Seminar Topic

pandasecurity cybersecurity sustainbilityWe live in contradictory times. On the one hand, humanity is less violent, more prosperous and safer than at any time in human history. Medical and technological innovations have reduced risks of all kinds, people are living longer than ever, and diseases once thought unconquerable have all but been eradicated. Though the pandemic was devastating on a global scale, the rapid production of a safe and effective vaccine was remarkable and unprecedented.

On the other hand, security is uneven around the world, extremely precarious for many, and increasingly, for the whole planet. The pandemic also revealed deep inequities in access to resources, health outcomes, and resilience. Moreover, our inter-connectedness and the prosperity of some has generated new versions of old risks, like pandemics and economic crises, but also alarming new ones, such as climate catastrophe, and the proliferation of misinformation and extreme politics. We clearly face many challenges to creating and sustaining secure environments for all peoples.

What does it mean to be secure? What do you think most people care about with respect to security? If we can identify a common sense of human security, how can we think about sustaining that security over a lifetime? How do we contend with persistent ideological insistence that some people are more deserving of security (in all its meanings) than others? Colonialism and slavery have had an enormous impact on how well-being is distributed throughout the world. How do we confront these inequities in thinking about a sustainable, secure future? And what makes security sustainable? What would a globally sustainable world look like?

This course explores risks in the modern world and efforts to ameliorate them in sustainable fashion. We will hear from geographers, political scientists, historians, linguists, poets, legal scholars, and we will read a wide range of research related to these issues. The course is organized in five sections: Human development and Well-being in Global Context; Sustaining Democracy; Violence and Security; Migration and Conflict; Climate Change and Sustainability. We will conclude the course with a few sessions on research and writing in preparation for your spring research projects.


Fall 2020
Thursday, Sept 9th: Fall Welcome Dinner
Friday, October 15th: Eco-tour of the Hackensack river, Riverkeepers, Meadowlands
Monday, Oct 14th: First essay due
Monday, Nov 22nd: Research topic due
Monday, Nov 29th: Second essay due
Monday, Dec 17th: Research Proposals due

Spring 2021
Thursday, Jan. 27th: Spring Welcome Dinner
TBA: 10th anniversary event (February)
Tuesday/Wednesday, March 15-16: Washington DC trip
TBA: Alumni Network Event (April)
Tuesday, May 3rd: Spring Research Conference


Grading is comprised of preparation and participation in class (20%), two essays (25% each), group presentation (20%) and a proposal for an independent research project (10%) that you will complete in the spring.

Summer assignment: Winners-Take-All, The Fire Next Time

Weekly readings (preparation and participation): Each week has assigned readings, which will be available on Canvass. These readings must be read prior to class and each student should submit two questions or comments about the readings prior to each class.

Essays: The papers are analytic papers in which you will reflect on major themes, readings and discussions. I will provide prompts for both essays.

Group assignment: Each of you is assigned to a group with several of your peers. Group presentations take place at the end of each module. For the group assignment, you are expected to a) identify a reading related to the module and 2) present the reading, alongside a synthesis/critique of the material we read/guest speakers we heard from/discussions we had. This assignment is designed with two purposes in mind. First, I want to give you the opportunity to become familiar with identifying scholarly literature on a given topic and to seek out research that speaks to a specific topic/set of questions. A second component of the assignment is synthesis. You do not need to draw together every single issue/reading we discussed in the module! Rather, I want you to tease out key themes, ideas, questions, problems, or critiques that are of interest to your group. You may focus on one very specific idea or issue, or you may find that there are several intersecting/overlapping themes that you want to talk about. It’s up to you! You will need to identify the reading at least a week in advance of class so everyone has access to it.

While I am open to some creativity in how you present the synthesis, I do want you to provide some formal observations, questions, critiques, and/or ideas that you take away from the given module. I am particularly interested in having you think across modules so that the synthesis of material speaks to larger questions/themes of the seminar.

Research Proposal
We will discuss this more in the seminar, but your research proposal should include a research topic/research questions (they don’t have to be the exact questions you will end up pursuing), initial examination of literature on the topic, bibliography of additional readings you will do over the holiday break.

In addition to our regular seminar meetings, we will have an all-star line-up of faculty as guest speakers:

Henry Raymond, Department of Epidemiology, Sept 13th
Ousseina Alidou, Dept. of African, Middle Eastern, and Southeast Asian Languages, September 23rd
Jan Kubik, Department of Political Science, September 27th
Roland Rich, U.N. Masters’ Program, October 4th
Evie Shockley, Department of English, October 14th
Milt Heumann, Department of Political Science, October 18th
Robin Leichenko, Department of Geography, October 28th
Kevon Rhiney, Department of Geography, Nov 1st
Yalidy Matos, Department of Political Science, Nov 8th
Julia Stephens, Department of History, Nov 15th
Chris Fisher, Department of History, The College of New Jersey, Nov 22nd