Home

Back to "About ELT"

Earth, Life, and Time Colloquium

The ELT Colloquium represents a series of 1 credit classes (CPSP 118G for Semesters I and II; CPSP 218G for Semester III) in which the students and faculty meet to explore aspects of natural historical sciences. It also serves as the means through which field trips are organized, and in which general Scholars matters are conducted.

In the ELT Colloquium, we hope to:

Each semester of the Earth, Life & Time program forms one coherent whole that also contributes to a three semester long exploration on the methods and perspectives of natural historical sciences and their interaction with human society. The breakdown of topics listed below reflects a new redistribution of elements from previous years, reflecting comments from previous students about topics which they would like to see pursued at greater depth.

Semester I is divided into two sections. In the first part, The Nature of Science, students will learn the basic intellectual "tool kit" of the scientific enterprise. They will discuss how Science differs from other fields of human endeveour, with a particular emphasis on distinguishing scientific from pseudoscientific thinking. Students will also discuss the influence of our understanding (and often misunderstanding) of Science upon contemporary society. We will examine real cases of Science gone bad, and the effect (good and bad) of popular portrayals of Science and scientists has on the public. The second half of the semester, Holtz & Merck's School of Rock, examines the basic realities of the geological world as an example of what scientific discovery can reveal. We will explore phenomena such as natural disasters and climate change in their proper context: that of Earth's changing systems, plate tectonics, and the immensity of "deep time." We will examine how our understanding of geology allows us to study the nature of other worlds, and to trace the history of life on Earth.

Readings for the semester include selections from Thomas Kida's Don't Believe Everything You Think, Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World and Marcia Bjornerud's Reading the Rocks. Additionally, we will guide the students (both experts and novices) in website design, and the students will construct and mount their own professional academic website to be used for the rest of their tenure in ELT.

Syllabus.

Semester II focuses on the The Evolution of Life and Natural History of Humanity. We will discuss the realities of biological evolution, with an emphasis on the power of Natural Selection to shape morphology, physiology, and behavior. Students will learn how to reconstruct the evolutionary history of groups of organism by means of phylogenetic analysis. We will examine particular case studies in the history of life. The primary focus for the latter half of the semester will be studying how to interpret human biology and behavior from an evolutionary perspective, and how to trace the history of cultures and languages. We will discuss what the evolution of life and intelligence here on Earth might imply for living things on other worlds.

Readings will include chapters from Carl Zimmer's Evolution: The Triumph of An Idea, Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5 Billion Year History of the Human Body, and Jared Diamond's The Third Chimpanzee.

Syllabus.

Semester III explores Nature, Science & Society. We will study of human technologies impact the living and non-living world around us. We will explore issues of the interaction of the human and non-human living world, such as the genetic modification basis of ALL agriculture (from ancient time to today), the origins of diseases, past and present biodiversity declines, and climate change. Students will also discuss the influence of our understanding (and often misunderstanding) of Science upon contemporary society. We will examine real cases of Science gone bad, and the effect (good and bad) of popular portrayals of Science and scientists has on the public. Students will learn how to critically evaluate scientific claims in the media.

Readings include chapters from Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers, and Robert Park's Voodoo Science. In preparation for their fourth semester independent practicum projects, we will teach students some basics of raster and vector graphics software.

Syllabus.

At the end of their third semester in the program, after the colloquia are over, we asked our students to write up a review of their time in ELT so far. (To see the assignment, look here.) Here, here, and here are what previous cohorts of students wrote.

Last modified: 7 August 2009