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Syllabus Topics in Natural History

Syllabus Topics in Natural History

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Published by: Lucas Llach on Mar 25, 2013
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 History 70cReading Seminar: Topics in Natural History
Fall 2012Robinson 105Daniel Lord SmailRobinson 218Office hours T 11:30-1:00, 2:30-3:30, and by appt.smail@fas.harvard.edu;496-0149Course iSite 
Description and Course Expectations 
One of the most exciting developments in the field of history inrecent years has been the emergence of an approach that treats
all 
of the human past, from several million years ago to the present, as theappropriate framework for history. You need to have this sweeping chronological frame if you want to ask the biggest questions of all: What does it mean to be human? How did we get here from there? Are we swept along by forces larger than us, or can we make adifference? A deep history is the antidote to the shallow histories thatyou often get in high schools and colleges. But although the arguments for deep history areclear and convincing, the task of implementation is going to be the work of the nextgeneration. How do we make the deep past relevant to historians and other people who work mainly in the last few hundred years? Does the natural history method make any difference to the way in which you might do your own historical research? How can we buildup the chronological scaffolding that all of us need to navigate the human past? How do wetranslate scientific studies into something that is recognizable as
history 
? This course is intended for highly motivated students who are eager to explore theemerging field of deep history and the methodology of natural history. It is at once a coursein history, history of science, the sciences of the human past, and the philosophy of history.Since the subject is larger than anything we could hope to cover in a semester, this courserelies heavily on each and every member of the class to explore areas and readings nototherwise covered on the syllabus and to share findings with others. Although this course is reading seminar designed for history concentrators, it is opento all students, and especially welcoming to ambitious freshmen and non-declaredsophomores. Bear in mind that this course will ask you to do a good deal of reading andrequires something on the order of 12,000 words of writing (around 35-40 pages).
 
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Class format 
  This course is a seminar built around class discussion of a set of required weekly readingsand additional reading on your own. Short titles are listed on the syllabus; consult thebibliography for complete bibliographic information. A variety of written assignments andreports are due in stages over the semester. Discussion threads on the course iSite are very important.
Graded assignments 
 There are no exams or quizzes in this course.Response papers (25%). A short response paper of 400-500 words, single-spaced, neverexceeding one page in length, is due at the beginning of class every Wednesday starting in week 2. Since these papers may be circulated in class as part of weekly discussion youneed to bring them to class. No late papers are accepted. The papers are to be based onthe common readings but may address issues arising out of other readings. Twelve aredue over the course of the semester. You may drop the lowest two grades and/or skiptwo papers. These often work best if you write in the first-person singular. Three outside reading reports (25% total), each about 1000-1200 words in length. Thepurpose of these reports is to extend the amount of material we can collectively covereach week. Suggested topics are identified on the syllabus and described in more detailon the course iSite. A first drafts of your report must be posted in the Outside Reading Report section of the course iSite by Monday at 5pm. All students in the class mustprovide feedback in the form of discussion threads, and a revised reading report oradditional comments, incorporating any feedback you wish, is due within two days of theclass meeting. Be prepared to discuss your reports in class.Final Project (25%). Ca. 3,000-3,500 words in length (or equivalent) and due at the endof class. The project can be a standard research or bibliographic essay. It can be a well-researched work of fiction, a documentary, or a book proposal. It can be a thoughtfuland
well-researched 
blog developed and maintained over the course of the semester.Collaborative work is encouraged, as long as the ambition of the project scales with thenumber of collaborators.Class participation (25%). This is important. It includes:
o
 
Discussion in class
o
 
 Weekly responses to Outside Reading Reports. Each week, you must read allthe ORRs posted on Monday and respond to at least two
before 
class on Wednesday.
o
 
Participation in other discussion threads that may develop on the courseiSite.
Required readings 
 The readings for this course vary widely in level of difficulty, tone, style of presentation, andeven (at times) relevance. In the absence of any overarching field of deep history, there is nosingle standard that defines how work in the field is written. I can guarantee that you will, attimes, be frustrated by the variation in the readings, but I expect you to give every reading your best effort. All of the required readings for this course that are in book form can be found onreserve in Lamont. Most articles can be found in Hollis. Where permitted by copyright law, I
 
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 will be making electronic versions of the readings available to you through the course website. You may wish to buy some or all of the books listed on the course iSite through an internet bookseller. For the outside reading reports, take steps right away either to buy the
books you’ll be reading or acquire/recall from the library. Don’t leave this to the last minute
since it can take a week or more for a recalled book to be returned to the library.
Syllabus Week 1, Sept. 5 Introduction: What is History?
 
Introduction
o
 
Course overview 
o
 
 What is History?
o
 
Can history borrow from biology and anthropology (and vice versa)?
 Week 2, Sept. 12 History and Deep Time
 
Questions and Goals for Discussion:
o
 
 The discipline of history largely confines itself to the "short chronology" of the past 5,000-6,000 years. Why is this so? Is the short chronology natural tothe discipline? Is a deep history just a form of anthropology, or do historiansbring their own priorities to a study of the deep past?
 
Common Readings:
o
 
Smail,
On Deep History and the Brain 
, 1-73
o
 
Shryock and Smail,
Deep History 
 
 
chapter 1, “Introduction”
 
 
chapter 2,
“Imagining the Human in Deep Time”
 
 
c
hapter 10, “Scale”
 
 
 Topics for Outside Reading and Reports (see the course iSite for more details):
o
 
The Time Revolution 
 
o
 
Big history surveys 
 
o
 
 Africa: A Biography of a Continent 
 
 Week 3, Sept. 19 Diaspora
 
Questions and Goals for Discussion:
o
 
 The major goal this week is to get a sense of early human diasporas andexpansions and relate them to more recent ones. Hominins, it seems, havebeen a restlessly colonizing genus for at least 1.8 million years. Do theseexpansions, placed in sequence, constitute a history, or are earlier expansionssomehow biological, in contrast to the culturally driven expansions of recentcenturies? Is there an equivalence (historical or moral) between the Africancolonization of Europe in the Upper Paleolithic (starting ca. 50,000 bp) andthe European colonization of the Americas, Africa, and Australia that took place in recent historical time?

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