Spring 2021 Courses

These are the courses that may be taught during the Spring 2021 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 American Dream

The term “American Dream” is familiar, but what role, specifically, does the imaginative play in American literature and culture, past and present? We will begin our explorations with a history of the American Dream, focusing on the role of imagination or fantasy during two eras: the nation’s founding and civil rights. Grounded in these histories, we will turn our attention to how the Dream is portrayed in literature from a variety of periods as well as contemporary cultural texts, such as advertisements and film. Throughout our studies, we will inquire: What role does fantasy play in national identity? What is the function of a national imagination? How does the history of the American Dream, in particular, translate to our contemporary context? Assigned authors include Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, Langston Hughes, Upton Sinclair, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Gish Jen, and Bharati Mukherjee. Course requirements include reading/viewing responses, student presentations, and a capstone assignment that allows students to choose between an analytical essay or a hybrid critical/creative project.

Course Number:  IHSS 19XX

Instructor:  Skye Anicca

Designing Climate Justice

Why is climate change an issue of justice, and not simply a problem to be solved through new technologies and economic solutions?  How is climate justice different from, and a challenge to, mainstream environmental frameworks? This course will introduce students to the theories and concepts of climate justice. Students will investigate the ways in which climate change is entangled with histories of racism, sexism, ableism, and economic disparities and come to understand the role of design methodologies within this framework.

Course Number: IHSS 19XX

Instructor: Jara Moesch

Exploring Music @ Rensselaer

Explore the fundamental materials of music, sound, and musical thought across many cultures. View musical elements through the lens of different cultural practices and traditions. Using a variety of examples from classical, popular, and non-western musical forms, we will examine the essential elements of music, including concepts of pitch, rhythm, melody, texture, ombre, and musical form.

Drawing on the resources of EMPAC and the Rensselaer faculty, you will experience a variety of live musical workshops and performances and discuss interdisciplinary evaluations of music and its effect on our minds and bodies. You will be challenged to create your own music, and to explore the impacts of music relative to your own interests and concerns.

Course Number: IHSS 1010 

Instructor: Curtis Bahn

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 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

Media and Society

A survey of the historical origins and cultural impact of several mass media, including television, film, radio, the Internet, and print media.

The course aims to increase media literacy through analysis of specific media products, as well as discussion of broad topics such as: advertising and commercialization; politics and censorship; gender, race, and social identity.

Course Number: IHSS 1560

Instructor: Christopher Jeansonne

Performance Art

A studio/lecture course on Performance Art, an action-based contemporary art practice that combines elements of theater, music, dance, games, sports, and others activities. Informed by readings and in-class discussions, students conceive, execute and document a series of hands-on projects. Students acquire experience with fabrication and workshop tools. Students employ other media such as photo, film and text to document and display their projects in a visual arts context. Students engage in the analysis of practices that impact society, culture and the environment. No previous experience with art is required.

Course Number: IHSS 1960


Jefferson W. Kielwagen, Lecturer



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

Principles of Economics

Economics is the study of our choices. Traditionally, these choices have been framed as how to best employ scarce resources to produce goods and services and distribute them for consumption. To describe these choices, we will introduce you to the concepts of opportunity cost, demand and supply theory, and market structures and consider the role of government in making resource allocation choices.

A foremost objective will be to identify and evaluate multiple diverse perspectives on contemporary and complex global issues and address their implications for social equity and welfare. We strive to take a critical look at these perspectives while practicing and applying the subject matter of economics.

Course Number: IHSS 1200

Instructor:  Saraj Parrales

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

Science, Technology, and Society

An introduction to the social, historical, and ethical influences on modern science and technology. Cases include development of the atomic bomb, mechanization of the workplace, Apollo space program, and others. Readings are drawn from history, fiction, and social sciences; films and documentary videos highlight questions about the application of scientific knowledge to human affairs. The class is designed to give students freedom to develop and express their own ideas. This is a communication-intensive course.

Course Number:  STSH/STSS 1110

Eric Drumheller Schaffer

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:  Ross Rice

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

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

Worlds on Display

This course will trace the history and culture of international exhibitions known as World’s Fairs. We will explore the stories these fairs tell about the nations that put them on, the peoples they put on display, the technologies they showcase, the futures they imagine, and “one world” assembled in one place.

Course Number: IHSS 1969


Tamar Gordon, Associate Professor

Ph.D., Annthropology, University of California-Berkeley