Earth Science and Society

The challenges presented by climate change, resource conflicts, and natural disasters point to the importance of studying the intersection of earth processes and human societies. The interdisciplinary Earth Science and Society major draws on the two allied disciplines housed in the department of Earth Science and Geography. From Earth Science, students gain an understanding of natural processes that impact the distribution and use of resources such as water, fossil fuels, and soil, as well as natural hazards such as climate change, tsunamis and earthquakes. From Geography, students learn about the spatial distribution of physical and human phenomena and how human societies have been shaped by and also have changed the natural world.

Students follow a focused series of Earth Science and Geography courses, normally within one of two general themes (below); students may propose course substitutions in consultation with their adviser or the chairs of the department.

1) Physical geography theme:

This theme focuses on understanding patterns and processes in the natural environment that shape landscapes, with emphasis on climate, soils, water, landforms, and natural hazards.

Earth Science & Society 100 or Geography 102, 220, 224, 226, 230, 258, 260, 340, 356, Earth Science 121, 131, 151, 161, 201, 211, 221, 231, 251, 311, 321, 335, 361

2) Land and resource analysis theme:

This theme focuses on the uneven distribution of resources, such as agricultural soils, water, or energy; implications for human societies, and various approaches to achieve sustainable development.

Earth Science & Society 100 or Geography 102, 220, 224, 226, 230, 238, 242, 246, 250, 254, 258, 260, 266, 304, 340, 356, 380, 384, Earth Science 111, 151, 161, 201, 211, 221, 231, 261, 311, 321, 341, 361

Requirements for Concentration: 12 units to include the following: (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 230, Geographic Research Methods; (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) Geography 304, or another senior seminar, or an optional interdisciplinary senior thesis (Earth Science and Society 300a.-301b.). Specific courses will be chosen in consultation with the student’s adviser and/or the chairs of the department.

Senior-Year Requirements: Geography 304, or another senior seminar, or an optional interdisciplinary senior thesis (Earth Science and Society 300a.-301b.). Majors must write a senior thesis to be considered for departmental honors.

Field Work: The department sponsors 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.

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.

Earth Resource Challenges

(Same as Geography 100b, Environmental Studies 100b, and Earth Science 100b) 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 2009/10b: Carbon Conflicts: Coal, Oil, and Diamonds and the Making of the Modern 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 socio-economic 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.

Senior Thesis

An original study, integrating perspectives of geography and earth science. The formal research proposal is first developed in Geography 304, 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.

Gender, Resources and Justice

(Same as Women's Studies 331) 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.

Not offered in 2009/10.

Senior Independent Work