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Fall 2009 SAS Signature Courses

The School of Arts and Sciences Signature Courses are of grand intellectual sweep designed to introduce students to questions of lasting importance. They establish a common basis for intellectual exchange among students and faculty inside and outside the classroom, defining us as members of a common SAS community.  Each course is made of lectures and small discussion sections and count for various SAS requirements.

For more information on the SAS Signature Course Initiative, contact Susan Lawrence, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Professors Paul Falkowski,  Alan Goldman, Monica Mazurek and Ronald Ransome
Departments of Marine, Earth and Planetary Sciences, Chemistry, Civil and Environmental Engineering, and Physics

Wondering what the "energy" problem is all about? Here is your chance to learn what energy is, where it comes from, how we make it, how we use it, and how we will have to change the way we make it in the coming decades.

“Energy and Climate” introduces non-science majors to science and the scientific method -- and answers the question: “How do scientists think about the world?” – in the context of one of the most critical challenges facing us today: society’s need for energy and the resulting impact on climate and the environment.  The course surveys climatology, physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, economics and public policy as they relate to energy and sustainability considered from a global perspective.  The course is composed of individual modules, or groups of 3-5 lectures, each taught by an expert in his or her field.

In this course you will develop the familiarity with and understanding of science and the scientific method necessary to make intelligent assessments of our efforts to grapple with society’s need for energy and the resulting impact on climate and the environment.  Addressing humanity’s need for sustainable energy requires the integration of science with other disciplines and perspectives.  Science is too important to be left only in the hands of scientists.  The 21st century workforce dealing with this complex topic will necessarily be multidisciplinary. 

This course is recommended for non-science majors who want to gain an understanding of science and the scientific method that they can then bring to bear on the consideration of humanitarian, political, and economic questions of public and private policy.  This course is particularly recommended for students pursing majors or minors in the social sciences and in areas of the humanities impacted by energy and climate and it is of interest to students in engineering and the natural sciences.  This course can be used to fulfill the SAS Natural Science and Global Awareness Requirements.


Professors: Fran Mascia-Lees & Rob Scott
Department of Anthropology

Do you worry about nuclear annihilation? Does the possibility of bioterrorism scare you? Are you dismayed by growing political violence and on-going cultural genocides in places such as Darfur? Are you concerned about habitat destruction, catastrophic climate change, widespread famine, or newly drug resistant diseases? Ever wonder what it means to be a species that can imagine its own demise, understand its role in the demise of another, or contemplate the end of all life?

Extinction is a term that evokes fear and dread. However, although extinctions are destructive, they can provide opportunities, as in the emergence of our primate ancestors who evolved after the mass extinction of dinosaurs. Yet the extinction of entire cultures and languages results in losses of human imagination that can never be recovered. How, then, might we make sense of this process that has been so commonplace in the past and continues to confront us today? Can we only fear it, or can we come to understand it in ways that reveal both its perils and possibilities, and inform our decisions about critical issues in the contemporary global world? Extinction takes a multi-perspective, interdisciplinary approach to understanding the extinction of human cultural systems and groups and other species, and its consequences. It provides a critical and holistic understanding of extinction as a biological and cultural process and probes the meaning and significance of such processes for humans around the globe in the 21st century.

This course is suitable for social science, humanities, and natural science students. It can be used to fulfill the social science, natural science, and diversity & global awareness requirements. It is particularly recommended for students who intend to pursue majors or minors in anthropology, various area studies, biological sciences, ecology, geography, history, linguistics, philosophy, political science and public policy, religion, sociology, and women and gender studies. This course carries credit toward the major and minor in Anthropology.


Professor Ethel Brooks
Department of Women’s and Gender Studies

Has the “war on terror” affected your life? In the absence of military conscription, do U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, or Guantanamo influence everyday life within the United States? How are we to make sense of Humvees on the highway or camouflage gear as a fashion trend? Are there connections between genocide and gang membership, or between war and particular modes of labor and production, or between military bases and sexual violence? Does “homeland security” make you more or less secure?

War is often legitimized as essential to the founding and preservation of nation-states, or as a strategy of revolution and emancipation, or as a site of valor, where warriors deploy their strength to protect their homelands and families. But war is also an instrument of mass death for combatants and noncombatants alike. This course provides an overview of critical scholarship that illuminates dimensions of war seldom considered in popular culture or in traditional approaches to violent conflict. It begins by contrasting dominant accounts of war developed by international relations scholars with analyses of the raced and gendered aspects and consequences of war for both domestic and foreign policies. Adopting a global focus, the course examines topics ranging from militarization to genocide and considers the complex effects of war, terror, and state terror including displacement, migration, refugee experience, nation-building, changing labor regimes, production practices, and rights regimes.

This course will be of interest to all students who wish to understand the pervasive effects of militarization. It may have particular appeal to social science, humanities, and natural science students seeking to fulfill the interdisciplinary, diversity, or global awareness requirements. It is recommended for students who intend to pursue majors or minors in women's and gender studies, sociology, political science/international relations, history, area studies, and studies of race and ethnicity. This course carries credit toward the major and minor in Women’s and Gender Studies.

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