Curriculum Development in Science & Society at Columbia and Barnard

The Center for Science and Society at Columbia University invites proposals for the development of new curricular offerings in the study of science and society. The aim is to introduce courses that can be offered within current departmental structures, as part of already-existing majors and concentrations, but that bring significant discussion of science and society into these offerings.  Examples might include an introductory-level history lecture course that integrates the history of science and technology with political and social history, a seminar on the philosophy or history of the neurosciences, or a literature seminar focusing on scientific texts. Other areas of interest include interdisciplinary environmental studies and environmental humanities, and the sociology, anthropology, politics, and economics of global science, technology, medicine, and public health, including in relation to race, gender, and sexuality. The competition is open to Core Lecturers and tenured or tenure-track faculty at Columbia University (including Barnard) in any discipline. Successful applicants receive a research allowance of $3,000 to be used for the development and teaching of the course over the following two years. Awardees must commit to teaching the course within two years of the start of the grant.

The Center gratefully acknowledges the support of The Heyman Center for the Humanities and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Applications for the 2018-2019 Curriculum Development in Science and Society Grants are currently open. Please see the Call for Proposal announcement for more information.

2017-2018 Grant Recipients & Courses

Scientific Pluralism in Practice: Readings in the Philosophy and History of Science

RECIPIENTS: Stuart Firestein, Professor of Biological Sciences
Ann-Sophie Barwich, Presidental Scholar in Society and Neuroscience
SEMESTER: Fall 2017
DESCRIPTION: The course centers on ideas associated with Pluralism as applied to scientific practice. Pluralism itself has had a long tradition in the historical and political study of the individual and society, and it was championed, for example, by Isaiah Berlin in the 20th century. However, pluralism has only rarely been applied to science studies. More recently several philosophers of science have begun exploring the role for pluralism in scientific practice. We examine the historical development of science towards an increasingly monistic practice and consider the philosophical and practical promises as well as challenges of driving science in a more pluralistic direction. This course will discuss the benefits and limits of such a pluralistic idea of science and how it translates into practice. The course is run as a seminar in historical and philosophical studies of science for students of the sciences (particularly but not limited to biology and neuroscience) as well as the humanities. We will look at examples from neuroscience, general biology, physics, and other areas from the history of science (e.g., chemistry and medicine).

Neuroscience and the Novel

RECIPIENTS: Rishi Goyal, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Director of the Medicine Literature and Society Major at the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society
SEMESTER: Spring 2019
DESCRIPTION: The social realist novel that understood subjectivity as a psychological phenomenon is being challenged by a new cultural form – the neurocognitive novel. The classic Anglo-European novel, from Robinson Crusoe to Mrs. Dalloway, presented characters and narrators whose actions, desires, and feelings are justified as psychological expressions of their minds. The contemporary turn towards a more materialist description of human behavior and thought is one aspect of the rise of neuroscience and neurocognitive models to explain human subjectivity. The neurocognitive novel explains human behavior and experience in terms of neural process. The brain-centered view of neuroscience emphasizes wiring, neural circuitry, and network flows, all of which overlap with the current interest in all things digital. In this class, I want to explore the relationship between neuroscientific theories of the self and contemporary transformations in the novel. The relationship is mutual, reciprocal, and self-reinforcing. While novelists certainly respond to new scientific theories and reflect on new ways of understanding human cognition, they also discover and describe truths of cognition that neuroscience can’t yet imagine or experimentally confirm. We will read contemporary novels, neuroscientific theory, and popular works of neuroscience to explore the significant exchange between scientific and cultural forms of thought.

Marginalization in Medicine: A Practical Understanding of the Social Implications of Race on Health

RECIPIENTS: Rishi Goyal, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Director of the Medicine Literature and Society Major at the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society
Robert Pollack, Professor of Biological Sciences
SEMESTER: Spring 2018
DESCRIPTION: There is a significant correlation between race and health in the United States. People of color and those from underserved populations have higher mortality rates and a greater burden of chronic disease than their white counterparts. Differences in health outcomes have been attributed to biological factors as race has been naturalized. In this class we will explore the history of the idea of “race” in the context of changing biomedical knowledge formations. We will then focus on the impact that social determinants like poverty, structural violence, racism and geography have on health. Ultimately, this course will address the social implications of race on health both within the classroom and beyond. In addition to the seminar, there will also be a significant service component. Students will be expected to volunteer at a community organization for a minimum of 3 hours a week. This volunteer work will open an avenue for students to go beyond the walls of their classrooms while learning from and positively impacting their community.

Acoustic Ecologies

RECIPIENTS: Ana Maria Ochoa, Professor of Music
SEMESTER: Fall 2018
DESCRIPTION: This course explores the relation between music, sound, and ecologies. We will study the rise of new disciplinary formations such as zoomusicology or ecomusicology, artistic interventions in acoustic ecology and biomusic, and the anthropology of sound and the challenges of decolonial thought to assumptions about listening and sounds in humans and non-humans. Through these three different organizational cores, we will explore topics such as the relation between music and the anthropocene, modes of thinking, human and non-human acoustic modes of expression in Western and non-Western thought, and interactions between the environmental sciences, biology, neuroscience, sounds, composers, and musicians. No prerequisites.

Philosophical Perspectives on Biomedical Genetics

RECIPIENTS: Kathryn Tabb, Assistant Professor of Philosophy
SEMESTER: Spring 2019
DESCRIPTION: Over the last century the new science of genetics has had an enormous impact on the way human beings define themselves, heal themselves, and transform themselves. This course will look at philosophical issues that have arisen from biomedical genetics, starting with fundamental questions about the nature of the gene itself and its role in the history of medicine. We will next look at how genes have featured in changing understandings of human nature, focusing on recent public projects like the Human Genome Project and the Precision Medicine Initiative. Finally we will turn to some of the ethical repercussions of the rise of genetics, such as ownership of genetic data, biomedical engineering, and genetic enhancement.

2016 Grant Recipients & Courses

The Sciences of Black Life

RECIPIENTS: Vanessa Agard-Jones, Assistant Professor of Anthropology
SEMESTER: Fall 2017
DESCRIPTION: What is the relationship of the production of scientific knowledge to Black life in the Americas? What can thinking that arises out of the intellectual traditions of Black Studies contribute to our understandings of the many genres of science and their relationship to justice? This course offers a framework for considering the ways that canonical sciences have constrained, categorized, and delimited Black lives, exploring such themes as: technoscientific constructions of race difference, epigenetic theories about the heritability of trauma, histories of biomedical experimentation, and the long durée of eugenicist thinking. We also explore scientific scripts emergent from “”below”” that have and continue to be sources of emancipatory promise.

Plants and Power

RECIPIENTS: Hilary Callahan, Professor of Biology
SEMESTER: Spring 2018/2019
DESCRIPTION: Sustaining complex human systems requires plants, which in turn depend on soils, geology, and climate. With that reality in the foreground, “Plants & Power” (BIOL BC 2851) delves into the natural and historic origins and potential futures of major crop species and other economically valuable plants. Digital labs, projects and field trips in Barnard’s greenhouse and at the New York Botanical Garden foster fluency and expertise in classical and cutting edge sciences: genetics, genomics, evolution, agro-ecology, weed science, plant pathology, biogeography, and conservation biology. All of these endeavors rely on botany’s longstanding emphasis on what is now call “data science” while also being entangled with historic and continuing colonialism and resistance. Texts include recent and landmark articles from the primary scientific literature complemented by biographies and memoirs of diverse scientists, travelogues and other journalism, histories, works of feminist science studies, and fiction. These interdisciplinary perspectives aim to more deeply understand plant biodiversity from a multiplicity of perspectives.

Science and Art in Archaeological Illustration

RECIPIENTS: Zoe Crossland, Associate Professor of Anthropology
SEMESTER: Spring 2017
DESCRIPTION: Scientific illustration has been a key part of archaeological work since the discipline’s origins in the 16th to 17th centuries. We will trace this history and explore current practice by learning different forms of line work, pen & ink and color wash, alongside undertaking reading from science studies, archaeology and art history. The class provides a laboratory for exploring how science constructs its subject, for thinking about the wider ramifications of archaeological representation, and for exploring the ongoing resonance of archaeology for artists and others. Students will gain knowledge of illustrative techniques and develop a practical understanding of the history and practice of scientific illustration, while also exploring new directions for these traditional techniques.

Media, Science, and Technology in South Asia

RECIPIENTS:Debashree Mukherjee, Assistant Professor of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
SEMESTER: Fall 2017
DESCRIPTION: This course introduces students to itineraries of scientific and technological imaginaries in modern South Asia, especially as they intersect with mass media forms. Our aim is to explore the lives of media and technology both in their everyday and monumental manifestations. In the first half of the semester, students will explore how ideas of science and technology are imbricated with colonial and postcolonial ideologies and agendas. In the second half we will consider key moments in narratives of media-technological emergence in India. We will interrogate historiographic concepts such as ‘newness’ and ‘rupture’, while considering the socio-political desires unleashed by successive ‘new’ media. Students will be introduced to key concepts in science and technology studies, as well as media theory.

Music and Madness

RECIPIENTS: Carmel Raz, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Society of Fellows and Lecturer in Music
SEMESTER: Fall 2017
DESCRIPTION:This undergraduate seminar offers historical, critical, and cross-cultural perspectives on music as a cause, symptom, and treatment of madness. It entails a survey of medical approaches to music and madness from antiquity till the present, with a focus on cross-cultural contexts and practices. The course is intended to foster interdisciplinary engagement between students interested in music, anthropology, medicine, and medical humanities, and to provide them with critical tools to examine constructions of music and madness in social, scientific, and historical contexts. No musical background or skills are required.

Harm Reduction, Drug Policy, and Public Health in Communities of Color

RECIPIENTS: Samuel Roberts, Associate Professor of History and of Sociomedical Sciences, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health
SEMESTER: Fall 2016
DESCRIPTION: This course has two institutional partners: the Drug Policy Alliance and the Columbia Center for Oral History. Through a series of secondary- and primary-source readings and research writing assignments, students in this seminar course will explore one of the most politically controversial aspects in the history of public health in the United States as it has affected peoples of color: intoxicating substances. Course readings are primarily historical, but sociologists, anthropologists, and political scientists are also represented on the syllabus. The course’s temporal focus – the twentieth century – allows us to explore the historical political and social configurations of opium, alcohol, heroin, cocaine, medical maintenance (methadone), the War on Drugs, the carceral state and hyperpolicing, harm reduction and needle/syringe exchange. In this course we will explore the development of harm reduction in the United States and trace its evolution in the political and economic context of ethnicity, urban neoliberalism, and no-tolerance drug war. The course will feature site visits to harm reduction organizations in New York City, guest lectures, and oral history research and analysis.

 2015 Grant Recipients & Courses

Bioethics and Narrative

RECIPIENTS: Rachel Adams, Professor of English and Comparative Literature
SEMESTER: Spring 2016
DESCRIPTION: Bioethics grapples with some of the most charged issues of our contemporary moment:  where life begins and ends, the definition of personhood, the role of technology in creating, shaping, and sustaining human life, the significance of genetic information, the scientific basis of race and gender, allocation of medical resources, relations among doctors, scientists, patients, and families.  Although these issues concern us all, they tend to be debated by select groups of specialists, favoring the perspectives of philosophers, doctors, scientists, and clinicians.  This course offers an alternative by considering bioethical questions through the lens of consumers, patients, research subjects, family members and caregivers.  Rather than privileging the “case study,” a genre that provides the clinician’s view of the bioethical scenario, we will focus on stories, asking how narrative provides new insight and bring attention to previously unrepresented points of view.  Each week, narratives in film and print will be paired with critical readings that highlight the bioethical issues at stake.

From Stains to Scans: A Critical History of Technique in Neuroscience

RECIPIENTS: Andrew Gerber, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Columbia University Medical Center
SEMESTER: Spring 2017
DESCRIPTION: This course will trace the history of neuroscience through the detailed study of specific techniques, crucial to the history of the field, e.g., microscopic stains, single cell recording, genetics, and magnetic resonance imaging. Neuroscience experts and historians will be invited to present on specific topics. The course instructors and students will be invited to think critically about the strengths and weaknesses of each technique, and how this has both led to important advances but also led to potential blind spots within the field of neuroscience.

Genocide in American Culture:  The Very Different Ways We Deal with the European Holocaust and the Native American Genocide

RECIPIENTS: Rebecca Kobrin, Russell and Bettina Knapp Associate Professor of American Jewish History
SEMESTER: Spring 2016
DESCRIPTION: Even though the Holocaust did not occur in the United States, nor were its victims US citizens, it is the subject of many high school curricula, college courses, and museums (with one in the Nation’s capital on the Mall).  In contrast, the genocide against Native Americans gets scant attention from any of these forums.  The course will compare the ways the United States has dealt with the Holocaust and the genocide against Native Americans, examine the implications of its failure to come to grips with its own genocide, and what can be learned from the way the country has dealt with the Holocaust to give the Native American Genocide the visibility needed to finally produce healing. It will also examine recent developments in epigenetics, which show that extreme trauma such as that suffered by victims of genocide, not only locks one’s epigenetic fear switch permanently onto “on” so that one is constantly traumatized even when there is nothing to fear in the real world, but that the effect is passed on by inheritance to future generations;  thereby supporting the concept of historical trauma, the intergenerational effects that community-wide traumas such as genocide have on subsequent generations. The course will review how historical trauma has manifested itself in both Holocaust survivors and Native American communities and how public discourse of the genocides can contribute to healing. The course will conclude by asking what responsibility an institution like Columbia University has to insure that its students are informed about this seminal event in their own history.

2014 Grant Recipients & Courses

Global Politics of Reproduction: Culture, Politics, and History

RECIPIENTS: Nara Milanich, Associate Professor of History
SEMESTER: Fall 2015
DESCRIPTION: A comparative, cross-cultural examination of the social organization and historical construction of human reproduction, with emphasis on the twentieth century. Special attention to the role of states and the local and transnational “stratification” of reproduction by hierarchies of race, class, and citizenship. Topics include eugenics; the politics of population; birth control; abortion; kinship as social and biological relationship; fetal politics; maternity; paternity; and new reproductive technologies.Reproduction is a particularly rich category for examining the nexus of science and society, one that highlights feminist contributions to the STS literature and the interconnections between science, gender, and sexuality. As such, it helps to make linkages between the new Center for Science and Society and other units on campus such as IRWAG and BCRW. I hope to cross-list this course in History and WGSS (the women, gender and sexuality studies major at Barnard). In exploring reproduction, gender, and sexuality, the seminar draws on diverse interdisciplinary literatures, with an emphasis on historical and anthropological perspectives and, to a lesser extent, those afforded by legal scholarship, philosophy, and sociology.

Histories of Cold

RECIPIENTS: Rebecca Woods, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Society of Fellows and Lecturer in History
SEMESTER: Spring 2016
DESCRIPTION: Common sense tells us that cold is a basic fact of existence: cold can be seen registered on a thermometer, or felt by stepping out of doors on a winter’s day. But what is cold? This is a question that has fascinated scientists and engineers for at least the last few hundred years. Beginning with Sir Francis Bacon’s famous experiments on frozen chickens, this course follows a frosty trail through experimental science, polar exploration, and social and environmental engineering from the seventeenth century to the present day, asking along the way, how cold itself functioned as an object of scientific inquiry, a basic element of the natural world, and a potential source of economic profit. We will ask, how did lay observers and scientific experts define cold, and how did these understandings change over time? To what extent did temporal and geographic context shape understandings of cold? Was cold the same entity or experience for ocean voyagers becalmed in the tropics in the 1840s as it was for Antarctic explorers at the turn of the twentieth century? What was the relationship between embodied experience and experimental knowledge for people interested in making sense of cold? Between sensation and measurement? Above all, what is cold? Students in this course will explore these questions in the context of the expansion of the West and the globalization of western science during the early modern and modern period.
This course introduces students to major topics in the history of science, including experimental culture, thermodynamics, instrumentation, standards of measurement, and scientific exploration. It situates the practice of science firmly within its social, economic, and environmental context, thereby encouraging students to question the truth-claims of scientific facts and those who promulgate them, and the norms of objectivity that guide the modern scientific enterprise. The thematic approach of this course is designed to move fluidly across the boundaries that usually separate science from society, simultaneously engaging students in questions of ontology, epistemology, embodied sensation and experience, popular reception of experimental science, and the economic and environmental milieu. Following cold across these fields will not only introduce students to a range of subjects in the history of science, but will demonstrate how attention to seemingly matter-of-fact phenomena such as cold can be a productive way to question our taken-for-granted assumptions about the world around us.

The Science of Fiction: American Naturalism, 1880-1930

RECIPIENTS: Grant Wythoff, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Society of Fellows and Lecturer in English
SEMESTER: Spring 2016
DESCRIPTION: This course will explore how literary naturalism imagined itself as a form of data collection. Naturalist stories cataloged the tiniest details of daily, bodily life, and showed how these infinitesimal moments were all integrated into part of much larger, aggregate social systems. Novelists like Willa Cather, Edith Wharton, Frank Norris, and Theodore Dreiser explored the relationship between data and fiction, both in terms of the stories we tell about data as well as the data produced by stories. We will take “experience” as our primary topic. What was the experience of a) these new kinds of novels for the reader, b) the networks through which characters and readers moved, and c) the landscape of new media like cinema, the phonograph, and wireless telegraphy in which these novels found themselves? The goal of this course will be to explore one of the truly unique contributions of naturalism: how we can use the category of the individual and individual experience to think about the construction of data as a form of social knowledge.
“The Science of Fiction” will provide undergraduates with an entrée into the foremost debates in the digital humanities today. What does the interpretation of literature have to offer the social sciences and what role can quantitative analysis play in the humanities? What happens when we instrumentalize literature? Plugging into the ongoing series of lab sessions in the Studio@Butler will allow this lecture course to be supplemented by a series of hands-on workshops. We will test out some of the assumptions naturalist novelists worked off of, as well as ask new kinds of questions about this period in history.

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