Earth Science and Society

Faculty: see Geology-Geography

The Department of Geology and Geography is unique at Vassar for we combine within the same department the distinctive perspectives of both the natural and social sciences. By exploring the many processes shaping the planet, geology provides an understanding of the physical limits of human activity. By examining societies in their spatial and regional contexts, geography helps explain the human dimensions of global change. Thus, students interested in the interactions between humans and the Earth can engage that concern via the interdisciplinary major in Earth Science and Society. The Earth Science and Society major presents an integrated and rigorous focus on the earth as humanity’s home. It offers students the opportunity to engage in interdisciplinary inquiry with faculty in one department while learning the theories and methodologies of the two geosciences.

Students majoring in Earth Science and Society take courses in the department in order to satisfy the major requirements. Some of these courses are cross-listed between Geology and Geography; others are cross-listed with Environmental Studies, International Studies, and Urban Studies. Interdisciplinary courses outside the department relevant to the study of Earth Science and Society may be substituted in partial fulfillment of the major. Such substitution must be discussed with the faculty adviser and approved by the department. A student interested in the major should consult with the chair of the department as early as possible to plan a coherent course of study.

Requirements for Concentration: 12 units to be distributed as follows, with specific courses chosen in consultation with the chair of the department and the student’s adviser, and with the approval of the department. (1) Three departmental survey courses that provide a firm grasp of the earth system, its people, and history (Geography 102, Global Geography; Geology 151, Earth, Environment, and Humanity; Geology 161, The Evolution of Earth and its Life); (2) a methods course selected from among Geography 220, Cartography: Making Maps with GIS, Geography 222, Geographic Research Methods, or Geography 224, GIS: Spatial analysis; (3) a sequence of three courses in geology including at least one at the 300-level; (4) a sequence of three courses in geography including at least one at the 300-level; (5) the senior seminar, Geography 302; (6) an optional interdisciplinary senior thesis (Geography 300) or an additional 300-level course in the department during the senior year.

Senior-Year Requirements: Geography 300 (or another 300-level course), Geography 302. Majors must write a senior thesis to be considered for departmental honors.

Field Work: The department offers field work in geography and geology which can count towards the major at the 200-level. Summer geology field camp, an internship, independent study, or selected coursework taken during junior year study away from Vassar may be credited as field work.

Early Advising: The broad spatial and temporal view afforded by the geosciences is invaluable for a variety of pursuits. The department offers at least two half-unit courses; Geology 103, The Earth Around Us, and Geology 101, Geohazards that introduce students unfamiliar with the perspective of the geosciences to the disciplines. We urge potential majors to enroll in these courses, as well as Earth Science and Society 100. Also, potential majors should consult with a faculty member in the department as soon as possible in order to determine a course of study that reflects the interests and aspirations of the student. After declaration of the major, no required courses may be elected NRO.

Advisers: Ms. Cunningham, Mr. Godfrey, Mr. McAdoo, Ms. Menking, Mr. Nevins, Ms. Schneiderman, Mr. Walker, Ms. Zhou.

Related Links

Course Offerings

See Geography and Geology.

100a. and [b.] Earth Resource Challenges (1)

(Same as Geography 100 and Geology 100) As an introduction to the earth sciences and geography, this course combines the insights of the natural and social sciences. Geographers bring spatial analysis of human environmental change and its implications, while earth scientists contribute their skills and knowledge of the diverse natural processes shaping the earth’s surface. Together these distinctive yet complementary fields contribute to comprehensive understandings of the physical limitations and potentials, uses and misuses of the earth’s natural resources. Each semester the topic of the course changes to focus on selected resource problems facing societies and environments around the world.

Topic for 2006a: Carbon Conflicts: Coal, Oil, and Diamonds and the Making of the Modem World. Carbon is a basic building block of life and a critical component of the modern world. This course focuses on the extraction, production, and consumption of three carbon-based commodities: coal, oil, and diamonds. In doing so, the course introduces students to the geological and human geographical factors underlying the discovery, mining, and distribution of these resources and the resulting environmental transformations. These transformations have made highly significant contributions to the making of the global political economy, while facilitating unprecedented levels of socioeconomic development and wealth accumulation alongside social devastation and ecological degradation. The course examines these contradictory effects and the uneven distribution of benefits and detriments associated with them, while investigating the ties between the commodification of these resources and wars and conflicts of various sorts (e.g. ecological, labor). Toward the end, students consider the viability of alternatives to these commodified resources given their centrality to the modern world and our collective way of life. Mr. McAdoo and Mr. Nevins.

Two 75-minute periods.

300b. Senior Thesis (1)

An original study, integrating perspectives of geography and geology. The formal research proposal is first developed in Geography 302, the senior seminar, and then is presented to a faculty member in either geography or geology, who serves as the principal adviser. A second faculty member from the other respective discipline participates in the final evaluation.

399a or b. Senior Independent Work (1)