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: 2017 Spring Graduate

Archive for 2017 Spring Graduate

GU4811: Encounters with Nature | K. Sivaramakrishnan

Undergraduate and Graduate Seminar
Tu 2:10-4PM

This course offers an understanding of the interdisciplinary field of environmental, health and population history and will discuss historical and policy debates with a cross-cutting, comparative relevance: such as the making and subjugation of colonized peoples and natural and disease landscapes under British colonial rule; modernizing states and their interest in development and knowledge and technology building, the movement and migration of populations, and changing place of public health and healing in south Asia. The key aim of the course will be to introduce students to reading and analyzing a range of historical scholarship, and interdisciplinary research on environment, health, medicine and populations in South Asia and to introduce them to an exploration of primary sources for research; and also to probe the challenges posed by archives and sources in these fields. Some of the overarching questions that shape this course are as follows: How have environmental pasts and medical histories been interpreted, debated and what is their contemporary resonance? What have been the encounters (political, intellectual, legal, social and cultural) between the environment, its changing landscapes, and state? How have citizens, indigenous communities, and vernacular healers mediated and shaped these encounters and inserted their claims for sustainability, subsistence or survival? How have these changing landscapes shaped norms about bodies, care, and beliefs? The course focuses on South Asia but also urges students to think and make linkages beyond regional geographies in examining interconnected ideas and practices in histories of the environment, medicine, and health. Topics will therefore include (and students are invited to add to these perspectives and suggest additional discussion themes): colonial and globalized circuits of medical knowledge, with comparative case studies from Africa and East Asia; and the travel and translation of environmental ideas and of medical practices through growing global networks.

Link to Vergil

U6236: History of American Ecology & Environmentalism | S. Tjossem

International Affairs
Graduate Lecture
Tu 9:00-10:50AM

Ecology is a common but ambiguous term that has been used to address social, political and environmental problems. This lecture/discussion explores the history of ecology as a developing academic discipline and as a tool for social reform. We will explore various conceptions of nature and ecology in changing ideas of conservation, preservation, the Dust Bowl, the atomic age, growing environmentalism, and the current focus on biodiversity as one route to a sustainable society. We will look at how scientific information has been constructed and used in environmental debates over pollution and overpopulation and will question the utility of distinguishing between “first nature” (untouched by humans) and “second nature” (nature modified by humans). Along the way, we will address connections between environmentalism and nationalism, the relationship between environmental change and social inequality, the rise of modern environmental politics, and different visions for the future of nature.

Link to Vergil

UN3445: City, Environment and Vulnerability | C. Fennell

F 2:10-4PM

How are urbanites situated in place? What can that particular situation tell us about how urbanites will live, thrive, and waste in those places? How do social divides, like race and class, render the situations of some more or less vulnerable to environmental harm or the physical constraints of place? This seminar takes up those questions through the lens of the urban built environment and the relations it establishes between urbanites, the things of their city, and their material dimensions. We start with readings that challenge us to conceptualize the urban environment as an assemblage of bodies and things that impinge upon each other in consequential ways. We then move to several historical and ethnographic cases that foreground the stakes of these impingements in cities. Cases examined include urban waste systems, disasters, noise hazards, and mobility constraints. Throughout, our readings, conversations and excursions will consider what attention to the urban built environment can bring to studies of social inequality and urban social movements.

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


HIST W4769: Health and Healing in African History | R. Stephens

Wednesdays 10:10 – 12:00

4 points.

This course charts the history of health and healing from, as far as is possible, a perspective interior to Africa. It explores changing practices and understandings of disease, etiology, healing and well-being from pre-colonial times through into the post-colonial. A major theme running throughout the course is the relationship between medicine, the body, power and social groups. This is balanced by an examination of the creative ways in which Africans have struggled to compose healthy communities, albeit with varied success, whether in the fifteenth century or the twenty-first. Field(s): AFR

GU4321: Human Nature: DNA, Race & Identity | M. Pollack

Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology
Undergraduate and Graduate Seminar
W 2:10-4PM

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

CPLS W4220: Narrative, Health, and Social Justice| S. Dasgupta

Tu 10:10-12:00, 4 points


Narrative medicine – its practice and scholarship – is necessarily concerned with issues of trauma, body, memory, voice, and intersubjectivity.  However, to grapple with these issues, we must locate them in their social, cultural, political, and historical contexts.  Narrative understanding helps unpack the complex power relations between North and South, state and worker, disabled body and able-body, bread-earner and child-bearer, as well as self and the Other (or, even, selves and others).  If disease, violence, terror, war, poverty and oppression manifest themselves narratively, then resistance, justice, healing, activism, and collectivity can equally be products of a narrative based approach to ourselves and the world.

This course will explore the connections between narrative, health, and social justice.  In doing so, it broadens the mandate of narrative medicine – challenging each of us to bring a critical, self-reflective eye to our scholarship, teaching, practice, and organizing.  We will examine such questions as: How do power and hierarchy – on an interpersonal, institutional, cultural, social, or political scale – impact the work of Narrative Medicine? How can we ‘read’ multiple, simultaneous narratives – ie. the individual and the sociopolitical? What are the intersections of Narrative Medicine with health advocacy and activism on local, national, and global levels? How can the pedagogy of Narrative Medicine enact social justice in health care? In other words, how do we teach Narrative Medicine and why? Finally, how are the stories we tell, and are told, manifestations of social injustice?  How can we transform such stories into narratives of justice, health, and change?

The class will be run in seminar format, and will pedagogically centralize learner participation and presentation.  Texts assigned weekly will be broadly interdisciplinary – drawing from literature, feature and documentary films, post-colonial studies, disability studies, sociology, anthropology, psychology, criminology, public health, and trauma studies. Students should come to class prepared to engage with each other and with the instructor and to offer their questions, comments, insights, and analysis. Students who are able to read texts in the original language are encouraged to do so (and may be required to do so in the case of certain majors).

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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