This course is situated at an important place in the curriculum in that will allow students to: think about the role of academic disciplines and universities in the construction of race both historically and in the present; give students tools to understand human difference in a social context; learn how to talk about race from a respectful, informed, and critical perspective; understand and explore their university and city in its historical context and broader role in discourses about race and science in the United States. Students will achieve these intellectual ends through an interdisciplinary approach founded on historical research methods and social scientific conceptual paradigms useful for an integrative, nuanced understanding of the course content. This ABCS course will also allow students to make personal and intellectual connections in Philadelphia outside of the Penn community. The seminar portion of the course allows for a space for students to practice and hone sustained, considered dialogue and debate on complex and contentious issues.
First, to introduce students to both primary and secondary (and tertiary, etc.) source materials about the course content and to bring students to a critical understanding about the choices made in the act of turning “sources” or “data” into knowledge, narratives, and ideas. Part of this process will involve (described in point four, below) students participating in their own research on primary source documents and producing a public-facing website, giving them a chance to both exercise and reflect upon how they engage with translating ambiguous, polyvalent, and incomplete historical information into stories about the past.
Second, to familiarize students with the history of race and science, with particular reference to the United States and the ways in which sciences (with special reference to anthropology and medical science, but also to biology, psychology, sociology, and related disciplines) were integral to processes of racialization in U.S. history, with a particular focus on the 19th century and its long legacy. Through this study, students will be able to understand the dynamic between science and society bidirectionally, both how science influences society, and how society influences science in the US context.
Third, the course will emphasize diverse voices and contestations at the border of politics of science. These discussions will help situate and complicate understandings of the creation of the racial categories of “white,” “black,” and “Native American” in the United States.
One theme which we will engage at length is how both racist and anti-racist actors engaged each other in scientific debates, each attempting to create and deploy scientific knowledge in the service of their respective viewpoints. Black scientists and intellectuals (e.g. W.E.B. DuBois, Frederick Douglass, Anténor Firmin) will be counterposed with white race scientists, each arguing for different political and scientific conceptions of racial difference. Another topical area will consider how ownership and control over human remains, DNA, artifacts and archival sources figures into questions about repatriation in museums, especially within the context of NAGPRA (The Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act) and relations between indigenous people in the United States and scientists who have studied them.
Fourth, Penn students, with their high school partners, will be creating content for a public website on the history of the Morton collection and its history. Website design will be facilitated by Penn Libraries and the Price Lab for the Digital Humanities (who are supporting this course). Through their work with high school partner students and for their midterm and final papers, students will research and write content that can be, after edited, posted on the website. Inevitably, this website can be added to in future years with the work of other students. Inspirations for this website come from GSE Professor Emeritus John Puckett’s West Philadelphia Collaborative History Project and Professor History Kathy Brown’s Penn and Slavery Project website. Each have incorporated original student research into a public-facing website.
Students will be responsible for 10 short (300-400 word) responses to assigned readings.
Two papers will be assigned: one midterm (5-7 pg.) and one final (10-12 pg.) paper. The final paper may be an extension of (but not merely a revision of) the midterm paper. These papers will focus on one particular aspect of the Morton cranial collection and its social and scientific context.
Penn students will be required to meet weekly (after the first few weeks of the course) with high school students at the partner school to work on collaborative research projects. The topics that Penn students and their high school student partners collaboratively research will be the subject of their midterm/final papers and later posted on the public website. Penn students must therefore be able to meet their high school student partners weekly, which comprises about half of the course time for the majority of the semester. Particular logistical details of class time spent with partner students will be arranged with students individually. These arrangements will be facilitated by a dedicated ABCS course TA which will be provided by the Netter Center.