Courses at Duke University

 Cultural History of Paleontology

From 1677 when Englishman Robert Plot misidentified the first dinosaur fossil as an elephant from the Roman occupation to the tubby, cheerful TV creation "Barney," extinct creatures have played a significant role in our cultural imaginations. This course will explore the changing perceptions of dinosaurs, and other prehistoric creatures, in western culture from the eighteenth century to the present. The course will consist of three units: 1) Paleontology and Ideology, 2) Paleontology and the Nature of Science, and 3) Extinct Animals in Popular Culture. Among other things, we will discuss the use of archeology and paleontology to assert national identity, the role of the prehistoric world in the relationship between science and religion, what paleontology can tell us about the scientific process, and the place of extinct animals in popular culture. We will read academic texts such as Paul Semonin's book American Monster, as well as fictional pieces such as the short story "The Last Thunderhorse West of the Mississippi." In addition we will view the Disney film Dinosaur (2000) and the television show Walking With Prehistoric Beasts. Topics for the three major writing projects include an exploration of 20th century ideological uses of fossils, historic and contemporary scientific debates in paleontology, and the portrayal of extinct animals in cinema. 


Syllabus including marking policies

Schedule including writing project due dates, reading assignments, class activities, etc.

 

Science Communication Through Entertainment Media


Many of our perceptions of the natural world originate from entertainment media sources, such as science fiction novels, popular science magazines, nature documentaries, TV shows, fictional films, and comic books. Entertainment depictions of science encompass more than just a display of facts. They include all of science's significant elements - a body of knowledge, the methods of science, the social interactions among scientists, laboratory equipment, etc. The main goal of this course is to enable you to transform personal descriptive responses to media texts into well-crafted, thought-provoking, analytical essays. Other aims are to encourage you to think about the nature of science, to increase media literacy, and to foster an understanding of the impact of entertainment representations on our perceptions of the natural world. Over the course of the semester you will also learn how to become critical readers by investigating and speculating on particular problems, issues and themes and anchoring your ideas in textual evidence. We will focus particularly on the differences between science communicated through the written word, visually, and aurally, and the differences between science communicated through non-fictional and fictional entertainment. During the semester, students will explore the theme of science and entertainment media across different media formats, historical periods, and cultural contexts.


Syllabus including marking policies

Schedule including writing project due dates, reading assignments, class activities, etc.