New Interdisciplinary Courses Summer 2021

As a part of Dean Joy K. Ward’s efforts to enhance the College of Arts and Science’s interdisciplinary course offerings, faculty members from multiple departments will combine their expertise to provide three new classes this summer. 

“Bringing the minds of our accomplished faculty together to provide students with new, interdisciplinary perspectives will give them a great advantage in navigating our complex world,” Ward said. “I am excited that our students have this opportunity and I am anticipating the advances that our students will make as a result of these high-quality experiences.”

The new course offerings include:

Our Knowledge of Climate Change: What do we know and how do we know it? (PHYS/PHIL 261)

Chris Haufe, associate professor of philosophy, and Cyrus Taylor, Albert A. Michelson Professor in Physics, join forces to bring students a lesson about the very important intersection of physics and philosophy when discussing climate change.  Within climate science, the underlying dynamics of climate change pose an existential threat to our civilization, but there are also active and well organized efforts to derail the scientific process and to criticize the scientist. 

“This is the class I’ve always dreamed of as a philosopher of science because it looks at a real world, social problem that has a purely philosophical dimension to it,” Haufe said.

To explore this problem, this course will look at the nature of scientific knowledge and the challenges of developing a robust scientific process resistant to fraud. Then the course will take the framework of social epistemology and explore the history and current state of climate science. Students will understand the hierarchical models of climate science and the role of international coordination and its implications for policy. Additionally, students will explore the efforts to disrupt the scientific process, the public understanding of science and ultimately the process necessary for addressing climate change.

“This course is incredibly timely because of the rapid rise of the size and nature of scientific collaborations over the course of the last few decades,” Taylor explained. “If I had taken this as a student it would’ve changed my life and it may even as a faculty member. This is a dream course.”

Utopia, Dystopia, and Scientific Modernity, Sixteenth-Century-Present (HSTY/ENGL 145)

In an effort to show students that science and literature are part of a similar conversation of reimagining the world, Aviva Rothman, assistant professor in the Department of History, and Maggie Vinter, associate professor in the Department of English, will explore utopian and dystopian works of fiction and connect them to themes that run through the history of science. Starting during the Scientific Revolution of the 1600s, students will uncover the relationship between knowledge and power, the impact of new technologies, the voyages of exploration and exploitation, industrialization and forms of production, ideas of gender, race and class, nuclear power, genetics and climate change within books ranging from Thomas More’s Utopia to Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower and a contemporary film.

Putting literature and history together is powerful because the ambiguity of literature helps students to see the complexity of the past. Novels and plays don’t reflect a single, dogmatic opinion that everyone shared. Instead, they often dramatize the debates people held over ideas like the proper role for science in politics, or the nature of the universe,” Vinter explained.

Rothman explains that the course focuses on the imagined worlds while highlighting the real worlds from which they emerged. In fact, at precisely the moment the course begins, the pursuit of science led to the discovery of actual new worlds of all kinds. Europeans encountered land on their voyages, the telescope revealed heavenly objects and the microscope discovered smaller ones.

“The new experimental tradition of the seventeenth century, likewise, showed how we might remake our own world by harnessing science as a source of power,” Rothman explained.

Rothman and Vinter are looking forward to learning from each other through their cross-disciplinary conversations that, in turn, will be a great learning experience for students as well.

The best classes are the ones that change the way you see the world, and this class has that potential,” Rothman said.

Pandemics, Past and Present: Integrative Approaches (BIOL/HSTY 277)

To further students’ understanding of pandemics, the College of Arts and Sciences and the School of Medicine will collaborate to give students perspective on the impacts and challenges of global pandemics and equip them with the tools to dispel misinformation. Leena Chakravarty, instructor in the Department of Biology, Dianne Kube, lecturer in the Department of Biology, Jonathan Sadowsky, Theodore J. Castele Professor in the Department of History, and Sarah Markt, assistant professor in the Department of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences, will walk their class through the life cycle of a pandemic by presenting on four themes: the historical perspective of pandemics, the spread of disease in populations, the life cycle and molecular biology of the influenza virus and SARS CoV-2 and the technology of testing, therapeutics and vaccinations. 

“In order to address epidemics, all of these aspects have to come together,” Kube said. “We will be able to provide a lot of information that will allow our students to talk more intelligently in the future.” 

After this course, a student will be able to broadly integrate different perspectives into their understanding of pandemics throughout history and will understand the significance, challenges and consequences of living in times where deep biological and epidemiological understanding of viruses and technological advances have become part of the tools humans need to live.

“This is the way we are going to learn how to curb [pandemics] in the future. It can’t be a one discipline approach anymore. We need multiple disciplines to understand where we came from, where we are and where we can go in the future,” Markt explained.

Registration details:

  • Summer 2021 courses will be viewable in SIS starting March 1.
  • Students can begin adding courses to shopping carts on March 1.
  • Graduate registration begins March 22.
  • Undergraduate registration opens April 12.
  • Non-degree and visiting students can register starting April 13.
  • Visit or email for more information.