IDS385W-005: Special Topics

Topic: Natural History & the Other

January 10, 2017 - April 24, 2017
DaysTimeLocationInstructorGERCreditOPUS #
8:30am - 9:45am
Rich Building 104
Minella, Timothy

Fall, spring. Highly focused courses, drawing on multiple disciplines of the humanities and social sciences; may be repeated for credit when topics vary.

Course Description for IDS 385W 005 Natural History & the Other

How did human beings in the past attempt to make sense out of the bewildering diversity of animals, plants, people, and nonliving things on earth? This course examines practices of natural history from a variety of perspectives. We will study the various systems created to classify living and nonliving things, such as the Linnean system for organizing plant species and Chinese systems for organizing botanical medicines. Next, we will analyze how naturalists in the past dealt with wondrous and bizarre things found in nature. For example, we will see how the description of the American possum changed in European natural histories. At first described as a frightening monster, the possum eventually became a wonderful example of the maternal instinct in nature. We will also see how European practices of natural history relied on the expertise of non-European peoples, including Africans and Native Americans. Their knowledge of local plants and animals proved crucial in constructing natural historical knowledge. Finally, we will examine how natural history contributed to the construction of race and gender. For example, we will consider the case of Sarah Baartman, an African woman who was displayed in Britain and France in the early nineteenth century as a freak show attraction for her large buttocks. In a similar vein, we will analyze natural history as a tool of empire. In search of profitable staple crops to grow in colonies, European botanists sought out valuable plants to collect, classify, and transfer to new locations. This course will require several short writing assignments and a longer term paper due near the end of the semester.


The schedule of courses on O.P.U.S. is the official listing of courses, including days and times they meet and the General Education Requirements they satisfy. Students should use course descriptions as general guidelines. Course requirements, grading details, book lists, and syllabi are subject to change.