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Interdisciplinary Courses

BIOL/HSTY 277: Pandemics, Past and Present: Integrative Approaches

This course is an interdisciplinary course to further student’s understanding of pandemics, by integrating different approaches to comprehend the impacts and challenges of civilizations dealing with major outbreaks of disease. This course is taught at an intermediate level that will be accessible to students from a breadth of academic focus. There are no explicit prerequisites, but the course instructors will review past coursework to ensure readiness for the course. Pandemics have impacted humans throughout history. Two current global pandemics are circulating; caused by the recurrent yearly influenza virus, and the novel SARS CoV-2. Throughout this course, students will gain perspective on how we study and view pandemics both historically and currently. The course integrates the significance, challenges and consequences of living in times where deep biological and epidemiological understanding of viruses and technological advances have become part of the tools humans need to live with modern pandemics, and predict future outbreaks. Each week of the course is taught by a different instructor, to cover 4 themes: the historical perspective, the spread of disease in populations, the life cycle/molecular biology of the influenza virus and SARS CoV-2, and the technology of testing, therapeutics and vaccinations.
Offered as BIOL 277 and HSTY 277.

For summer 2021, this course will be offered remote-synchronous. For more information, please reach out to the instructor. 


Dates: July 6 - August 2, 2021

Session: 4 Week Session (2)

Time: MTWR 1:00-3:15

Instructor: Leena Chakravarty, Dianne Kube, Jonathan Sadowsky, Sarah Markt

Credits: 3 credits

Departments: Biology, History, Interdisciplinary, New 2021 Summer

HSTY/ENGL 145: Utopia, Dystopia, and Scientific Modernity Sixteenth-Century to the Present

A utopia is a dream of a better world; a dystopia is a nightmare of a worse one. Both are fantasies. Yet both respond to the very real technological, political and cultural conditions in which they are written. This multidisciplinary course uses utopian and dystopian literature from the sixteenth century to the present to investigate the rise of scientific modernity and the responses it provoked. Starting with Thomas More’s Utopia, and ending with Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower and a contemporary film, students will read important utopian and dystopian works of fiction and connect them to themes that run through the history of science: the relationship between knowledge and power; the impact of new technologies; voyages of exploration and exploitation; industrialization and forms of production; ideas of gender, race, and class; nuclear power; genetics; and climate change. We encourage students to ask what led to these specific critiques or ideas, and why? What limits or determines the boundaries of the possible or the desirable to each author? And how might these still be relevant today?
Offered as ENGL 145 and HSTY 145.

For summer 2021, this course will be offered remote-synchronous. For more information, please reach out to the instructor. 

Dates: June 14 - July 27, 2021

Session: 6 Week Session

Time: MWR 10:30-12:30

Instructor: Aviva Rothman & Magdalena Vinter

Credits: 3 credits

Departments: English, History, Interdisciplinary, New 2021 Summer

PHYS/PHIL 261: Our Knowledge of Climate Change: What do we know and how do we know it?

Traditional theories of knowledge have concentrated on the actions and beliefs of individuals, and how they marshal evidence from the world to support or refute their scientific hypotheses. This traditional epistemological framework has been challenged by the developments of the modern era of Big Science, resulting in the development of new approaches to a social epistemology of science. Reflective of how science is done, this epistemological framework in turn can provide guidance for the robust prosecution of the scientific enterprise. Perhaps nowhere is this more important than in climate science, where on the one hand the underlying dynamics of climate change pose an existential threat to our civilization, and on the other, there are active and well organized efforts to derail the scientific process and to denigrate the scientists.

This course will first develop classical notions of the epistemology of science, including the role of models and issues of uncertainty (statistical, systematic, and gross) as well as the challenges of developing a robust scientific process resistant to fraud. These issues will be illustrated by consideration of various classical experiments. The course will then expand the epistemological framework to the collaborative context of modern big science, illustrating the issues by examples from the field of high energy physics (which saw the development of the World Wide Web by CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, to allow physicists from around the world to share and collectively analyze data). With this in hand the course will explore the history and current state of climate science in the framework of a social epistemology of big science. Students will develop a good understanding of the role of hierarchical models of climate science, the empirical basis for our current understanding of anthropogenic climate change, the role and development of international coordination of climate science and its implications for policy, and the challenges posed by hostile, well-organized efforts to disrupt the scientific process, the public understanding of the science, and ultimately the processes necessary for addressing the challenges of climate change.

Offered as PHIL 261 and PHYS 261.

For summer 2021, this course will be offered remote-synchronous. For more information, please reach out to the instructor. 


Dates: June 1 - June 28, 2021

Session: 4 Week Session (1)

Time: MTWR 1:30-3:45

Instructor: Cyrus Taylor & Chris Haufe

Credits: 3 credits

Departments: Interdisciplinary, New 2021 Summer, Philosophy, Physics

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