Fall 2017 (un)common reads

Please use the UF Schedule of Courses to find times, places, and other course information.

These courses are discussion oriented, one credit seminar courses centered on a book.

Course Area Title Sect Instructor Syllabus
IDH2930 Eating, Nutrition Wasted   Acosta, Laura Wasted 
IDH2930 Eating, Nutrition Animal, Vegetable, Miracle:A Year of Food Life   Shehan, Constance Farm to Table 
IDH2930 Education Why Learn? How the Classroom Can Provide More Than a Job   Best, Todd Why Learn 
IDH2930 Environment Ditch of Dreams   Donnelly, Anne Ditch of Dreams 
IDH2930 Fiction Small World   Dror, Abend Small World 
IDH2930 Fiction Orfeo   Pickeral, Charles Orfeo 
IDH2930 Fiction The Kill   Seailles, Heloise The Kill 
IDH2930 Fantasy The Lord of the Rings   Alexander, Cory Lord of the Rings 
IDH2930 History Hamilton   Adams, Sean Hamilton 
IDH2930 History Beyond the Memory of the Holocaust   Rac, Katalin Beyond the Memory of the Holocaust 
IDH2930 Law, Justice Gideon's Trumpet   Santorelli, Biago Gideon's Trumpet 
IDH2930 Law, Military Drones and the Future of Armed Conflict   Vallandingham, Christopher Drones and Future of Armed Conflict 
IDH2930 Literature To Hell and Back - Dante   Watt, Mary Dante's Inferno 
IDH2930 Math Calculus Gems   Bona, Miklos Calc Gems 
IDH2930 Medicine The Man with the Bionic Brain   Schaefer, Nancy The Man with the Bionic Brain 
IDH2930 Medicine Graphic Medicine Manifesto  

Pomputius, Ariel/Stoyan-Rosenwieg, Nina

Graphic Medicine Manifesto 
IDH2930 Medicine Handedness and Brain Asymmetry   Westmoreland, Peter Handedness and Brain Asymmetry 
IDH2930 Medicine, Environment Ghost Map   Delfino, Joe The Ghost Map
IDH2930 Medicine, Fiction Cutting for Stone   Stoyan-Rosenwieg, Nina Cutting for Stone 
IDH2930 Politics America: The Owner's Manual   Baron, Kevin America the Owners Manual 
IDH2930 Politics The Prince   Dickrell, Dan The Prince 
IDH2930 Politics Unfree Speech   Austin, Roger Unfree Speech 
IDH2930 Religion Arguing Religion in an Argumentative Age:
Readings from The Lord’s Poem (Bhagavad Gita), a Classic from the East
  Edelmann, Jonathan  
IDH2930 Religion The End of Faith   Mai, Volker The End of Faith 
IDH2930 Science, Biology Insects and Plants   Sourakov, Andrei Insects and Plants 
IDH2930 Science, Chemistry The Secrets of Alchemy   Angerhofer, Alex Secrets of Alchemy 
IDH2930 Science, Chemistry Napoleon's Buttons   Fanucci, Gail Napolean's Buttons 
IDH2930 Science, Society Thank You, Madagascar   Tennant, Michelle Madagascar 
IDH2930 Science Fiction The Science of Starship Troopers   Dickrell, Dan Starship Troopers 
IDH2930 Science Fiction Ringworld   Stewart, Greg Ringworld 
IDH2930 Self-Help Think and Grow Rich   Taylor, Curtis Think and Grow Rich 
IDH2930 Self-Help Mining Creativity   Smith, Jennifer Mining Creativity 
IDH2930 Social Media The GoPro! Community   Smith, Craig The GoPro! Community 
IDH2930 Sports, Stats MoneyBall   Mccrea, Brian Moneyball 
IDH2930 Systems Systems Thinking Made Simple: New Hope for Solving Wicked Problems   Court, Christa Systems Thinking Made Simple 
IDH2930 Urbanization, Society The Urban Revolution   Brisotto, Carla The Urban Revolution 


If we have to explain why, leave it to those already obsessed.

Hamilton by Ron Chernow

How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a
Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a
Forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence
Impoverished, in squalor
Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?

Find out and read the real history.  Be in the room where it happens!  Don't waste your shot!


Wasted (published in 1998) is an autobiography and memoir focused around the authors intense struggles with, and eventually triumph over, an eating disorder. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), eating disorders affect over 20 million women and 10 million men in the United States, and these disorders can be devastating to physical health, emotional health, and relationships. Ms. Hornbachers memoir provides a unique, vivid, and candid glimpse into the mind of a woman entrapped in her own skin, addicted to hunger, and consumed by self-loathing. It explores a heavy topic with transparency, and illuminates the multifaceted web of etiological factors contributing to the development of eating disorders.

The course would be primarily discussion-based, challenging students to critically assess aspects of society, mass media, and pop culture that glorify a thin ideal, while also exploring the physical and psychological ramifications of eating disorders from a scientific/medical standpoint.

Assignments, activities, and discussion topics for the course would include:

  Definitions of, and comparisons/contrasts between, different types of eating disorders.

  Discussions around the medical sequelae of eating disorders, including implications for cardiac, reproductive, and bone health.

  Exploration of how events from one’s formative years have lasting implications for adulthood.

  Exploration of how Ms. Hornbacher’s tense relationship with her family, and her father in particular, can be viewed as a metaphor for her own internal conflicts.

  A scavenger hunt for popular media that promote body positivity versus body negativity.

  A field trip to the mall to evaluate how advertising, images, mannequins, etc. define standardsof beauty and attractiveness.

  (If available) - Guest speakers with expertise in the psychology of eating disorders, medical treatment for eating disorders, and/or therapeutic counseling for eating disorders.

  Exploration of movements and initiatives aimed at challenging society’s perception of weightloss and health (Health at Every Size®, The Body Project®, etc.)

  Discussions around historical perceptions of various foods, particularly how society’s labelling of foods as “good” and “bad” have changed in the years since the book was published.

  Analysis of differing perceptions of the book, particularly scrutiny from critics who claim that eating disorders memoirs (such as this one) function more as “how to” guidebooks than deterrents for individuals suffering from these diseases. What evidence supports or refutes this position?

  Research into the author’s life since the book was published what has transpired in her personal journey toward recovery and freedom in the years since 1998?

The Secrets of Alchemy

On approximately 250 pages, Lawrence Principe (Drew Professor of the Humanities in the Department of the History of Science and Technology and Professor of Chemistry in the Chemistry Department at Johns Hopkins University) lays out a brief history of alchemy from its origins in the Roman/Greek time of the first centuries of the common era, its propagation in the early Islamic world, its heydays in medieval Europe, and its transformation into modern chemistry during the early modern period. The book is both a scholarly work of history as well as an easy to read account introducing some of the proponents of alchemy, their historic settings, and an analysis of their way of thinking. It reveals a much broader picture of what alchemy was than the dismissive attitude with which the subject is often treated in our modern era. Alchemy was not just a bunch of magic spells, scientific quackery, or even outright fraud. The book touches on some of these excesses but also paints the pictures of many a practitioner who based their trade on careful observation, experiments, and rational thought grounded in the philosophical understanding of the world in their time.

After reading the book the student should be familiar with the main developments of alchemy, its roots in Greek philosophy and its development throughout history until its reinterpretation in the early modern period laid the groundwork for the modern science of chemistry. The reader will have become familiar with many of the main proponents and their stories starting with Zosimos the Greek around 300 AD, Jabir ibn-Hayyan (Geber), the Franciscans (Roger Bacon, John of Rupescissa, etc.), Paracelsus, George Starkey, and Robert Boyle (of Boyle’s law fame) in the late 17th century.

The history of alchemy and its practitioners is only part of the story that the book tells. Since Principe is an organic chemist and has published papers in which he revisited some of the ancient alchemical recipes, he naturally makes the connection to modern chemistry and explains on several occasions how alchemy actually might have worked. This allows the reader to gain an appreciation of the laboratory or workshop skills of the alchemists.

While easy to read for anybody who is both a lay person in history and in chemistry, the book is full of references to both the historic and the scientific literature which allows the student to go off on his/her own research using the cited background reading material.

The plan on how to teach the book as an (un)common read is:
1. Have the class read through the whole book (7 chapters plus an introduction and an epilog) in the first half of the semester. Students will be assigned pages/chapters to read in preparation for class meeting times which will be spent discussing the material. Participation in the discussion matters. Active participation will amount to 50% of a student’s grade.
2. The second half of the semester will be used to allow students to present their own research on some aspect of the book. Examples are further background research on the history of alchemy during a certain period, or focus on the history of certain practitioners of alchemy, the study of alchemical theories of matter and how they differ or are similar to modern ones, connections between gnosticism and alchemy, the chemical basis of famous alchemical recipes,
etc. Students are expected to present their research to the class in a ~20 minute seminar. The grade they receive for their presentation will count for the second 50% of their final grade.
3. Finally, I will also see to it to have a few chemistry demos in the classroom that will help the students to make the connection between their reading and the chemistry they are reading about.

The Science of Starship Troopers

Robert Heinlein’s classic novel Starship Troopers is widely considered as one of the best science-fiction novels written in the 20th century. Although it was written roughly sixty years ago, many of its technological aspects are strikingly modern and quite prescient. The class will focus primarily on the scientific and technological aspects encountered in the story. The novel is a very good example of “hard” science fiction where the essence of many of the fantastic devices that exist in the Starship Troopers universe are based on real physics recognizable in our present day (and perhaps near-future).

Students in this course will learn about these (and other) topics:

Exoskeletal power-suits (robotics)
Interstellar travel at relativistic speeds (modern physics)
Exo/Xenobiology (extraterrestrial biology and life science)
Directed-energy and atomic weapons (lasers and nuclear fusion)
Realities of spacecraft dogfighting and maneuvering (space vehicle kinetics and thermodynamics)

The course consists of weekly discussions of a single chapter in the book (assigned previously) and short lectures on some of the technical aspects contained in that chapter.

Thank You, Madagascar: Conservation Diaries of Alison Jolly

Madagascar is home to some of the world’s most unique flora and fauna – approximately 80% of all species are endemic and found nowhere else. Madagascar contains one of the highest levels of biodiversity on the planet, but this biodiversity is highly threatened due to environmental degradation and loss, endangering wildlife, but also taking a toll on the culture and daily life of the Malagasy people. Primatologist Alison Jolly began her work on lemurs in Madagascar in the 1960s, and over parts of six decades, expanded our knowledge of the biological present and evolutionary history of these primates. She was the first to document female social dominance in a non-human primate; a controversial assertion at that time. While this work was ground-breaking, her efforts to conserve and sustain the natural wonders of Madagascar was perhaps of greater importance. Through her many years in Madagascar, she gained keen insights into the competing factors that arise when one discusses conservation and sustainability in a developing country.

Thank You, Madagascar contains excerpts from Jolly’s diaries as well as contemporary commentary from her on these issues. Fundamentally, she asks to whom do the natural riches of Madagascar truly belong? Given their uniqueness, biodiversity, and importance to the scientific community, do they belong to the World? Or are the true owners the local people, with these natural gifts handed down from their ancestors to use as they see fit to sustain daily life (for example, clearing forests for subsistence farming)? Or should Madagascar be considered only for its potential economic impacts, such as sapphire mining? Is there a way for all three world views to co-exist? The assigned text is organized into three sections – each focusing on one of these visions of ownership. Jolly understood that no conservation or sustainability effort would be successful in the long-term if local culture, politics and economics, as well as personal relationships were not considered from the outset.

Students will read the book Thank You, Madagascar in its entirety. To provide context, students will be assigned short readings from sources such as Jolly’s Lords and Lemurs: Mad Scientists, Kings with Spears, and the Survival of Diversity in Madagascar and her Ako series of children’s books. Prior to each reading, the instructor will provide short introductions to the localities, customs, and the biological diversity described in the readings, augmented by photographs (environment, environmental degradation, the local people and cultural activities, unique species) taken by the instructor during her 9 weeks in Madagascar. Sites to be reviewed include rain, spiny and gallery forest ecosystems, and the capital, Antananarivo. One of the unique strengths of the class will be the instructor’s ability to share first hand experiences and impressions from her nearly month-long stay in country, providing valuable context to the readings.

Although Madagascar is the focus of the course, this class will provide students with the knowledge and opportunity to examine their attitudes toward conservation and sustainability efforts here and abroad, and the various factors that influence those efforts. Students will be graded on participation in class discussion, as well as present one or two (depending on class size) reviews based on the readings. Finally, students will complete a class project – either an academic paper or poster tied to the issues covered in class and through the readings, or a personal reflection or creative endeavor underscoring how the class prepared them to make a positive impact on their environment and what steps they will take to do so. A project proposal will be due one month after the class begins, and the final project will be due at the end of the semester. The last class meeting(s) will be used for students to present to and discuss with the class their final projects. This course is an excellent precursor to the summer aboard program UF in Madagascar, to be offered in Summer B, 2017.

Napolean's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History

This book explores how 17 molecules have greatly influenced the course of history, impacted engineering and advanced medicine and law. Common everyday items such as spices, olive oil, caffeine, cotton, explosives are discussed in terms of their specific chemical components that were desired by society and lead to revolutions, laws, exploration, the stock market, democracy and other aspects of modern society.

For example, the New World was discovered because of intense desire for spices. When I learned this in elementary school, I thought it was nuts. I liked cinnamon, but really, people risked their lives crossing unknown territory for spices? This thought resonated with me until I read this book. I finally was given an explanation. Apparently, the Europeans believed that compounds in nutmeg and clove could repelled rodents, which lead to protection from the plague. I was NOT taught this in elementary school and it really would have helped me understand how desires for spices lead to the discovery of the New World. Apparently the spice trade existed even in the Middle Ages and was a global commodity centuries before European voyages. Medieval recipes for spices involved a combination of medicinal and culinary impact to balance food’s humoral properties to prevent disease. Perhaps there is truth to this, given the current research regarding curcumin and its impact on Alzheimer’s disease and Ancient Ayurveda and Chinese medicinal practices.

A chemistry background is not required for this course. We will explore the fundamental aspects of the compounds discussed throughout the book and how they have impacted the world as we have come to know it. Assignments for the course will require 2 reflection essays (6 paragraphs in length each) , two weekly discussion board posts and leading a discussion.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life

This course centers on Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver. It is an autobiographical account of Kingsolver and her family’s decision to move from urban (and water deprived) Arizona to a rural area of Virginia, in the southern part of Appalachia. The family (which also includes two daughters) jointly decided to abandon what they called the “industrial food pipeline” and pledged to only eat food they grew themselves or bought from their neighbors. If the food they wanted wasn’t available locally, they would go without it. (The book is organized around the changing seasons and the various types of food that are available in each. Thus, the family could not eat vegetables or fruit that wasn’t “in season” in their area).

Kingsolver’s husband, Steven L. Hopp (who taught environmental studies at Emory) contributed to the scientific foundation of the book, providing facts and figures about the negative consequences of factory farming on people (consumers as well as workers), on animals, and on the Earth. Camille Kingsolver, the teenaged daughter of Kingsolver and Hopp, also contributed to the book by providing essays about her experiences of adjusting to the rural way of life and its deep ties to nature. Scattered throughout the book are recipes the family developed for their new way of eating. The book – and the course – focus on the benefits of eating locally as well as the negative impact of factory farming. It also examines the ways in which two generations of the family learn to change their way of life from a fast-paced, urban existence to a slower paced, earth- and community-based connection to the changing seasons.

The assignments for the class will highlight experiential-based learning (e.g., visiting local farmers’ markets in two seasons – late summer and late fall; a video food diary for an average day in their lives; a dinner at a local farm-to-table restaurant; volunteer hours at a food pantry; and/or a visit to a local farm.) Each of these experiences will be accompanied by a 500-word reflection paper. (The goal is for each student to choose five of the “real world” experiences offered throughout the semester, writing a total of 2500 words.)   The material in the book will be supplemented/complemented by several documentaries (e.g., Food, Inc; GMO/OMG; and Food Chains), which will involve in-class discussion and analysis.

Why Learn? How the Classroom Can Provide More Than a Job

What’s the point of college? What does a bachelors degree get you these days? Is the university merely a place to gain skills that lead to a job? Or can it be a place to explore curiosities and passions, wherever they may lead? What’s the ultimate purpose of an education, anyway? In this course we will consider these questions and more as we try to imagine what the classroom can offer those who enter? Specifically, we will explore whether there are ways that higher education can contribute to one’s life that cannot be measured by the kind of employment that may (or may not) follow? Through this collection of essays, English professor Mark Edmundson, offers, on one hand, a clear criticism of the ways university education has taken shape, and, on the other hand, considers ways to support, reclaim, and reinvigorate the undergraduate educational experience. Edmundson weaves classic literary works with his own reflection and experience to suggest that there might be space cleared (or guarded?) so that the classroom can contribute in significant ways to the lives of those who fully engage. But what shall we put in this space? This class will unpack Edmundson's thought, consider whether our own experience in the university fits, and, in the end, try to make our own space for working out an answer to the question: why learn? and related questions.

This seminar style course, defined by classroom conversation, will provide students the opportunity to read and discuss the course material carefully and reflectively. We will consider Edmundson’s thought alongside related articles, poetry, and film. Our reading will culminate weekly in classroom discussion to interact with the author’s ideas and formulate our own. Additionally, students will participate in reflection through short writing assignments as they interact with the topics we cover.

Ditch of Dreams

Ever drive under this bridge on your way south on I-75? Wonder why it was built?

The answer to this last question goes back to 1932, and spans the terms of eight U.S. Presidents and one World War! At one time, some thought cutting Florida in half with a barge canal would be a good idea. The wildlife corridor just south of Ocala marks the location where this canal would have gone. This project ultimately involved politicians, business people, economists, and environmentalists and is a fascinating true story about how all of these competing constituents battled for over 50 years, and in fact some are still fighting the consequences of this today.

How different North Central Florida would be if this project had been completed! This book details the story of a fascinating part of Florida history, including an exceptional environmental activist (Marjorie Harris Carr) who helped put a stop to it.


Small World - A Novel of University Life

David Lodge, a Professor of English Literature at the University of Birmingham, has decided to write a series of novels about what he knows best: The pleasures, displeasures, passions, and intrigues of the academic world. In Small World, one of his best known novels that was adapted into a television series in 1988, the characters literary chase each other across the globe, discussing academic life in different countries, and unfolding a plot of conspiracy, academic politics, and, of course, a good deal of romance. Class discussion will consider Lodge’s view of academic life, and the extent to which it models the college experience of the students.

Writing Assignment: (25%) Choose a single theme about academic life that is discussed in the novel. Do you feel that Lodge is describing this theme fairly? What are some of your thoughts about this theme? And how can academic studies be changed (if they need to be) in order to address the issue that Lodge raises in his novel?

Presentation: (25%) Each student will be asked to present one reading assignment and suggest a theme for a class discussion to follow their presentation.

Participation: (50%) Student participation is essential. Students will be asked to prepare questions and comments for each section of the reading.

Beyond the Memory of the Holocaust

This course invites students to learn about the Holocaust and use their knowledge to inform their creative work – literary or artistic. In the first part of the semester, students will be introduced to the history of the Holocaust as it is recorded in UF’s Isser and Rae Price Library of Judaica collection. We will discuss how discrimination against Jews and other groups led, through persecution, to genocide in the first half of the twentieth century and how this historical knowledge shapes our perspective about politics, international law, and ethics. In addition, students will read literary works and memoirs that capture the Holocaust from many different angles, not only in an academic and historical manner. We will examine how the historical context and the personal impression intertwine and depart from each other in the memoirs we read together and in our own lives. Likewise, we will look into how individuals and institutions choose to memorialize traumatic events through other media, including art, photography, music and film and discuss how the Holocaust shapes academic studies, art, and politics today. The second part of the semester will be dedicated to students’ individual creative projects. They will write, draw, sculpt, photograph – whatever medium or combined media of their choosing – on a topic related to Holocaust memory and commemoration. By the end of the semester, they will produce a short written essay or a piece of art in their selected medium, which they will present to the class at our last meeting.

The instructors of the course would like to prepare an anthology of the students’ work either in the form of a digital collection on the web site of the Isser and Rae Price Library of Judaica or as a printed volume.


Richard Powers is widely respected for his ability to make connections between seemingly disparate disciplines, including artificial intelligence, game theory, and the arts. In Orfeo, we find the intersection of genetics and music composition, with a healthy critique of mass media in the mix. Peter Els, the novel’s protagonist is an aging avant- garde composer who has taken to dabbling in DNA manipulation as a post-retirement hobby. Through an offbeat encounter with local police, he’s mistakenly identified as a bioterrorist and impulsively flees when the men in hazard suits show up.

Els’ odyssey presents not only his adventures as a fugitive, but also a moving retrospective of his artistic and personal journey from young idealist to disillusioned has- been. Along the way, Powers raises and illuminates some rather big questions about the meaning of art and its role in society, the challenges of staying true to one’s calling— artistic or otherwise, and the veracity and ambiguity of art and mass media. He also skillfully weaves in a survey of some of the major developments in late-20th and early- 21st century art music in a way that makes them both accessible and compelling to readers who are unfamiliar with these genres.

In this one-credit course, students will read Orfeo and chronicle their responses to each chapter, objective and subjective. Additional supporting readings and, especially, guided listening to some of the works that play a role in the novel will enhance the experience. Our goal will be not only to experience this literature, but also to engage some of those big questions about the purpose of art, the role of the artist, and their meaning in contemporary culture.

Grading will be based upon class participation and online discussion (40%) and a written chronicle of responses to, and analysis of, the novel and supporting materials (60%).

La Curee - The Kill

La Curée appeared in 1871 the year of France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian war which brought an end to the Second Empire and the reign of Louis Napoléon. It was the second novel in Emile Zola’s 20 volume saga, “The Natural and Social History of a Family under the Second Empire”.

The Kill as the novel is known in English is the story of unscrupulous, rampant speculation, unbridled ambition, and lust for gold and pleasures of the flesh characteristic of a certain segment of the French population in the latter years of the Second Empire.

Zola set his novel in Paris, a city transformed into the jewel of Europe by the broad boulevards and gentrification effected by Baron Haussmann.

Zola was accused of obscenity, as he would be again, with the publication of the novel. Zola’s goal was to portray society as he saw it in a realistic manner.

What is most striking about The Kill is how much of what he writes applies to our world today. Zola is not afraid to shock his readers. This novel is as powerful and absorbing as any of his works as he recounts with infinite zest disturbing aspects of man’s nature. The object of this course will be to get to the heart of Zola’s work so that we know and understand his characters as we would real acquaintances.

The Lord of the Rings

One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien is one of the most influential and widely-read authors of the Twentieth Century. Tolkien’s most significant work, The Lord of the Rings, undertaken as a sequel to his children’s book, The Hobbit (1937), is estimated to have sold over 150 million copies since its initial publication in 1954. This course will explore the reasons for LOTR’s astounding success, despite the work’s tepid critical reception, through exploration of Tolkien’s style, themes, and characters. Students will prepare brief written reactions (maximum one double-spaced, typed page), due each class, which may contain opinions or observations about aspects of the readings, speculation about Tolkien’s motivation, questions about the story, etc. Class discussion will center around students’ written reactions and topics.

Gideon's Trumpet

“The law is a system that protects everybody who can afford to hire a good lawyer” Mark Twain

In the morning mail of January 8, 1962, the Supreme Court of the United States received a five-pages petition from Clarence Earl Gideon, a prisoner in the Florida State Prison. He had been accused in a court of law of felony theft for stealing a few bottles of beer and soda and $5 in change; he was too poor to pay for counsel, and he was denied a lawyer by his trial judge. Gideon was therefore forced to defend himself at his trial, where he was found guilty and given the sentence of five years in prison.

In his cell, Gideon studied the US legal system and concluded that his constitutional right to counsel had been violated. He wrote to the Florida Supreme Court first, in vain; he then wrote to the Supreme Court of the United States, which agreed to hear his appeal. In the subsequent trial, the lawyer assigned to represent Gideon argued that a common man with no training in law can not fairly confront a trained lawyer, and therefore that a fair trial is impossible without counsel. The Supreme Courte ruled unanimously in Gideon’s favor on March 16, 1963: because of this decision, about 2,000 convict in Florida alone were freed, and Gideon was granted a retrial, in which he was eventually acquitted.

In Gideon’s Trumpet, New York Times reporter Anthony Lewis gives a detailed account of a case that became a landmark in the American legal history. Today, it is a well-established principle that a criminal defendant is not to be tried without a lawyer because he could not afford one; and yet, as recently as in the year 1962, this principle was far from being given for granted. Since the ruling of the Supreme Courte in the Gideon case, many important changes have taken place in the US legal system: the reading of Lewis’ award-winning book will give students a chance to meditate on one of the pillars of the contemporary legal system, with a specific attention to the often-perilous path that leads to the establishment of constitutional rights.

Gideon’s Trumpet consists of 14 short chapters. After an introduction to the historical, legal and political background of the book (Week 1), I will ask students to read one chapter per week (Weeks 2-13). On the last two meetings (Weeks 14 and 15) I plan to invite a guest speaker from the UF Law school to discuss the legal issues at stake. I will arrange a calendar of topics we will analyze on each class, and students will be required to give a presentation on a chapter at their choice.

Drones and the Future of Armed Conflict

Principles regarding the use of force have developed over many centuries of armed conflict. However, these principles have not kept pace with advances in military technology and the shift from traditional battlefields to asymmetric warfare. Though unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have been used for decades for reconnaissance purposes, their use to launch weapons and conduct targeted killings of individuals are relatively recent developments. When viewed through the prism of the laws of armed conflict, how does the killing of a Taliban leader by an air-to-surface missile launched from a UAV hold up? What if the intended target were in a country far from any designated combat zone?

In this course, students will learn the fundamental principles that exist in U.S. and international law regarding the use of force and how to apply these principles to UAVs. Students will also become familiar with the ethical, political, and strategic issues that would arise should the use of armed UAVs become widespread.

Grades will be based on the following components:

  1. Class participation 15%;
  2. Written homework assignments 40%
  3. Final paper 45%

Calculus Gems

Why is it that x2 2 = 0 is solved by the irrational numbers ±2, but we cannot find a similar polynomial equation with integer coefficients solved by π or e?

In this class, we will cover these facts and some of the most beautiful and surprising arguments from the history of Calculus. These are beyond the scope of regular Calculus classes, but are within the reach of anyone with a good understanding of Calculus II. Sometimes we will provide some historical context as well. Our book will be the classic book of George F. Simmons, Calculus Gems.

Ideally, students registering for the class should have already completed Calculus II, though in some cases, it is acceptable if the student takes Calculus II in the same semester.

Graphic Medicine Manifesto

Through examination of the book The Graphic Medicine Manifesto, this class explores the growth and development of the graphic novel genre as an important and valuable means of exploring health and healthcare experiences.

In the last 10 years or so, there has been, on the one hand, an explosion of interest in personal narratives, and on the other hand an explosion of interest in graphic novels. And finally, this interest has spilled into the area of health and healthcare. Graphic medical novels entertain, but the medium can convey the emotion of a more serious story as easily as the humor of a comedic tale. In the words of MK Czerwiec, author of webcomic Comic Nurse, “Comics are an excellent way to access our stories,” because “they build one bit at a time, helping us organize our thoughts and feelings.” Brian Fies, author of the graphic illness novel Mom’s Cancer says “Comics were the right medium for the story I wanted to tell. They meld words and pictures to convey an idea with more economy and grace than either could alone.” MK Czerwiec, again, explains that comics “can be fun, even when a hard topic is discussed.” These authors are only two in a growing number who find that comics are the best way for them to express a serious topic. Indeed, there has been a proliferation of graphic novels detailing illness experiences and, more recently, detailing experiences of being a healthcare provider. The authors of The Graphic Medicine Manifesto include healthcare professionals and educators who helped bring the use of graphic novels and comics in the medical field to the attention of academics and the health science community.

The book explores the graphic novels’ transition from children’s entertainment to poignant visual and textual explorations of the human condition meant for an adult audience. As each author adds their voice to the scholarship, the reader examines the use of graphic medicine to encourage communication between patients and healthcare professionals, to release the emotional and mental strain felt by those providing patient care, to find humor in difficult situations, and to understand better how disease and disability affect the patient. Examples from both the author’s own works and renowned works in the graphic medicine genre are used to illustrate concepts, maintaining the balance between text and visuals that is the hallmark of a graphic narrative.

Since the book is short, this class aims to use The Graphic Medicine Manifesto as a textbook or introduction to the genre; students will also read and discuss additional works by healthcare professionals and patients that they will select themselves. A list of suggested works will be provided but students will also be encouraged to find graphic medicine narratives on their own that address the topics discussed in class. Suggested works will include Cancer Vixen by Marisa Marchetto and Lisa’s Story: The Other Shoe by Tom Batiuk (on cancer diagnosis, treatment, and beyond from the patient’s perspective), Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant by Roz Chast (on caring for aging family members), and Comic Nurse, a webcomic published by MK Czerwiec (on the trials and tribulations of being in the medical field). Ultimately, students also will have the opportunity to develop their own graphic short story.

The Man with the Bionic Brain

“The only disability is when people cannot see human potential.” – Debra Ruh

Through the book The Man with the Bionic Brain and Other Victories over Paralysis, this class will examine medical, social, technological and psychological issues related to loss of the ability to move-- especially to walk--due to paralysis.

The Man with the Bionic Brain and Other Victories of Paralysis relates the story of a popular high school athlete who suffers a spinal cord injury. It describes his own and his parents’ and friends’ reactions to his paralysis and his adjustment to the technology that helped him regain some independence. Interspersed in this narrative are chapters about other individuals suffering and recovering from paralysis due to stroke and head injury.

The class will discuss issues in the book as well as larger issues of the disabled in society. We will explore new technologies and medical breakthroughs and navigate familiar territory with simulated disabilities.  Students will engage in a project of their choice related to disability.



 “In addition to the science and technology associated with the treatment of central nervous-system injuries, the author deftly explores what it means to be disabled, including the loss of body control, dependence on others, and the collision of hope with realistic expectations for possibly inadequate healing.” – Booklist review

Handedness and Brain Asymmetry

Recent advances in the science of handedness have led to a number of breakthroughs.  For example: handedness is now conceived not only in terms of discrete types such as right-handed, left-handed, etc., but as a continuum; distributions of handedness are known to be the same across all studied populations; humans are unique in being right-hand dominant as a species (only 4% of persons are consistently left-handed); handedness is believed to be congenital, but not straightforwardly genetically inherited; many studies of handedness have been exposed as biased toward right-handed results.  What is missing from handedness studies is a philosophical approach that can ask questions about the concepts we use in discussing handedness and the norms and standards that govern handed activity.  In this course, I propose a study of Annett’s incomparably meticulous and vast research on handedness, with an eye toward asking and answering philosophical question about handedness.  Students will be required to attend classes and submit 5 short writing assignments (250 words), the 4 best of which will count toward the student’s overall grade.

The Ghost Map

No, this is not a book by Stephen King. It is about a killer, though, and that noted author could easily have written it. However, in this case, the facts of the story are mostly true, making it a work of non-fiction, even if some of the day-to-day events were reconstruct to give an aura of history to this major environmental and medical tragedy. The killer is the bacteria-caused disease known simply as cholera. Specifically, it is about a cholera epidemic that occurred in London, England in 1854 which killed thousands of London residents. A related incident just a few years earlier also killed thousands of residents. While the event was over 160 years ago, the book and its story remain pertinent today. Cholera has not been eradicated from the planet. It is endemic [more or less permanently present] in various parts of the world. The most recent example of how the disease can spread in underdeveloped conditions occurred in Haiti following a devastating earthquake a few years ago.

The book traces the work of Dr. John Snow and Henry Whitehead, a clergyman, as they mapped out a strategy to discover the source of the disease and then to develop a solution to the problem. Snow’s hypothesis that cholera was spread as a water-borne disease conflicted with the prevailing medical opinion at that time. Urban design in London and the lack of proper sewage disposal and potable water treatment contributed to the spread of the disease. The (in)famous Broad Street pump played a central role in this scientific mystery.

The book will appeal to public health and pre-medical students, epidemiology, environmental engineering and science majors, as well as those studying statistics, and urban planning. Students interested in the transmission of disease, especially through the water medium will appreciate how much progress has been made in the intervening time from the mid-19th Century to the 21st Century in terms of drinking water and pollution control technology. A feature of this course will be to bring today’s student up to date with modern water pollution prevention and potable water treatment technologies. A trip to the UF Water Reclamation Plant [a.k.a. sewage treatment plant] will be scheduled.

Course Details: This is a one-credit course and will formally meet for one class period each week, preferably near mid-day on Wednesday. It will follow a discussion format. Depending on enrollment in this section, each registrant will be responsible for leading or co-leading at least one class session’s discussion of assigned reading from the book. The discussion leaders will be expected to “go beyond” the assigned reading for their session by researching information from the literature and/or the internet that relates to the reading material. A five-page term paper based on a topic related to the assigned book will be required.

Course Grading: Grades are based on the quality of the discussion preparation and delivery that a student demonstrates in class plus overall student participation in class discussions when others are making presentations. The written paper is part of the course grade. Attendance is required.

Cutting for Stone

Cutting for Stone is a novel by doctor writer Abraham Verghese, whose other notable books- My Own Country and The Tennis Player are non-fiction descriptions of his experiences as a physician and the challenges of delivering compassionate patient care. Cutting for Stone, while fictional, seems to draw from Verghese’s own life experiences highlighting as it does the experiences of an Indian raised in Ethiopia and trained in an international medical school who was able to gain US licensure only after completing a residency in a non-competitive medical field- generally rural or urban settings among underserved populations.

Cutting for Stone is set initially in Ethiopia in a healthcare facility staffed by foreign healthcare providers- a British surgeon, as well as nuns and other doctors, some of whom were from Christian parts of India. With Ethiopia as the land of their birth, the novel actually is the tale of twins, born to the British surgeon and an Indian nun, who were deserted at birth and adopted by other doctors in the facility. As they grow the twins become estranged from one another. Then during the upheaval after Haile Selassie’s rule, one moves to the United States where he becomes licensed as a surgeon in an urban hospital serving underserved populations and eventually reconciling with his long absent father and his brother.

This well written and compelling book introduces a number of questions and issues that will be explored over the course of the semester. The course will explore the history and position of Ethiopia and the events that served as the backdrop of the book, including its position as an African nation not subject to imperial rule, and the events leading to the downfall of Haile Selassie that catapulted one of the characters to America. It also will explore the role of writing in healing- a role heightened by the setting in Ethiopia, a country with a tradition of healing scrolls, works with words believed to have the power to heal and that were prescribed by healers. The importance of writing in healthcare and healing, however, is personified by Abraham Verghese himself who in addition to writing the novel and memoirs has greatly advanced the role of the humanities in promoting compassionate health care. Verghese’s belief in the practice of medicine as a calling may put him somewhat at odds with modern trends in medicine, but it does heighten the sense of an almost mystical role for medicine and healers- http://www.ted.com/talks/abraham_verghese_a_doctor_s_touch?language=en . His attitude certainly provides room for discussion about the role of physicians in the healing encounter and the role of the arts in healthcare.

The book also allows for more discussion about provision of and the nature of healthcare. In both the Ethiopian hospital and the American urban setting in which resident Marion trains, limited resources challenge the provision of adequate healthcare while the experience of training in an urban or rural setting- where competition for coveted residency spaces is virtually non-existent- is one common to many internationally trained physicians.  The title itself explores the practice of doctors in the Hippocratic tradition, and the relationship of the English surgeon, Thomas Stone, to his practice and children.

America - The Owner's Manual

You Can Fight City Hall and Win

The 2016 election cycle, and the continuing political fallout from the results, demonstrated one striking fact about current American political discourse – which is that civil political discourse no longer exists. The bombastic tone and vitriol of the election was built upon the venomous hyperpartisan state of politics. The fact that many voters across the US responded in kind demonstrates a lack of citizenship and civic engagement among the electorate.

Beyond being a member of a nation or state, Merriam-Webster defines ‘citizenship’ as “the qualities that a person is expected to have as a responsible member of a community.” What does citizenship mean to you within a democratic republic like the US? Being a citizen conveys responsibilities each individual must meet in order to keep any democracy healthy and functioning. Citizenship is not a passive notion, but a dynamic active experience. To fulfill ones role as a citizen, it requires an individual to be both informed and engaged.

While it may not be unusual to have a pessimistic view of politics, it is no excuse for lack of participation. Often we are left to feel powerless or unsure of how to take action when it comes to advocating for those issues or policies we are concerned about the most. America – The Owner’s Manual changes all of that by taking you step-by-step through strategies on how to get informed and be active in changing policy for the better. Included in the book are a host of real-world stories that tell how average citizens such as yourself have profoundly made a difference on a host of issues.

Government is all around us, and that is not a bad thing. Policies are implemented every day at our local (city or county), statewide, or national levels that impact our lives. We as citizens have a duty to be vigilant and active in expressing our opinions and beliefs so as to have an impact that benefits our communities. While political discussions tend to focus on Washington, DC, there are avenues of action right here in your city or county that you can play a role in changing. This book gives you the knowhow to know how to be a productive citizen.

The Prince

Is it better to be feared or loved? If two powerful friends are fighting, is it better to remain neutral or to choose a side? Is luck required to be successful? All of these questions (and others) were directly and candidly answered almost 600 years ago by Niccolo Machiavelli in his famous book The Prince.

The book was banned for many years and blamed for numerous political problems throughout Europe. The 2012 translation by Tim Parks brings the archaic wording of 16th century Italian into our modern language, creating an extremely accessible version for both first-time readers as well as those familiar with the book. The Prince is not a novel, but more of an instruction manual for future princes of city-states on how to conduct their affairs in peacetime and in wartime.

In this course we will examine the messages Machiavelli conveys in both a historical and more modern context. Although the course is not wholly composed of future monarchs, we may treat ourselves as rulers of our lives and affairs and bring the conclusions drawn in The Prince out of into more personal focus.

Arguing Religion in an Argumentative Age - Readings from the Bhagavad Gita

Arguing Religion in an Argumentative Age: Readings from The Lord’s Poem (Bhagavad Gita), a Classic from the East

Course Requirements

  • Reading assigned material
  • Class participation
  • Bi-weekly short papers (2-4 pages), 8 in total, on readings, discussions, and your evaluations
  • Final presentation


There is a good reason that we’re told not to discussion religion over the dinner table: it can often illicit strong reactions. Avoiding good advice, however, this course is all about discussing religion and all things related to it, for example the nature of the self and ultimate reality, life after death, yoga, duty, sin and piety, sex and celibacy, anxiety and joy, and many other topics. We will take an ancient Indian text, the Bhagavad Gtor The Lord’s Poem, as our starting point. Throughout its 18 chapters (we’ll cover about 1 per week), this book maps out many different views on the self, God, yoga, duty, ritual practice, etc., looking at them from different perspectives and commenting on other ancient Indian religions. These short but compact 18 chapters will be supplemented with ancient Hindu and Buddhist interpreters, early Christian and Western philosophical interpreters, early American lovers of the Gita like Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, to contemporary uses of the Gita in films, rock music and art. In short, we will look at this ancient text in a wide variety of contexts.

Unfree Speech

Campaign Finance Reform is an issue much in the news of late, with talk of Dark Money, Super PACs and more. What’s not well known, however, is that campaign finance reform has been an ongoing issue for over a century with the first federal legislation being the Tillman Act in 1907. What is even less known is that the new “problems” of Dark Money and Super PACs (and they are problematic), only became “problems” within the last decade and only as a direct result of the “solution” to campaign finance reform known as McCain-Feingold which passed in 2002.

Like its predecessors – the FECA Watergate reforms of the 1970s, the Hatch Act of the 1940s, the Federal Corrupt Practices Act of 1925, and the Tillman Act of 1907 – McCain-Feingold was passed both in the midst of Congressional scandal, hailed by the media and elected officials alike as the solution to the problem of money in politics and resulted in the expenditure of more money than ever in politics and often an increased rate of incumbency re-election. What went wrong?

This course explores all of this, chiefly through the book Unfree Speech by Bradley Smith, law professor and former Commissioner of the Federal Elections Commission. This book looks at the issue of campaign finance reform from a skeptical view – skeptical not in that reform is not needed, but skeptical that each generations reforms closely resemble the long forgotten reforms of the previous generation and have clearly not only not achieved their stated purposes, but have actually resulted in the opposite.

Students will be expected to do the following:

  • Come to class prepared to discuss the reading for that week – attendance and preparation are essential to this seminar
  • Lead or co-lead one class discussion OR make a 10-15 minute presentation
  • Do some independent reading on any aspect of campaign finance reform of interest to them
  • Write 2 reflection papers (approx 500 words each), one in Sept and one in Oct, on an aspect of campaign finance reform that peaks your interest.
  • Write a final 5-8 page paper on a topic of interest to you or that proposes a solution to this, to date, unsolvable “problem”

The Urban Revolution

The sociologist Henri Lefebvre wrote about the phenomenon of urban revolution, taking place during the 20th century upon the ashes of the industrial age. A new form of society was developing out of it, a society that was no longer agricultural or industrial but urbanized, extending its effect as far as the countryside. This new understanding of society makes no distinction between the city and the surroundings, changing the way we live in and produce the space. As Lefebvre would say, “the urban problematic becomes predominant, when the search for solutions and modalities unique to urban society are foremost.”(p. 5) Thus, the urban revolution evolved into the main motivating force of historical change.

This seminar seeks to understand the multivalent facets of urbanization, unveiling its effect on space and grounding it in a contemporary context. Was Lefebvre right in his visioning of an urbanized society? Has industrialization really come to an end? What kind of processes are now shaping the city and society? Is the urban society still part of these processes? With these and other questions, this seminar asks students to (1) investigate the concept of urbanization, (2) determine and identify the impact of urbanization on society and its space, and (3) apply what is learned to contemporary situations.

Students in urban planning, architecture, social sciences, political science, geography, history, anthropology, and everyone interested in urbanization, social change, and spatial justice can engage with this seminar. The seminar is designed to facilitate the contribution of each student through active discussions, oral presentations and a final project in which students will identify an urban issue effecting society and contemporary space. In order to develop the skill of deeply understanding an urban landscape beyond its bare appearance, students will be encouraged to analyze their hometown, campus and other places with which they are familiar.

The End of Faith

“The end of faith”, published in 2004, represents one of the very few attempts by a contemporary author to discuss in depth the stark contrast between i) knowledge based on critical evaluation of evidence and ii) faith based belief systems. While the author left little doubt about his own stance on the value of religion in our society, he provides a platform from which readers with varying world views can explore the diverse arguments that the book eloquently outlines. The book’s initial focus, likely controversial particularly to people of faith, is on revealing some of the obscurities of the major monotheistic religions. Harris then extends his arguments to all faith systems based on the existence of supernatural powers. Harris proceeds with providing illustrative examples of the dramatic impact that various religious systems and institutions throughout history have had and continue to have on human interactions, with a special and timely emphasis on specific concerns with Islam. Throughout the book Harris constructs an argument for anchoring the basis for human interactions and ethics in observable reality rather than faith based concepts. The book ends with exploring experiments in consciousness with the goal of outlining the need and the potential for developing approaches to human spirituality that are freed from imposing the existence of supernatural powers.

Recognition of the concept of a sliding and dynamic scale between critical thinking derived distinct knowledge and strong beliefs in more ambiguous science as well as faith based concepts will provide students with the fundamentals to approach their academic studies with a mind that remains open to continuously question everything. Equipped with this introduction to the concept of verifiable reality students will be in a better position to incorporate the knowledge they will acquire during their studies into an active mind that can better place individual facts into a comprehensive context of observable evidence.

During weekly meetings students will take the lead in presenting arguments from the assigned reading for class discussion. Guest faculty with unique experiences in major faith and non-faith based backgrounds (Judeo-Christian, Islam, Hinduism, Krishna consciousness, atheism etc.) will provide diverse viewpoints and facilitate a balanced discussion.     

Expectations: Develop an open mind to critically exploring the concept of evidence based reality and contrasting it with faith based belief systems

Assignments: Weekly reading assignments will form the basis for class discussions. A short term paper will provide students with an opportunity to explore throughout the semester a topic of their choice for the kind of specific evidence that would be needed to move what we know about the topic now forward on the scale from believe towards knowledge.

Think and Grow Rich

What do you want most—is it money, fame, power, contentment, personality, peace of mind, happiness? How do you make your life a masterpiece? Do you ride the wave of change, or ignore it? Is making money a selfish or immoral goal? How do you become a force for good? Students will address these questions through the reading of one of the best-selling books of business and leadership in the world: Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. “The Thirteen Steps to Riches described in this book offer the shortest dependable philosophy of individual achievement ever presented for the benefit of the man or woman who is searching for a definite goal in life.” This book describes the experience of more than 500 people of great wealth and influence. It captures the common threads of actions, skills, and behaviors that allowed them to go from scratch to success.

Today’s students want to be engaged and energized in their pursuit of an education. They want to remain passionate about their dreams and the many rewards it can bring including making money. This course seeks to engage students in exploring their personal goals and developing an actionable plan for their education at UF and their career beyond.

Students will read one chapter a week prior to class and participate in lively discussion during class. Each student will be encouraged to keep a journal to track their thoughts and ideas throughout the course. Assignments will consist of weekly readings, posting to online class discussion/idea boards, short essays or questionnaires, and a final presentation.

Mining Creativity

Creative thinking is an important part of every discipline, from engineering and mathematics to the humanities. How can the creative process be used to develop the big and small ideas in your field? In her book, The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp suggests practices that support creative work in all occupations. Supplemental readings from Daniel Pink, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Cal Newport and Guy Kawasaki provide additional strategies for innovation. The members of the class will learn how to use the creative process through the creation of a small project.


Discussion participation (20% of final grade)
Group collaboration (30% of final grade)
Presentations (20% of final grade)
Project (30% of final grade)

The GoPro! Community

This (Un)Common Reading course will consider the impacts, benefits, and opportunities of global media, being "connected," and social systems in the 21st Century.

Our common reading text will be Relational Aesthetics. This book was created by an art museum director in Paris, France and published in English in 2002. The book considers the role that media and social encounters play in our everyday lives as well as in special events such as family gatherings, sports, art, births, deaths, marriage, protest, etc. With tools including GoPro cameras or methods of sharing using "selfies" we are able to record, share, and manipulate all of our daily encounters and rituals. What are the benefits of this and how does using such imagery to "connect" with others enable us in a unique way to work and innovate in the 21st century?

During the course students will read 10-15 pages of Relational Aesthetics per week. Class sessions will be divided in half. The first half of the semester will include discussions led by the instructor using illustrated slides, videos, and stories of his work in the field with the persons or projects described in the book. The second half of the semester will include discussions led by individual or groups of students using a wide range of presentation strategies (handouts, illustrated presentations, demonstrations, online resources, on-campus field trips, etc) to describe the content of the week's reading.

Grading is based on 50% attendance for the semester (all class meetings) and 50% preparation, contribution, and follow-through of the class presentation described above. There is no exam in this class.


Larry Niven’s “Known Space” series of stories has enjoyed enormous success. In Ringworld, Louis Wu (200 year old human on boosterspice – a longevity drug) joins Nessus (a Puppeteer – an old and very cautious race of aliens) and Speaker (a Kzin warrior of a race that has attacked Earth’s worlds several times, each time ending in defeat) in 2850 AD for a voyage of exploration to a huge artifact discovered by the Puppeteer race on their headlong flight through normal space to avoid the explosion of the galactic core. Ringworld is full of adventure and surprise.

Student Assignments: At first meeting, agree at what pace we should read the book (divided into 10 weeks or, more optimally, within the first eight weeks.) Meet each week for 50 minutes to discuss, as the book is being read, what insights students are finding into issues which interest them. Two possible examples:

Teela Brown, Louis’ female companion during the first part of Ringworld, was supposedly bred for luck by the Puppeteers, who interfered in Earth’s fertility laws for this purpose. Are some people luckier than others?

Niven introduces a huge range of futuristic inventions (e. g. hyperdrive, General Products imperious space ship hulls, the Slaver stasis field, scrith – the enormously strong Ringworld floor material, boosterspice.) What laws of Physics get bent in the process?

After the book is at least 50% read, each student picks a topic to discuss for 15 minutes with 10 minutes of group discussion afterwards, with two topics/class. They distribute a (minimum) two page, single spaced summary of what they will say 1 week prior.


Michael Lewis's Moneyball includes twelve chapters, an epilogue, and a (for me) important postscript.  We will read and discuss one chapter a week, then finish with a week devoted to the epilogue and a week to the postscript. At our first meeting we will introduce ourselves to each other and figure out who amongst us are baseball fans, who not.  (One need not have an interest in baseball to enjoy Lewis or to enjoy Moneyball; indeed, the course benefits greatly from disinterested business and math majors.)  I will ask you to write informally every week about the reading.  I will not grade your responses, but I will keep a word count.  At the end of the semester, we will have an Awards Ceremony for our most prolific writers. While this is not a prerequisite, I hope that everyone has looked at Moneyball the movie (starring Brad Pitt as Lewis's "hero" Billy Beane) before we begin to work with the book.

As Lewis portrays them, the "baseball men" whom his subject, Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane, regularly outsmarts, are fools.  But those scouts and general managers have a way of knowing.  Unfortunately for them, their version of knowledge prevents them from seeing certain baseball players' talents.  Billy Beane also has a way of knowing (largely based upon the "sabremetrics" of a baseball iconoclast named Bill James).  Beane's teams had extraordinary success in the early 2000s, but we will note a particular instance in which he also cannot recognize talent.  Thus, throughout the semester--and apart from baseball--we regularly will ask this question: How does any way of knowing create a way of not knowing?  We also will ask how our way of knowing is determined by the community in which we live and the privileges that it confers upon us.     

Systems Thinking Made Simple: New Hope for Solving Wicked Problems

The term ‘systems thinking’ has been used in many academic disciplines, from engineering to management, to describe a variety of approaches to problem solving that attempt to balance holistic and reductionist thinking by taking the whole system into account as well as its parts and examining the relationships and interactions between the parts. It is now widely accepted that systems thinking is the best approach to analyzing and ultimately solving many of the complex problems that we face in the real world such as climate change, global poverty, and the global shortage of potable and clean water. Systems Thinking Made Simple: New Hope for Solving Wicked Problems, written by Derek Cabrera and Laura Cabrera of the Cabrera Research Lab at Cornell University, aims to bring the theory and practice of systems thinking out of academia by facilitating public understanding of the research, tools, and technologies related to systems thinking. They argue that, “[t]o save our planet, solve crises, understand complex systems and their wicked problems, we don’t just need better scientists who think more systemically, we need better citizens who think systemically” (Cabrera and Cabrera, 2015 [pg. 16]). Increasingly, federal funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, and the United States Department of Agriculture are requesting proposals that involve systems thinking approaches as well as interdisciplinary efforts to analyze complex issues such as the food, energy, water nexus and global health crises. The proposed UF Honors course will cover the book Systems Thinking Made Simple: New Hope for Solving Wicked Problems in an effort to introduce the systems thinking approach and principles to students from a variety of disciplines so that they are better prepared to tackle the wicked problems associated with the complex adaptive system that we call life. The principles and methods introduced during this course will allow them to not only excel in their everyday lives and their academic discipline but will also provide a foundation for communicating across disciplines and analyzing problems as part of a transdisciplinary team.

Course Expectations

At the end of the course, students should be able to:

  1. Make distinctions and recognize systems, relationships, and perspectives, i.e. understand the four rules of systems thinking
  2. Visually represent the information within and structure of any system, regardless of complexity
  3. Clearly and effectively communicate the principles and applications of systems thinking to a variety of audiences

Student Assignments

  1. Weekly reading assignments of approximately 20-30 pages
  2. Succinct written assignments designed to assess comprehension and application of weekly reading
  3. Final project in which students will identify a problem of their choosing, describe current approaches to analyzing or resolving the problem, and outline how to improve this approach through systems thinking. This final project will involve a brief written report as well as a brief oral presentation.

To Hell and Back

This course will take students on a semester-long journey through the underworld as imagined

by the fourteenth century writer Dante Alighieri. The primary source will be Dante’s Inferno but the course will be enhanced with visual materials and will make full use of the many digital resources devoted to the study of Dante and his world. Special attention will be paid to the political, historical and religious context in which Dante was writing but the main point of the course will be to give students an appreciation of the masterful narrative that Dante weaves and the enduring beauty of his poetry.

Classes will combine student-centered activities with brief lecture style introductions to the day’s reading. Accordingly, students will be expected to have read the assigned reading and be prepared to comment and participate in a meaningful discussion.

Writing Assignment: (25%)
Students will choose a circle of hell and consider how Dante might have written it were he composing in the 21
st century.
Presentation: (25%)
Each student will be
asked to present a particular aspect of the day’s assigned reading – depending upon the number of students this might be done in groups.
Participation: (50%)
As noted above, student participation is essential. The class will not be simply a reiteration or summary of a canto, rather, students are expected to know the canto in question and be prepared to discuss the issues it raises.