Next year, students in the University of Maryland Honors College’s University Honors program will be able to choose from eight thematic clusters to fulfill their citation requirements.

The University Honors program launched four new thematic clusters — Information & Power, Body Politics, In a Word and Virtually Human — in February.

Each year, four clusters are introduced and phased out two years after their introduction. Currently, the four thematic clusters are Revolution, War & Peace, Deliberation and Identity & Intersectionality.

Under the new system, students are required to take some combination of thematic clusters and theory and practice tracks.

To complete a thematic cluster, students must complete the appropriate I-series course and one other course from the cluster. In February, the program introduced each of the new clusters.

Read more about each cluster below.

Information and Power

This cluster focuses on navigating important topics in the world and understanding the power of data.

Lars Olson and James Archsmith, who are both professors in the agriculture and natural resources college, will lead the cluster. They were originally inspired by how data can be used to look at extreme weather and agricultural productivity.

From there, they expanded their cluster to cover a variety of real-world issues and how information about these issues can be used and abused.

They co-teach the I-series course of the cluster with a focus on data and environmental change, HNUH258A: Harvesting Big Data to Examine Agriculture and Climate Change.

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Their course will focus on developing these skills through using real data to investigate the effect of extreme weather on agricultural

productivity. The problem solving and analysis skills from the course can be used in solving problems from other fields, Olson said, such as health and journalism.

Olson said he wants students in his course to develop their skills through team-based learning.

“Students from different disciplines will bring different kinds of creativity to the teams that they’re working in,” Olson said.

But data science can be extremely daunting at first glance, Olson said.

“I think a lot of students think data science is coding and computer programming, but really it’s like learning a new language,” Olson said.

The other two courses in the cluster look at how data has evolved and been used to manipulate or convey information to the people.

HNUH258X: Carnal Knowledge: Health, Data, and Power from the Enlightenment to WebMD is taught by historian and professor Zachary Dorner. The course talks about how our bodies are points of data collection and information, diving into the history of slave trade and going all the way to our current pandemic.

HNUH258Y: The Power of the Writing Voice is taught by Washington Post journalist and journalism professor DeNeen Brown. She brings her experience as a feature journalist to a course that explores the power behind the written word and how writers have transformed the world. She wants students to learn about stories, speeches and media that have incited change throughout history.

Body Politics

The perceptions and politics of our physical manifestations are central to this cluster.

“We’re all living in these bodies, and we’re interacting with each other through the bodies that we have,” said professor Fatemeh Hosseini.

The cluster’s I-series course — HNUH268A: Arbitrating our Bodily Rights: Consent to Sex, Medical Treatment, Body Art, Organ Donation, and Research Participation — is about bodies through the lens of consent.

There are many laws and regulations on how bodies are allowed to interact and exist and that course offers perspectives on the differences these rights can have.

Hosseini teaches HNUH268X: Sex for Sale: Prostitution in Transnational Perspective. While creating her class, she wanted to move away from paper-writing and toward student collaboration.

“[My] really big goal is for students to be able to have difficult conversations together and they should be able to take that out of the classroom,” Hosseini said.

She is planning for a project on editing Wikipedia articles about sex work that she hopes will help with engagement and critical thinking. There are many questions surrounding sex work, violence and regulations that she wants students to explore in the class. Hosseini also hopes that future semesters will allow her to take students to various locations on and off the campus where they can learn and experience more of the class’s content.

The two other courses in the cluster navigate the specifics of different kinds of bodies and how they are perceived and have evolved.
HNUH268Y: The Politics of Disability: Life Narratives & Identity is taught by education professor and faculty fellow Jessica McKechnie. The course aims to explain the multifaceted nature of disability through a variety of mediums. Students will leave the course with more awareness of their own identity, McKechnie explains in the cluster video.

HNUH268Z: Body Boundaries: The science behind asexuality, coloniality and immortality explores what a body is, and delves into the variety of animal bodies and adaptations they hold. Taught by biology professor and faculty fellow Alexa Bely, the course challenges the ideas of bodies and what they can really be.

In A Word

Through the I-series course of this cluster, HNUH278A: The Research Behind Headlines on Words, Thought, and Behavior, hearing and speech sciences professor and lead faculty fellow Jared Novick wants students to learn how to ask and answer important questions.

“Deciphering the meanings and intentions of claims that we see or words that we take in and determining how those words should define us [is] a complex issue,” Novick said. “But it’s an important issue.”

This semester, one of the topics he’s been covering is whether video games make people smarter. Students work on looking at what’s behind the media interpretation of facts and understanding the science of the issues.

The course culminates with a project where students come up with a topic and use their developed skills to compare the journalistic and scientific writings about it.

He also wants to carry some advantages of asynchronous learning to in-person learning. While teaching the course during the online semester, Novick has noticed that discussions are richer and include more voices.

“[Participation is] not just about the quantity of what you say, it’s about the quality of what you say and not always generating new thoughts, but carrying a point from one of your peers forward to keep the conversations moving,” Novick said.

The other courses of the cluster are taught by professors from a variety of fields, but all of the classes consider the impact words can have.

HNUH278X: A Way with Words: Order and Knowledge in Enlightenment Europe explores the impact of words and language during the development of the Western world and European power through an art history lens with professor and art historian Lauren R. Cannady.

HNUH278Y: Science in an Age of Truthiness investigates what science really means through language used by and about scientists with biochemistry and chemistry lecturer and faculty fellow Christopher Capp.

HNUH278Z: War of Words: Disinformation and Manipulation talks about fake news, censorship, and the way that language impacts media. A former journalist, faculty fellow and adjunct journalism lecturer Michael Mirny will also help students develop practical skills on spotting and understanding misinformation in our current world.

Virtually Human

There was a point in time when the term “human” did not exist. When the Enlightenment came around in the 17th and 18th century, professor Julius Fleming explained, the idea of the human became the center of our culture.

Throughout this cluster, students and professors discuss what it means to be human through a variety of lenses. Fleming’s course will focus on the lens of minority groups and intersectionality, Fleming said. Other courses in the cluster will look at how humans are defined through their relationships with the internet and animals.

“[This cluster] was inspired by a recognition of how people of African descent specifically have long been on a quest to write themselves into the category of the human,” lead faculty fellow and English professor Julius Fleming Jr. said.

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HNUH288A, called “Welcome to the Party: Race, Nightlife, and the Making of America,” explores the history of the US through the lens of nightlife and race. Nightlife has served as both a space of sexual violation and sexual freedom, Fleming said.

His main goal is for students to understand that the ideas of identity have not been given but created. Nightlife fits into the college landscape, and students should be thinking about how it has shaped their identity and the identity of the nation.

“That it’s been made very strategically, often through acts of oppression, and because of the ways in which identity has been made, certain people have been left with resources, and others have not,” Fleming said.

While his course focuses on the history and evolution of race and nightlife in the making of America, the other courses begin to explore our perceptions and ideas surrounding artificial intelligence and animals in a human-dominated world.

HNUH288X: The Human Interface, from Anatomy to Avatar is taught by professor Alexandra Harlig. The course explores how the internet and the human body interact. With the growth of virtual programs and machine learning, changes are happening in how we perceive the way humans and the internet interact.

HNUH288Y: What You Are and Why It Matters is taught by faculty fellow and director of University Honors Stephen Blatti. The course digs into philosophical questions about identity and evolution using a variety of uncommon media. It will explore lesser-known perspectives on identity and ask students to think even more about what it means to be human.

HNUH288Z: Non-Human Animals in Human Society is taught by postdoctoral associate of animal sciences and faculty fellow Halli S. Weiner. Non-human animals are treated in many different fashions and have various uses in our world. The course will explore complexities through critical thinking and discussion to look at the relationships we have with animals.