Fall 2008 SciRev: Class Policies


Grade Dissection and Thumbnail descriptions:


25% Attendance

Show up, pay attention, play along and get full credit.


25% Homework

-There will be 13 regular homework assignments over the course of the term. 

-You need to do 5 of them.  That means that you don’t have to do 8 of them. 

-Everybody must do Assignment #1.  Of the remaining 4, at least 2 more must be done by Week #7. [This means that you must have done at least 3 assignments in total by midterm.]  This restriction is for your own good.  Procrastinators will thank me later.

- Also, of the remaining 4, 2 must be “souped-up.”  These are worth double the standard homework.  This will be explained below, but it essentially means that they are bigger and better than the standard version.

-Homework must be turned in by the class period for which it was assigned.  Late homework will be penalized.

-Along with these regular assignments, I may assign additional homework called “Omni-Homework” that the entire class must do.  This will be explained as it arises in the assignment links on the Syllabus [SciRev Fall 2008].


25% Exams

There will be 2 or 3 exams depending on how things progress in class.


25% Projects

            There will be an in-class, a written, and a web component.


Some Details Pertaining to the 4 Elements


Attendance will be taken at the beginning of each class.  Once in class your job will be to pay attention and participate.  This means ask questions, make comments, disagree with my conclusions, make a tasty topical joke here and there, …whatever.  Class participation will be rewarded.  [Stray observation: I have noticed that people who sit in the back of the room tend to participate less and to be less prepared for class in general. This is not a hard and fast rule, but I have noticed a strong trend to this effect.  I do not know if there is a causal relationship.  Does sitting in the back cause poor preparation and lackluster participation or is it the result of poor preparation?  Would variable seating be of any use? Feel free to experiment with this idea.]

            I will occasionally give a quiz on the assigned readings which will determine your attendance grade for that day. If you miss every question you will get 50% for you attendance grade.  It’s one thing to be in class, it’s another to be prepared and in class.

            If you will not be able to make it to class for any reason what-so-ever, contact me in advance (preferable by email) and tell me. You may tell me why if you want, but you don’t have to. This will get you partial attendance credit. If you have an official document (or equivalent) to go with your absence, you will get full attendance credit.  Think of class like it is a job.  When you cannot get to work you call your boss.  That’s me.


Homework assignments will be described in the weekly assignment links.  You must do 5 of them: 3 standard and 2 “souped-up.”  Think of the standard versions as being 1 or 2 single-spaced pages of writing and the “souped-up” as 2.5 or 3 pages of single-spaced text. [I may assign additional homework assignments, “Omni-Homework,” above and beyond these.] All assignments must make reference to the readings assigned.  If you write an essay which digresses significantly from the readings, explain in the essay or in footnotes how you got to your topic of digression and refer to the assigned readings.  The homework is not just an exercise in writing, it is also a way for me to know whether you are engaging the readings or not.  You need to prove to me that you are engaging the specific readings.  If it is clear that the readings were not utilized, the assignment will be given a poor grade.

This being said, not all assignments will be purely written assignments, so you will have to use your own judgment on how much work will be necessary to “soup up” an assignment up.  A “souped-up” assignment should not only be longer, but should also generally include some extra sources like a scholarly article or something from a book or from an experiment you conduct.  I will generally provide links on the assignment page to additional source material that is acceptable.  You could also soup-up an assignment by making a short presentation on something you found out that you think the class would find interesting.  This could be filmed, or presented live or using a PowerPoint and presented by you yourself or by me with you help.  You could present a short laboratory demonstration, either live or in photos.  Feel free to discuss any ideas you have with me.  I love to see hands on history.  Clearly identify which type of homework you are handing in: regular or “souped-up.”  It is your choice which ones are what.

I like to see people reinventing the wheel as much as they can.  This means I like to see you figuring out how something was done.  Get inside the head of a thinker.  Compare old techniques to newer ones or draw diagrams and graphs if it seems appropriate.  My job is to explain to you my observations and thoughts as clearly as I can in relation to the history of science and technology.  My presentation of this material is conceived with my abilities and deficiencies in mind.  I tend to avoid my deficiencies and emphasize my abilities. I come off better that way. Your job is essentially the same.  Explain to me what you have observed and thought in relation to the readings assigned.  Let me in on your thought process and use your personal strengths and skills to your advantage.  If you are uncertain about what you are writing, let me know in the writing. I am perfectly happy to read, “I really didn’t understand how X came up with his theory of Y.  I can imagine that X came to his/her conclusion because…”  Real scholarship requires some risk taking and some humility.  Add side comments and marginalia and doodles.  Let me in on what is going on in your head.  I have found that quite frequently students don’t write down the really good stuff that they think of because they mistake their good ideas with confusion or they think their thoughts are too elementary or too casual or too profane.  If you aren’t confused by much of this material then you probably aren’t engaging it enough.  The first step in understanding tends to be confusion and then curiosity.  Many of the best questions don’t have definitive answers, so get used to mystery and theory and speculation.


“Why would people be so against the heliocentric model?”

“Why would Newton care if the Trinity was 3=1+1+1 or 3=1”

“Why would Kepler think the universe fit in the 5 Platonic solids?”

“Why would Vesalius think that there were tiny pores between the ventricles of the heart?”

“Why would Leibniz think that an infinite number of infinitely small measurements would add up to a finite number?”

“Why do/did people believe in astrology?”

“Do numbers exist without people to count them?”


And another thing, try not to fall into that god-voice that sounds like the narrator to a History Channel documentary or football highlights with the military music blaring to slow-motion tackles.  Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb.  Homework is not published, so if you do something wacky or just plain wrong, it is not a big deal. Make your mistakes in the homework. Make them big, make them bold. Experiment in the homework. Find your strengths and weaknesses in the homework. I reward enthusiasm and creativity even if it doesn’t work out to a publishable essay.  If the reading reminds you of something, go with it and tell me about why you think a bell went off in your head. I have found that quite frequently students don’t write down the really good stuff that they think of because they mistake their ideas with confusion or they think their thoughts are too elementary or too casual or too profane.  If you read something and a voice in the back of your head keeps saying, “Give me a break, this is totally absurd!” or “How dumb can they be?” you need to give the reading more thought.  If you are still hearing those voices after musing on the reading, try to figure out alternative explanations or imagine the writer is a Martian or a robot or a whale and see if that change in perspective helps.  Write about your thoughts and the voice or voices in your head.  If you aren’t confused by much of this material then you probably aren’t engaging it enough.  The first step in understanding tends to be confusion and then curiosity.  Many of the best questions don’t have definitive answers, so get used to mystery and theory and speculation.

And another thing, all homework should cite sources even if it is from our textbook or from one of my lectures. Cite everything.  It’s a good habit to get into.  Every assignment will require at least a bibliographical entry or footnote citing the source reading.  As a general rule, if there is not one citation on a homework, it will be given a lower grade.  I try to put bibliographical information for all of our readings in the assignment pages.  Let me know if I miss anything.  This has been the number one reason for deductions in past classes. 

And now, a word about internet sources.  URLs by themselves are not citations.  Don’t make me type in a URL to check it out.  That is automatically a deduction.  If you cite a web source make it follow the general form of a book citation.  Find the author, title,  journal or similar,  publisher or organization,  year or date, page numbers (or similar), and then the URL. If you cannot find an author, you very likely may have an unreliable source.  If the URL is “.com” you may be in unreliable territory.  If it is unclear what organization is sponsoring the site then beware.  If you want me to accept web sources you need to make them look respectable and you need to go the extra distance to research their origins.  Generally good web sources make the citations pretty easy to figure out by being transparent.

Wikipedia is a source, but it is still under suspicion by academia.  I don’t mind that you use it (anybody who says that they don’t is probably lying), but use it for background research or to look up a specific fact like when so-and-so died or where the town of Cosenza is. I’m not teaching Wiki-history filled with facts and chronologies so don’t expect me to be impressed if you can regurgitate Wiki-history in your essays.  My ultimate aim in this class is more about perspective and our human relationship to the world, using history as a medium to demonstrate what is innate and what is not innate in various frames or reference. I’m teaching history so that you can figure out strategies for finding out who you are and we are, not simply a chronology of events. The chronology is still important, for it exemplifies time and our relationship to it. But the chronologies I will discuss are arbitrary, chosen for their narrative interest and their relevance to our current location in space and time and the fact that this class was named by a higher authority than myself (the History Department at Stevens).  I basically want to see your mind at work in the homework assignments.

Most standard homework will probably get an 8 or 9 out of 10 (the “souped-up” homework assignments are worth 20 points, so these numbers should be doubled accordingly). I don’t give out many 10s, so if you get one you should write home about it.  I will give 5s, 6s, and 7s to those that look lazy or hastily prepared or lack proper citations or clearly don’t refer to the readings or lack full explanations.  Please don’t turn in anything that makes me have to explain a 1 through 5.  For that matter, please don’t turn in anything that will get a 6 or 7. 


One more thing.  Presentation is important.  Make it look good.  Pay attention to format and layout and organization.  Don’t use graphics unless you discuss the graphic.  [This simple rule is broken all over the place in textbooks.]  Graphics (pictures, graphs, charts… etc.) are worth a thousand words only if you engage the illustration and write down some of those 1000 words.  Graphics generally shouldn’t be used as decoration.  They may be decorative, but that should be the byproduct not the primary reason for the graphic.  Don’t put a head shot of Isaac Newton in an essay unless you intend to discuss it.  Analysis of period graphics is very interesting stuff.  Pictures are potential topics for essays. I heartily encourage the use of graphics, but not fluff.


Let me state one more time that I may assign more homework above and beyond the standard assignments. I will call these “Omni-Homework.”  These will be posted on the assignment pages as I see fit.  I am most happy to answer any questions you have. 


My exams are not hard if you have kept up with the readings.  You are generally allowed to bring a single sheet of 8.5” x 11” paper with absolutely anything you want written or printed or drawn on it. 

Projects: Project topics will be supplied by me but with input from you.  The project will have three components: an oral, a web, and a final written (or similar) part. [updated 10/08]


You will be given a project topic (in part a negotiation) and a collection of sources or directions for sources.  Once given a topic and sources you will have 2 weeks to prepare it for a presentation and an additional week to write a 6 to 8 page paper (or equivalent) to be turned in.


Figure that the research for a project should require that you read the equivalent of about 75-150 pages of material.  A particular project might be mostly articles or chapters from a book, or a whole book plus bits and pieces from other places.  In general, you should have some primary and some secondary sources, but some topics do not readily lend them selves to this split. 



1) Due 2 weeks from your start date (the date you get materials). A class presentation which will be heavily augmented by my interjections and annoying observations.  You will be teaching the class about some detail of your topic.  Plan on about 10 minutes of material. Be interesting. You may PowerPoint it, sing it, rap it, or make it into an interpretive dance, or make a video of yourself, or hire an actor… Whatever it is, it must be presentable in class. I’ll discuss this more in class.  Do not simply rehash the first two paragraphs from a Wiki entry.  People doing this in pairs should shoot for 15 to 20 minutes and have a role for both people.


2) Due the weekend after your presentation.  A 1 or 2 page summary of your presentation material condensed to make it as interesting as possible. This could alternatively be an account of some specific detail from your project that you thought was interesting, probably what you presented to the class along with the who, what, when, where, why stuff and historical relevance.  It will be posted online in our class web site and will be considered fair game for exam questions.  Also put in a section on your sources (a bibliography) with a short one or two line description of each one that you used.  I will be heavily involved if necessary in this document as an editor.  This will be graded on how interesting it is and on how clearly it has been presented.  Boring ‘names and dates’ documents will not be accepted but names and dates are certainly part of the idea.  Extract something memorable or make it memorable. Think of this as a promotional brochure or a trailer for a movie.  Find all the explosions and motorcycle stunts and scenes with scantily clad actors and put that out front to attract customers, but put some historical information in there to qualify it for a history class project.


3) Due exactly 1 week from your class presentation or exactly 3 weeks from your start time, which ever comes first…  A final 8 to 12 page research paper (double spaced, 1” margins) with proper citations and bibliography. It must use at least one primary source if at all possible.  As I stated above, some topics do not allow for primary sources.  If your topic does not use a primary source, make sure to discuss it with me so that I can evaluate your situation.  The bibliography should be annotated, meaning that you should add a one or two sentence to each entry that describes the work and evaluates it in some way or another.  [The 8 to12 pages are the formatted paragraphs of text, not the title page or the bibliography.  Thus, the entire paper will probably be 14 or more sheets of paper.]  Alternative media ideas, like movies or illustrated novels or interpretive dances, should be approved by me, but I encourage them.



Finally, this word of caution… and some sage advice.


I am generally a friendly guy and am usually amiable to all who choose to talk to me.  I hold no grudges against those who are not doing the homework or have poor attendance or those who flunk my exams. I’ve been a bad student and I know how it works.  That being said, do not confuse my friendliness with an A or a B.  I’ll flunk those who don’t do the work and I’ll do it with a friendly, though sad, demeanor.  It’s not some sort of creepy schadenfreude [look it up] on my part. I just find that it is much more fulfilling not to get too wrapped up in the drama of your grades or to take your bad grade as some sort of affront to me or my abilities as a teacher. Some students are not ready to take this class for whatever reason. It took me 17 years to graduate from college and it wasn’t because my teachers were no good, it was because of me and my priorities and my choices. If you choose to take 7 classes in a term and cannot keep up with the readings, that is your problem.  If you choose to take 4 classes and cannot keep up with the readings, this is also your problem. If you choose to be in co-op and can’t keep up…, again…, your problem.  This isn’t high school and I am not here to make you do anything you don’t want to do…. but don’t expect a good grade for bad work.


At this level you mostly teach yourself.  My job is to guide you through the materials with some commentary. 


Back to  Syllabus [SciRev Fall 2008].



Be prepared to be quizzed on this page.

Course catalogue description:

Studies in the Scientific Revolution: HHS369

An analysis of the intellectual and methodological transformations of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century science and the development of the modern world view. This course focuses on the major scientific figures of the age (Galileo, Descartes, Newton), with particular attention to the study of original texts. The social and institutional transformations of science in this period are also considered.  Emphasis on critical thinking and writing.


Consult the registrar’s website (http://www.stevens.edu/registrar/) for information re: add/drop policies.


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The instructor may modify or alter the syllabus to make up for lost classes due to weather conditions, health, or other reasons or when he/she feels it would help to attain course objectives, or for any other such reasons.