Environmental Science

Environmental science is the study of interactions between and among earth, ecological, infrastructure, and social systems. The study of environmental science allows us to understand the processes behind many of our most urgent societal challenges, including climate change, water resource management, biodiversity conservation, public health, and environmental justice. Environmental science also provides a unique lens through which we can study the dynamics of our planet—in settings as diverse as a serene tidal marsh, an Arctic glacier, a wastewater treatment plant, or a community garden.

Students at Sarah Lawrence College have the opportunity to take environmental-science courses that provide the deep understanding needed to overcome the socioenvironmental challenges of the coming decades. In combination with courses in biology, chemistry, and physics, students can build the foundation required to conduct their own environmental-science research. They can also gain fundamental technical skills—including experience with geographic information systems (GIS), numerical modeling, and data science—which can be applied across disciplines.

Environmental Science 2021-2022 Courses

First-Year Studies: Climate Change

Open, FYS—Year | 10 credits

Climate change will be the defining issue of the coming decades. Climate change threatens the ecosystems and infrastructure that human society relies upon and will impact most aspects of the global economy, policymaking, and day-to-day life. This FYS course will provide the basic foundation in earth system science needed to understand why the planet is warming, drawing on fundamental concepts of physics, chemistry, and biology. During the spring semester, we’ll build upon this foundation to investigate the linkages between global climate, natural ecosystems, and human society. We will explore topics such as biodiversity, land use, adapting to climate-change impacts, and the energy-systems transition needed to prevent catastrophic global warming. This class will alternate biweekly individual conferences with biweekly small-group workshops on climate data analysis, technical writing, and communicating science.

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Green Infrastructure

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall | 5 credits

Green infrastructure has the potential to transform our cities, replacing asphalt and concrete with soil, vegetation, and waterways. But while cities across the globe are now developing green infrastructure plans to protect water resources, enhance biodiversity, and adapt to the impacts of global climate change, there is an ongoing debate on what green infrastructure actually is. And there are still many remaining barriers to its broad implementation in our cities and suburbs. In this seminar, we will explore green infrastructure through the lens of ecosystem services—the regulating, provisioning, and cultural benefits that natural ecosystems provide for free to humans. Through quantitative case studies and field visits to green infrastructure projects in Yonkers and New York City, we will learn about a variety of different types of green infrastructure, including rain gardens, green roofs, detention basins, and constructed wetlands. We will also learn about the challenges associated with assessing the performance of green infrastructure and will critically evaluate existing green infrastructure plans and designs.

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Geospatial Data

Open, Seminar—Spring | 5 credits

Geospatial data are information associated with locations on the surface of the Earth. This can include a variety of different types of data used in environmental science, such as sample collection locations at a field study site, the areal extent of a forest biome, or the output generated by global climate models. The analysis of geospatial data also allows social scientists to identify disparities in access to natural resources or exposure to pollutants and hazards and has been critical to the study of environmental justice. This course provides an introduction to foundational concepts in geodesy, cartography, and geostatistics, along with practical experience in geospatial data analysis using open-source geographic information systems (GIS) software. Although we will focus primarily on environmental applications, the skills learned in this course can be utilized in many natural and social-science disciplines—and can also help you avoid getting lost!

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General Biology Series: Genes, Cells, and Evolution

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

Biology, the study of life on Earth, encompasses structures and forms ranging from the very minute to the very large. In order to grasp the complexities of life, we begin this study with the cellular and molecular forms and mechanisms that serve as the foundation for all living organisms. The initial part of the semester will introduce the fundamental molecules critical to the biochemistry of life processes. From there, we branch out to investigate the major ideas, structures, and concepts central to the biology of cells, genetics, and the chromosomal basis of inheritance. Finally, we conclude the semester by examining how those principles relate to the mechanisms of evolution. Throughout the semester, we will discuss the individuals responsible for major discoveries, as well as the experimental techniques and process by which such advances in biological understanding are made. Classes will be supplemented with weekly laboratory work.

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Evolutionary Biology

Open, Lecture—Spring

What biological processes led to the development of the incredible diversity of life that we see on Earth today? The process of evolution, or a change in the inherited traits in a population over time, is fundamental to our understanding of biology and the history of life on Earth. This course will introduce students to the field of evolutionary biology. We will interpret evidence from the fossil record, molecular genetics, systematics, and empirical studies to deepen our understanding of evolutionary mechanisms. Topics covered include the genetic basis of evolution, phylogenetics, natural selection, adaptation, speciation, coevolution, and the evolution of behavior and life-history traits. Students will attend one weekly, 90-minute lecture and one weekly, 90-minute group conference where scientific papers in evolutionary biology will be discussed in small groups.

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General Biology Series: Ecology

Open, Seminar—Fall

Ecology is a scientific discipline that studies interactions between living organisms and their environments, as well as processes governing how species are distributed, how they interact, and how nutrients and energy cycle through ecosystems. Ecologists might ask questions about how plant growth responds to climate change, how squirrel population size or behavior changes in response to acorn availability, or how nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous cycle in rivers and streams. In this course, students will develop a strong foundational understanding of the science of ecology at the individual, population, community, and ecosystem scales. Throughout the course, emphasis will be placed on how carefully designed experiments and data analysis can help us find predictable patterns despite the complexity of nature. Students will be expected to design and carry out a field experiment in small groups. The course will include a weekly lab section, with most labs held outdoors.

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Animal Behavior

Open, Seminar—Fall

Why do birds sing? Why do wolves hunt in packs, but spiders hunt alone? Why are worker bees willing to die to protect the queen? In short, why do animals do the things they do? In this course, we will explore how ecological forces drive the evolution of animal behavior. We will start by discussing the fundamental theoretical toolkit used to form robust hypotheses about animal behaviors, including basic concepts drawn from the study of evolutionary biology and ecology. We will then use these tools to explore diverse behavioral topics from mating and parental care, to communication and social behavior, to foraging and predation. We will be reading and discussing research, as well as history and philosophy, from the field. Students will have the opportunity to build their own behavior-based study over the course of the semester.

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Animal Communication

Open, Seminar—Spring

From the haunting howls of wolves to the rainbow colors of tropical fish, the world is alive with the sounds, smells, and sights of animals talking to each other. Animals communicate for many reasons—from sharing information about potential predators, to negotiating access to food, to deciding whether or not to raise offspring together. In this course, we will discuss how animal signals evolve; how they work; and what makes them look, sound, smell, feel, and taste the way they do. To answer these questions, we will examine the goals and interests of signalers and receivers, how signals are shaped by the environments they move through, and why they are so often sensory experiences beyond what humans can see and hear. We will also discuss how the cultures and experiences of the scientists who study these questions have both guided and constrained our understanding of animal signals.

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Microbiology

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

Humans are bathing in a sea of microbes. Microbes coat our environments, live within our bodies, and perform functions both beneficial and detrimental to human well-being. This course will explore the biology of microorganisms, broadly defined as bacteria, archaea, viruses, single-celled eukaryotes, and fungi. We will study microbes at multiple scales, including the individual cell, the growing population, and populations interacting with one another or their environments. Microbial physiology, genetics, diversity, and ecology will be covered in depth. Particular emphasis will be given to the role of microbes that cause infectious disease in humans and microbes that play critical roles in ecological processes. Seminars will be supplemented by a weekly lab section to learn key microbiological techniques and methods, most notably culturing and identifying bacteria.

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Plant Systematics and Evolution

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

Understanding the diversity of plants and their evolutionary relationships is fundamental to understanding the complex web of life on Earth. Nearly all other organisms, including humans, rely on plants—directly or indirectly—for their food and oxygen. Consequently, plants are essential to our existence; and by studying plants in detail, we learn more about our own species and the world we inhabit. This course is a detailed survey of plant diversity and the evolutionary relationships of plants. In the course, you will gain a thorough understanding of the diverse morphology of plants and will acquire an understanding of the plant “Tree of Life.” You will be able to describe morphological structures of plants using botanical terminology and learn how to identify prominent plant families using diagnostic morphological characters and plant keys. Seminars and associated labs will be supplemented with independent field collections.

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General Chemistry I

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

Chemistry is the study of the properties, composition, and transformation of matter. Chemistry is central to the production of the materials required for modern life; for example, the synthesis of pharmaceuticals to treat disease, the manufacture of fertilizers and pesticides required to feed an ever-growing population, and the development of efficient and environmentally benign energy sources. This course provides an introduction to the fundamental concepts of modern chemistry. We will begin by examining the structure and properties of atoms, which are the building blocks of the elements and the simplest substances in the material world around us. We will then explore how atoms of different elements can bond with each other to form an infinite variety of more complex substances, called compounds. This will lead us to an investigation of several classes of chemical reactions: the processes by which substances are transformed into new materials with different physical properties. Along the way, we will learn how and why the three states of matter (solids, liquids, and gases) differ from one another and how energy may be either produced or consumed by chemical reactions. In weekly laboratory sessions, we will perform experiments to illustrate and test the theories presented in the lecture part of the course. These experiments will also serve to develop practical skills in both synthetic and analytic chemical techniques.

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Nutrition

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

Nutrition is the sum of all interactions between us and the food that we consume. The study of nutrition includes the nature and general role of nutrients in forming structural material, providing energy, and helping to regulate metabolism. How do food chemists synthesize the fat that can’t be digested? Can this kind of fat satisfy our innate appetite for fats? Are there unwanted side effects, and why? What constitutes a healthy diet? What are the consequences of severely restricted food intake being seen as a prevalent emotional disorder, such as anorexia and bulimia? These and other questions will be discussed. We will also discuss the effects of development, pregnancy, emotional state, and disease on nutritional requirements. And we will consider the effects of food production and processing on nutrition value and food safety.

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Organic Chemistry I

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

Organic chemistry is the study of chemical compounds whose molecules are based on a framework of carbon atoms, typically in combination with hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. Despite this rather limited set of elements, there are more organic compounds known than there are compounds that do not contain carbon. Adding to the importance of organic chemistry is the fact that very many of the chemical compounds that make modern life possible—such as pharmaceuticals, pesticides, herbicides, plastics, pigments, and dyes—can be classed as organic. Organic chemistry, therefore, impacts many other scientific subjects; and knowledge of organic chemistry is essential for a detailed understanding of materials science, environmental science, molecular biology, and medicine. This course gives an overview of the structures, physical properties, and reactivity of organic compounds. We will see that organic compounds can be classified into families of similar compounds based upon certain groups of atoms that always behave in a similar manner no matter what molecule they are in. These functional groups enable us to rationalize the vast number of reactions that organic reagents undergo. Topics covered in this course include: the types of bonding within organic molecules; fundamental concepts of organic reaction mechanisms (nucleophilic substitution, elimination, and electrophilic addition); the conformations and configurations of organic molecules; and the physical and chemical properties of alkanes, halogenoalkanes, alkenes, alkynes, and alcohols. In the laboratory section of the course, we will develop the techniques and skills required to synthesize, separate, purify, and identify organic compounds. Organic Chemistry is a key requirement for pre-med students and is strongly encouraged for all others who are interested in the biological and physical sciences.

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Organic Chemistry II

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

In this course, we will explore the physical and chemical properties of additional families of organic molecules. The reactivity of aromatic compounds, aldehydes and ketones, carboxylic acids and their derivatives (acid chlorides, acid anhydrides, esters, and amides), enols and enolates, and amines will be discussed. We will also investigate the methods by which large, complicated molecules can be synthesized from simple starting materials. Modern methods of organic structural determination—such as mass spectrometry, 1H and 13C nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, and infrared spectroscopy—will also be introduced. In the laboratory section of this course, we will continue to develop the techniques and skills required to synthesize, separate, purify, and identify organic compounds. Organic Chemistry II is a key requirement for pre-med students and is strongly encouraged for all others who are interested in the biological and physical sciences.

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Political Economy of Global Climate Change

Open, Large seminar—Fall

Climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions will be the number-one global threat of the 21st century. Global warming has caused destructive effects on the environment and on human society and has pushed our planet past the boundary within which humanity can safely operate. Scientists estimated that we had, at most, one generation in which we could take actions to prevent us from going beyond the point of no return. In 2016, parties to the Paris Agreement committed to a target of keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels; however, by far, almost no major industrialized or industrializing countries are doing enough to meet the target. Drawing on economics and interdisciplinary materials, this seminar will provide a political economy analysis of global climate change. Have economists been playing a constructive role in climate-change policies? Can we price carbon? How are interest groups in the society promoting and blocking climate actions? How should we reform global institutions to promote climate actions? Who benefits from global economic activities that cause global warming, and who bears the costs? Why is climate change also rooted in the global history of racial discrimination and gender discrimination? By the end of this seminar, you will be able to form a holistic understanding of global climate change, conduct political-economy research on climate change, and make policy proposals.

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Environmental and Ecological Economics: Theories and Policies

Open, Seminar—Fall

Since the 19th century, generations of economists have analyzed the role of environment and natural resources in society and the economy. John Stuart Mill, a classical economist, argued: “Is there not the Earth itself, its forests and waters, and all other natural riches, above and below the surface? These are the inheritance of the human race, and there must be regulations for the common enjoyment of it....No function of government is less optional than the regulation of these things, or more completely involved in the idea of civilized society.” What property-right regimes are proper for solving the “problem of the social cost”? Is privatization the only solution, as the market fundamentalist economists have argued? Why do developing countries have higher pollution levels? Are pollution activities migrating to developing countries? In most places in the developed world, environmental quality has improved significantly in the past decades. How can we explain such progress? Should efficiency be the top concern in protecting the environment? How can we incorporate equity and justice in environmental decision-making? What political-economy factors are determining environmental policies? What do we mean by “sustainability”? By the end of the seminar, you will be able to apply theories of environmental economics and ecological economics to real-world problems, conduct independent research in environmental and ecological economics, and form policy proposals.

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Political Economy of Environmental Justice

Open, Seminar—Spring

We frequently observe that the burden of environmental harms and/or the benefit of environmental protection are unequally distributed in a society. Within a nation, the underrepresented households, such as minorities in the United States, bear a disproportionate burden. Globally, under the neoliberal regime, trade and financial lateralization have made it easier to transfer highly polluting economic activities to the Third World. Moreover, the capitalist development in the Third World has increasingly deprived the rural communities and the urban poor of their environmental rights. This course examines ways in which environmental injustices may arise and affect different people with different power in different places. We will draw knowledge from multiple fields, such as economics, political science, sociology, environmental studies, geography, etc. We will examine the issue using multiple methodologies and assess different policy options.

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Political Economy of Cities

Open, Large seminar—Spring

Today, more than 50 percent of the world population—4.2 billion people—live in urban areas. By 2050, the global urban population will more than double its current size, and nearly 70 percent of the population in the world will live in cities. Understanding the economic future of human societies requires understanding cities. As cities become hubs of innovation, trade, finance, and modern life, there is also a rapid urbanization of inequity, inequality, and injustice among class, race, and gender. In this seminar, we will examine modern cities from a political-economy perspective. We will discuss foundational and classical perspectives of cities, including the Chicago school; neoclassical economics and location theory; Marxist school; and feminist, poststructuralist, and postcolonial approaches. We will examine issues such as urban poverty and inequality, environmental degradation, job precarity, intercity and intracity social and economic dynamics, rural-urban dynamics, and democratic governance of cities.

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The Environmental Imagination: Perspectives From the Social Sciences, Environmental Humanities, and the Arts

Open, Seminar—Fall

“Climate change” covers a variety of hydrological, thermal, geological, and atmospheric crises that are intersecting and accelerating in scope and intensity. Inspired by Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwOvBv8RLmo) performing her poem Earthrise, this course invites a conversation that draws together the social sciences, the humanities, and the arts: a journey through the global climate crisis on a variety of scales, in specific contexts, and through diverse media. Fiction and nonfiction writing, history, and film will be drawn upon to investigate understandings of an epoch controversially called “the Anthropocene.”  What do these different perspectives, methods, and insights bring to our perceptions of specific environments? How do different rhetorical formations, imaginaries, narratives, and visual images inform cognitive and affective responses to the Anthropocene?  What do they bring to our understanding of the global environmental emergency that is the signature of this moment in planetary history? How do interventions in the arts and humanities constitute acts of “world-making”—new ways of seeing, feeling, and imagining human ways of caring for this planet? In conjunction with the literatures of political ecology and cultural anthropology, we will read fiction by authors such as Amitav Ghosh and Stanislas Lem; nonfiction by Robert MacFarlane (Underlands), Ben Ehrenreich (Desert Notebooks), Joseph Masco (irradiated landscapes in the American West), Kate Brown (Plutopia), and Madeleine Watts (The Inland Sea).

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Intermediate French III: Soil, Nature, and Culture in Contemporary France

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course will explore the question of nature in France in the context of both climate change and the rich cultural and literary history of the country. Some of the themes that will allow us to better understand how the French relate to nature include the forêt de Brocéliande in medieval novels of the Arthurian stories cycle; discussions about the status of animals in 17th-century France; romantic depictions of nature in French novels, set both in France and America in the early 19th century; evocations of exotic islands, in contrast to Paris’s industrial revolution, in Baudelaire’s poetry; and Louis Ferdinand Céline’s account of life in French Congo in the 1920s. In parallel to this literary exploration, we will study how France is reacting to the threat of climate change, from legendary vineyards that must face rising temperatures, to new legislation that stirs the country into new practices, and to the work of NGOs that work to protect habitats in various parts of France. We will look at a mix of theoretical works by Foucault, Deleuze, and Irigaray, among others, as well as focus concretely on specific regions, local associations, and farms that are inventing a green future. In addition to conferences, a weekly conversation session with a French language assistant(e) is required. Attendance at the weekly French lunch table and French film screenings are both highly encouraged.

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Food, Agriculture, Environment, and Development

Open, Lecture—Year

Where does the food that we eat come from? Why do some people have enough food to eat and others do not? Are there too many people for the world to feed? Who controls the world’s food? Will global food prices continue their recent rapid rise? And if so, what will be the consequences? What are the environmental impacts of our food production systems? How do answers to these questions differ by place or by the person asking the question? How have the questions changed over time? This course will explore the following fundamental issue: the relationship between development and the environment, focusing in particular on agriculture and the production and consumption of food. The questions above often hinge on the contentious debate concerning population, natural resources, and the environment. Thus, we will begin by critically assessing the fundamental ideological positions and philosophical paradigms of “modernization,” as well as the critical counterpoints that lie at the heart of this debate. Within this context of competing sets of philosophical assumptions concerning the population-resource debate, we will investigate the concept of “poverty” and the making of the “Third World”; access to food, hunger, grain production and food aid, agricultural productivity (the Green and Gene revolutions), biofuels, the role of transnational corporations (TNCs), the international division of labor, migration, globalization and global commodity chains, and the different strategies adopted by nation states to “develop” natural resources and agricultural production. Through a historical investigation of environmental change and the biogeography of plant domestication and dispersal, we will look at the creation of indigenous, subsistence, peasant, plantation, collective, and commercial forms of agriculture. We will analyze the physical environment and ecology that help shape, but rarely determine, the organization of resource use and agriculture. Rather, through the dialectical rise of various political-economic systems—such as feudalism, slavery, mercantilism, colonialism, capitalism, and socialism—we will study how humans have transformed the world’s environments. We will follow with studies of specific issues: technological change in food production; commercialization and industrialization of agriculture and the decline of the family farm; food and public health, culture, and family; land grabbing and food security; the role of markets and transnational corporations in transforming the environment; and the global environmental changes stemming from modern agriculture, dams, deforestation, grassland destruction, desertification, biodiversity loss, and the interrelationship with climate change. Case studies of particular regions and issues will be drawn from Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe, and the United States. The final part of the course examines the restructuring of the global economy and its relation to emergent international laws and institutions regulating trade, the environment, agriculture, resource extraction treaties, the changing role of the state, and competing conceptualizations of territoriality and control. We will end with discussions of emergent local, regional, and transnational coalitions for food self-reliance and food sovereignty, alternative and community supported agriculture, community-based resource management systems, sustainable development, and grassroots movements for social and environmental justice. Films, multimedia materials, and distinguished guest lectures will be interspersed throughout the course. One farm/factory field trip is possible in each semester if funding permits. The lecture participants may also take a leading role in a campus-wide event on “food and hunger,” tentatively planned for the spring. Please mark your calendars when the dates are announced, as attendance for all of the above is required. Attendance and participation are also required at special guest lectures and film viewings in the Social Science Colloquium Series, which are held approximately once per month. The Web Board is an important part of the course. Regular postings of short essays will be made there, as well as followup commentaries with your colleagues. There will be in-class essays, a midterm quiz, and a final exam each semester. Group conferences will focus on in-depth analysis of certain course topics and will include debates and small-group discussions. You will prepare a poster project each semester on a topic of your choice that is related to the course and which will be presented at the end of each semester in group conference, as well as a potential public session.

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Introduction to Development Studies: The Political Ecology of Development

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

In this seminar, we will begin by examining competing paradigms and approaches to understanding “development” and the “Third World.” We will set the stage by answering the question: What did the world look like 500 years ago? The purpose of this part of the course is to acquaint us with and to analyze the historical origins and evolution of a world political-economy of which the “Third World” is an intrinsic component. We will thus study the transition from feudalism to capitalism, the rise of merchant and finance capital, and the colonization of the world by European powers. We will analyze case studies of colonial “development” to understand the evolving meaning of this term. These case studies will help us assess the varied legacies of colonialism apparent in the emergence of new nations through the fitful and uneven process of decolonization that followed. The next part of the course will look at the United Nations and the role some of its associated institutions have played in the post-World War II global political-economy, one marked by persistent and intensifying socioeconomic inequalities, as well as frequent outbreaks of political violence across the globe. By examining the development institutions that have emerged and evolved since 1945, we will attempt to unravel the paradoxes of development in different eras. We will deconstruct the measures of development through a thematic exploration of population, resource use, poverty, access to food, the environment, agricultural productivity, urbanization, industrialization, and different development strategies adopted by Third World nation-states. We will then examine globalization and its relation to emergent international institutions and their policies; for example, the IMF, World Bank, AIIB, and WTO. We will then turn to contemporary development debates and controversies that increasingly find space in the headlines: widespread land grabbing by sovereign wealth funds, China, and hedge funds; the “global food crisis”; and the perils of climate change, as well as the potential of ”a new green deal.” Throughout the course, our investigations of international institutions, transnational corporations, the role of the state, and civil society will provide the backdrop for the final focus of the class: the emergence of regional coalitions for self-reliance, environmental and social justice, and sustainable development. Our analysis of development in practice will draw upon case studies from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, and North America. Conference work will be closely integrated with the themes of the course, with a two-stage, substantive research project. Project presentations will incorporate a range of formats, from traditional papers to multimedia visual productions. Where possible and feasible, you will be encouraged to do primary research over fall study days. Some experience in the social sciences is desired but not required.

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Studies in Ecocriticism: The Idea of Nature in the Western Tradition

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

As the capitalistic and predatory model aggressively promoted by the United States continues to reveal itself as a major threat to biodiversity and the environment in general, it is vital to understand the cultural and literary history of the concept of “nature” that is at the core of the Western and Judeo-Christian tradition while also putting that concept in the context of gender, race, and ethnicity in America today. For example, comparing stories of world creation from indigenous nations, with narratives taken from the Bible and from Greek and Roman classical texts, will allow us to better grasp how language in the European tradition functions as a deep divider between humans and other living creatures. We will also follow the development of the genre of the pastoral as an idealized construction of nature that deeply influenced Europe from third-century BC to 19th-century English and American Romanticism. We will try to better understand how the conception of wilderness in America is in close relation to the presence of enslaved black bodies on its land. Going in a different direction, we will analyze how contemporary feminism and gender studies provide crucially important models to invent new ways for the West to relate to nature. Animals will also be a focus of our discussions, from classical representations of animals as machines to the use of models like the burrow or territoriality imported from the animal realm by Deleuze and Guattari, to the possibility of shifting from a humanist understanding of nature inherited from European Renaissance, to new forms of ecocentric expression. These are some of the themes that we will cover in this lecture, with the goal of reading texts of the past in order to better understand the complexities of today’s discussions and debates about how to invent new forms of relating to the living environment around us.

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An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Analysis

Open, Lecture—Spring

Variance, correlation coefficient, regression analysis, statistical significance, and margin of error...you’ve heard these terms and other statistical phrases bantered about before, and you’ve seen them interspersed in news reports and research articles. But what do they mean? And why are they so important? Serving as an introduction to the concepts, techniques, and reasoning central to the understanding of data, this lecture course focuses on the fundamental methods of statistical analysis used to gain insight into diverse areas of human interest. The use, misuse, and abuse of statistics will be the central focus of the course; and specific topics of exploration will be drawn from experimental design theory, sampling theory, data analysis, and statistical inference. Applications will be considered in current events, business, psychology, politics, medicine, and other areas of the natural and social sciences. Statistical (spreadsheet) software will be introduced and used extensively in this course, but no prior experience with the technology is assumed. Group conferences, conducted in workshop mode, will serve to reinforce student understanding of the course material. This lecture is recommended for anybody wishing to be a better-informed consumer of data and strongly recommended for those planning to pursue advanced undergraduate or graduate research in the natural sciences or social sciences.

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Calculus I: The Study of Motion and Change

Open, Seminar—Fall and Spring

Our existence lies in a perpetual state of change. An apple falls from a tree; clouds move across expansive farmland, blocking out the sun for days; meanwhile, satellites zip around the Earth, transmitting and receiving signals to our cell phones. The calculus was invented to develop a language to accurately describe and study the change that we see. The ancient Greeks began a detailed study of change but were scared to wrestle with the infinite; so it was not until the 17th century that Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz, among others, tamed the infinite and gave birth to this extremely successful branch of mathematics. Though just a few hundred years old, the calculus has become an indispensable research tool in both the natural and social sciences. Our study begins with the central concept of the limit and proceeds to explore the dual topics of differentiation and integration. Numerous applications of the theory will be examined. For conference work, students may choose to undertake a deeper investigation of a single topic or application of the calculus or conduct a study in some other branch of mathematics. This seminar is intended for students interested in advanced study in mathematics or science, students preparing for careers in the health sciences or engineering, and any student wishing to broaden and enrich the life of the mind.

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Calculus II: Further Study of Motion and Change

Open, Seminar—Spring

This course continues the thread of mathematical inquiry, following an initial study of the dual topics of differentiation and integration (see Calculus I course description). Topics to be explored in this course include the calculus of exponential and logarithmic functions, applications of integration theory to geometry, alternative coordinate systems, infinite series, and power series representations of functions. For conference work, students may choose to undertake a deeper investigation of a single topic or application of the calculus or conduct a study of some other mathematically-related topic. This seminar is intended for students interested in advanced study in mathematics or science, for those preparing for careers in the health sciences or engineering, or for any simply wishing to broaden and enrich the life of the mind.

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Multivariable Mathematics: Linear Algebra, Vector Calculus, and Differential Equations

Intermediate, Seminar—Year

Rarely is a quantity of interest—tomorrow’s temperature, unemployment rates across Europe, the cost of a spring-break flight to Fort Lauderdale—a simple function of just one primary variable. Reality, for better or worse, is mathematically multivariable. This course introduces an array of topics and tools used in the mathematical analysis of multivariable functions. The intertwined theories of vectors, matrices, and differential equations and their applications will be the central themes of exploration in this yearlong course. Specific topics to be covered include the algebra and geometry of vectors in two, three, and higher dimensions; dot and cross products and their applications; equations of lines and planes in higher dimensions; solutions to systems of linear equations, using Gaussian elimination, theory and applications of determinants, inverses and eigenvectors, volumes of three-dimensional solids via integration, spherical and cylindrical coordinate systems, and methods of visualizing and constructing solutions to differential equations of various types. Conference work will involve an investigation of some mathematically-themed subject of the student’s choosing.

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Theories of Agency and Action in Science Studies

Open, Lecture—Fall

This course surveys a rich historical debate in science, technology, and society studies on the nature of agency—or the motivation behind, and responsibility for, action. The lecture course begins with an exploration of the nature of scientific fact, including how discoveries are made and how they become accepted in society. We will pay special attention to the concepts of co-production, the idea that humans and technologies work together, and situated action, the reality that actions are rooted in social context, to study how technologies become central to social interaction. This grounding theory will lay a foundation for students to consider an ongoing debate on the distinction between human and nonhuman action. The course culminates with an exploration of three contemporary discussions on the nature of agency with respect to automated weapons systems, assistive technologies for people with disabilities, and the use of algorithms to order social life. For each topic, we will consider how technologies influence social interaction and who or what is responsible when things go wrong. In group conference, students will practice analyzing how technologies shape social interaction through a series of “object readings,” short analyses of a single technological object. These assignments are designed to prepare students for a final group analysis of a technology of their choice.

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Both Public and Private: The Social Construction of Family Life

Open, Seminar—Year

Many of us take for granted the dichotomy between public and private life. The former is frequently understood as abstract, distant, and a key site of power; the latter, as the site of warmth, intimacy and emotional sustenance. In this seminar, we will critically examine the assumptions underlying such idealized distinctions between public and private domains. Through such revisioning, it is hoped that we will better understand the public and private dimensions of the family, its complexity, and its historical variability. In particular, our analysis will enable us to critically examine notions that posit the inevitability of the nuclear, heterosexual family as a universal and “natural” institution. Through historical, cross-cultural materials and oral histories, we will look at the myriad ways in which personal and social reproduction occur; the relationship between distinct family forms and different systems of social organization and social movements; and the expression of class, gender, racial relations, and sexual relations in diverse familial settings. Throughout, we will be attentive to shifting boundaries between the private domain (often erroneously and transhistorically understood in familial terms) and public institutions and practices. The “private” domain of the family will be problematized as a site for the construction of identity and caring and, simultaneously, as a location that engenders compulsion and violence. In this latter context, we will examine how relations of domination and subordination are produced through the institution of the “family” and how resistance is generated to such dominant relations and constructions. The course will conclude with an examination of family forms in contemporary societies (single-parent, same-sex, fictive-kin based) and of public struggles over these various forms.

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The Sociology of Sports

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

This is a course about sports as practice, and practice is used here in a multiple sense. As an embodied activity, sporting practice is felt and experienced in and through the body, which is its primary but not sole “habitus”—a term that French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu popularized when elaborating on his notion of “cultural capital.” In this course, taking the sporting body and Bourdieu’s concept of habitus (taste, habits, skills, dispositions) as our point of departure, we will examine sports and its habitation of worlds that reach far beyond the individual (body) in both time and space. We will examine sports along multiple axes: as a collective and/or individuated activity; as a source of leisure and recreation; as a source of profitable employment; as a site of identity and nation-building projects; and as a space that engenders transnational mobilities and interconnections, as well as ruptures. In its commoditized contemporary form, sports is, more often than not, controlled by big money and/or the state and is part and parcel of what Debord refers to as the “society of the spectacle,” a site of production, consumption, and entertainment. The complex relationship between sports as experienced through the body and as a set of disciplinary practices will allow us to think through the relation of the individual, the collective, and institutionalized power, linking these to questions of body politics. Taking the internal dynamics and meaning of sports seriously, we will engage sports as a contradictory field—as both a productive space and a space of consumption. Our readings will include scholarly works, sports journalism, films, documentaries, and other primary sources. Possible conference topics include sports and politics; analysis of particular sports events (e.g., the Olympics, women’s basketball, the World Cup); (auto)biographies and/or oral histories of athletes; sports and protest; “fitness,” health, and the body; gender, race, sexuality, (dis)ability, and sports; nationalism(s), national “styles,” and sports; and the phenomenology of sports.

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Ecopoetry

Open, Seminar—Year

In this poetry class—a yearlong school of poetry and the living world—we will consider the great organism Gaia, of which we are a part. We will read and write poems every week. We will ask questions: When did we begin to think of nature as apart from us? Why did we begin to speak of the animals as if we are not also animals? What are the stories and myths that have determined our attitude toward what we are and what we believe? We will read some of these stories and myths (myths of creation; Eden, the lost garden). We will read the long and rich tradition of poetry addressing itself to this subject, from the early indigenous peoples through the Zen monks and Wordsworth and right up through Gary Snyder to utterly contemporary poets writing right now. We will read books and articles that teach us about the other animals and living entities that we call plants and trees and planets and galaxies. Each student will research an aspect of the living world and teach the rest of us what they have learned. And we will write poems that incorporate that knowledge. We will read books of poems but also watch films, take field trips, and meet with each other outside of class in weekly poetry dates. By the end of the class, my hope is that each of us will have a greater understanding of the great organism that we call Earth and will create a collection of poems that engage the questions that our class raises: What is time? What is death? What is Eden? Where is the garden now? Who are the other organisms? How have we, as a species, affected the other organisms? How have we affected the oceans, the Earth, the air? How can poetry address the planetary emergency? Required for this class: intellectual curiosity, empathy, and a willingness to observe the world, to pay attention, and to write poetry that matters. This is a class for experienced writers, as well as for those who want to give writing poetry a try. All are welcome.

Faculty