Fall 2019/Spring 2020

HCOL 085/086: The Pursuit of Knowledge and Ways of Knowing

The Honors College experience begins with a fall semester course HCOL 085, The Pursuit of Knowledge, taught in the seminar format to classes of 20 to 21 students. In the class, students explore what it means to “know,” through classic and contemporary texts that present a wide range of perspectives on what we can know about the world and how we know it.  Central questions include:

  • How do we understand rationalism?  How do we understand empiricism?  And what about a way of thinking that we might call narrative knowledge--a way of constructing the world through the stories we tell about it and ourselves?
  • How is knowledge generated and deployed in different contexts?
  • How might ways of pursuing knowledge that we take for granted be less effective when applied to different contexts and domains?

Students read and discuss challenging and thought-provoking texts such as Descartes' Meditations, Hume's Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, Aristotle's Poetics, and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

In the spring semester, first-year HCOL students take one section of HCOL 086, Ways of Knowing, a selection of special topics courses, the majority of which fulfill one course of the University's two-course diversity requirement.  Each of these courses applies some of the foundational knowledge learned in the first semester to particular sets of circumstances, often involving race and culture in the U.S. and beyond.  Among the titles of HCOL 086 courses for Spring '19 are "Gender and Ways of Knowing”, “Representing Race”, and “Multiracialism in US Cultures”.

Through these courses, students become well-acquainted with Honors College faculty and students. By living with fellow honors students, attending plenary lectures, social hours, and other events, students share ideas and build an exciting intellectual community.

In addition to meeting two or three times a week in their individual seminar groups, first year students also encounter the following:

Summer Reading and Writing
Every summer, incoming first-year students read a book that is distributed to the class at June Orientation and complete an essay that is due on the first day of class in the fall.  In the summer of 2019, the students in HCOL 085 will read Ta-Nehisi Coates',  Between The World and Me.   Here is a link to the essay question associated with this book.

Plenary Lecturers
A plenary lecture series, which the entire class attends Wednesday evenings and which is open to the entire university community, invites even more discussion about the topics and questions explored in the courses. The lecture series features talks and performances by university faculty and guests, who discuss their personal experiences and how their areas of inquiry relate to some of the themes of the year's explorations.

Writing-Intensive Study
Faculty teaching the first-year courses expect students not only to defend their opinions verbally but also in writing. The courses are designed to be writing-intensive, and to provide specialized writing instruction and support as students make the transition to college-level writing.

Community-Building Experience
All first-year students take six credits of HCOL in their first year (three credits each semester). This means that they become well-acquainted with other honors students. And because they also live with them in the Honors College residence hall, they are able to continue their discussions about the place and value of education -- even while they socialize -- long after class has ended for the day.