Course Details

01:506:255 Science, Nature, and Empire

  • Academic Credits: 3
  • SAS Core: HST, CCO
  • Mode of Instruction: Lecture
  • Syllabus:  pdf Spring 2022 (451 KB)

    Syllabus Disclaimer:  The information on this syllabus is subject to change. For up-to-date course information, please refer to the syllabus on your course site (Sakai, Canvas, etc.) on the first day of class.

  • Course Description

    Who owns the rights to genetic material? Has global warming begun to drive evolution? Should we dim the sun?

    These are some of the questions animating contemporary conversations about how to navigate the fraught relationship between humans and the natural world. But humans have fought bitterly for control over earth’s resources long before pharmaceutical companies began vying for genetic patents to medicinal plants. This course will explore the vexed but longstanding relationship between science, nature, and power from the 15th century to our own in a global context. In doing so, we will ask how the pursuit of natural knowledge and imperialism have been co-constitutive of each other and the ways in which natural knowledge has been both a tool of oppression and resistance.

    Drawing together a range of historical and contemporary sources, this course explores the sites, sciences, instruments, and networks through which natural knowledge becomes entangled with political power. We will give special attention to the social dimensions of scientific encounters in colonies; the relationship between metropolis, periphery, and scientific practice; and to the political and cultural place of scientific knowledge in regions which have experienced colonial rule. Topics will range from the histories of botanic gardens and botanic illustrations to Andean mummies to current day biopiracy. This class introduces students to key episodes in the history of science and colonialism while also encouraging critical engagement with the role of natural knowledge in the world around us today. As we encounter new forms of biopiracy and with the rise of new environmental threats from climate change, the relationship between race, science, and imperialism is being rethought not just academically but also in a range of practical, commercial, and political arenas.