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2019 Honors Book Labs

Register below for our Spring and Summer Honors Book Labs. All Book Labs consist of four meetings, beginning in the second week of classes each semester. Honors buys all books and keeps enrollment lists and waitlists for each Book Lab. Students may enroll in only one Book Lab per semester, and students who fail to complete a reflection in one semester may not register the following term. Please call (797-2715) or email (honors@usu.edu) immediately if you can no longer participate in a Book Lab for which you have signed up. Demand is high, and Honors wants to accommodate as many students as possible. Enrolled students must attend or return the book to remain in good standing with the University Honors Program and to continue to be allowed to take part in the Book Lab program and other honors privileges like early registration. 

STUDENTS MAY REGISTER FOR ONE BOOK LAB PER TERM AND MAY ALSO JOIN THE WAITLIST FOR ANOTHER (OR JOIN TWO WAITLISTS IF NOT YET SUCCESSFULLY ENROLLED IN A BOOK LAB).

Please click here for detailed descriptions of past Book Labs.

Spring 2019

Acts of God: The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America by Ted Steinberg
Dr. Lawrence Culver - Thursdays (1/17-2/7) from 3:00-4:00 p.m. in TBD

Twenty-first-century America has endured a succession of natural disasters, from fires and mudslides in California to hurricanes and flooding in Houston, the Northeast, Florida, and New Orleans, spurring the largest migration of environmental refugees since the 1930s Dust Bowl. At the same time, earthquakes have ravaged Haiti and parts of Latin America, while a tsunami devastated nations near the Indian Ocean. All of these natural disasters were caused by geology, weather, and other natural forces; yet each was also an “unnatural” disaster—magnified by human actions. Choices made about urban planning, resource management, disaster preparedness, and disaster response shaped each of these “natural” disasters. Some places recovered more quickly than others, and some were not rebuilt at all. In every case, however, the poor and politically powerless proved most susceptible to disaster, and least likely to recover from it. Ted Steinberg’s Acts of God is a lively, provocative guide to the history of natural disasters in America, their fundamentally unnatural consequences, and what these disasters can tell us about our society and the choices we make. For better and for worse, Acts of God might be a useful guidebook to inhabitants of a disaster-prone century. 

This Book Lab is FULL. Click here to join the waitlist.

Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism by Safiya Umoja Noble
Rachel Wishkoski and Liz Woolcott (USU Libraries) - Tuesdays (1/15-2/5) from 3:00-4:00 p.m. in TBD

How does Google determine what you see? How does this control impact you, your community, and society? Although almost two billion websites feed into the Internet, the average user only looks at the top three search results offered by Google. Competing for the top spot has fueled entire industries devoted to search engine optimization. Do the methods Google and other search engines use for ranking bring us unbiased results based on a neutral algorithm? Safiya Umoja Noble’s work challenges the illusion of neutrality, exploring how human-designed information technologies reinforce racism, sexism, and other oppressions. Noble’s interdisciplinary approach leverages theories from information science, gender and women’s studies, race and ethnic studies, and media and communication studies to critique the neoliberal intersection of information, power, and capital in online spaces. By engaging with Noble’s concept of “algorithmic oppression,” this Book Lab will prompt discussion of both the sources we use and the very presentation and delivery of information, which has become as important as information itself. We will critically examine our own information-seeking practices, assumptions of neutrality, and understanding of the algorithmic forces that shape our view of the information landscape—and the people around us.

This Book Lab and waitlist are FULL.

Buzz: The Nature and Necessity of Bees by Thor Hanson
Dr. Kim Sullivan - Thursdays (1/17-2/7) from 3:00-4:00 p.m. in TBD

Bees: we know they are important; we know they are in decline; and we know we don’t want them buzzing around us outside. But do we really know bees? Award-winning author Thor Hanson writes about the evolution, natural history, and human impact of bees in a style accessible to both scientists and the general public. Even though bees are tiny, they can learn the location of individual flowers, track nectar rewards, and then communicate this information to their hive-mates with intricate dances. Many people are familiar with the European honeybee, but we often don’t realize the huge diversity of North American native bees, which can specialize in pollinating alfalfa, dig nests in sandstone, be nocturnal, and/or look nothing like honeybees. Recognizing that most of the food we love is pollinated by bees, I chose this book to learn more about these fascinating creatures that are so important to our enjoyment of life. 

This Book Lab is FULL. Click Here to join the waitlist.

Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny by Kate Manne
Dr. Erica Holbery, Dr. Felipe Valencia, and Dr. Daniel Wack - Wednesdays (1/16-2/6) from 3:00-4:00 p.m. in TBD

In Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, Kate Manne distinguishes between sexism and misogyny and develops a theory of misogyny as a tool to control and police “bad” women, while rewarding “good” ones. How does Manne’s theory of misogyny allow us to make sense of our own experiences? Whose purposes are served by distinguishing between “good” and bad” women? We propose to read this book through the academic perspectives of philosophy, political thought, literary studies, and film studies, but also through the lens of controversial current events. We will discuss the merits of Manne’s ideas as we try to frame and address bigger problems, such as the relationships between gender and power, race, and class; the use of gender violence in ethical action, political legitimacy, and artistic creativity; and the challenges, contradictions, and goals of contemporary feminism.

This Book Lab is FULL. Click here to join the waitlist.

Fracking the Neighborhood: Reluctant Activists and Natural Gas Drilling by Jessica Smartt Gullion
Dr. Mehmet Soyer - Mondays (1/14, 1/28, 2/4, 2/11) from 3:00-4:00 p.m. in OM 224C

Jessica Smartt Gullion examines what happens when natural-gas extraction by hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” takes place in a densely populated area with homes, schools, hospitals, parks, and businesses, rather than on wide-open rural land. Gullion focuses on fracking in the Barnett Shale, the natural-gas–rich geological formation under the Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex. She gives voice to the residents—for the most part educated, middle class, and politically conservative—who became reluctant anti-drilling activists in response to perceived environmental and health threats posed by fracking. When natural-gas drilling moves into an urban or suburban neighborhood, a two-hundred-foot-high drill appears on the other side of a backyard fence, and diesel trucks clog a quiet two-lane residential street. Children seem to get more than the usual number of nosebleeds. There are so many local cases of cancer that the elementary school starts a cancer support group. Gullion offers an overview of oil and gas development and describes the fossil-fuel culture of Texas, the process of fracking, related health concerns, and regulatory issues (including the notorious “Halliburton loophole”). She chronicles the experiences of community activists as they fight to be heard and to get the facts about the safety of fracking. Join this Book Lab to learn more about fracking and to discuss the issue with peers.

Sign Up for this Book Lab. 

Great American Documents by Ros Horton
Dr. Thomas Terry - Wednesdays (1/16-2/6) from 3:00-4:00 p.m. in TBD

Americans have a deep and quasi-religious devotion to the written documents guaranteeing their freedoms and creating their system of government. This book traces nearly 400 years of American history through 50 of the most significant of these documents, including the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Gettysburg Address, the Paris Peace treaty ending U.S. participation in the Vietnam War, the Camp David Middle East Peace Accords, and others. The narrative follows the growth of the United States from a small and weak nation-state to a 21st-century global superpower. Each document is clearly set in context and its historical import assessed and analyzed. Wherever possible, the actual document is depicted.

Sign Up for this Book Lab. 

Homosexuality & Civilization by Louis Crompton
Professor Raymond Veon - Mondays (1/14, 1, /28, 2/4, 2/11) from 3:00-4:00 p.m. in TBD

How have major civilizations of the last two millennia treated people who were attracted to their own sex? This Book Lab is designed for those seeking a broad, yet historically accurate understanding of LGBTQ people across time and cultures. In a narrative tour de force, Louis Crompton chronicles the lives and achievements of homosexual men and women alongside a darker history of persecution, as he compares the Christian West with the cultures of ancient Greece and Rome, Arab Spain, imperial China, and pre-Meiji Japan. Ancient Greek culture celebrated same-sex love in history, literature, and art, making high claims for its moral influence. By contrast, Crompton traces the Jewish and Christian-inspired mutilation, torture, and burning of “sodomites” due to superstition, abetted by political ambition and sheer greed. The anti-homosexual atrocities committed in the West contrast starkly with the more tolerant traditions of pre-modern China and Japan, as revealed in poetry, fiction, and art, and in the lives of emperors, shoguns, Buddhist priests, scholars, and actors. In the samurai tradition of Japan, the celebration of same-sex love rivaled that of ancient Greece. Elegantly crafted and lavishly illustrated, Homosexuality and Civilization is a stunning exploration of a rich and terrible past.

This Book Lab and waitlist are FULL.

Massacre at Bear River: First, Worst, Forgotten by Rod Miller
Dr. Timothy Chenette - Tuesdays (1/15-2/5) from 3:00-4:00 p.m. in TBD

On January 29, 1863, United States soldiers attacked a band of Shoshone camped on the Bear River in northern Cache Valley, killing around 250 men, women, and children in the deadliest attack ever on Native Americans by the U.S. military. This attack was shaped the futures of many people: the survivors in this band of Shoshone, most of whom converted to the LDS church; the European-American settlers in Cache Vally, who no longer feared reprisals for disrupting Shoshone life; and the U.S. military, which conducted a number of later massacres of Native Americans modeled on this one. Yet, the Bear River Massacre too often remains virtually invisible to us today, even in Cache Valley. In reading Rod Miller’s book, we will acquaint ourselves with this crucial event in our history, but we will also discuss how to write about an event whose history is told in very different ways by different groups (the military, LDS settlers, and the Shoshone) and to understand the various ways the story has been told through official records, propaganda, and oral history.

This Book Lab is FULL. Click here to join the waitlist.

Norwich: One Tiny Vermont Town's Secret to Happiness and Excellence by Karen Crouse
Dr. Matthew Vierimaa - Tuesdays (1/15-2/5) from 3:00-4:00 p.m. in HPER 111E

Norwich, Vermont, is a small town of 3,000 residents that has consistently produced more Olympians per capita than anywhere else in America. In Norwich, Karen Crouse describes the unique culture of a sporting community predicated on inclusion, cooperation, and fun—seemingly in diametric opposition to the hyper-competitive and professionalized nature of organized youth sports. A growing body of research highlights that one’s early sporting environment can exert a substantial influence on the development of expertise. Overall, athletes who grew up in small towns are vastly over-represented at professional or elite levels of competition. Norwich provides a fascinating case study with which to interpret this “small-town effect.” The book should interest students who played sports growing up and/or who are interested in how to parent or coach children for success both on and off the field.

This Book Lab is FULL. Click here to join the waitlist.

The Promise of A Pencil by Adam Braun
Dr. Ryan Seedall - Wednesdays (1/16-2/6) from 3:00-4:00 p.m. in TBD

The Promise of a Pencil describes Adam Braun's effort to make a difference in the world through his Pencils of Promise foundation, which Braun started after talking with young boy from a poor country. Asked if he could have anything, the boy surprised Braun by stating that he simply wanted a pencil. Braun realized that education is key to helping people in all countries to change their situations and lives. If you decide to read this book, I can guarantee that you will be inspired, even as you learn more concretely how each of us can make a difference in the lives of others.

This Book Lab is FULL. Click Here to join the waitlist. 

Think Wrong: How to Conquer the Status Quo and Do Work That Matters by John Bielenberg and Mike Burn
Dr. Paul Rogers - Tuesdays (1/15-2/5) from 3:00-4:00 p.m. in TBD

Society, employers, instructors, and even family members often tell us “no.” Even worse, our own thought processes regularly veer toward, “I can’t do that.” Our ideas seem too crazy, expensive, undeveloped, dangerous, or, perhaps, the public is “just not ready for them.” In a world full of “no,” this book selects for “yes!” Think Wrong is a simple and entertaining text about putting ideas into action. “Thinking wrong” is sort of like thinking outside of the box, but with an action plan. To “think wrong,” we need to train our brains to make new connections and develop a framework for putting those connections into play. The book is full of exciting solutions for bringing people together, providing jobs, and treating the earth well. Why is a book like this important for students today? Because while conformity has its place (think law enforcement and safety), innovation is often stymied by the lack of a practical plan. This book is your roadmap for changing society by doing good things in the world—for people, planet, and prosperity. If we are to course-correct in the coming years, it may just take a few more people thinking wrong while doing right.

This Book Lab and waitlist are FULL.

The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds by Michael Lewis
Dr. Dan Holland - Mondays (1/14, 1/28, 2/4, 2/11) from 3:00-4:00 p.m. in TBD

This book tells the story of two Israeli psychologists, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, and their Nobel Prize-winning research, which started the behavioral economics movement. Kahneman and Tversky’s story will make you think about the way you think. They explored the many reasons humans are not always rational in decision-making. For example, they demonstrated that the framing of choices has a significant influence on the selections that we make, that the fear of regret has an outsized effect on our choices, and that people often place too much weight on the information that is most readily available. Kahneman and Tversky demonstrated that people are inherently handicapped by a variety of systematic decision-making biases and heuristics. In addition to thinking about the way we think, we will discuss how Kahneman and Tversky’s work set the stage for advanced evidence-based medical research, new methods in government policy-making that nudge us towards constructive behaviors (e.g., see Nudge by Richard Thaler, who recently also won the Nobel Prize, 15 years after Kahneman), the revolution of data analytics in politics and sports, the rise in “Big Data” studies, and so forth. The Undoing Project is a story of collaboration, tension, insight, conflict, joy, heartbreak, and the creative process at its best. 

This Book Lab is Full. Click Here to join the waitlist.

The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow's World
by Charles C. Mann

Dr. Chris Luecke - Thursdays (1/17-2/7) from 3:30-4:30 in TBD

Charles Mann’s 2017 book, The Wizard and the Prophet, takes a captivating look at current environmental issues by highlighting the seminal careers of Norman Borlaug, the father of modern agriculture and William Vogt, an early environmental writer. Borlaug is recognized for the promotion of the green revolution in agriculture, which largely solved food production problems in the last century. Borlaug is the “wizard” in Mann’s book. The “prophet,” William Vogt, was an early environmental writer whose vision inspired the conservation ethic and work of people like Rachel Carson and Aldo Leopold. While Borlaug promoted the use of technology to address social issues, Vogt advocated for conservation of natural resources and preservation of our ecosystems. Mann’s book gives the reader an opportunity to see how both sides of environmental issues might be addressed. We have invited Charles Mann to come to campus on April 4 to lecture on this book. Students will have opportunities to interact with Mr. Mann during his visit.

This Book Lab is FULL. Click here to join the waitlist.

Writing to Wake the Soul: Opening the Sacred Conversation Within by Karen Hering
Dr. Karin DeJonge-Kannan and Dr. Ann Austin - Wednesdays (1/16-2/6) from 3:00-4:00 p.m. in TBD

Incorporating wisdom, insights, and stories from many of the world’s religious and philosophical traditions, Hering offers readers an opportunity to explore their own beliefs through journaling. Each chapter is focused on a central theme, such as hospitality, peace, sin, redemption, justice, forgiveness, love, and faith. The author takes a non-traditional, open-minded view as she carefully unpacks these ideas, moving far beyond the hackneyed phrases usually attached to concepts like “sin” or “forgiveness.” Rather than focusing on the standard dogma of a specific faith tradition, she centers her thinking on social justice and the importance of introducing new perspectives into our discussions. In each chapter, writing prompts invite readers to reflect with honesty and creativity on various aspects of the theme. This Book Lab offers participants a non-judgmental space to explore their doubts, beliefs, struggles, and inspiration in the context of genuine curiosity. The readings, journaling, and conversations aim to help clarify our personal beliefs by processing them with others who may come from very different backgrounds and traditions. Whether you consider yourself a seeker, a doubter, a believer, an explorer, or a skeptic, you are welcome to join this lively conversation.

This Book Lab is FULL. Click Here to join the waitlist

 Summer 2019

American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America by Colin Woodard
Dr. Travis Dorsch - Wednesdays (5/15-6/5) from 9:00-10:00 a.m. in FL 113 (Snow Conference Room)

This fascinating book investigates the concept of “American regionalism” and highlights the eleven distinct regions that shape our United States of America. Written by historian Colin Woodard, this text makes a case for eleven unique nations that possess their own unique historical roots, traditions, and political leanings. Woodard’s ideas will take honors students on a journey through the history of our fractured continent, offering a nuanced view on what it does (and doesn’t) mean to be American. Importantly, students will come to learn how individual, community, and regional conflicts have shaped our past and present—and how they continue to mold our future. From the Deep South to the Far West, each region described in this book continues to uphold its distinguishing ideals and identities of its population. More importantly, American Nations offers a lens through which to view American institutions that shape politics, race relations, economic inequity, and education. A must read!

Sign Up for this Book Lab. 

Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald
Dr. Melanie Domenech-Rodriguez - TBD

 I teach Multicultural Psychology to undergraduate students and Diversity Issues in Treatment and Assessment to graduate students. Unlike traditional courses that may seek to increase specific knowledge in an area, these courses aim to raise student self-awareness about their own cultural and social identities, increase knowledge about important multicultural concepts, and improve skills in intercultural exchanges. Blindspot covers the decade-long program of research by Banaji and Greenwald on implicit attitudes, which are based on “hidden” biases that we carry as a result of socialization in particular cultural context. Students can improve their multicultural skills by learning about how implicit attitudes work, and engaging in exercises to make visible the invisible. Knowing how our brains might trick us into taking short-cuts with inaccurate judgments about those who differ from us (whether through race/ethnicity, ability, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or other social identities) can help us to bypass our early socialization and thus to behave in ways that more closely align with our stated values.

Sign Up for this Book Lab. 

The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge
Dr. Breanna Studenka - TBD

This book takes a look at neuroplasticity from the perspective of both individuals with brain impairment and scientists aiming to help these individuals. The book is well researched and highlights many relevant topics, both globally and here on the USU campus. The book urges students to question previous assumptions about how the brain works, both in relation to cognitive and motor function, and to psychological concepts such as motivation, habits, and the power of thought. I believe students will leave the Book Lab with a better understanding of neuroscience, a more global perspective on how science informs practice, and a better appreciation of their own brains and how to maintain brain function as they grow older.

Sign Up for this Book Lab. 

Willfull Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril by Margaret Heffernan
Dr. Vijay Kannan - TBD

They say that hindsight is “20:20,” but often, even when the facts are right in front of us as we make significant decisions, we choose not to see or use them and thus make poor decisions, in some cases with devastating results. In this book, Margaret Heffernan chronicles a number of cases from a variety of domains, including business, history, government, and science, discussing how individuals were blinded, for a variety of reasons, to facts that led to decisions with profound social consequences. While some of the storylines are part of our history, such as the rise of Nazism and the Vietnam War, others are more contemporary, such as the collapse of Enron and Hurricane Katrina. The book also explores poor choices in personal relationships and the tendency to ignore good, yet inconvenient, science. Drawing on neuroscience, psychology, and fundamental principles of human behavior, Heffernan explains what causes us to act in ways that often defy reason. While covering a lot of ground, the book remains highly readable and has implications for all of us, regardless of backgrounds, programs of study, or professional paths.

This Book Lab is FULL. Click here to join the waitlist.