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ESF 13 & 13A Rebellious Minds | Paula Findlen

The struggle to know began long before you entered the university. The university as an institution has its origins in the late Middle Ages; it has been reinvented repeatedly as our ideas about education have changed. People have been rebelling against how institutions define learning (and for whom) ever since. This course introduces you to some of the most thoughtful and interesting reflections on the nature and purpose of an education, on knowledge and ignorance, at the birth of the modern world. Understanding the quest to discover the mind and to embrace learning as a lifelong endeavor is a starting point to reflect on the goals of your own education, as an engaged intellectual citizen of the world. This course satisfies the Aesthetic and Interpretive Inquiry or Social Inquiry Way (AII or SI).

Selected Source Material

  • Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, Poems, Protest and a Dream
  • Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography
  • Olaudah Equiano, Interesting Narrative

ESF 17 & 17A What Can You Do For Your Country? | Russell Berman

What does it mean to serve your country? All ethical systems train the individual to relinquish self-interest in favor of a larger communal good. When you applied to Stanford, you answered many application questions designed to elicit evidence of your ability to serve others, which is considered a sign of good character, leadership, and the ability to thrive beyond the confines of your family and private world. Knowing you’ve wrestled with this question at length, showing sacrifice, endurance, empathy, and understanding of higher goods, this course asks you to examine the nation’s view. How can the nation present itself as worthy of your personal sacrifice? Do you need to believe in the greatness of your nation to serve? What kind of cause demands your devotion? Nations have differently articulated such a commitment. Some make modest demands and promise you your own sovereignty. Others request only that you dream of national greatness as your own and that you lend a hand. But all nations require at some point, everything from you. What and when are you prepared to give? This course satisfies the Aesthetic and Interpretative Inquiry Way (AII).

Selected Source Material

  • John F. Kennedy, “What can you do for your nation”
  • Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom
  • Hannah Arendt, “We Refugees” and Early Zionism
  • Achebe, Chinua, Things Fall Apart
  • American Sniper (film, dir. Clint Eastwood)


ESF 20 & 20A | Science as Culture |  Duana Fullwiley

When have you been made aware of how comfortable you are in your cultural views about the world? It often takes traveling abroad, being forced to speak and think in a new language, or encountering beliefs quite different from our own, to shake up our passive acceptance about "how things work." In this course we will not actually travel to any distant lands. Instead, we will venture into the worlds of scientists to explore how cultural norms shape scientific understandings. We will see how the historical conditions and political climates where discoveries happen can influence how scientific facts come to cohere. Why, for example, was sickle cell anemia posited as a 'black' disease that was seen as genetic proof of African ancestry in the 20th century United States, but not in India where it is also prevalent? In another context, how did the cultural revolution in China and its purge of certain types of scientists create the conditions for cybernetic experts and aerospace engineers (rather than demographers) to largely shape the country's one-child policy? And more recently, how have instances of recorded climate change and environmental degradation drawn on human-centric scientific interventions? And when have more species inclusive methods been offered by global indigenous groups who might help us rethink planetary sustainability? This course satisfies the Exploring Difference and Power Way or Scientific Inquiry (EDP or SI)

Selected Source Material

  • López Durán, Fabiola, Eugenics in the Garden
  • Greenhalgh, Susan,  Just one Child
  • Minna Stern, Alexandra, Eugenic Nation

ESF 22 & 22A | Confronting the Diversity of Life |  Kevin Boyce

The class will approach the travel writings of early modern scientists who used exposure to the tropics to establish the foundations of evolutionary biology. These first generations of scientists both had to learn from each other and make it up as they went along. Humboldt's travels from 1799-1804 were an inspiration for Darwin's travels in the 1830s. Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle inspired Wallace and Bates to go to the Amazon a generation later. None of them were far removed from being students themselves: Darwin, Wallace, and Bates were all in their early 20s when starting out and Humboldt was an old man of 29. Their writings capture the excitement of their youth, their scientific idealism, and the breadth and depth of their interest in the natural world. We can explore the history of the science and the modern updating of that science. There is also taking advantage of being exposed to new horizons, the importance of a rigorous curiosity in life, the recognition of unique opportunity. This course does not satisfy any Ways.

Selected Source Material

  • Alexander von Humboldt, Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent
  • Charles Darwin,  Voyage of the Beagle
  • Ida Pfeiffer, A Lady's Second Journey Round the World