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The Idea of Nature: Theory and Practice

HIST 309
Spring 2020
Section: 01  
Certificates: Social, Cultural, and Critical Theory
Course Cluster: Social, Cultural, and Critical Theory Certificate

What is nature, that our minds are so full of it? Aristotle, the first naturalist in European intellectual history, called it an inner principle of change, and wove his observations of the natural world into the fabric of his philosophy; Darwin inherited a millennia-old tradition of thinking about change in nature and produced the theory of evolution we live with today. This seminar charts the long history of the idea of nature in European thought, moving between the histories of philosophy and what was once called "natural philosophy" and is now called "science." Along the way, we will meet the constituent parts of living "nature": animals (what are they, anyway? And are we them?), plants, and then, with the advent of microscopy, the cell itself. This course also explores the cultural life of the idea of nature, by devoting substantial time to a specific case study: the natural history museum, a creation of the Victorian period that has, for more than a hundred years, offered many people their first glimpse of the idea that nature is the kind of thing that has a meaningful past, and possibly a future as well. How did natural history museums explore evolutionary theory for the general public? How did they expand people's sense of time, and of the variety of species in nature? How did they court, and deal with, political and religious controversy? And how were they sometimes the beneficiaries of, and complicit in, the political and intellectual project of colonialism? We explore all these questions. Readings include Aristotle, Hans Blumenberg, Georges Canguilhem, Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, Pierre Hadot, Donna Haraway, Ursula LeGuin, Harriet Ritvo, Sophia Roosth, and Steven Shapin.
Credit: 1 Gen Ed Area Dept: SBS HIST
Course Format: SeminarGrading Mode: Graded
Level: UGRD Prerequisites: None
Fulfills a Major Requirement for: (CSCT)(HIST-MN)(HIST)
Past Enrollment Probability: 75% - 89%

Last Updated on JUL-13-2024
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