of course, but also poetic manifestoes and other writings by poets who want to share ideas about what poetry is and why writing poetry is important, meaningful, and relevant to everyday life.  We will concentrate on specific case studies: the manuscripts and letter-poems of the reclusive writer Emily Dickinson; the notebooks, letters, and poems of Walt Whitman that he wrote while tending the wounded in the Civil War hospitals; the poems, manuscripts, and letters of George Moses Horton, who taught himself to read and write and published two books of poetry while enslaved in North Carolina; and the drafts, revisions, and animal drawings of twentieth-century modernist Marianne Moore. The course seeks to develop close reading skills that are crucial for interpreting poetry; to explore how social and cultural conditions both limit and enable poetic expression; and the ways poems have influenced and impacted social and political movements; to strengthen writing and oral communication skills; and to develop research skills.


Eliza Richards is a Professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature. She teaches American literature before 1900 and American poetry. She has written about Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, the poetry of the US Civil War, and popular women’s poetry. Professor Richards has won awards for teaching on both the graduate and undergraduate level.


GEOG 065H.001 | Climate Change and the Media

TR, 12:30 pm – 1:45 pm. Instructor: Erika Wise. Enrollment = 28.
Climate change has been called both the “greatest hoax” ever perpetuated and the “most urgent threat” facing the world. While scientists produce volume after volume of consensus documents on climate change, the popular debate rages on, fueled by print and TV news, social media, movies, and fiction. Experts, pseudo-experts, and casual observers debate causes, consequences, and remedies in every form of media. In this class, we will explore how the established science of climate change is presented, distorted, and debated in the public sphere by alarmists, denialists, and everyone in between. Through reading and writing exercises, class viewings, discussions, and presentations, students will encounter many points of view, explore a variety of media sources, and develop informed perspectives on one of the defining issues of our time. Beyond climate change, the topics discussed in this class will have relevance to other current events where science, politics, and personal beliefs intersect.


Professor Erika Wise leads the Climate & Tree Ring Environmental Science (C-TRĒS) research group, based in UNC’s Department of Geography. She is a climatologist who specializes in using dendrochronology (tree-ring science) to study climate over the last several centuries, especially the long-term record of past droughts, floods, and other climate extremes. This research is important for establishing a baseline for recent climate change and for understanding how climate change might impact our water resources in the future. Before moving to North Carolina, Dr. Wise lived in Ohio, California, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and Iowa; she has collected tree samples in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Oklahoma, North Dakota, and South Dakota. She likes to go to new places and learn new things! 


GSLL 068H.001 | Intensity, Vitality, Ecstasy: Affects in Literature, Film, and Philosophy

TR, 11:00 am – 12:15 pm. Instructor: Gabriel Trop. Enrollment = 24.
What cultural and intellectual resources do we have to increase the intensity of our inner lives, to feel more vitally plugged into the world, and to be attracted to extraordinary modes of perception? We will read texts by famous philosophers, mystics, and poets in order to help us answer these questions. Assignments will explore creative and alternative forms of writing (rather than the standard academic essay): dialogues, narratives, letters, and free writing, among others. Authors include: Plato, Sappho, Marcus Aurelius, Hildegard von Bingen, Mechthild von Magdeburg, Meister Eckhart, Descartes, Pascal, Goethe, Kafka, Musil, Deleuze, and Rilke, among others. (Course taught in English. No prerequisites.)


Gabriel Trop is Associate Professor of German at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He earned his Ph.D. in German and Medieval Studies from the University of California at Berkeley. His research tends to focus on the relationship between literature, philosophy, and science, with a special emphasis on poetics and aesthetics. Both his scholarship and his teaching within this broader framework is rather comparative: he has engaged with texts and ideas from Ancient Greece, Roman Antiquity, the Middle Ages (mainly Middle High German), and German and French literature and philosophy from the eighteenth century to the twentieth century.


HNRS 089.001 | Medicine and Narrative: Writing COVID / Writing Us

M, 2:00 pm – 4:30 pm. Instructor: Terry Holt. Enrollment = 20.
A workshop in autobiographical and creative short story, focusing on the complex connections between story-telling, interpretive skill, and the practice of medicine. Students will write and distribute autobiographical and and creative short stories about illness and medical care; the seminar will meet weekly to discuss these stories, attempting to identify and articulate the key issues each story expresses about what it means to be sick, what it might mean to take care of others in their illness. The writing and (especially) interpretive skills acquired in this workshop are directly valuable to anyone contemplating a career in medicine, but are equally valuable to anyone who might at some point encounter (in themselves or in someone they care for) the trauma of illness. In addition to the weekly workshop, participants will have one-on-one conferences with the instructor (himself an MD with an international reputation as a writer). The capstone project will be a public reading (via webinar, allowing participants to invite an audience from anywhere on the globe) of participants’ work, which may (at student option) be in the form of written work, an audio composition, or a film illustrating images and themes from the written work, composed using the tools available at the University’s Media Resources Center.

FULFILLS LA-Literary Arts Approach, CI-Communication Intensive Connection, and EE-Experiential Education Connection.

Terrence Holt taught literature and writing at Rutgers University and Swarthmore College for a decade before attending medical school. Hailed as “a work of genius” by the New York Times, his 2009 In the Valley of the Kings was one of Amazon’s Best Books of the Year. Internal Medicine, his New York Times bestselling memoir of medical training, was named best book of 2014 by three industry journals. Holt teaches medicine at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.


TR, 9:30 am – 10:45 am. Instructor: Alberto Scotti. Enrollment = 24.
We are constantly surrounded by phenomena that are wave-like in nature. We communicate over short distances with sound waves, while we use electromagnetic waves over long distances. We see waves when we stand at beach, and the weather we experience is controlled very often by wave-like features of the jet stream. In this seminar, we will develop the conceptual framework necessary to understand waves, starting from laboratory observations. The main goal is to expose the common traits of waves, and how they can be used to enhance our understanding and predict the outcome of a broad range of important physical phenomena.


Professor Scotti’s research focuses on problems of applied fluid dynamics which are environmentally and/or geophysically relevant. Presently, he is involved in several projects involving stratified flows interacting with topography, internal waves (linear and nonlinear) and boundary layer turbulence using a combination of theoretical and numerical tools.


MATH 051H.001 | 'Fish Gotta Swim, Birds Gotta Fly': The Mathematics and the Mechanics of Moving

TR, 2:00 pm – 3:15 pm. Instructor(s): Roberto Camassa. Enrollment = 24.
The scientific method is arguably the single most important achievement of the modern era. Together with its technological implications, in the last four centuries it has shaped the world both physically and culturally, and continues to do so, like no other element in the history of mankind. The overall aim of the course is to learn the basic elements of the method through a combination of simple physical experiments (mostly at the \thought” level), rigorous mathematical training and elementary mathematical modeling. The focus will be on mechanics, which can arguably be considered the “birthplace” of the method. In particular, the mechanics of fluids will provide the main emphasis, both for its implications in any aspect of life on Earth and for its challenges to the physical intuition.

You should be ready to work with a non-standard class format, where concepts are developed through class discussions in which everybody is expected to join and share observations, insights as well as critiques. No question offered in earnest is too naive or irrelevant, and students are expected to share their doubts as well as their knowledge to achieve the outcome of understanding a certain issue. In-depth class discussion, “open ended” homework assignments with problems and essays, hands-on in-class, in-lab and in-silico (computational) experiments will be the basis for evaluation and final grade assignment.


Dr. Camassa’s research interests include Wave Evolution Equations, Mathematical Modeling, Fluid Mechanics, Optics


PLCY 085H.001 | Reforming America's Schools

TR, 3:30 pm – 4:45 pm. Instructor: Doug Lauen. Enrollment = 24.
This seminar will examine the role of schools and other institutions play in determining life chances, which educational interventions work well for economically and academically disadvantaged students, and what to do when institutions cease to work well. Students will learn how to analyze complex educational public policy problems while exploring questions of effectiveness, inequality, resource management, and politics.


Dr. Lauen’s work seeks to understand the effects of educational policies, school types, and school contextual factors on student outcomes. He focuses on areas that policymakers can control and that have high relevance to current educational policy debates, such as classroom poverty composition, educational accountability, performance incentives, and school choice.


PSYC 089H.001 | Critical Thinking in Psychology and Beyond: How to use Your Brain

TR, 2:00 pm – 3:15 pm. Instructor: Jonathan Abramowitz. Enrollment = 25.
Critical thinking is the ability (and willingness) to assess claims and make objective judgments on the basis of well-supported reasons. It is the ability to look for flaws in arguments and resist claims that have weak supporting evidence (or none at all). Critical thinking is not simply negative thinking; it fosters the ability to be creative and constructive, generate solutions, think of implications, and apply knowledge to a broad range of social and personal problems. Critical thinking skills are essential to success as a student, in your career, as a consumer of goods and services, and in many other areas of your life.

This course focuses on the development of critical thinking skills, especially as they relate to psychological science. The field of mental health is loaded with theories and interventions—some of them scientifically and logically valid, and others not. Critical thinking is a must if one is to successfully learn about how psychological knowledge is created, evaluated, and applied. In addition to learning basic skills of logic, students in this Honors First Year Seminar will learn about the logic of the scientific method and the common errors of human cognition that impede critical thinking. We will emphasize the application of critical thinking skills to psychological phenomena and claims about abnormal behavior and its treatment. Students will learn by discussing and writing effective arguments, analyzing the writings of others and evaluating their claims, exploring contemporary controversies within and beyond psychology, and interacting with members of the class regarding the weekly topics.


Dr. Abramowitz studies psychological processes and cognitive-behavioral treatment of anxiety disorders, especially obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and health-related anxiety.


SOCI 057H.001 | Rationalization and the Changing Nature of Social Life in 21st-Century America

TR, 3:30 pm – 4:45 pm. Instructor: Howard Aldrich. Enrollment = 24.
Today, fast food restaurants have become a model for everyday life. Some scholars have even talked about the “McDonaldization” of the nation and the world. By that, scholars mean a drive toward greater efficiency, predictability, calculability, and control by non-human technologies in modern organizations. This drive has shaped many features of American life, including health care, law, and education. Such forces have even affected personal relationships. Sociologists have a term for this process: “rationalization.” We will explore “rationalization” through a process called “active learning” in which you will have opportunities to explore online resources, engage in peer-to-peer discussions, and work with me to develop a research project in which you explore the impact of rationalization on an occupation that might be a destination for you. We will spend one class period, every other week, working on the term paper in class. We will have four or five guests, sharing their expertise on how rationalization has affected their work. You will be assessed based on your contributions to blog posts, class discussion, short answer written assignments, and a research project culminating in a term paper (15-20 pages). You will then build an Adobe Spark page that explains, to the world, what you have learned. We will have no traditional examinations or quizzes.


Howard E. Aldrich is Kenan Professor of Sociology. He has won numerous awards for his teaching and mentoring: Favorite Professor Award from the senior class at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; graduate students’ Award for Best Teaching, Department of Sociology, several times; and the J Carlyle Sitterson Freshman Teaching Award from the University of Carolina Chapel Hill. His two sons and his daughters-in-law graduated from Carolina. His main research interests are entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial team formation, gender and entrepreneurship, and evolutionary theory. He writes a regular column, “Speaking from Experience,” for The National Teaching and Learning Forum. He fly fishes year-round in the mountains of Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee and wherever else his travels may take him. Photos of his catches may be seen on his homepage.