Sidoli, Nathan Camillo
Fall, 2013
Office hours: Thursday, 4th and 5th

SILS, 11, 1416
[email protected]


I will put announcements about the class in this space. Please check here periodically as the term progresses.

Nov 23: Note the updated readings for weeks 9 and 10.

Seminar on Matter and Information:
Topics in Science Studies and History of Science

Course Description

Science studies covers a broad range of topics in the history, philosophy and sociology of the sciences wherever and whenever they have been practiced. Because of this scope, there is great diversity in the styles of scholarship practiced and the views about science put forward by scholars in the field. For these reasons, this seminar will be based around a particular theme each term.

The theme for this term will be “Topics in Science Studies and History of Science.” We will look at a number of topics in modern science and technology and discuss how these effect contemporary society, such as big data, copyright and intellectual property, the technology of food production, biotech and biohacking, and so on.

We will then conclude by reading a recent book on a particular topic in the history of science. This term the book will be E. Kandel’s In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind.

Students taking this class will be introduced to modern approaches to the history of science and will study select topics in the history of science.

Required Texts

A number of papers will be available for download from this site.

  • E. Kandel, 2007. In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind. (W.W. Norton & Company: New York). Please order a copy of the book
  • Grading:

    Participation 30%
    Discussion questions 30%
    Final paper 40%

    General Format

    The class meets once a week for a seminar discussion. Attendance and participation in class are mandatory and graded. Each week, we will discuss the text, and other topics of interest. Students are expected to do all the readings, participate actively in the discussions and to submit a final paper.

    Final Paper

    History paper, around 3,000 words.

    This term the writing project will be a history paper. This means that you need to learn a lot about a historical topic and tell a story about it. This means that you need to pick your topic early and do a lot of reading. You should come up with your own idea for a final project that is based on the work we are studying. The best kind of project will be on a subject in which you are personally interested.

    The project will be done in three phases: (1) a topic proposal and preliminary bibliography, (2) an anotated bibliography (3) a final paper.

  • (1) Start thinking about possible topics right away. Once you have selected a topic, you should write up a short description of the story you will tell, which should be followed by a short bibliography (two or three items).
  • (2) You should begin to read your sources and take notes on them. Make a bibliographic list of at least ten sources, with a short blurb on each one.
  • (3) Based on all this reading, write up your account of the historical events.
  • Please also read the general guidelines for written assignments.

    Discussion Topics, Readings and Assignments

    Week 1: Oct 1

    General Introduction

  • No reading.
  • Week 2: Oct 8

    The science of junk food

  • M. Moss, review of Salt, Sugar, Fat, and The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food
  • Week 3: Oct 15

    Biotech and biohacking

  • Readings: (1) Take a look at this review of the book Hackers: Heroes Of The Computer Revolution, to learn a bit about how the term ”hacker“ became popularized. (2) Read these two short papers in Nature about biohacking: ”Life Hackers“ and ”Biotech in the Basement.“ (3) Read these two news pieces: ”Cyborg America“ and ”Biohackers and DIY Cyborgs.“ (4) Watch this 10min TED talk by Ellen Jorgensen, ”Biohacking -- you can do it, too.“
  • Other reading: Also check out this other way of understanding the term “biohack” on the site
  • Week 4: Oct 22

    Big data

  • (1) Check out this graphic on data sizes: Byte-sized graphic guide to data storage. (2) Read this review of the book Big Data. (3) Watch this 45 min lecture by one of the authors of the book. (4) Read this article about the new NSA data center.
  • Other reading: Also check out this BBC article “Sell your data to save the economy and your future.”
  • Week 5: Oct 29 (Paper phase 1 due)

    Cyber crime and cyber security

  • Student presentations
  • Week 6: Nov 5

    Copyright and intellectual property

  • (1) Read this review of the book Wired Shut. (2) Read this review of the book Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. (3) Watch this 50 min lecture by Lawrence Lessig, the author of Code.
  • Note:
  • Week 7: Nov 12

    In Search of Memory, 1

  • Chaps. 1, 2, 3 (50 pages)
  • Week 8: Nov 19

    In Search of Memory, 2

  • Chaps. 4, 5 (40 pages)
  • Week 9: Nov 26

    In Search of Memory, 3

  • Chaps. 6, 7, 8 (44 pages)
  • Week 10: Dec 3 (Paper phase 2 due)

    In Search of Memory, 4

  • Chaps. 9, 10, 11, 12 (50 pages)
  • Week 11: Dec 10

    In Search of Memory, 5

  • Chaps. 13, 14, 15 (34 pages)
  • Conference Trip: Dec 17

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Holiday: Dec 24

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Holiday: Dec 31

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Week 12: Jan 7

    In Search of Memory, 6

  • Chaps. 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21 (65 pages, long reading)
  • Holiday: Jan 14

    No Class

  • No Reading.
  • Week 13: Jan 21

    In Search of Memory, 7

  • Chaps. 22, 23, 24, 25 (58 pages, long reading)
  • Week 14: Jan 28

    In Search of Memory, 8

  • Chaps. 26, 27, 28 (41 pages)
  • Week 15: Feb 4 (Paper due)

    In Search of Memory, 9

  • Chaps. 29, 30 (38 pages)