College Course Clusters
The College is launching a new, innovative curricular initiative. The Course Cluster Initiative is designed to continue the thematic focus and multidisciplinary perspective of the Core Curriculum; to expose students to ideas from the vantage point of different disciplines across the humanities, social, physical, and biological sciences; to stimulate and cultivate the student’s intellectual curiosity and sense of academic adventure; to help students structure their electives without imposing programmatic strictures and limiting the freedom of intellectual exploration.
Course Clusters consist of three or more courses on a common topic or issue that are offered over a span of two to three years. Course Clusters can be made up of existing courses or encourage the creation of new courses. Courses within a cluster can have different formats. They can be smaller seminars or larger lecture courses. The only prerequisite is that they have no prerequisites and are not designed primarily for minors/majors (even though they can count towards major requirements).
Course Clusters for 2018-2019
*The Course Cluster on The Renaissance has been developed into a minor. You can learn more about the minor in Renaissance Studies and its requirements on its College Catalog page.
The planetary scale of anthropogenic climate change challenges us to reassess many central questions in the humanities and social sciences from justice and power to truth and art. This new course cluster encourages students to explore the problem of climate change from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Classes in History, Political Science, Classics, English, Philosophy, and other disciplines from the Social Sciences and the Humanities complement courses in the Physical and Biological Sciences. In addition to learning about the science of climate change in the latter the former will ask a host of questions: What were the historical roots of fossil fuel use? What can the human past teach us about our ability to cope with climate change? How will we ensure justice and human rights in the face of a threat that affects poor people and future generations disproportionately? In what ways might literature and art help understand and communicate climate change, and shape our sense of agency and hope in facing an uncertain future?
ENGL 12520: Climate Change in Literature, Art and Film, Benjamin Morgan
If meteorological data and models show us that climate change is real, art and literature explore what it means for our collective human life. This is the premise of many recent films, novels, and artworks that ask how a changing climate will affect human society. In this course, we will examine the aesthetics of climate change across media, in order to understand how narrative, image, and even sound help us witness a planetary disaster that is often imperceptible. Our approach will be comparative: what kind of story about climate change can a science fiction novel about a dystopian future tell, and how is this story different than, say, that of an art installation made of melting blocks of Arctic ice? Do different media tend to emphasize different aspects of ecological crisis? Readings and discussions will introduce students to some of the ways that humanities scholarship is contributing to climate change research. The syllabus may include Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation (2014); Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake (2003); John Luther Adams, Become Ocean (2014); George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road (2015); and Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement (2016).
GEOS 23900: Environmental Chemistry, David Archer
The focus of this course is the fundamental science underlying issues of local and regional scale pollution. In particular, the lifetimes of important pollutants in the air, water, and soils are examined by considering the roles played by photochemistry, surface chemistry, biological processes, and dispersal into the surrounding environment. Specific topics include urban air quality, water quality, long-lived organic toxins, heavy metals, and indoor air pollution. Control measures are also considered.
GEOS 24220: Climate Foundations, TBD
This course introduces the basic physics governing the climate of planets, the Earth in particular but with some consideration of other planets. Topics include atmospheric thermodynamics of wet and dry atmospheres, the hydrological cycle, blackbody radiation, molecular absorption in the atmosphere, the basic principles of radiation balance, and diurnal and seasonal cycles. Students solve problems of increasing complexity, moving from pencil-and-paper problems to programming exercises, to determine surface and atmospheric temperatures and how they evolve. An introduction to scientific programming is provided, but the fluid dynamics of planetary flows is not covered.
PHSC 13400: Global Warming, David Archer and Douglas MacAyeal*
This course presents the science behind the forecast of global warming to enable the student to evaluate the likelihood and potential severity of anthropogenic climate change in the coming centuries. It includes an overview of the physics of the greenhouse effect, including comparisons with Venus and Mars; an overview of the carbon cycle in its role as a global thermostat; predictions and reliability of climate model forecasts of the greenhouse world.
GEOS 13900: Biological Evolution, David Jablonski
This course is an introduction to evolutionary processes and patterns in present-day organisms and in the fossil record and how they are shaped by biological and physical forces. Topics emphasize evolutionary principles. They include DNA and the genetic code, the genetics of populations, the origins of species, and evolution above the species level. We also discuss major events in the history of life, such as the origin of complex cells, invasion of land, and mass extinction.
GEOS 22060: What Makes a Planet Habitable? Edwin Kite
This course explores the factors that determine how habitable planets form and evolve. We will discuss a range of topics, from the accretion and loss of atmospheres and oceans, to the long-term carbon cycle, climate dynamics, and the conditions that sustain liquid water on a planet's surface over timescales relevant to the origin and evolution of life. Students will be responsible for reading and discussing papers in peer-reviewed journals each meeting and for periodically preparing presentations and leading the discussion.
GEOS 23205: Introductory Glaciology, Douglas MacAyeal
The fundamentals of glacier and ice-sheet dynamics and phenomenology will be covered in this introductory course (snow and sea ice will be excluded from this course, however may be taken up in the future). Emphasis will be placed on developing the foundation of continuum mechanics and viscous fluid flow as a means of developing the basic equations of glacier deformation, ice-sheet and -shelf flow, basal processes, glacier hydrology, and unstable modes of flow. This course is intended for advanced undergraduate students in physics, math, geophysical sciences, and related fields as well as graduate students considering research in glaciology and climate dynamics.
GEOS 24300: Paleoclimatology, David Archer
HIST 17504: Science, Culture, and Society in Western Civilization III: The Environment, Fredrik Albritton Jonsson
This course will chart the development of modern science and technology with special reference to the environment and energy. Major themes include empire and environmental change, romanticism and conservation, science in the industrial revolution, energy in science and industry, the debates about the limits to growth, the rise of ecology, the Cold War development of climate science, and the emergence of modern environmentalism. We end with the science of the Anthropocene.
PBPL 24756: Exploring the Resilient City, Ray Lodato
In recent years, sub-national units of government have enacted meaningful policy plans in the wake of the ongoing failure of the international community to address global climate change. Cities in particular have shaped their plans to address the now-inevitable effects of climate change by adopting policies that emphasize resilience and environmental protection, without sacrificing economic growth, and with attention to the ongoing challenges of poverty and inequality. This course will take a comparative look at the policies adopted by cities on an international basis, while defining what it means to be a resilient city and how much the built environment can be adjusted to limit the environmental impact of densely populated metropolises. It will also consider what impact citizen activism and input had upon the shape of each plan and the direction that its policies took. Students will also be asked to consider what might be missing from each plan and how each plan could be improved to foster greater resiliency.
GEOS 24705: Energy: Science, Technology, and Human Usage, Elisabeth Moyer
This course covers the technologies by which humans appropriate energy for industrial and societal use, from steam turbines to internal combustion engines to photovoltaics. We also discuss the physics and economics of the resulting human energy system: fuel sources and relationship to energy flows in the Earth system; and modeling and simulation of energy production and use. Our goal is to provide a technical foundation for students interested in careers in the energy industry or in energy policy. Field trips required to major energy converters (e.g., coal-fired and nuclear power plants, oil refinery, biogas digester) and users (e.g., steel, fertilizer production).
NEHC 20464: Climate, Culture and Society in the Ancient Near East, Hervé Reculeau
Using primarily case studies from the Ancient Near East (from prehistory to the first millennium BCE) as a basis for discussion, the course will investigate the nature of the relationship between human societies and their environment, with a specific focus on situations of climatic change. Students will be invited to reflect on discourses on human-environment interactions from Herodotus to the IPCC, on notions such as environmental or social determinism, possibilism and reductionism, societal collapse and resilience, and on recent academic trends at the crossroads of Humanities, Social Sciences and Environmental Studies. This will allow them to develop critical skills that nurture their reflections on current debates on anthropogenic climate change and the Anthropocene.
*Students may opt to use PHSC 13400 or GEOS 23400 toward the Cluster, but not both.
The Course Cluster "Economic History: from Sumer to the Global World" will propose every year up to three classes in economic history. We wish to cover a broad time span and a wide range of cultures. The classes will put a special emphasis on the methodology of economic history. The students will thus also be able to acquire a deep knowledge of the questions that are currently debated in this field.
HIST 19402: Economic History II: The Early Modern World, c1300-1800, Paul Cheney & Ken Pomeranz
This course both describes preindustrial economic life and weighs the models used to explain fundamental changes to it. We will begin by describing some of the basic structures that determined patterns of production, exchange, and consumption in a period of low and easily reversible growth. These include agricultural productivity, demographic constraints, modes of transportation, and the social structures that governed the distribution of what little surplus premodern societies produced. Turning to the sources of economic dynamism that may have contributed to later industrialization, we will first examine the growth of long-distance trade networks starting in the late fourteenth century. How were traditional economies characterized by limited movement stimulated by the circulation of people, goods, and money from afar? We will then move to a discussion of the factors leading to (or frustrating) transformational patterns of economic growth: agricultural productivity, institutions, "proto-industrial" production in an era of limited urban growth,and changing norms of consumption. [ECON 12210]
HIST 29533: Economic History III: Global Capitalism 1800, Jon Levy
This is the third part in the economic history sequence. Topics include the second Industrial Revolution and the new imperialism, the Great Depression and World War II, the American postwar world economic order, communism, and third-world development; globalization, growth, inequality, and climate change; the great recession.
The development of law and legal systems is one of the defining hallmarks of societies from antiquity to the present. Abundant written evidence survives from the societies of the ancient Mediterranean, the Near East, South Asia, and East Asia. This cluster of courses will include deep dives into individual legal systems known from ancient societies in Greece, Rome, Babylonia, Assyria, Israel, Egypt, China, and India, as well as comparative investigations informed by historical and anthropological literatures.
NEHC 20019: Mesopotamian Law, Martha Roth
Ancient Mesopotamia -- the home of the Sumerians, Babylonians, and Assyrians who wrote in cuneiform script on durable clay tablets -- was the locus of many of history’s “firsts.” No development, however, may be as important as the formations of legal systems and legal principles revealed in contracts, trial records, and law collections (“codes”), among which “The Laws of Hammurabi” (r. 1792-1750 BC) stands as most important for understanding subsequent legal practice and thought of Mesopotamia’s cultural heirs in the Middle East and Europe until today. This course will explore the rich source materials of the Laws and relevant judicial and administration documents (all in English translations) to investigate topics of legal, social, and economic practice including family formation and dissolution, crime and punishment (sympathetic or talionic “eye for an eye,” pecuniary, corporal), and procedure (contracts, trials, ordeals). [NEHC 30019, LLSO 20019]
The problem of inequality has been an abiding concern in the social sciences and humanities. In recent years it has attracted heightened attention and inspired scholarly innovation, fostering real ferment among those seeking to understand the mainsprings of the modern world. To understand such an abiding aspect of social and cultural organization requires a broad set of analytical resources and intellectual perspectives. Drawing on a range of methodologies, students will trace and examine the sources and challenges of inequality and mobility in many of its dimensions, selecting from courses in Economics, History, Political Science, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Public Policy, and other disciplines across the divisions. The broad, considered lens offered by this approach will allow students in the cluster to understand more fully the dynamics and consequences of inequality in modern culture and society and its roots in persistent patters of distribution of wealth, income, education, and social and other kinds of capital.
ECON 24720: Inequality: Origins, Dimensions, and Policy, Allen Sanderson
For the last three decades, incomes in the United States and across the globe have grown more unequal. That fact has attracted worldwide attention from scholars, governments, religious figures, and public intellectuals. In this interdisciplinary course, participating faculty members drawn from across the University and invited guest speakers will trace and examine the sources and challenges of inequality and mobility in many of its dimensions, from economic, political, legal, biological, philosophical, public policy, and other perspectives.
Urban design concerns the proactive effort to create human settlements of a particular character and quality. The study of urban design is an opportunity to evaluate the difference between ideal and actuality, gaining an understanding of what urban designers are trying to do and why and evaluating the reasons behind apparent successes and failures. Students will explore the history, theory, and practice of urban design from multiple perspectives, from historical surveys to more contemporary investigations of urban interventions and their effect on social change, in courses offered through Art History, Geographical Studies, History, Anthropology, Sociology, Comparative Human Development, and other disciplines from the Social Sciences and Humanities. Whether urban design is capable of balancing social equity, aesthetic achievement, economic growth, and environmental stewardship is of key interest within the field, practice, and study of urban design. How do we leverage meaningful public engagement in the urban design process? How do we balance individual expression and a sense of the collective? Students will engage with these fundamental problems in diverse contexts across the cluster.
SSAD 21120: How Things Get Done in Cities and Why, Nicole Marwell
Innovation. Prosperity. Democracy. Diversity. Cities long have been lauded as unique incubators of these social features. In contrast to the national level, the smaller scale and dense diversity of cities is thought to encourage the development of civic solutions that work for the many. But cities are inhabited by distinct groups of people with divergent interests and varied beliefs about how to address countless urban issues, such as creating jobs, delivering education, ensuring safe neighborhoods, promoting environmental sustainability, and taking care of the vulnerable. Many groups and organizations have an interest in the outcomes of these processes. Some take action to try to shape them to their own advantage, while others have few chances to make themselves heard. This course examines dynamics of interest representation, decision-making, and inclusion/exclusion in the contemporary city, drawing insights from multiple disciplines and substantive domains.