Earth Science and Society

The Department of Earth Science 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, earth science 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 Earth Science 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; Earth Science 151, Earth, Environment, and Humanity; Earth Science 161, The Evolution of Earth and its Life); (2) a methods course selected from among Geography 220, Cartography: Making Maps with GIS, Geography 224, GIS: Spatial analysis; Geography 228, Research Methods, or Geography 230, Spatial Statistics; (3) a sequence of three courses in earth science 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 (Earth Science and Society 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 earth science 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; Earth Science 101, Geohazards, and Earth Science 103, The Earth Around Us, 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.

Course Offerings

Also see Earth Science and Geography

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

(Same as Geography 100, Environmental Studies 100, and Earth Science 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 2008/09b: Food and Farming. Food production shapes our landscapes as much as any other phenomenon. Farming is also controlled by environmental, geographic, and economic forces. In this course, we examine the ways geology and geography affect, and are affected by, farming systems. We examine major themes in physical geography (biogeographic and climate patterns, landscape evolution and conservation) and geology (soil formation, geomorphology, water resources) as they affect farming. We also examine industrial and organic farming strategies and their effects on our land and water. We focus mainly on North America with added examples from other parts of the world. Ms. Cunningham.

Two 75-minute periods.

300b. Senior Thesis (1)

An original study, integrating perspectives of geography and earth science. 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 earth science, who serves as the principal adviser. A second faculty member from the other respective discipline participates in the final evaluation.

380a. Gender, Resources and Justice (1)

(Same as Women’s Studies 380) This multidisciplinary course acquaints students with the debates and theoretical approaches involved in understanding resource issues from a gender and justice perspective. It is intended for those in the social and natural sciences who, while familiar with their own disciplinary approaches to resource issues, are not familiar with gendered perspectives on resource issues and the activism that surrounds them. It is also appropriate for students of gender studies unfamiliar with feminist scholarship in this area.

Increasing concern for the development of more sustainable production systems has led to consideration of the ways in which gender, race, and class influence human-earth interactions. The course examines conceptual issues related to gender studies, earth systems, and land-use policies. It interrogates the complex intersections of activists, agencies and institutions in the global arena through a focus on contested power relations. The readings, videos and other materials used in the class are drawn from both the South and the North to familiarize students with the similarities and differences in gendered relationships to the earth, access to resources, and resource justice activism. Ms. Schneiderman.

One 2-hour period.

399a or b. Senior Independent Work (1)