Foundational Interdisciplinary Sequences 2019-2020

Jump to the Live. Learn. Lead. courses.


Foundational Interdisciplinary Sequences

These videos showcase just three of our many sequences. Watch them to learn more about what a sequence is like from the perspectives of both students and faculty!

Big History

The Middle East Beyond the Headlines

Europe: The Center and the Margins, Section 1

The Middle East Beyond the Headlines

The Middle East Beyond the Headlines 

Fall: HNR 209 & 210 (MW 12:00-2:45pm HON 219)

Winter:  HNR 219 & 220 (MW 12:00-2:45pm HON 219)

Schedule:  MW 12:00-2:45pm HON 219

Coeli Fitzpatrick & Majd Al-Mallah

Fall, Middle East Beyond the Headlines I & II: This course looks at the rise of Islam from the hot desert of the Arabian Peninsula and traces its development and expansion through the region and beyond until the decline of the last Islamic Caliphate, the Ottoman Empire.  Students will learn about the world that was Muhammad’s birthplace, and answers to questions about him and the new religion of Islam.  What was the world of Mecca and Medina like before Muhammad?  What did this new religion change?  How did was the message of the Qur’an revealed and received?  What does the Qur’an really say?  How did the Muslims conquer the Middle East so quickly—did they ride through the region with swords in one hand and Qur’ans in the other?  How did Muslims and Middle Eastern Christians and Jews experience the Crusades?  What is it like to view these historical events through their eyes?  In answering these and many other questions, we will explore the rich cultural, literary, philosophical and artistic legacy created by the Muslims in this period called the Classical period of Islam.


Winter, Middle East Beyond the Headlines III & IV: The decline of the last Islamic Caliphate, the Ottoman Empire, used to be described by historians as a history of “the sick man of Europe.”  The final demise of the sick man happens after WW I, and it is a period of immense change in the Middle East—indeed it is the period where the “Middle East” and many of its countries are invented—with the border lines of some countries literally drawn up by European politicians.  These massive changes leave their marks everywhere in the society: Islam undergoes a major reform, socially and politically and comes to be a vehicle of resistance towards outside interference; Muslim modernizers and revivalists struggles over the influence of Islam within society; Allah’s gift of oil to the Arabs and Muslims is discovered; new literary genres are developed and we see the rise of the Arabic novel;  the state of Israel is created; the feminist movement begins and women demand more rights; all citizens demand representation.  But most of the Middle East today is still governed by monarchies and dictators—why?  And what about terrorists from the Middle East? The Western world views the Middle East as a hotbed of fanatical Muslims.  What truth is there to this view?  What do average Muslims think about the West?  This sequel to HNR 209/210 explores the modern Middle East in all its fascinating aspects: religion, culture, society, literature, history.  This makes reading the news much more relevant and interesting!

The Worlds of Greece and Rome

The Worlds of Greece and Rome

Fall:  HNR 211 & 212 (1:00-2:50pm HON 220)

Winter: HNR 221 & 222 (1:00-2:50pm HON 220)

Charles Pazdernik, David Crane, & Quinn Griffin

Ancient Greece and Rome are among the world's most exciting, important, and influential civilizations. Taught by researchers into various aspects of classical antiquity from Homer to the fall of the Roman Empire and beyond, the course asks participants to cooperate actively and enthusiastically in exploring mythology, history, art and archaeology, literature, and philosophy. Interactive learning experiences, which might include pottery projects, immersive role-playing games, and field trips, complement spirited class discussions and careful attention to close reading, effective writing, and critical thinking. No prior knowledge is necessary (all texts are in translation).

American Civilization

Fall: HNR 213 02 & 214 02 (MW 3:00-5:45pm HON 219)

Winter: HNR 223 02 & 224 02 (MW 3:00-5:45pm HON 219)

Steve Tripp & Michael Webster

This section of the Honors Foundation course focuses exclusively on the United States during the twentieth century, what publisher Henry Luce boldly identified as the “American Century.”   Using literature, poetry, film, autobiography, art, photography, and music, we will examine the lives of people who lived through the industrial revolution, the Jazz Age, the Great Depression, two world wars, de-industrialization, revolt, and reaction.  During the Fall semester, we will pay particular attention to the concept of Modernity in all its glorious manifestations. In the Winter, we will consider the fate of Modernity amidst the social, political, and cultural upheaval of post-World War II America. Course includes highly interactive learning experiences, including elaborate role-playing game each semester.

Europe: The Center and the Margins, section 01

Europe: The Center and the Margins Section 1

Fall: HNR 215 01 & 216 01 (TR 10:00am-12:45pm HON 218)

Winter: HNR 225 01 & 226 01 (TR 10:00am-12:45pm HON 218)

Ellen Adams, David Eick, & Elizabeth Gansen

Course description coming soon.

Europe: The Center and the Margins, section 02

Fall: HNR 215 02 & 216 02 (TR 1:00-3:45pm HON 220)

Winter: HNR 225 02 & 226 02 (TR 1:00-3:45pm HON 220)

Grace Coolidge, Diane Wright, & Gabriela Pozzi

Course description coming soon.

Africa Seen Through African Eyes

Fall: HNR 254 & 255 (TR 4:00–6:45pm HON 220)

Winter: HNR 274 & 275 (TR 4:00-7:15 HON 220)

Steeve Buckridge & Corinna McLeod             

This course surveys the history of African civilizations to the nineteenth century. It will concentrate on the political, economic, cultural, and social development of specific African societies before European conquest of the continent. The course will be more thematic than chronological. The course will open with a discussion of the myths associated with African people and will explore a wide range of topics such as migration, languages, religious concepts, dress, art, social organization, and the process of state formation particularly in East and West Africa. The class will also examine the spread of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism in Africa. Other topics will include the Atlantic Slave trade, slavery in Africa, gender and the division of labor. The course format will include lectures, papers, group discussions as well as audio-visuals and music. This course is the first part of the two-part survey of African History specifically designed for Honors. 

East Asia and the World: Ideas, Inventions, and Power

Fall: HNR 256 & 257 (MW 3:00-5:45pm HON 218)

Winter: HNR 276 & 277 (MW 3:00-5:45pm HON 218)

Schedule: (MW 3:00-5:45pm HON 218)

Craig Benjamin & Yan Liang

This course explores the history and culture of China, Korea, Japan and Southeast Asia from the Paleolithic Era to the present. Asian history and culture has been somewhat neglected in Western education systems, but today we recognize the fundamental significance of this vast world zone to global history. China has the longest continuous history of any civilization, and for millennia was the wealthiest and most powerful empire on Earth.  Today 20% of the world’s population lives in China, a nation undergoing rapid economic growth and social and political transformation. The Chinese economy is the second most powerful on the planet, followed by Japan in third place.  This course investigates the extraordinary technological, artistic and philosophical contributions the people of East and Southeast Asia have made to world culture through a detailed consideration of the political, military, economic and cultural history of the region.

During the first semester, Professors Liang and Benjamin explore the rich history, literature and philosophy of China from the Paleolithic Era to the Tang Dynasty, including China’s engagement with Central Asia and the Roman Empire via the Silk Roads.  In the second semester the course investigates the fascinating history, literature, art and philosophy of Korea, Japan and Southeast Asia, as well as following Chinese history from the Tang Dynasty through to today. By the end of this two-semester course students will have gained a deep understanding and appreciation of the fascinating history and culture of these dynamic regions, and the extraordinary contributions their peoples have made to the world.  The course includes a great deal of discussion, and students will also learn how to research and write extensive and rigorous research essays.

Alliance and Conflict: World Construction in Religion and Society

Fall: HNR 260 01 (MW 1:30-2:45pm HON 218)

**Students must also enroll in HNR 201 07 in the Fall (MW 12-1:15 pm HNR 218)**

Winter: HNR 261 & 262 (MW 10:00am-12:45pm HON 218)

Jeremiah Cataldo & Dwayne Tunstall

At the heart of every social relationship, whether among human collectives or with the natural world, exists either alliance or conflict. In this sequence, we investigate the nature of those dialectical relationships as they take place between religion and society. We will look at how those relationships have defined or framed in particular collective identities, behaviors, morals, truths, and laws. We will look also at how those relationships have affected the construction of knowledge.

This sequence will be taught from a social-scientific approach, introducing students to different types of critical theories. Drawing upon select religious and cultural contexts, areas of focus will include: religious and cultural “normatives,” texts, art, philosophy, theology, linguistics, and politics. The first semester of this sequence will focus both on an introduction to different critical theories and select religions and societies before and during the so-called “Axial Age” (800-200 BCE). The second semester will pursue a relative mastery of critical theory and focus on post-“Axial Age” religions and societies. By the end of the sequence, students will have an understanding of how religion and society are mutually constructive through relations of alliance and conflict. In addition, the theories and analytical procedures used throughout the sequence will provide helpful tools for critical analysis in other courses in the humanities and the social- and political-sciences.

Theory and Practice of Rights

Fall: HNR 263 (MW 1:30-2:45pm HON 214)

**Students must also enroll in HNR 201 06 in the Fall (MW 12-1:15 pm HNR 148)**

Winter: HNR 264 & 265 (TR 2:30-5:15pm HON 148)

Karen Zivi & Pamela Galbraith

Course description coming soon.

Food for Thought

Fall: HNR 280 01 (TR 11:30am-12:45pm HON 214)

**Students must also enroll in a section of HNR 201. Their choices are 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, or 08.***

Winter: HNR 280 01 & 280 02 (MWF 10:00am-11:50am HON 219)

Amy McFarland & Jody Vogelzang

This course examines food - from seed to waste and beyond - and its impact on ourselves, our communities, and our planet. This class will explore the cultural, scientific, and economic 'evolution' of our food systems, both within the United States and abroad.  We will investigate the causes and consequences of producing food for the ever-growing modern world, including issues of excess, waste, and the hidden environmental, economic and social costs. The course will pay special attention to the social class inequality of our choices and their consequences.  In the winter, we will turn the lens toward our community and, using Design Thinking methodology, we will understand root problems and explore pathways to positive change.

The Making of Latin America

Fall: HNR 280 04 & 05 (MWF 1:00-2:50pm HHLC 109A)

Winter: HNR 280 11 & 12 (MWF 1:00-2:50pm HHLC 109A)

David Stark & Medar Serrata

Course description coming soon.

Design Thinking for Social Product Innovation

Fall: HNR 280 06 (W 3:00-5:50pm HON 148)

**Students must also enroll in a section of HNR 201. Their choices are 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, or 08.***

Winter: HNR 280 06 & 07 (TR 11:30am-2:15pm HON 219)

Paul Lane & Ryan Lafferty

Course description coming soon.

Medieval Cultures: Continuity and Change 600-1650

Fall:  HNR 280 07 (TR 10:00-11:15am HHLC 207A)

**Students must also enroll in a section of HNR 201. Their choices are 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, or 08.***

Winter: HNR 280 08 & 09 (TR 10:00-11:15am HHLC 207A)

Alice Chapman & Sigrid Danielson

Knights, ladies, wars, monks, and peasants are all popular figures associated with the medieval world, but to what extent is the middle ages simultaneously a useful concept and an “invention?” Using an interdisciplinary foundation this two-semester Honors sequence explores our understanding of the medieval past with the study of pivotal themes that reverberate across the years between 600 and 1650.

We will revisit conventional narratives to question assumptions about the middle ages with “snapshots” from history. The sources are diverse, including textual, visual, and literary works that provide a deeper understanding of the medieval world. The fall semester will introduce some of the overarching approaches that have influenced the study of the middle ages with a focus on the period between 600 and 1000. The winter term will be team taught, as we consider the years between 1000 and 1650. Both semesters engage with specific key topics including religious identity, power and rule, concepts of the body, the natural world, and technological change. These themes provide a foundation to broaden our scope of inquiry to examine the roles of gender, ethnic and religious identity, as well as concepts of the individual, community and outsider. This approach encourages a deeper understanding of the world and the complex structures that bind societies together and mark change over time.

Big History

Fall: HNR 280 09 & 10

Winter: HNR 280 12 & 13

Schedule: TR 2:30-5:15pm HON 218

Craig Benjamin


Everything that exists has a history: each person, plant, animal and object, our planet, and the entire universe.  Each of these histories offers valuable insights, but collectively they reveal even more. Big history weaves evidence and perspectives from many scientific and historical disciplines into a single, accessible origin story – one that explores who we are, how we got here, how we are connected to everything around us, and where we may be heading.  Big History examines these connected histories on very large scales through a multidisciplinary approach focused on both the history of the non-human world, and on the major adaptations and transformations in the human experience.

This Big History course examines the past on the largest possible time scale: it begins with the origins of the universe, and goes on to consider the origins of stars and planets, of life on earth, the emergence of human beings, and the various types of human societies that have existed up to the present day. History on this scale encourages each of us to consider our place in the global world of the twenty-first century, and to think of how we might contribute to the future of that world.  Both semesters of the course will be taught by Professor Benjamin, one of the pioneers in the field of big history and co-author of the first big history textbook.  He will be joined throughout the course by different professors from various academic disciplines who will bring their expertise to the course through a series of guest lectures. This course includes a great deal of class discussion, and students will also learn how to research and write extensive and rigorous research essays on a range of scientific and historical subjects.


Fall: HNR 280 11 (MW 10:00-11:15am HON 218)

**Students must also enroll in a section of HNR 201. Their choices are 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, or 08.***

Winter: HNR 280 03 & 04 (TR 2:30-5:15pm EC 510)

Melissa Morison & Matthew Daley

Cathedrals or wastelands, solutions or nightmares, cities rank amongst the most fundamental political, economic, and socio-cultural phenomena of human society. We have built, modified, praised, and cursed our cities for thousands of years. Cities have become the primary tools used by more than half of the human beings on our planet to organize their shelter, food, water, government, education, religion, and entertainment.

 But this was not always the case. What prompted the emergence of the earliest cities? Can it be true, as some scholars have suggested, that cities were an inevitable development? Can we imagine other viable long-term options? Is the “Age of Cities” coming to an end? In the first semester of the course (3 credits; Professor Morison), we will examine the city as “artifact,” analyzing the broad spectrum of ways that cities have developed and functioned across time and space. We will consider planning strategies, cultural and environmental interaction, infrastructure, meaning, form, and representation of the city in the visual arts. We will also use the Fall semester to develop an understanding of key theoretical approaches and the language of architectural and urban analysis.

The second semester (6 credits; Professor Daley), continues the analysis of urban forms from the Renaissance to the present day taking an even closer examination of what constitutes an urban society. Drawing on the first semester’s concepts we will examine the impact of industrialization, the emergence of professional urban planners, and the changes brought by the automobile. The rise of increasingly globalized and urbanizing societies will also be a major focus. To understand these changes, the Winter semester will also utilize metropolitan Grand Rapids as a research site to consider these changes at the local and global levels.

Culture, Power, and Inequality

Fall: HNR 280 12 & 13 (TR 11:30am-2:15pm HHLC 209A)

Winter: HNR 280 15 & 16 (TR 11:30am-2:15pm HHLC 109A)

Joel Stillerman & Heather VanWormer

Why do the three richest people in the U.S. have as much wealth as the poorest half of the population? Why is sexual assault so widespread even though it is illegal? If race does not matter, why are black women more likely to die of breast cancer than white women?  In a time when gay marriage is legal in the U.S., why is the existence of transgender bathrooms deemed dangerous?  What are the sources of power and powerlessness in societies?  We explore these questions by addressing the social and cultural systems that shape our opportunities and behavior even when we are not aware of them.  We will investigate some pressing current topics, such as global income inequality, social injustice and oppression, environmental racism, unequal access to healthcare, the uncertain effects of digital technology on our world, and other issues of power and inequality.  We will also explore how people unite to resist the corrosive effects of systemic inequality and oppression through political participation, protest, online activism, creative expression, and other forms of collective action. We will examine these issues of inequality and protest in the U.S. and around the world.  Students will have the opportunity to explore some of these issues through small, independent research projects based on their specific interests both inside and outside the classroom.  Students will gain experience with writing-to-learn and writing-for-mastery assignments as well as guided revisions of their writing.  Classroom activities will include lecture, discussion, student presentations, multi-media activities, and field trips.

Civil Rights and Social Movements

Fall: HNR 280 15 & 16 (TR 10:00am-12:45pm HON 220)

Winter: HNR 280 17 & 18 (TR 10:00am-12:45pm HON 214)

Leifa Mayers & Naoki Kanaboshi

Course description coming soon.

Water Wrangling in a Changing World

Fall: HNR 280 16 & 17 (TR 8:30-11:15am HON 148)

Winter: HNR 280 19 & 20 (TR 8:30-11:15am HON 148)

Peter Wampler, Eric Snyder, & Tara Hefferan

Course description coming soon.

Page last modified February 15, 2019