Spring 2018 (un)common reads

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

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

(un)common reads courses

Course Area Title Sect Instructor Syllabus
IDH2930 Gender  The Female of the Species 0045  Brittany Adams The Female of the Species 
IDH2930 Health and Healing Blink of an Eye 1349 Nina Stoyan-Rosenzweig  Blink of An Eye 
IDH2930 Russia/Literature  Reading Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago 1351  Galina S. Rylkova  
IDH2930 History If This Is a Man 135E Sara Agnelli If This Is a Man 
IDH2930 Fantasy The Lord of the Rings 1352 Cory Alexander Lord of the Rings 
IDH2930 Media True/False: Media Literacy and Making Sense of What We See, Hear, and Read 136A Todd Best True/False: Media Literacy Revision 
IDH2930 History/Urban The Analagous City 1373  Joel Black  
IDH2930 Science The Brain and The Self 144E Daniel Wesson The Brain and The Self 
IDH2930 Science Fiction Game of Thrones 14HH Gregory Webster A Games of Thrones 
IDH2930 Math The Music of Pythagoras 14F7 Panos Pardalos Pythagoras 
IDH2930 Science Fiction Dune 147E Greg Stewart Dune 
IDH2930 Storytelling Hands Up: Text as Protest 138F Shelby Boehm Hands Up  
IDH2930 Evolution Sapiens History 1460 Pascal Oltenacu Sapiens History 
IDH2930 Religion Crazy Love and the Bible - A reading of the Song of Solomon 14B2 Abend Dror Crazy Love 
IDH2930  Biology Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution 1376 David Blackburn/Stuart McDaniel Future of Evolution 
IDH2930 Mathematics Proofs from the Book 139G Miklos Bona Proofs from the Book 
IDH2930 Science, History Hidden Figures 1466 Betty Smocovitis  
IDH2930 History How America Went Haywire 1421 Anne Donnelly Fantasyland 
IDH2930 Society End of the Line: Examining Death through Graphic Medicine 14DC Ariel Pomputius/Mary Edwards End of the Line: Examining Death through Graphic Medicine 
IDH2930 Biography Young Adult LGBTQ Coming Out Narratives 1456 Cody Miller Coming Out Narratives 
IDH2930 Classics Tacitus' Annals: Power, Debauchery, and Treachery 14BF Megan Daly Tacitus' Annals 
IDH2930 Biology, History The Voyage of the Beagle 14B6 Lorena Endara  
IDH2930 Addiction Addiction 14B9 Oliver Grundmann Addiction 
IDH2930 History/Politics The Nibelungenlied: A Poetic History of Imperial Europe from the Romans to the Present 14CC Will Hasty The Nibelungenlied 
IDH2930 Poverty, History The Big Truck That Went By 145H Michael Lauzardo The Big Truck That Went By 
IDH2930 Science, History Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming 141H Lily Lewis Merchants of Doubt 
IDH2930 Evolution Lucy's Legacy, Origin of Humans 146H James Nation Origin of Humans 
IDH2930 Law A Civil Action 142H Rachel Purcell A Civil Action 
IDH2930 Biology Insects and Plants 1468 Andrei Sourakov/Thomas Emmel Insects and Plants 
IDH2930 Biology Thank You, Madagascar 1477 Michele Tennant Thank You Madagascar 
IDH2930 Science Seven Deadly Sins of Psychology 148A Frank Waddell  
IDH2930 Personal Development Grit 1858 Paige Harris/Allen Wysocki Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance 
IDH2930 Math and Psychology Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid 2B71 Andrew Sack/Paul Robinson Godel Escher  
IDH2930 Chemistry Napoleon's Buttons 2000 Gail Fanucci Napoleons Buttons 
IDH2930 History Hamilton 013E Mark Law Hamilton 

The Female of the Species

This course will use Mindy McGinnis’ novel The Female of the Species to analyze how gender norms and rape culture shape schooling experiences in the United States. McGinnis tells the story of a teen girl who uses violence for justice against the sexual aggressions that occur towards women on a daily basis. The novel offers an unflinching look at rape culture in American society and it's repercussions. We will analyze the content and form of the novel and how our own identities and perspectives reflect our experiences in K-12 and postsecondary schooling.

Blink of an Eye

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a short story told by Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby after a brainstem stroke left him almost completely paralyzed with locked in syndrome- he narrated the story by blinking his eye to an assistant who recorded the words letter by letter.

Telling stories is innately human and, as it turns out, innately healing.  This class will investigate the lengths people go to tell their story, and how that process can help bring resolution and health, as well as helping to order and celebrate life.  Through reading The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, exploring other stories of health and illness (each student will read a different narrative and report on that to the class), field trips to the Harn Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History, and through pushing the boundaries of narrative, this course will explore how and why people tell stories- particularly stories of illness.  In reading and experiencing a range of narrative forms- graphic novels, music, song lyrics, dance, games, video and others-, it also will explore the impact of these stories on all of our lives.  Ultimately it will address that question, “How does telling a story heal?”

Reading Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago

The purpose of this course is to introduce students to one of the greatest classics of the 20th-century – Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago (1956) as well as to examine the Russian/Soviet history and culture of the 19th and 20th centuries that formed the background to the novel. Doctor Zhivago is the only novel written by one of the greatest Russian poets Boris Pasternak (1890-1960). It brought him a Nobel prize for literature in 1958 and a lot of pain and humiliation in his homeland because of that. The novel covers the most turbulent period in Russia history (1890-1953) – the three revolutions, WWI, WWII, the Great Terror of the Stalin era, and is a poignant testament to the ability of the human spirit and creativity to survive in adverse conditions (the main character is both a doctor and a poet). 


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 participate weekly in an online forum, in which they may discuss opinions or observations about aspects of the readings, speculation about Tolkien’s motivation, questions about the story, etc. Class discussion will center around reading assignments and students’ forum comments.

True/False: Media Literacy and Making Sense of What We See, Hear, and Read

Text: Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death

Rarely has reality needed so much to be re-imagined. - True/False Film Festival

We live in strange times, indeed. Entertainment is among the chief industries of our society. All forms of public discourse somehow get reduced to that which will tantalize and, ultimately, that which will sell. Our all-access media streams flow to us in a full range of devices from smartphones to laptops to flat screen tvs to billboards. They are a constant flow of information, opinions, emotions, stories, images, and sounds that often feel like an overflow. Infuse these inputs with various ideological perspectives and marketing-savvy nuances, and it becomes too much to take in and make sense of. What we are often left with is a wholesale inability to decipher and process all the information. The news itself might be the best example of the problem of media over-stimulation. As we encounter this or that news bit, it comes with a backdrop of potential claims of “fake news” and warring voices among the talking heads. Of particular note, in our digital intake online, genuine issues are confused with the “comments” sections. In short, our media overflow turns worthwhile and complex things into simple commodities for consumption, entertainment, or ideological battleground. At the same time, seemingly we have more reliable ways to communicate, better forms of diverse media for thought provoking ideas, and access to cultural riches like the arts that is refreshingly at our fingertips. But how are we to consider the imprint any of this makes on our lives? Where is there space to sort truth from error, reality from fiction? And what is at stake in all of this anyway? How might we see various media streams as constructive and not merely destructive? Are there ways that our imaginations might craft a better way to navigate and process all that comes our way?

This seminar style course will involve a “slow read” of Neil Postman’s acclaimed book Amusing Ourselves to Death. Although it was originally published in 1985 when television was our primary form of media intake, Postman’s work has remained a steady point of reflection serving as a cultural pause button to stop and think about our engagement with media. With recent technological, cultural, and political developments, Postman’s ideas continue to offer much for consideration of our ongoing situation. Alongside Postman’s text, we will consider how the arts come to bear on the topic. Specific focus will be given to creative nonfiction film (a kind of documentary), and in particular the resources of the True/False Film Festival.


The Analogous City

With its lavish promenades, crisp white buildings, and majestic displays the World’s Columbian Exposition announced the “New” world’s “progress” to the “Old”—all while declaring Chicago’ greatness. But, enormous inequality—characterize by dreadful housing, brutal working conditions, and widespread exploitation—lurked just beneath the surface of Chicago’s glorious architecture. Erik Larsen’s Devil and the White City animates this disparity, between planner Daniel Burham’s White City and serial killer Dr. H. H. Holmes’ infamous underground lair. Each represented a crucial facet of city life at the close of the nineteenth century.

This course, which builds on Architecture and Fine Arts Library program “AFA Reads,” has three parts. In the first part, students read The Devil and the White City together. In the second part, students will research a Presentation Topic related to the book (and meet with Architecture historian Jessica Aberle). Presentation Topics might range from city life, work, crime, urban planning, and architecture to policing, courts, and law. The third part of the class involves a classroom presentation. Students’ final grade will be divided between mandatory attendance and participation, and this in-class presentation.

The Brain and The Self

Why do we think and behave as we do? This question holds implications for all fields of study, whether it is to understand the basis of a psychiatric disorder, what drives consumer purchasing behavior in business, or why we appreciate one painting more so than others. The Brain and The Self is a semester-long weekly discussion course designed for UF Honors Program students broadly interested in the brain and centered around György Buzsáki’s book, Rhythms of the Brain. This course is designed to accomplish four overall goals 1) render a general knowledge base of neural dynamics, 2) provide experience in discussing the brain, different types of brain functions, and how these functions relate to human behavior, 3) facilitate engagement of students with the principles of multi-disciplinary brain sciences, including neurology, neuroscience, psychology, pharmacology, and psychiatry, and 4) promote critical thinking and creativity. By the end of this course, students will gain an appreciation for the brain and its complexity by using both Rhythms of the Brain, and their creativity, as their guides. Grades will be based upon participation, student-led discussions, and written reports.

Game of Thrones

First published in 1996, George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones (AGOT) has garnered numerous literary accolades, including wins or nominations for the Hugo (fantasy) and Nebula (science fiction) awards. Following HBO’s television adaption, it has also enjoyed popularity, including spending months on The New York Times best-seller list.

Contrary to HBO’s adaptation, which often features streamlined plots and one-dimensional characters, AGOT actively seeks to subvert simplistic fantasy tropes and stereotypes (e.g., good vs. evil), replacing them with a world as morally complex and ambiguous as our own. For example, AGOT is told through eight third-person limited-point-of-view characters, each with their own biases, perspectives, and agendas that shape their actions and interpretations of events. The result is an unexpectedly rich tapestry of not-quite-reliable narrators, and so readers are tasked with unraveling and reweaving these narratives to discover the truth. These multiple narratives also allow readers to see characters and groups from different perspectives. Over time, characters once see as “good” or “evil” become far more “grey” or morally ambiguous.

Among the themes explored in AGOT are (a) the horror and futility of war, (b) distinguishing justice from vengeance, (c) xenophobia, (d) the role of religions in society, (e) the cruelty and unfairness of feudal societies, and (f) honoring multiple pledges. One purpose of this course is to expose readers to a modern fantasy masterpiece that strives to undermine its own genre’s stereotypes. ​

Deadly Sins of Science: How Bias Distorts the Production of Knowledge

This course will introduce students to common problems in the field of psychology that cause problems in the way that research is conducted. Course materials will be based around Chamber's 2017 book entitled, "The Seven Deadly Sins of Psychology: A Manifesto for Reforming the Culture of Scientific Practice​." Performance in the course will be evaluated through short writing assignments and a final exam.

"Consider If This Is a Man": Primo Levi's extraordinary resilience in Auschwitz

“If This Is a Man”, also known as “Survival at Auschwitz”, is a memoir written by Primo Levi, first published in 1947. In 1943, Levi, a 25-year-old chemist and “Italian citizen of Jewish race”, was arrested by Italian fascists and deported from his native Turin to Auschwitz. The book describes his 10 months in the German death camp. It is a powerful text, remarkable for its simplicity, restraint, compassion, and even wit.

At a time when it has become the norm to assert differences between persons rather than their commonality, Levi’s text can be read as an important intervention. This work is indispensable, essential, and necessary to confront the reader with the question: how can one deny the concept of a common humanity? From its opening to the end, the reader is charged with the responsibility of thinking deeply about the violations committed to our concept of humanity.


Frank Herbert’s Dune won the Hugo award for best novel in 1966 as well as the first Nebula award.  Dune is among the best-selling science fiction novels in the world (12 million copies sold to date) and had enormous influence on the entire genre of science fiction.  It has been stated that Star Wars would not have been possible without it.

Can the human race evolve via conscious effort?  Is the eventual triumph of good over evil in Dune foreordained, or merely at the author’s whim?  What does Star Wars owe to Dune?

The Music of Pythagoras

In this class, we are going to explore the connections between mathematics and music. The Pythagorean tuning is known as a system of musical tuning in which the frequency ratios of all intervals are based on the ratio 3:2. The Pythagoreans related numbers to music; they discovered the concept of irrational numbers and developed the theory of cosmos (order of the world).

The words mathematics, music, muse, and mother each have the same root in the Indo-European languages. Therefore, it is not surprising that these concepts are deeply and intrinsically connected.

In addition to Pythagoras, we are going to discuss several other ancient Greek mathematicians, including Euclid, Archimedes, Zeno, and Hypatia.

The key source for the class will be "The Music of Pythagoras: How an Ancient Brotherhood Cracked the Code of the Universe and Lit the Path From Antiquity to Outer Space" (See this link for details: https://www.goodreads.com/ book/show/868121.The_Music_of_ Pythagoras) 

This book contains the enthralling story of Pythagoras and the Pythagoreans, whose insights transformed the ancient world and still inspire the realms of science, mathematics, philosophy, and the arts.

Giants in the Earth

Giants in the Earth is about the 19th-century American immigrant experience on the frontier as seen through the eyes of Norwegian pioneers. After leaving their native homeland of Norway, Per Hansa and his wife Beret arrive on the plains of North Dakota. But the challenges they encounter will test the limits of human endurance and strength. From problems of assimilation to figuring out what constitutes culture and civilization out on the prairie, this novel raises significant, meaningful questions about the survival of a culturally pluralistic American vision. The author’s personal experience as an immigrant on the Dakota prairies makes this work stand out as one of the few authentic novels about coming to America written in its time.

It is also a novel about the loss of one’s culture, about terror and paranoia on the frontier and the unique challenges faced by ethnic immigrants. Consideration of these issues and others will offer students an opportunity for critical thinking about why this novel has been called by some scholars "America at its most American" while others debate whether it is "American" literature at all since it was originally written in Norwegian.

The purpose of this class is to teach students why frontier novels like this one are worth reading and how to read it as a social document about coming to America: What are the myths that immigrants have about coming to America and the American experience? How has the immigrant experience and the experience of being a first-generation American changed over time and how has it stayed the same? By following the pioneer struggles of Per Hansa and his family, we will have an opportunity to reflect on what it means to risk everything in order to build a new life.

Hands Up: Text as Protest

Who is telling the story, and how does this perspective impact the narrative? What happens when this question prompts controversy over the killing of an unarmed African American teenager? The course will use How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon to consider how perspective influences storytelling and how societal structures are used as both physical and emotional oppressors. In the novel, sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds, and the story varies from the witnesses, the community, and the shooter himself. In our society, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, and countless others have died at the hands of police officers, yet their uncertain narratives are questioned due to their identities. Our end goal will be to contemplate how we can continue to examine varying perspectives within society in order to be socially proactive citizens conscious of not falling for a single story.

Sapiens History

Many other Homo species existed contemporaneously with us, but we are the only one that remains, which is both impressive and worrisome. We will use Harari’s book “Sapiens – a brief history of humanity” to follow the journey of our species from the very first humans to walk the earth to today as a succession of three revolutions: the cognitive revolution (when we got smart), the agricultural revolution (when we got nature to do what we wanted), and the scientific revolution (when we got dangerously powerful). Drawing on insights from biology, anthropology, paleontology and economics, Harari explores how the currents of history have shaped our human societies, the animals and plants around us, and even our personalities. The book is bold and provocative and should stimulate healthy debates and conversations in a classroom.

Crazy Love and the Bible - A reading of the Song of Solomon

This course will explore the most passionate and sometime erotic book in the bible, a parable about the love of God and the magnitude of the human spirit. The course will include a reading of the song, some phrases from the song in the original Hebrew, and some literary and musical adaptations and references to the Song of Solomon.

Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution

Does evolution repeat itself? What are the roles of chance and determinism in shaping the patterns of biodiversity that we see around the world? In “Improbable Destinies: Fate, Chance, and the Future of Evolution,” Jonathan Losos weaves together a compelling introduction to the world of evolutionary ecology in which he addresses whether evolution is predictable. With examples from ground-breaking studies over the past fifty years, Losos argues that while chance is important in determining some of the fine details, many aspects of evolution do seem repeatable and have been observed over human time-scales. 

Proofs from the Book

This course will cover some of the most beautiful proofs in mathematics. We will read a book of Aigner and Ziegler, entitled Proofs from the BOOK. Each student will be assigned a proof that he or she will present to the class. The proofs will come from all over mathematics, not just Calculus. 

Hidden Figures

How America Went Haywire

This is a student-led discussion class. We will read Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire.  In this thought- provoking book Kurt Andersen, a “self-described “liberal atheist”1 details what he calls an American “promiscuous devotion to the untrue” and asks “How many Americans now inhabit alternate realities?” From the Introduction:

By my reckoning, the more or less solidly reality-based are a minority, maybe a third of us but almost certainly fewer than half. Only a third of us, for instance, believe with some certainty that CO2 emissions from cars and factories are the main cause of Earth’s warming. Only a third are sure the tale of creation in Genesis isn’t a literal, factual account. Only a third strongly disbelieve in telepathy and ghosts.

Two-thirds of Americans believe that “angels and demons are active in the world.” At least half are absolutely certain Heaven exists, ruled over by a personal God—not some vague force or universal spirit but a guy. More than a third of us believe not only that global warming is no big deal but that it’s a hoax perpetrated by a conspiracy of scientists, government, and journalists.; that extraterrestrials have recently visited (or now reside on) Earth. A quarter believe vaccines cause autism and that Donald Trump won the popular vote in the 2016 general election. A quarter believe in witches.

He goes back to the founding of this country to try to answer the question - Why are we like this today?  We will read his theories and see if we agree.



End of the Line: Examining Death through Graphic Medicine

By juxtaposing two different, but complementary, accounts of caring for a dying family member as told by the graphic memoirs Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? and Things to Do in a Retirement Home Trailer Park…When You’re 29 and Unemployed, this class delves into end-of-life issues, death, and grief through the lens of graphic medicine. In a culture that hails health and wellness, reading stories about terminal illness and aging may seem strange and uncomfortable.  Graphic memoirs about terminal illness, aging, end-of-life care and grief, as told by caregivers, help address the fear, stigma, and confusion around the experience of human death and dying in a way that is in turns thought-provoking, humorous, poignant, engaging, and always deeply personal.

"1493": The Dawn of Global Ecological Transformations

With the domestication of plants and the settlement of villages thousands of years ago, humans began to slowly change the surface of the planet. This process exploded on a global scale with the discovery of the Americas by Europeans in 1492. We will use the book “1493: Uncovering the New World that Columbus Created” by Charles Mann to explore the various ways in which our societies have accelerated the pace of global ecological change through the exchange of things ranging from desirable foods like chocolate to feared pathogens like small pox.

Drug Addiction-the hell on earth and how to not lost hope

Drug addiction may often seem far away, unless it gets personal and affects somebody close by. We will be reading “Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey through his Son’s Addiction” and discuss the various aspects of how drug addiction affects the individual, their loved ones, friends, and society. Some of the topics will include the underlying biological mechanisms of addiction, the impact of addiction on society, treatment approaches, with a major part spend on sharing our views on what can be done moving forward to find solutions. This class is taught entirely online over a 6-week period using Canvas, BigBlueButton, and VoiceThread.

Young Adult LGBTQ Coming Out Narratives

How do various texts aimed at young adults present the process of coming out as LGBTQ? How do other aspects and social positioning such as race, religion, and geography impact when and how people can “come out”? Using Benjamin Alire Sáenz’s young adult novel, Dante and Aristotle Discover the Secrets of the Universe along with several episodes from popular television shows, this course will explore how “coming out” as LGBTQ is explored in popular texts. We will explore a wide range of “coming out” experiences that address race, gender identity, religion, geography, and class.

Advice for a Young Investigator

Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934) was a Spaniard Biologist and one of the most outstanding neuroscientist of the last century. His work described the anatomy of the retina and his drawings of brain circuits earned him the Nobel Prize of Medicine in 1906. As part of his research career, he compiled advice in a booklet for young investigators who aspired to start their careers in research, especially those dealing with laboratory experiments. He wrote in this booklet his thoughts and some anecdotes to share with students and scientists about how to make original contributions in any branch of science. His advice was primarily based on an analysis of his own success and scientific career, as well as aspects and decisions from his personal life.

Advice for a Young Investigator (1898) is a useful booklet that can help foster and motivate research in youth, considering the importance of science and technology for the progress of a society and a country. Although this advice was written in the context of the political and cultural situation of the Spanish society in the early 19th century, it includes topics regarding cultivating vocation in investigation that a starting researcher should keep in mind.

The one-credit course based on this booklet is focused on students who wish to establish their basis within a research career, especially oriented (but not restricted) to those enrolled in STEM and Health Sciences fields. The booklet is not meant to be a perfect mold that every young investigator should use as standard to establish his/her research career, however, it can be a starting point to identify fundamental skills, competences and aptitudes that should be strengthened for this purpose. In this way, the main goal and expectation of the proposed course is to guide students so that they assimilate the following aspects:

- Importance of correct communication of ideas

- Ability to understand and explain research questions or hypotheses

- Importance of publishing in early epochs of research

- To be aware that frustration and disappointment are part of the process

- Passion of work, joined by humility, ambition and patience

- Importance of trying; this is the main way to discover our aptitudes as researchers

- Joint collaboration with other researchers in the field

Systems Thinking Made Simple

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.

Tacitus' Annals: Power, Debauchery, and Treachery

Fascinated by the Roman Empire? Enthralled by narratives of power, politics, treachery, mutiny, war, conspiracy, decadence, and vice? If so, Tacitus’ Annals is for you. In this course, we will read about some of the most compelling figures and events in Roman history; the end of the reign of Augustus, first emperor of Rome, the transfer of power to his stepson Tiberius, the extant account of the reign of Claudius, and the full account of the rise and fall of the emperor Nero.

While discussing the history and politics of the early Roman Empire, we will also highlight a number of key scholarly concerns, including the ancient historical narrative technique, major textual problems, the structure of conspiracies and mutinies within the text, characterization, and Tacitus’ overarching messages about power and freedom under the empire. Students will emerge not only with a historical understanding of this period, but also with an appreciation of scholarly approaches to the study of ancient times.

The Voyage of the Beagle

The UF Honors Program (un)common reads courses are discussion oriented classes centered around a single book. This class focuses in a book that describes Charles Darwin’s journey around the globe “The Voyage of the Beagle”. This classic provides the readers a fascinating insight into Darwin’s keen observations and integrative power that are the foundation of his theory of natural selection and the struggle for existence. Although Darwin’s original mission was to study the plants and animals of the regions he visited, his narrative goes beyond these topics and he extends his detailed observations to the geological, anthropological and even gastronomic aspects of each region.  In this class we are going to collectively discover passages where Darwin informally described some of the ideas that were the foundation of his theory and we are also going to discuss the places that Darwin and the Beagle visited and the importance of exploration. 

The Nibelungenlied: A Poetic History of Imperial Europe from the Romans to the Present

The Nibelungenlied, a medieval heroic epic grounded in the same corpus of Germanic myth and folklore that has given rise in modern times to diverse creative works ranging from Richard Wagner’s operatic tetralogy the “Ring Cycle,” to the books of J.R. Tolkien, to the megahit television series “Game of Thrones,” is examined in its convergences with the imperial and (attempted) post-imperial history of Europe at five crucial points: 1) the Germanic migrations from the 3rd to 5th century leading to the Fall of the Western Roman empire; 2) the Frankish consolidation of “Holy Roman” imperial power under the Carolingian emperors (particularly Charlemagne) in the 8th and 9th centuries; 3) the High Middle Ages (12th-13th centuries) when imperial power in Western Europe assumes via the Crusades patently colonialist dimensions; 4) the 19th-20th century reception from Richard Wagner to National Socialism and WWII; and 5) recent and contemporary creative uses of Nibelungen-lore (such as Tarantino’s film “Django Unchained” and the above-mentioned “Game of Thrones,”) in post- World War and post-Cold War Europe and globally.

The Big Truck That Went By

The Big Truck That Went By, by Jonathan Katz, is an award winning book that emerges from his experience as the only full-time American news correspondent in Haiti on the day of the catastrophic earthquake. The book describes the terror felt by ordinary Haitians, the devastation, and the largely failed international relief response that followed. The course will be led by Dr. Michael Lauzardo, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Medicine in the UF College of Medicine. The course will be of interest to those students who want to learn more about global health, public health, Haiti, and international development. 

How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming

For the 50% of United States citizens who accept the global scientific communities’ consensus that our climate is rapidly changing due to human activities (PEW Research Center 2015), it can be mind-boggling why 50% the nation still has doubts. Not all of us are climate scientists or ecologists who can wade through the primary scientific literature on climate change. Instead we are called upon to trust in science. But why should we trust in science? Why does half the nation attribute climate change to natural patterns or reject its occurrence all together? In Merchants of Doubt, Oreskes and Conway tell the story of how a small group of scientists helped spread doubt to create an illusion of scientific uncertainty on topics spanning cigarette smoking to climate change, while exploring the question, “How can we trust science?”.

Lucy's Legacy, Origin of Humans

Lucy’s Legacy: The Quest for Human Origins authored by Donald C. Johanson and Kate Wong. 2009 , Harmony Books, an imprint of Crown Publishing Group, Random House, Inc. NewYork, is readily available as a paperback or hardback and as an e-book for certain electronic media. In 15 chapters and an Epilogue, Johanson and Wong chronicle the excitement, competition, and exhausting work of hunting hominoid fossils, and the quest for discovery of our human origins. Johanson was the discoverer of Lucy in 1974 as a young paleoanthropologist, and he and his team have unearthed a total of more than 300 specimens of her species, Australopithecus afarensis. The opening chapter describes the excitement of the initial find of Lucy, now dated to having been alive 2.3 million years ago.  Lucy, the most extensive skeletal remains found at that time, initiated a revolution in thinking about the origins of today’s humans. In subsequent chapters Johanson and Wong describe fossil skulls, jaw bones, teeth, and sometimes fossilized parts of leg or arm bones of a parade of hominid forms, including numerous Homo species, culminating in modern humans, Homo sapiens.  One chapter is devoted to the enigmatic Nenanderthal humans who lived in western Europe for hundreds of thousands of years, co-existing with Homo sapiens for a long time before the Neanderthals became extinct, leaving modern humans as the “last man standing”, so to speak.   

Crystal Fire: The Invention of the Transistor and Birth of the Information Age

Crystal Fire: The Invention of the Transistor and the Birth of the Information Age

-The transistor has revolutionized the world we live in. Learn about the beginnings of the silicon age and the scientists and engineers that developed the first transistor. Students will participate in in-class discussions and deliver individual presentations on a related topic of their choosing.

A Civil Action

The United States has been criticized for being an overly litigious society but often tort law has been the only way to punish corporate misbehavior and force changes in a corporation’s policy. A Civil Action is a nonfiction book detailing the proceedings of a real case, Anderson v. Cryovac occurring in 1980’s Woburn, Massachusetts. Residents filed a class action lawsuit in federal court against a local tannery and its parent company alleging groundwater contamination resulting in negative health effects. The book’s account of events walks readers through important legal concepts in any large tort litigation such as appropriate remedies and damages, piercing the corporate veil, criminal and civil corporate liability, public policy analysis, effectiveness of class actions, contingency fees, the weighty cost of litigation, and a lawyer’s duty to his/her client.

In this course, students will explore the ethical gray areas of these law topics that greatly shape our society and legal system.  Students will also become familiar with the procedural elements of pre-trial process such as discovery and motion practice, ethical rules that govern attorneys, expert witnesses, settlement resolution, and basic trial advocacy.

Insects and Plants

The course will be based on the book by Edward S. Ross, published in 2014. This book combines a highly informative text and beautiful photography by a former curator of the California Academy of Sciences.

In addition to obvious applications in agriculture, understanding insect-plant interactions is of broad relevance in many fields, such as evolutionary biology, genetics, ecology, biogeography, public policy and biodiversity conservation. The students will be introduced to numerous topics, including insects and crops, mimicry, natural selection, chemical ecology, predator-prey interactions, and co-evolution. They will be able to better understand the events currently unfolding in California, where coniferous forests are being lost to the combination of bark beetles and drought. They will realize how important honey bee decline and exotic pest species are to the world’s food economics.

The book will serve as a starting point in our conversations during each class, which will diverge into the numerous directions taken by modern research in the field of insect-plant interactions. To supplement lectures in each class, students will have an opportunity to visit the collections of the Florida Museum of Natural History and of the Division of Plant Industry. They will also visit the Natural Area Teaching Laboratory and the Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology (USDA).

Thank You, Madagascar: The Conservation Diaries of Alison Jolly

Madagascar, the world of lemurs and chameleons, is home to some of the world’s most unique flora and fauna – approximately 90% of all species are 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 titanium mining? Is there a way for all three world views to co-exist? 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. 

We will read the book "Thank You, Madagascar" in its entirety. To provide context, we will also read associated papers from the primary literature. Prior to each reading, we will explore localities, customs, and the biological diversity described in the readings, augmented by photographs (environment , environmental degradation, habitat loss; the local people and cultural activities; unique species) taken on the instructor’s trips to to 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 these first hand experiences from the instructor's nearly month-long stay in country, providing valuable context to the readings.​


The Nothing That Is Zero

The course will use Charles Seife’s Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea to analyze how foundational—and controversial—the number zero is to mathematics as well as fields such as philosophy and religion, in spite of its seemingly obvious necessity. We will discuss both the content of the novel and outside resources to deepen appreciation with regard to the historical context of mathematical developments and the landmark contributions from mathematicians of underrepresented minority status (female, of color, queer, etc.). Students will also engage in introductory LaTeX, the widely used document preparation system for mathematical academia. This course counts as one credit.


Grit by Angela Duckworth is about the “power of passion and perseverance.” Duckworth is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, and she’s been working for years to discover what makes some people successful more often than other people. She argues that it’s not “genius,” but something, well, grittier. If someone has the right combination of passion for a subject or activity and the perseverance to get up when they’re knocked down, they have a higher chance of success at whatever it is that they want to accomplish. This book follows Duckworth’s journey as a teacher, a business consultant, and a neuroscientist as she discovers over and over that grit – not talent, not luck – is the best predictor of success.

Learning objectives and goals include:
  Learn what grit is and how it relates to the growth mindset
  Discuss how grit applies to many situations
  Discover how gritty you are and how to improve it
  Compare the “grit view” with more traditional views, such as IQ or test scores as indicators of success
  Explore if and how Duckworth falls short in her analyses and conclusions

Faculty Mentor: (hopefully) Dr. Al Wysocki

  Weekly participation in class discussion (majority of grade from this)
  Brief weekly reflection on readings and supplemental materials (prepare and bring to class for discussion, turn in to instructor)
  Final project – perhaps give students some choices
     If there’s a part of the course that sparks debate, hold a debate
     PowerPoint presentation on a related topic
    Have students develop a plan to strengthen their grit, document the process of working on improving grit, write a paper or give a         presentation on the process

"Come to the Cabaret!"

In this course students will explore the world of the post WWI German Cabaret through the lens of the iconic musical production of “Cabaret.” Steeped in history, “Cabaret” tells the story of an American writer’s experience in the underworld of Berlin during the rise of the Nazis.  To understand the musical and its relevance, students will investigate the theories of revolutionary playwright and theorist Bertolt Brecht, the compelling music of Kurt Weill, iconic figures like Marlene Dietrich and the history of the Weimar Cabaret.  As well, students will investigate the source material for the musical, the musical itself, and the movie musical.

Students will attend the musical production of “Cabaret” on Saturday Feb. 3, 2018.

Course readings and films will be made up of selections from the following sources:

Christopher Isherwood Stories
I Am A Camera
Cabaret – Film Version
The Weimar Cabaret
Bertolt Brecht – The Epic Theater & Alienation Effect
Kurt Weill
Marlene Dietrich – The Blue Angel

Students will be expected to complete weekly readings and attend weekly class discussions.  One group presentation on a subject/reading/author will be expected from students.  This presentation will have an oral (in class) presentation element as well as a written element. ​


Stick and Rudder: An Explanation of the Art of Flying

This course will serve as an introduction to the basic principles of flight and general aviation, as well as provide the opportunity to analyze and discuss Stick and Rudder’s analysis of how to pilot a plane.

Published in 1944, Stick and Rudder is the first analysis on the art of flying and remains one of the most well-known and controversial aviation texts today. Over the years, this book has received praise for it’s unique approach to explaining flight, which relies heavily upon the physics of the airplane’s control surfaces. However, it has also received a lot of criticism and controversy, such as telling pilots to “Forget Bernoulli’s Theorem” while describing lift. Written with insight and wit, this book is a great read for pilots and non-pilots alike.

Workload: The majority of this class will be discussion based. Students will be required to read the supplementary text and complete short writing assignments weekly. There will be a small project due at the end of the semester.

Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid

For any speaker, there are songs it can not play.  Likewise for math, there are facts that cannot be proven.  How are art and logic related? Can machines think?  In this class we will discuss all of these and much, much more.According to the author, the central thesis of Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid is how meaningless symbols (such as math, or brains, or musical notes) gain meaning.  In addition to this we will discuss the connections between art and mathematics.  By the end of this course, students should have a greater level of understanding of meta things and be able to apply these skills in a final project.

Napoleon's Buttons

Napolean's Buttons