One student knitted an illustration of exponential growth. Another created digital art comparing the typical physical symptoms of leprosy with exaggerated depictions that reflected the social stigma of the disease.Students of Alex Sherman and Mallory Harris Pathogens and Populations: Representatives of Infectious Diseases In his Stanford University courses, he created scripts, sculptures, poetry, and political caricatures, explored how to translate scientific information into art, and learned the limits of translation.
“They had to write about the process of representation. Through that, they learned this idea about the pressure of representation. You have to choose,” said Harris. “They’re starting to think about what the potential consequences are and why they’re making certain decisions.”
During the acute period of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, Harris and Sherman started a conversation about how scientists, politicians, and others are representing the infectious disease to the public. A PhD candidate in biology, Harris studies the relationship between human activity and infectious diseases. Sherman, who is pursuing a PhD in English, studies the intersection of literature and science in the British Empire.
“We have this idea of what cultural expressions are good for, what scientific expressions are good for, and how they can complement each other to tell a more complete and comprehensive story. “I keep coming back to,” Harris said.
Harris and Sherman decided to turn the conversation into a course proposal.This fall semester they taught together pathogens and populationsEnglish elective, first time.
This course brings together students from different disciplines to explore the core issues raised in the syllabus.
Telling stories with data and art
Each week, students pathogens and populations A scientific study or dataset was compared to a cultural subject.
Investigating randomness For a week, they played the board game “Pandemic,” focusing on probability theory and scientific numbers representing uncertainty. To understand how to represent mortality, they compared oral narratives of the Trail of Tears massacre to mortality estimates from Cherokee demographers.
Students were often surprised by the contrasts they discovered.when they read Welcome to Hillbrow Students reading Phaswane Mpe’s novel, which discusses HIV/AIDS in a post-apartheid neighborhood in Johannesburg, South Africa, are amazed at how well it portrays the complex ways disease moves through society. I was.
“When we finally got to this really prescriptive form, the novel, we were like, ‘Wow, this does a lot of what we were looking for, in terms of representing individuals as well as groups. ‘ said Sherman. “It expresses feelings and emotions and the nuances of illness, but not just nuances. It presents illness as part of a larger social system.”
This class focused on several expressions of HIV/AIDS due to their local relevance and global impact on the response to the epidemic.
Harris and Sherman wanted to conclude the course with lessons that showed students what they could do with the insights they gained. pathogens and populationsOn World AIDS Day, December 1st, they discussed an AIDS memorial quilt. Her members of staff at the National AIDS Memorial, including her Gert McMullin, the “mother of the AIDS quilt,” spoke in class about the activity.
“I think few examples have shown many people what this epidemic is doing more clearly than the AIDS quilt,” Harris said. “We’ve talked a lot about how we perceive this massive loss and how we deal with these wonderfully complex lives that affect us on a personal scale. I want to respect their individuality, but you also have this huge loss.”
At the end of the quarter, Harris and Sherman consider: pathogens and populations It is evidence not only of student success but also of the importance of interdisciplinary courses. They are working on plans to make the class a regular event and are looking for other instructors and teachers who would like to participate.
Having co-teachers from different disciplines was one of the strengths of the class, Sherman says.
“We’re trying to have a conversation between science and literature. In fact, we’re going to have a literal conversation between me and Mallory,” he said. We ask each other questions in front of the students and follow up, not everyone has the answers.”
This message of complexity struck a chord with Tiffany Liu, a student and senior major in English and Symbolic Systems who created art about leprosy.she signed up pathogens and populations Because surviving the pandemic got her interested in representing illness.
Before class, she tended to think of science and culture as a dichotomy. But each talk, activity, and assignment gave her a deeper understanding of her entwined relationships.
“I think we learned a lot in this class that one cannot exist without the other. Both are very important for people to understand the disease,” Liu said. . “Even with the two of us together, there’s still a lot to explore.”