Assignments

Summers Paper                        30%
Einstein’s Wife Paper              30%
Final Paper                                20%
Reading Handout                     10%
Participation                              10%
Extra Credit                          up to 5%

Reading Handout (10%)
For each lecture with reading, a team of 2 or 3 people will prepare a one-page handout and print out a copy for each person in the class. The handout needs to summarize the argument for each of the readings, highlight key ideas and terms, and offer several questions for discussion. Unless otherwise instructed, the handouts will be due at the beginning of lecture. Only one handout per lecture will be accepted. You are responsible for coordinating with your group. By default, all group members will receive the same grade.

Paper 1: Analysis of the news coverage of the Summers’ controversy. (30%)
Length: 6-7 pages
Rubric: COMM114G-Paper1-GradingRubric

Harvard President Larry Summers went to a conference on gender and science, and claimed that the reason that there were so few good women in science might be an innate inability of women to do math. The speech fueled a controversy that was covered extensively in the media. Using the concept of news frames, analyze the newspaper coverage of the controversy, comparing it to the content of the speech. Consider the importance of math to Summers’ argument, the evidence Summers uses in the speech to make his points, the role of nature and culture in gender formation, and news coverage of the controversy. To what extent did the media create the controversy or report on it? In what ways did reporters substantiate their “facts”? How did the news reports shape the debate with media frames? What can the historical record tell us about women’s abilities in math and science? How did Summers engage (or not) the literature on gender and math/science? How were his views shaped by labor force issues at Harvard? To what extent can labor force issues serve as data about gender essentialism?

Paper 2: Analysis of the film, “Einstein’s Wife.” (30%)
Length: 6-7 pages
Rubric: COMM114G-Paper2-GradingRubric

The Nova documentary on Einstein’s wife suggests that Mileva Maric Einstein might have been a co-author of the theory of relativity for which Albert Einstein won the Nobel prize. Their collaboration would explain the latter’s extraordinary productivity in 1905, when his major work on this subject first appeared. It would also help explain why he was not equally successful in his later science. But critics say Mileva Maric Einstein was not enough of a genius to be the co-author of the special theory of relativity, affirming Einstein’s role as a (male) genius.

Imagine that you are on the board for a history of science & gender documentary film festival. You have been tasked with writing a critical review of the controversial documentary Einstein’s Wife that will appear in a book about the festival’s films.

  • The review should explain why the film is considered controversial in reference to its specific stance regarding Mileva Maric Einstein’s contribution to the theory of special relativity, the evidence it uses to support this claim, and the evidence used by the film’s critics.
  • From there, it should consider the historical problem of determining whether or not Maric was a co-author of special relativity—in other words, what is the status of the historical evidence available for evaluating her status as co-author?
  • Regardless of the quality of evidence, would Maric be considered a co-author by contemporary standards if she discussed the problems with Albert Einstein and checked his calculations and logic? Discuss the implications for the history of science both if she was a co-author, and if she was not.
  • And discuss whether and how the attribution of co-authorship of this theory to Maric would influence contemporary gender assumptions.

Final Option 1: Letter to the Dean (20%)
Length: 4 pages

Imagine the following scenario: A female undergraduate student is taking a mathematics course. She has come to a topic she finds very difficult and has gone to her male Teaching Assistant’s office hours for help. After 20 minutes of working with her TA, the student is still struggling with the topic. Her TA tells her that she should not feel badly because studies have shown that women generally do not do as well as men in this area of math. The student feels that this comment is inappropriate and reports the TA to the dean.

Imagine that you have been selected for advisory committee to the dean regarding how cases like this one—in which references to research on gender-based differences in cognition are used to justify student performance—should be handled. Drawing on the studies and arguments presented in our course material, write a letter to the dean explaining your position on what, if any, the university’s response should be.

Final Option 2: Research of your choosing (20%)
Length: TBD

You may propose an alternative final project that demonstrates engagement with the course material, plus some additional research. Some ideas: cultural analysis of a particular kind of scientific research on gender and science; frame analysis of gender and science news reporting; a historical portrait of a woman and her contribution to science; or a book report on a popular book about gender and science. These must be proposed and approved by Tuesday, March 11th.

Extra Credit Assignment (up to 5%)

Two options: Drawing on the model of Dignifying Science, create your own comic about the life of a historical woman who contributed to science. Alternatively, write a concise, two-page analysis of a story from Dignifying Science, explaining how it illustrates a concept or provides another case of something discussed in the course. Due on March 13th, in lecture.

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