History 490 B/C, Winter 2007
Biology, Society, and Human Diversity

Schedule of topics and readings

Essay #2 handout (Word doc), due Tues Mar 13 by 7pm, via email or to Smith 208A.

ESSAY #1 handout (Word doc), topics and guidelines. Paper due at the start of class Tues Feb 6.

Video "Life Story" aka "The Race for the Double Helix" is available in Ode Media (DVD FFH 001)

Video "Lynchburg Story" is on reserve in Odegaard Media for those who missed it in class and/or want to use it for writing your essay.

NEWS: page with recent media items about biology, genetics, disability.

Course description

Instructor: Joanne Woiak
Smith 208A, office hours T/Th 5:30-6:30 and by appointment
Class meeetings: T/Th 7:00-9:20 in Communications 228

"We used to think that our fate was in our stars. Now we know that, in large measure, our fate in is our genes." James Watson, co-discoverer of the DNA double helix.

This course explores episodes in the history of the biological and social sciences involving nature vs. nurture debates. Science makes authoritative claims about gender roles, sexuality, racial differences, and disabilities, in interaction with cultural assumptions about normality, bodily and mental variations, and hierarchies of human worth (racism, sexism, ableism). Why have certain kinds of beliefs about innate and permanent qualities, group differences, and human nature enjoyed recurring popularity? How is this scientific knowledge presented to the public and utilized in social policies? How has ideology shaped biology and the body throughout history? The theories and practices we will explore include intelligence testing, criminal anthropology, eugenics, sociobiology, pre-natal genetic testing, evolutionary psychology, behavioral genetics, genomics, neuroscience, and sex hormones research. In studying historical and contemporary examples of biological determinism, we will critique some of the evidence on which these have been based and analyze how science can have political and ethical implications for social justice and diversity issues. Major themes, approaches, and objectives are to

  • Learn about significant episodes, ideas, and actors in the history of biology.
  • Utilize the approach called science studies, which investigates the political and social contexts in which theories are developed and disseminated.
  • Introduce and use the concepts of disability studies (medical and social models).
  • Explore intersections between disability, race, and gender discrimination.
  • Identify continuities in biodeterminist thinking and ideologies; and identify historically specific circumstances and arguments.
  • Debate bioethical, legal, and social issues concerning human genetics.
  • Evaluate some examples of data, methods, and statistics, e.g. in The Bell Curve.
  • Understand feminist and disability studies theories of the body, which contrast "natural" with "socially constructed" categories.
  • Critique how scientific findings are communicated to the public.


  • 25% for 5 Response papers (1-2 pages each)

  • 50 % for 2 Essays (5 pages each, due Feb 6 & Mar 8)

  • 10% for Media project (collect articles/artifacts and give a brief oral report Mar 6)

  • 15% for Participation

Weeks 1 & 2
Thurs Jan 4 Introduction to the course
Video in class: DNA: Pandora's Box (PBS 2004, featuring James Watson)

Tues Jan 9 Approaches and concepts
READ: Ruth Hubbard, "Science, Facts, and Feminism" (pdf 150kb)
Douglas Baynton, "Disability and the Justification of Inequality in American History" (pdf 310kb)
Simi Linton, "Reclamation" and "Reassigning Meaning" (pdf 350kb)
Response #1 due. Write 1-2 pages about any of the required readings for this day. You may hand this one in on Jan 11 if you need more time.

Lecture notes Jan 9 on Disability Studies (Powerpoint 240kb)
EXTRAS: Take the "Implicit Associations" tests that claim to measure your attitudes about disability, race, gender, sexuality, etc. (https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/)
On the "Ashley Treatment" case, here's a good statement from a prominent bioethicist of the disability rights perspective.

Thurs Jan 11 Sex and the body from ancient Greece to the Renaissance
READ: David Lindberg, "Aristotle's Philosophy of Nature" (pdf 330kb)
Nancy Tuana, "The Weaker Seed" (pdf 1.2Mb)
Thomas Laqueur, "New Science, One Flesh" (pdf 850kb)

Lecture notes Jan 11 (Powerpoint 21Mb with pictures)
Images from 16th-century anatomy texts: corpses dissecting themselves (pdf 700kb), Vesalius's 1543 one-sex illustrations (pdf 200kb), Vesalius's 1543 classical poses (pdf 900kb).

Week 3
Tues Jan 16 Enlightenment brains and bodies
READ: Londa Schiebinger, "Skeletons in the Closet" (pdf 5.6Mb)
Stephen Jay Gould, Mismeasure of Man, Chapters 1-3
Response #2 due by 7pm via email as Word attachment. If you can't get it to me on time, I'll accept hard copies on Thurs (write about the Jan 16 readings only).

Thurs Jan 18 Victorian evolution, sex, and mind (and discuss Jan 16 readings)
READ: Cynthia Russett, "Introduction" and "Machinery of the Body" (pdf 630kb)
Charles Darwin, Descent of Man excerpt (pdf 360kb)
Martin Fichman, "Darwin and Wallace" and "Evolutionary Ethics" (pdf 480kb)
Alice Dreger, "Hermaphrodites in Love" (pdf 420kb)

Lecture Jan 18 Enlightenment (skeletons, craniometry) and Darwinism (Powerpoint slides)

Week 4
Tues Jan 23 Degeneration, genetics, and eugenics
READ: Diane Paul, "Eugenic Solutions" and "Whose Country Is This?" (pdf 800kb)
Gould, Mismeasure of Man, Chapters 4-5
Sharon Lamp, "'It Is for the Mother': Feminists' Rhetorics of Disability during the American Eugenics Period" (html 65kb)
Response #3 due at the start of class (no late papers accepted; remember that you must do 5 for the quarter)

Lecture Jan 23 History of disability (PowerPoint slides 900kb)
Lecture Jan 23 & 25 History of eugenics (PowerPoint slides)

Thurs Jan 25 Eugenics movements in the US and Germany
Video in class: Lynchburg Story (1993) (on reserve library link)
READ: Robert Proctor, "The Destruction of 'Lives Not Worth Living'" (pdf 720kb)
David Mitchell and Sharon Snyder, "The Eugenic Atlantic: Disability and the Making of an International Science" (pdf 3Mb)
Martin Pernick, "Defining the Defective" (pdf 1.2Mb fixed) and here are the missing pages (pdf). Images from the Black Stork film are here (web link).

EXTRA on-line and primary resources about eugenics

Week 5
Tues Jan 30 Defining gene, race, and genetic condition
READ: Evelyn Fox Keller, "Nature, Nurture, and the Human Genome Project" (pdf)
Joseph L. Graves, "The Retreat and Postwar Revival of Scientific Racism" (pdf 300kb)
Eliot Sober, "The Meaning of Genetic Causation" (pdf 370kb)

Jan 23 Lecture: History of genetics (Powerpoint 1.25Mb)

Thurs Feb 1 Sociobiology and its critics
Video in class "Life Story" (discovery of DNA double helix)
READ: E. O. Wilson, On Human Nature (pdf 400kb)
Sociobiology Study Group, "Sociobiology--Another Biological Determinism" (pdf 450kb)
Philip Kitcher, "Pop Sociobiology Reborn" (pdf 1.1Mb)

Lecture notes on biological determinism history (Word) and sociobiology (Word)

Week 6
Tues Feb 6 Genetics in science fiction
Film in class: GATTACA
READ: Susan Lindee and Dorothy Nelkin, "The Media-ted Gene" (pdf 220kb)

Extra materials about the way the media covers science and disability topics.
News page with some recent media reports.

Thurs Feb 8 Promises, perils, politics of the Human Genome Project
READ: Joseph Alper, "Genetic Complexity in Human Disease and Behavior" (pdf 330kb)
Peter Conrad, "Genetics and Behavior in the News" (pdf 310kb)
Paul Miller, "Genetic Discrimination in the Workplace" (pdf 650kb)

Tons of extra (fun) stuff on genetic testing issues and public debates...
Handout: timeline of history of biotechnology (Word)

Week 7
Tues Feb 13 Disability, genetics, and bioethics
READ: Daniel Wikler, "Can We Learn from Eugenics?" (pdf 1Mb)
Erik Parens and Adrienne Asch, "The Disability Rights Critique of Prenatal Genetic Testing" (pdf 325kb)
Eva Feder Kittay, "When Caring is Just and Justice is Caring" (pdf 120kb)
Response #4 due

Thurs Feb 15 The Bell Curve and its sources
ASSIGNMENT: bring & discuss 2 media items
READ: Gould, Mismeasure of Man, Chapters 6-7 and "Critique of the The Bell Curve"
"Summary of The Bell Curve" (pdf 100kb)
Charles Murray, "The Bell Curve and Its Critics" (pdf 220kb)
Adam Miller, "Professors of Hate" (web link UW library)

Week 8
Tues Feb 20 Behavioral genetics and evolutionary psychology
READ: Dean Hamer and Peter Copeland, "Anger" (pdf 825kb)
Lori Andrews, "Predicting and Punishing Antisocial Acts" (pdf 590kb)
Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer, "Why Men Rape" (pdf 1.5Mb)
Elizabeth Lloyd, "Violence Against Science: Rape and Evolution" (pdf 510kb)
Response #5 due

NPR interview with Thornhill and Brownmiller (link)
inner-city crime & jungle quotation (Word)

Thurs Feb 22 Genomic diversity, ancestry, medicine
Video in class: "Genes on Trial" (PBS 2003)
READ: David Resnik, "The Human Genome Diversity Project: Ethical Problems and Solutions" (pdf 110kb)
David Rotman, "Race and Medicine" (html)
Jenny Reardon, et al., "Race and Crisis" (html 45kb) [here's the article they discuss from NY Times]
Anne Fausto-Sterling, "Refashioning Race: DNA and the Politics of Health Care"
(pdf 310kb)
Response #6 due

Week 9
Tues Feb 27 Politics of women's biology ("the new gender debate")
READ: Doreen Kimura, "Introduction" and "Mathematical Aptitude" (pdf 470kb)
"The Science of Gender and Science," debate between Elizabeth Spelke and Steven Pinker, www.edge.org (web link)

EXTRA: Larry Summers remarks on sex differences (Word doc)
Pinker & Wilson on implementing gender equality (Word)
Carol Tavris on publication bias for biological explanations (Word)
Psychologists' conclusions against innate gender differences in cognition (Word)
Recent "brain sex" books (Powerpoint)
lots of scholarly and media articles about the gender difference debates on extras page

Thurs Mar 1 Brain sex
READ: Roger Lancaster, "The Biology of the Homosexual" (pdf)
Jennifer Terry, "The Seductive Power of Science in the Making of Deviant Subjectivity" (pdf)
Anne Fausto-Sterling, "The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female Are Not Enough" (pdf)
Sumi Colligan, "Why the Intersexed Shouldn't Be Fixed" (pdf 315kb)
Response #7 due

Images: gay gene (pdf), intersexuality (pdf)

Week 10
Tues Mar 6 Media project: oral reports

Thurs Mar 8 (finish reports?) Conclusions: constructing humans

Tues Mar 13 by 7pm (email to jwoiak or deliver to Smith 208A)
Send mail to: jwoiak@u.washington.edu
Last modified: 3/23/2007 9:16 PM