Courses in Science and Society at Columbia University

Columbia and Barnard have a constellation of faculty members located in a variety of departments and institutes whose research and interests lie at the intersection of science and the humanities. Among many specializations, include the historical development of scientific knowledge and in the processes—technical, social, political, intellectual, material and cultural—by which knowledge has been acquired, disseminated, and employed.

List of Courses: 2016 Spring Graduate

Archive for 2016 Spring Graduate

MDES G4058: Human Rights: History, Law, Literature | N. Kebranian

M 4:10-6:00 | 4 Points
This is an interdisciplinary course introducing students to the historical, juridical, and literary constructions of human rights as concept, practice, and discourse. Coursework is geographically and thematically comparative with readings in history, law, political philosophy, anthropology, criticism, and literature. Students are expected to engage with the following questions: How did ideas about rights emerge and give rise to the juridical development of ‘human rights?’ What kinds of human subjects do rights discourses presuppose and/or produce? What does human rights law achieve, and how? And how, if at all, does literature reveal the human rights’ system’s social, ethical, and political possibilities and limits?


FREN G8316: Diderot and the Disciplines | J. Stalnaker

T 4:10-6:00 | 3 Points
One of the central concerns of Denis Diderot’s famous Encyclopédie – the “machine de guerre” of the Enlightenment – was the organization of human knowledge. In this course, we will read Diderot’s remarkably wide-ranging corpus as an occasion to think critically and historically about the organization of disciplines in his time and our own. On the one hand, the range of Diderot’s polymathic writings indicates the extent to which our modern disciplinary divisions were not operative during the Enlightenment: his work ran the gamut from natural philosophy, to theater, to the novel, to moral philosophy, to political theory, to medicine, with significant overlap among these areas. On the other hand, he contributed to the elaboration of a number of modern disciplines, both through his reflection on knowledge in the Encyclopédie and through his forays into new modes of knowledge such as art criticism and anthropology. We will read his works both in their Enlightenment context and in the context of recent critical reflections on the organization of knowledge and the problems it poses in our own interdisciplinary, information- laden age.


HIST W4588: Race, Drugs, and Inequality: Harm Reduction in the 20th Century and Beyond | S. Roberts

T 2:00-4:00 | 4 Points
Prerequisites: the instructor’s permission. 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. This semester’s principal focus will be on the origins and evolution of the set of theories, philosophies, and practices which constitute harm reduction. The International Harm Reduction Association/Harm Reduction International offers a basic, though not entirely comprehensive, definition of harm reduction in its statement, “What is Harm Reduction?” ( “Harm reduction refers to policies, programmes and practices that aim to reduce the harms associated with the use of psychoactive drugs in people unable or unwilling to stop. The defining features are the focus on the prevention of harm, rather than on the prevention of drug use itself, and the focus on people who continue to use drugs.”[1] Harm reduction in many U.S. communities of color, however, has come to connote a much wider range of activity and challenges to the status quo. 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 race, urban neoliberalism, and no-tolerance drug war. The course will feature site visits to harm reduction organizations in New York City, guest lectures, and research/oral history analysis. This course has been approved for inclusion in both the African-American Studies and History undergraduate curricula (majors and concentrators). HIST W4588 will be open to both undergraduate and masters students. To apply, please complete the Google form at Questions may be directed to


HIST W4993: Histories of Cold | R. Woods

T/TH 6:10-7:25 | 3 Points
This course investigates the impact of natural disasters on sustainable developing with emphasis on the role they may play in development countries. In the first decade of the 21st century an unusually large number of natural disasters – from earthquakes and associated tsunamis, to hurricanes floods and droughts — have struck across the world, affecting countries from the wealthiest and most openly governed to the poorest with failed, fragile or authoritarian governments. The socio-economic effects in all places affected by these disasters are still unfolding. Some seem to be deeply impacted while others have had relatively little lasting impact.


HIST G8906: Craft and Science: Making Objects in the Early Modern World | P. Smith

M 10:10-2:00 | 4 Points
This course will study the materials, techniques, settings, and meanings of skilled craft and artistic practices in the early modern period (1350-1750), in order to reflect upon a series of issues, including craft knowledge and artisanal epistemology; the intersections between craft and science; and questions of historical methodology and evidence in the reconstruction of historical experience. The course will be run as a “Laboratory Seminar,” with discussions of primary and secondary materials, as well as hands-on work in a laboratory. This course is one component of the Making and Knowing Initiative of the Center for Science and Society. Thus, in its first years, this course contributes to the collective production of a critical edition of a late sixteenth-century manuscript, Ms. Fr. 640. Students are encouraged to take this course for both semesters (or more) but will only receive full credit once.
Link to Vergil


EEEB W4321: Human Nature: DNA, Race & Identity | M. & R. Pollack

W 2:10-4:00 | 4 Points
The course focuses on human identity, beginning with the individual and progressing to communal and global viewpoints using a framework of perspectives from biology, genetics, medicine, psychiatry, religion and the law.
Link to Vergil

INAFU 8910: Struggles for Sustainability | S. Tjossem

M 2:10-4:00 | 3 Points
U.S. agricultural practice has been presented as a paradigm for the rest of the world to emulate, yet is a result of over a century of unique development. Contemporary agriculture has its historical roots in the widely varied farming practices, social and political organizations, and attitudes toward the land of generations of farmers and visionaries. We will explore major forces shaping the practice of U.S. agriculture, particularly geographical and social perspectives and the development and adoption of agricultural science and technology. We will consider how technological changes and political developments (government policies, rationing, subsidies) shape visions of and transmission of agriculture and the agrarian ideal.


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