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Interdisciplinary Courses

The collaborative, inquiry-based Cate curriculum naturally lends itself to interdisciplinary study.

Whether you’re studying the history and literature of Africa or using computer programming to code biological computational models, you’ll realize just how interconnected your own learning is.

Interdisciplinary courses require you to think outside the box, but the new perspectives you learn will help prepare you for advanced college courses and life beyond the classroom.

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Spring trimester. In this course, we will explore the role of scientific, mathematical and technological advances from German rearmament to the development of atomic weaponry.

No war was as affected by science, mathematics, and invention as WWII, and no country had a richer research and development program than Germany. As we delve into the German push to create a scientific juggernaut, we will examine primary source materials to consider several fundamental issues in the relationship between warfare and technology. W

hat is the role of science, and scientists, in war? What technological weapons are morally acceptable and what are not? This course seeks to provide a context to evaluate and analyze such questions, and, ultimately, synthesize personal responses to them during our own era of rapid technological advancement.

This two-trimester elective may be taken as either an English or science course, and is designed to deepen understanding and appreciation of the natural world and to develop a sense of its role in defining both American culture and individual perspectives.

Students are asked to think deeply and consider the profound meaning of wilderness beyond an aesthetic resource. Classroom work will include a variety of academic disciplines — English, environmental science, and philosophy — as well as strong outdoor component to this course to ensure that students have the opportunity to experience the natural world in a manner less abstract than the classroom.

The American Wilderness 1: The Wilderness Ethos

Winter trimester. In the first trimester, students will examine the role of wilderness in American culture — historically and currently — using the writings of authors such as Thoreau, Abbey, Stegner, Leopold, and McPhee to develop a personal understanding of the value of wilderness in their own lives.

While developing their critical reading and writing skills, students will examine current environmental and political implications of our impact on the American wilderness and, through the use of a journal, work actively to articulate their own developing perceptions about the role of wilderness in American culture. In the winter trimester, there will be an overnight solo backpacking trip, and students will begin to learn the skills of whitewater kayaking in preparation for the river trips of the spring trimester.

The American Wilderness 2: Looking Inward

Spring trimester. The classroom component of the second trimester in this two-trimester sequence shifts from analytical reading, critical writing, and argumentation to personal introspection and creative writing with a study of the novel The River Why by David James Duncan. Students will explore how the American wilderness has shaped various spiritual paradigms found in American society and use class discussions and journal writing to develop their own sense of their place in the natural world.

In the spring trimester, students will continue to develop their kayaking skills locally and will spend a weekend on the Kern River applying their whitewater skills to moving water. Prior to Commencement, the course culminates in a weeklong desert wilderness river trip in Utah.

This advanced course in scientific problem-solving will provide students with the programming skills to ask and answer a broader class of questions than can be addressed by conventional means. Using concepts from physics, chemistry, biology, environmental science and mathematics, students will design, code, and run computational models to conduct virtual experiments.

Using the open source Python programming language and the rich set of free scientific, mathematical, and graphical packages built for it, students will learn to think like a programmer as they work through case studies and classical algorithms. They will deepen their understanding of population dynamics by modeling a zombie apocalypse.

They will appreciate the subtleties of random numbers and probability by constructing a blackjack simulator. They will develop techniques for numerical integration and data visualization as they analyze the record-breaking Red Bull Stratos jump. At the end of the course, students will own a toolkit of transferable problem-solving skills applicable to any discipline at the college level.

Spring trimester. Students will begin this course by pursuing the question: How did we get here? In this vein, students will examine key historic events and seminal theoretical texts and, from these, infer the essential, and in many cases shifting, assumptions, concepts, questions, and critiques that are foundational to Gender Studies.

We will devote specific attention to identifying how, throughout the history of gender studies, the ‘we’ itself has been redefined, ultimately becoming more inclusive of the diverse experiences of not only women, including non-Western women, but also of men and LGBTQ+ communities.

We then will turn our inquiry to the question of: How and why is gender perceived and experienced today? Here, we will rely heavily on contemporary, literary ‘artifacts.’ These literary artifacts, both fiction and nonfiction, will allow us to explore gendered perspectives and experiences in today’s world and also to identify how gender shapes (and is shaped by) factors such as politics, class, race/ethnicity, nationality, religion, age, and education as well as assumptions about biology and sexuality.

Spring trimester. On March 4, 1861, just prior to taking the oath of office, Abraham Lincoln said to a crowd of thirty thousand citizens:

“In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The government will not assail you. You can have no conflict, without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in Heaven to destroy the government, while I shall have a most solemn one to ‘preserve, protect and defend’ it.”

Yet war came and lingered, nonetheless. This course examines that very conflict, the means by which it was initiated, the manner in which it was conducted by both the citizens who fought and the leaders who waged it, and the lasting legacy of insight and suffering it left behind.

Winter trimester. This course seeks to understand Africa through its literary and cultural products. Since the independence movements of the 1960s, the African continent has experienced tremendous change. The substantial economic and political transitions experienced by each nation have been chronicled and captured in historical texts, rich stories and audio-visual media.

Using these creative artifacts, we will undertake a study of themes such as imperialism, post-colonial identity, modernization, and gender, which have impacted and continue to shape the ongoing development of various African nations and peoples. In doing so, we will also consider the way that historical and literary narratives construct Africa in the Western imagination. Sources for this class will consist of short stories, selected readings on African political and economic history, as well as contemporary articles and short films.

This class is open to seniors for English credit and to both juniors and seniors for history credit.

Comparative Religion is an interdisciplinary offering of the History and English departments that seeks to provide an overview of five of the world’s major religions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism.

By examining the origins, key tenets, and scriptures of each, students should come to recognize what distinguishes these traditions and what connects them, and to appreciate the variety of practices and beliefs that each of these religions encompasses.

Also, by considering the mystical as well as the orthodox literature of each tradition, the expectation is that students will come to a deeper, more refined understanding of what religion is – as distinguished from science, say, or philosophy – and how the various questions of faith represent not just a viable, but necessary path for human, spiritual, and personal inquiry down through the centuries and up to the present day.

To this end, we will of course be considering the impact of faith on current events, all by way of preparing students for the final unit of the trimester where they design and present their own inquiry projects exploring a religious tradition of their own choosing.