And here’s one more concept course, but the great thing about this one is that I’m actually teaching it next year, with Bill Turkel. (Bill said in response to my last two posts, “I think your idea of ‘concept courses’ is great, except I think we should only teach concept courses, all of us, and standardized syllabuses and canons be damned.”)
Science, Technology, and Global History
There are mad and beautiful things beneath the skin of the world we know, that you only see when you look at things on a planetary scale.
— Warren Ellis, Planetary
I’m coming to think of Science, Technology, and Global History as a history of science and technology course with the brakes removed. It was Bill’s creation, I should say, but he kindly brought me on board to teach the second half. Here’s a tentative outline of the course, still a work in progress. The main ideas guiding us are a critique of disciplinary divisions between the sciences and humanities–we believe that history and science share important similarities–and also an effort to look at the histories of science and technology in a truly global or transnational way. This latter goal takes both Bill and I out of our wheelhouse, as a Canadianist and an Americanist respectively, but we are choosing to regard that as a feature rather than a bug.
The course is also inspired by “big history” or “deep history,” which employs the tools of science, social science, and traditional history to study the past over extremely long scales of time. That’s more Bill’s problem than mine, mind you: his semester goes from the Big Bang (or maybe just the late Pleistocene) to the Enlightenment. I just have to get from Darwin to the near future. But grappling with notions of deep history (including my own doubts about it–see Alun Salt’s post on the subject from December for some questions similar to the ones I have) has been a mind-expanding treat.
The format of the class is not all that radical–students, lecture, chronological order, exams–but our guiding philosophy in planning it has been to try everything that occurs to us that might be interesting or novel or cool. “What if we had a Google Jockey?” “What if I lectured on phlogiston as if it were real?” “What if we had our students collaborate online with a history of science class in India?” “What if we got our students to critique the Civilization tech tree?” “What if we told our students to redesign the university?” Clearly, Bill and I are terrible influences on one another. I expect as many of our experiments to fail as to succeed, but I doubt we will get bored.