Fall 2024 Course Info on SIS Pre-approved Courses Archives

Course Descriptions

The list below includes descriptions of all courses offered by Science, Technology, and Society.

Visit the requirements page for course requirements for specific programs. For up-to-date information on course offerings, schedules, room locations and registration, please visit the Student Information System (SIS).

STS 10 Reading Lab.  Reading- and discussion-only course, intended to complement courses outside the STS curriculum. Discussion of readings from a list organized around rotating topics of interest. Topics vary by semester and may include energy, life, information, classification, power, and models. See SIS detail view for semester-specific information. Course but not topics may be repeated for credit.

STS 12 (HIST 12) Science and Technology in World History. A broad survey of the history of science from the ancient world to the 20th century. The course places a particular emphasis on the wider context of global trade, knowledge sharing, and colonialism throughout the development of what many now consider "western" science. Topics and themes include: science in ancient Greece, India, and the Mayan peninsula; Chinese science in the Ming dynasty; Islamic science and its influence on medieval Europe; conceptual and philosophical changes of the "Scientific Revolution"; globalization and colonialism; Darwin and human evolution; race, science, and eugenics; science and warfare. Students will be challenged to consider the processes involved in the development of scientific theories and the ways in which global developments affected (and continue to affect) scientific thought.

STS 32 (ANTH 32) Introduction to the Anthropology of Science & Technology. This course introduces students to the sociocultural study of science and technology. Popular understandings of science and technology suggest that they work independently from their social and cultural contexts; this course surveys work demonstrating the various ways that this is untrue. Texts will be drawn from across the history of anthropology and from science and technology studies. We will cover major theories about the relationship between science, technology, society and culture such as technological determinism and social construction. We will investigate how facts are made and how sociocultural contexts shape technologies, from Papuan eel traps to music recommender systems. Potential topics include the relationship between magic, technology, science, and religion; how Western science has and has not recognized "other knowledges" from around the world; cyborg feminism; the rituals of laboratory science; genetics and new kinship studies; and the social life of algorithms.

STS 33 (MUS 58) Music, Technology, and Digital Culture. Study of the interactions between music, technology, and culture in popular and concert music since WWI. Issues of production, distribution, and reception, involving such topics as the impact of radio on composition in the 1920s and 30s, recording technologies and ideas of authenticity, early synthesizers and the rise of electronic music, digital sampling, hip-hop, and DJ culture, gender and technology, the internet, interactivity, and new models of consumption

STS 50-01 STS Lunch Seminar Series. Weekly speaker series featuring scholars and experts that engage critically and culturally with STS topics. Talks are open to the greater Tufts and Boston STS community. Visit the STS Lunch Seminar Series website for upcoming series details and a list of past speakers. All STS majors and minors are required to take at least one semester of the lunch seminar for credit. However, the 1-Credit lunch seminar does not count toward the total course requirement. Students may take Lunch Seminar more than once.

STS 50-xx Topics in STS. This course rotates through topics across Science, Technology, & Society.

STS 116 (PHIL 116) Philosophy of Science. An examination of central philosophical problems concerning scientific method and scientific knowledge, such as: How is theory related to observation, or prediction to explanation? How can we justify scientific method? Induction? Notions of space and time? Do scientific theories and methods impose a structure on the world? Do they tell us about the real world?

STS 118 (PHIL 118) Philosophy of Biology. We will examine the conceptual foundations of evolution, ecology, and genetics, with special attention to outstanding philosophical problems. The course begins with Darwin, and his original presentation of natural selection in the Origin of Species. We will then look at two very different "big picture" views on evolutionary biology and the importance of natural selection, the first defended by Richard Dawkins and the second by Richard Lewontin. The course continues by discussing specific philosophical and theoretical controversies, such as those over the units of selection, the nature of fitness, biological functions, causation, biological individuals, and what natural selection explains.

STS 136 (ANTH 136) Cultures of Computing. This course offers a mid-level survey of topics in the cultural analysis of computing. Where popular discourse around computing often takes it to be a universalizing force that "impacts" culture and society without being significantly influenced by them, we will take the opposite approach, investigating how computers embody cultural ideals and depend on social contexts. Areas of inquiry will range from the mines that provide the rare earth metals necessary for computers to function, to the culture of Silicon Valley workplaces, to global distributions of labor in chip manufacturing and new forms of "micro-work." In addition to ethnographic research on the contemporary variability of experiences with computers, we will attend to the historical development of computing as a cultural form, from its origins in gendered calculational labor to the mid-century emergence of cybernetics to the connections between counterculture and cyberculture. Through regular written responses, student-led discussions, and experimental exercises, students will learn how to examine the sociocultural aspects of computing in their everyday lives. Topics will also include the cultural life of algorithms and big data, the social analysis of mathematics, post-colonial computing, and social media.

STS 148 (ANTH 148) Medical Anthropology. This course is an introduction to anthropological approaches to illness, health, healing and the body, and their relationships to culture and power. We will ask how social and political forces impact – and are themselves shaped by – illness, disease and bodily experience, addressing such issues of concern to medical anthropologists as crosscultural models of suffering and the body, ritual aspects of healing, the politics of health intervention, social impact of new technologies, and the cultures of the clinic. Throughout, we will be attuned to race, gender, and class, asking how they are meaningful in the ways people live and die, get sick and get well, care for others and are cared for. We ask, how are illness and wellness are shot through with moral concerns?

STS 154 (HIST 154) Health and Healing in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Medicine in Western Europe from approximately 1100-1700. Key intellectual, social, and cultural themes and trends in pre-modern medicine. Major topics include the development of university medicine from its Greek and Arabic roots through the theoretical upheavals of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; medical practice, particularly the diverse types of healers and their relationship with patients; epidemic disease such as plague and syphilis and early public health measures formed in response; the development of hospitals and other medical institutions. Overlapping naturalistic, religious, and magical approaches to disease and healing.

STS 195 (SOC 195) Politics, Policies, and Risk in Science and Technology. How do democratic governments cope with risks? How does science find its way into policymaking? Dilemmas of decision-making in realms such as: climate change, financial regulation, nuclear power, biotechnology, and pandemics, where trade-offs entail putting some groups at risk in order to reduce the risks faced by others. Examines how the relevant science is produced and how policy-makers evaluate it. Traces ideas about the appropriate roles of government, experts, and citizens in policy-making. Explores the interdependence and efforts of local, national, and international knowledge communities at global governance.

ANTH 24 Anthropology of the Environment. Key issues and frameworks of environmental anthropology across the 20th and 21st centuries. Provides students with an introduction to both the discipline of anthropology and changing forms of environmental thought. Introduces students to anthropological concepts including culture, nature, ethnography, adaptation, and human exceptionalism using cross-cultural materials and case studies.

ANTH 130 History of Anthropological Thought. Anthropology as a discipline is uniquely concerned with its own history, and that history began, by most accounts, with an interest in kinship and classification. This course surveys the history of anthropological thought through these lenses, tracing the disciplinary relationships and changing categories through which anthropologists have made sense of the world since the late 19th century. By engaging writings, theories, and debates from across anthropology's history, we will try to understand how contemporary research interests fit into broader patterns of inquiry. We will treat anthropology as a knowledge-making project, which, since its inception, has been entangled with other knowledge-making projects, both among the people it has studied and in adjacent academic disciplines.

ANTH 178 Animals and Posthuman Thought. The social movement for Animal Rights has grown with surprising resiliency over the past 30 years in pockets of the West and beyond, provoking trenchant public debates on both the limits of human knowledge and the ethics of how we live with non-human Others. This advanced seminar does not offer a comprehensive history of Animal Rights on its own terms, nor is it a straightforward political endorsement of the idea. Instead, we marshal Animal Rights as a lens to examine changing forms of posthuman consciousness and concerns about species, anthropocentrism, nature, food, and the idea of the human. The seminar thus gathers together classic anthropological questions – of representation, difference, hierarchy, violence, and the good life – and re-examines them in light of Animal Rights' insistence on a new social contract that cuts across species lines (while troubling the very idea of species). In order to grasp Animal Rights as reflective of emerging eco-political philosophies in this historical moment, we will read across seemingly discordant topics including the concept of "the animal"; the domestication of plants and animals; human exceptionalism and uniqueness; consumptive ethics in terms of food, clothing, and medicine; meanings of life and death; ideas of liberation and democracy; climate change; biopolitics; and industrial capitalism. Course materials will include ethnographies of interspecies relations, philosophies of the animal, exposés, novels, blogs, and films.

CH 106 Health, Ethics, and Policy. Ethical analysis has become an increasingly integral part of health policy and public health. A foundation in normative ethics and political philosophy is central to policy and medical decision-making because at the core of many policy and medical debates lie questions of distributive justice. This course will focus on evaluating how values, ethical approaches, and evidence should inform policy making, clinical medicine, and public health practice. How should scarce resources, such as organs for transplantation or hospital beds, be allocated? How much personal responsibility do people have and how accountable should they be for their own health and health behaviors? How should public health effectively balance equity and efficiency? Should medicine or public health be specifically concerned with the health of vulnerable or marginalized populations?

CLS 146 History of Ancient Medicine. A course designed to survey the historical development of ancient Greek and Roman medicine with emphasis on methodology and sources, as well as to assess the influence of ancient medicine on the development of modern clinical medicine. Topics covered include ancient views and practices with regard to anatomy, physiology, surgery, pharmacology, the etiology of disease, and medical deontology.

CLS 192-02 / PHIL 192-04. Ancient and Medieval Philosophy of Science. The course will introduce students to the idea of scientific knowledge in Ancient and Medieval philosophy. The primary focus of the course will be on the text and content of Aristotle's Posterior Analytics and its reception in the Arabic tradition and in the Latin Middle Ages. We will examine traditional questions such as the nature of the principles accepted in each science for the derivation of its specific content, the way in which boundaries between disciplines are drawn, the logic of demonstrative discourse and the theory of definition. We will trace the development of these ideas from Aristotle through the Greek Commentators; al-Fārābī, Avicenna, Averroes in the Arabic tradition; Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, Albert the Great, William of Ockham, and John Buridan in the Latin tradition, with a view to identifying several original ways in which the Aristotelian framework is modified and enriched over time, and solutions to some of its internal tensions are offered. The course will also deal with the problem of the transmission of the Posterior Analytics and the various stages of its translation. Similarities and differences from "alternative" models of knowledge from Antiquity through the late Middle Ages will be kept constantly in view. All readings will be in translation.

HIST 196-99 Science and Religion in Early Modern Europe. Did religion inhibit scientific activities in early modern Europe? Or did it help foment scientific engagement? What effect did Martin Luther's break from the Catholic Church have on the development of science? How was science used in religious imperialism? How important was the condemnation of Galileo? This research seminar focuses on the interplay between science and religion from ca. 1450-1700. We will examine a few specific cases, e.g. the trial of Galileo; the role of Copernicanism in the Catholic Church's calendar reform; the witchcraft accusations against Johannes Kepler's mother; the university reforms put forth by Luther's disciple Philip Melanchthon; the religious fanaticism of Isaac Newton; and the merging of religion and science in the conquest of the New World. In each session we will also discuss sources, historical methodology, and research strategies. Students will then choose a topic of research on which to write an extensive paper.

MATH 112 History of Mathematics. This course will cut across the timeline from antiquity to the present, looking at mathematical accomplishments in the context of mathematical cultures. Modern mathematics is bewilderingly specialized, and mathematicians have done a much worse job than our counterparts in other sciences of communicating our most important breakthroughs to the educated public. The history of mathematics provides a wonderful opportunity to open the\black box" and get to know how math works in all of its messy, contested complexities. In this course we'll look at shapes, numbers, and the infinite as they've been conceived across cultures and settings. We'll investigate the cast of characters who have contributed to the story, visiting colonial India, Nazi Germany, an interwar French fraternity, medieval Baghdad, royal courts, prisons, war rooms, and underground religious meetings. In doing so, we'll both explore and get beyond individual biography to understand who mathematicians are (and are not) and what they are up to.

PHIL 167 Science Before Newton's Principia. This is the first part of a two-course sequence focusing on Newton's Principia, the book that first showed the world how to do science in the modern sense of the term. In Philosophy 168 in the spring semester we will read the Principia itself. The revolution produced by the Principia is undoubtedly the most important single event in the history of science, ending controversies begun by the Copernican model of the planetary system and leading over the next 60 years to what we now call Newtonian mechanics. It produced no less of a revolution in scientific method by illustrating a way of marshaling evidence that stood in sharp contrast to both the narrow empiricist line then prevalent in England and the rationalist line prevalent on the continent. Because of this, the Principia is as important to philosophy of science as it is to history of science. It is the perfect work to focus on in investigating how science at its best succeeds in turning data into decisive evidence. In keeping with this, the question answered over the course of the two semesters is, How did we first come to have high quality evidence in any of the sciences? The Principia is accessible to a wide range of students. It requires no background in physics or calculus. It does, however, require historical knowledge of the scientific context in which it was written. Thus, the goal of the fall semester is to cover the background needed to grasp the force of the evidential arguments in the Principia. We will review the work on planetary orbits by Kepler and those after him; Galileo's efforts toward a science of motion; Descartes' theory of planetary motion; and studies of curvilinear motion by Huygens and Newton that led directly into the Principia.

SOC 108/CH 108 Epidemics: Plagues, Peoples, and Politics. Origins, epidemiology, and evolution of epidemics, rooted in biology, behavior, social organization, culture, and political economy. Societies' efforts to contain diseases, their effects on world history, and their cultural record in literature and contemporary sources. Cases range from early plagues (syphilis, smallpox, bubonic plague) and the recurrent threats of influenza, malaria, and tuberculosis, to nineteenth-century famines, and "modern" scourges such as the global challenge of AIDS and Ebola.