Peter J. Littig
Various topics designed to respond to faculty and student interests and needs.
SPRING 2006 - BIS 393B, Special Topics: Women and Mathematics
In January 2005, Harvard President, Lawrence Summers, spoke about the role of women in science at a conference hosted by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Summers presented the thesis that inherent aptitude and variability of aptitude are likely the dominant causes of the under-representation of women in the mathematical sciences. His controversial remarks generated a national conversation that encompassed gender, science, discrimination, and academic freedom. This conversation continues to be active and relevant nearly a year later.
In this class, we will investigate the wide range of experiences of women working in the mathematical sciences. This investigation will include readings selected from a number of disciplines: philosophy, mathematics, women studies, and education. Throughout the quarter, students will be asked to write several essays in response to the readings. The course is divided into three units, each of which will last for approximately three weeks. The final week of the quarter will be reserved for student presentations.
Unit I: Our studies will begin with a critical reading of Summersí remarks and an analysis of the many responses that followed. The readings are selected from both scholarly and popular sources and are intended to present multiple perspectives on the issue of gender inequality in the mathematical sciences. In response to the readings, students will write a paper in which they formulate and support their own thesis about this important topic.
Unit II: The second unit of the course will focus on the biographies of female mathematicians. We will read, in particular, about the lives and mathematical contributions of Sophie Germaine, Sofia Kovalevskaia, and Emmy Noether. During this unit we will hold a series of panel discussions during which women working in the mathematical sciences will join our class and share their experiences in an open, question-and-answer forum. This endeavor will help illustrate the multiplicity of experiences, challenges, and successes women have working as professional mathematical scientists. Students will write a responsive essay after each panel discussion.
Unit III: In the final unit of the course, we will explore the question: Is mathematics gendered? We will approach this question from both theoretical and practical perspectives, focusing on the writings of working scientists and feminist theorists.
Final Project: As a final project, students will design and present a poster demonstrating a significant component of knowledge gained during the course. The course will culminate with a poster session to which the general campus will be invited.
Further details will be given on the syllabus on the first day of class.
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
Class assignments and grading