Spring 2020 Courses

These are the courses that will be taught during the Spring 2020 semester.


Course Descriptions

A Century of Environmental Thought

This course examines the emergence of environmental consciousness in the United States throughout the 20th century. Students in this course will study the original writings of some of the most important thinkers and activists in the history of environmentalism, examine the social contexts in which their ideas formed, and consider their relevance to contemporary sustainability issues.

Course Number: IHSS 1310

Instructor: Kate Sohasky, Lecturer,

AI and Society

In this course, we'll jointly explore the central ideas and anticipated societal impacts of Artificial Intelligence (AI).

  • What is AI and how will it shape the world in the decades to come?
  • What ideas enable machines to see, use language, and reason, and how will these machines affect the world?

You will be introduced to state of art development in AI, discuss how the growth of AI impacts individuals and society, and explore how we can make AI better serve people’s needs.

With the rapid development of technologies, AI is playing an increasingly important role in our society. AI can not only facilitate people in their everyday lives (e.g. smart home, Siri and other chatbots that provide directions and other useful information, Amazon’s drones for making deliveries), but also have the power of monitoring and manipulating people’s interaction. The study of AI therefore should come not only from the technological perspective, but also social and psychological perspectives.

This course is an excellent gateway course for an HCI concentration where human computer interactions are construed in the broadest possible terms.  This course is also an excellent foundation for the informed and responsible use of computer-based technology.

Course Number: IHSS 1972

Ralph G. Noble and Mei Si

The Art of Listening

Listening to each other, ourselves, and our surroundings can be a transformative experience that enhances well-being. In this course, a heightened awareness to sound will be developed through experiential exercises, creative projects, collaborations, readings, lectures, and discussion. The course introduces "Deep Listening," a practice developed by pioneer composer and humanitarian Pauline Oliveros to enhance and expand listening abilities and to encourage creative work.

Course Number:  IHSS 1180

Instructor:  Stephanie Loveless

Great Ideas in Philosophy

This course invites you into the world of philosophical ideas and reasoning -- to join a great conversation that has unfolded since Socrates exhorted people to lead an examined life 2,400 years ago in Ancient Greece. We will explore such issues as whether some ways of acting and living are morally better than others, the relationship that exists between mind and body, and whether philosophy has anything to contribute to ongoing discussions about the existence and nature of God. This course will include both frequent discussion and written assignments, and will aim to help you develop your skills in each of these modes of communication. This course is communication intensive.

Course Number: IHSS 1165

Instructor: Daniel Thero, Lecturer, Cognitive Science

PHD, State University of New York at Albany

History of Animation

This course is an exploration of the history of animation. We will begin with a look at precursors to the medium, its formation, and development, trace its development through both mainstream and experimental animation, to the current state of the medium across film, interactive media and other forms. The course will be based around screenings, readings, discussions and response and research papers.

Course Number: IHSS 1160

Instructor: TBA

History of Design

Design is and has been a means to solve problems by addressing how the materiality of form enhances function. Through a historical perspective, you will discover how design shapes, and is shaped by, culture and society. Sampling a range of fields, including graphics, architecture, and fashion, you will consider how design thinking takes on challenges from the most mundane to complex social or environmental concerns.

Course Number: IHSS 1969

Instructor: TBA

History of Jazz and Improvised Music

It is now over a century since the release of the first commercially successful jazz recording. Since that time, the energy, vitality, and challenging nature of jazz has had a major impact on music throughout the world. The question of "what is jazz" remains a lively and contentious discussion to this day. This course charts the emergence, evolution, and expanded influence of jazz music, as well as the many controversial musical, social, and philosophical questions it continues to provoke. The work of influential figures in American and European improvised music will be examined in detail, and the continuing development of jazz-inspired contemporary practices will be explored.

Through listening, analysis, discussion, writing, and creative projects, we will develop a greater appreciation and understanding of improvised music in a great variety of contexts, the crucial role American jazz played in revitalizing improvisational practice throughout the 20th and 21st Centuries, and the conditions which lead to the creation of new musical languages and aesthetics. By the end of the course, students will be able to identify major figures in jazz and jazz-influenced improvised music, identify different styles and eras, and have a basic vocabulary for discussing music both analytically and in personal responses.

Course Number: IHSS XXXX


Matthew Goodheart, Lecturer, Arts

PhD, Music, U.C. Berkeley

IT and Society

Will IT increase prosperity? For whom? What role should governments play in IT development? Do corporations have new responsibilities in the Information Era? What about IT professionals? This course explores the issues, the arguments, and working solutions. The first section examines macro indicators and trends. The second section examines the microeconomics and politics of specific arenas—the software industry, the automated work place, telemedicine, television. The last section explores opportunities for improving society, using IT. This is a communication-intensive course.

Course Number: 1220

Instructor: Chris Tozzi, Senior Lecturer, Science and Technology Studies

PhD, Johns Hopkins University

Music and Nature

Music and Nature explores the intersections between music and nature from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. Music will be approached as artistic expression, as well as a form of knowledge that can heighten our sensitivity and awareness of the environment and natural processes.

Music and Nature incorporates reading and writing assignments, and individual and group creative projects.

Course Number: IHSS 1720

Instructor: TBA

Popular Music and Society

What makes music popular? This course examines popular music in society, considering the ways in which it may express identities, motivate political movements, and function within various economic and technological environments. Lectures are supplemented by listening assignments, both of recordings and live performances.

Course Number:  IHSS 1710

Instructor: TBA

Race, Class, Gender and Technology

One of the most important things to learn about race, class and gender is that they are systemic forms of inequality. This does not make them irrelevant as individual or group characteristics but points us to the analysis of social structure to think about how race, class, and gender operate, what they mean, and how they influence people’s lives. Using a social structural analysis of race, class gender and technology turns our attention to how they work as systems of power-systems that differentially advantage and disadvantage groups depending on their social location. This course seeks to explore the convergence of gender, class, race and technology in the workplace by analyzing policies and investigating the way management organizes work around new technology and identifying the personnel practices that shape the workforce and the application of new technology.

Instructor:  Michael Stanford, Phd

Lecturer, Science and Technology Studies

Science and Scientific Misconduct

This course will provide a comprehensive introduction to the field of ethics of scientific research.  Why do seemingly good people do bad things?  What is science?  What is “bad” science? What constitutes scientific misconduct?  We will explore the answers to these questions through fields such as Sociology, History, Philosophy, Psychology etc.  Using evidence from contemporary and historical scientific experiments we will try to understand why researchers might commit scientific misconduct such as fabrication of results, plagiarism, and falsification of data.  A brief overview some philosophical theories of ethics and several professional/scientific codes of ethics will be covered.


Particular scientific discoveries will be examined, e.g. the Tuskegee Syphillis Study, to find out where the process of discovery went wrong.  Narratives of scientific discovery, in particular the discovery of the double helix, will be explored and analyzed to understand issues of objectivity and bias in scientific work.  A historical review of human subjects experiments such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment and the Arizona State Havasupai Genetic Experiment will be reviewed to understand issues of informed consent, cultural discrimination and whistleblowing.

Course Number: IHSS 1160


Susan L. Smith, Lecturer, Cognitive Science

PhD, University at Buffalo

Sociology and Inequality

Social inequality results from a society organized by hierarchies of class, race, and gender that broker access to resources and rights in ways that make their distribution unequal. It can manifest in a variety of ways, like income and wealth inequality, unequal access to education and cultural resources, and differential treatment by the police and judicial system, among others. Social inequality goes hand in hand with social stratification. Social inequality is characterized by the existence of unequal opportunities and rewards for different social positions or statuses within a group or society. It contains structured and recurrent patterns of unequal distributions of goods, wealth, opportunities, rewards, and punishments. Racism, for example, is understood to be a phenomenon whereby access to rights and resources is unfairly distributed across racial lines. In the context of the U.S., people of color typically experience racism, which benefits white people by conferring on them white privilege, which allows them greater access to rights and resources than other Americans. This course will examine and explore the sociology of inequality from varying theoretical perspectives, how it operates and/or functions within social institutions.

Course Number:  IHSS

Michael Stanford, PhD

Science and Technology Studies


Songs of Identity (Diversity_X)

How do we "reflect the times” through songwriting today? In this writing-intensive music course, we will begin by learning a framework for analyzing and listening to songs and other creative musical writings, such as poetry. Through class presentations on contemporary performance and politics, writing and creative exercises, and lectures on beginning music composition, you will build your own portfolio of song compositions.

You will be expected to write and perform frequently, as compositions will be peer-reviewed. The final project for this course will be a revised portfolio of songs composed for the class, including a short performance/listening event open to the Rensselaer community.

Course Number: IHSS 1968



Songwriting Workshop

A communication-intensive course designed for students to develop their own voice as a songwriter. The course surveys the methods of successful songwriters, highlighting aspects of melody, lyrics, harmonic progression, story-telling, audience, and social context. Students develop a portfolio of their own original songs and lyrics, presented weekly and performed in a studio or live setting at the end of the term.

Course Number: IHSS 1700

Instructor: TBA

Technology and Social Interactions

This sociological course deals with the psycho-social effects of the use of technology on social interactions in American society. The use of technology and its varying forms is ultimately shaping and changing the way people interact and communicate on a daily basis. One could argue, that as a society people are becoming more and more socially detached. Observations made in “public spaces” clearly suggest that people are becoming more socially disconnected from each other and that individuals are increasingly living in cyber-worlds void of affable exchanges. The psycho-social effects of technology have in fact, very subtly and sadistically seduced us. The use of technology in American society has in many ways created a social pathology that is troubling and concerning. There is strong anecdotal and empirical evidence which clearly suggest that technology, is a significant factor related to increased rates of bullying, social isolation, drug addiction, alcoholism, racism, xenophobia, depression and suicide. Social research and investigation is warranted. This course seeks to explore the psycho-social implications, and its use in American Society.

Instructor:  Michael Stanford, Phd

Lecturer, Science and Technology Studies

Wanderlust: Walking and Well-being

This course explores the role of walking in art, politics and religion -- investigating practices ranging from performance art to geolocated art apps, and from religious pilgrimages to protest marches. Through lecture, group discussion, readings and written assignments, students will explore how walking relates to issues not only of individual well-being, but of public space and private property, accessibility and disability, gender and race, as well as ecological issues. Students will engage in experiential movement practices drawn from a range of creative fields, and will develop their own personal walking project over the course of the semester.

Course Number: IHSS XXXX


Stephanie Loveless, Lecturer

War and Society

This course examines how culture and society shape war, and inversely how war shapes culture and society. It views war through the lens of social sciences with case studies ranging from the role of war in non-western societies to the ways in which war has affected American culture. Some of the issues covered in the course include the study of different types of war, the relations between war and the nation-state, between weapons technology and culture, the notions of pacification and nation-building, and the role of rituals in the military institution.

Course Number:  IHSS 1510

War and Technology: Past, Present, Future

This course investigates the relationship between warfare and technology in historical and present-day settings. We will also study how military technology might evolve in the future. In addition to considering the ways in which technology has changed the practices of warfare, we will examine the ethical, political, social and economic problems and developments that have arisen from the intersection of military and technological change.

Course Number: IHSS 1570

Instructor: TBA

Western Music Appreciation

By the end of this course you will to be able to recognize and appreciate the stylistic elements of the major periods and composers from the earliest known music in the Western art music tradition to the present. The influences on music by broad cultural and historical forces will also be explored. The course will progress chronologically from the polyphonic religious music of the Middle Ages through the Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and modern periods.

Course Number: IHSS 1971

Mary Anne Staniszewski, Associate Professor
Ph.D., Art History, Graduate Center, City University of New York