Grant funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) helps Dean College educate students through programs infusing science with the humanities.

Bridging The Two Cultures 

Teaching the history of science and medicine with hands-on labs. 

In August 2017, Dean College was among 245 recipients that received a total of $39.3 million in grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). With this funding, Dean College faculty developed two sophomore-level, general education courses in the history of science and medicine that incorporate hands-on labs: History of Science and Beyond Henrietta Lacks: Race and Medicine in 20th Century America

An interdisciplinary team from the College, two historians and a biologist, carried out the project to infuse science with the humanities. Project Director and Associate Professor of History, Dr. David Dennis, spearheaded the course development process alongside team members, Dr. Jessica Pisano, Project Co-Director and Associate Professor of Biology and Mathematics, as well as Dr. Rob Lawson, Professor of History. Read this interview with Dr. Dennis in the local press (see page 4) to learn more about the project. 

Course development involved two semester-long reading seminars, as well as two summer symposia. To accomplish this task, the Dean College team worked together with the support of external faculty experts from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and Emmanuel College.

Piloted during the 2018-19 academic year, these courses continue to run on a regular basis. During the pilot year, the team conducted a study of how our pedagogical model impacted student learning outcomes, experiences, and attitudes toward science. Initial results suggest significant improvement, particularly in how students experience learning and in their attitudes toward science and history. 

Integrating science lab with history lecture allows students to walk in the shoes of past scientists and to understand their limitations and horizons. To paraphrase James Bryant Conant, the Postwar pioneer in science history education, learning science through history gives students a “feel” for the “tactics and strategy of science.”  That hands-on experience in the classroom, along with off-campus outings to Boston-area museums have proved to be beneficial for our students..

*Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this message do not necessarily reflect those of the NEH.

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Project Information

Click on the below drop down list to learn more about the project, including initial findings, personnel involved and selected course materials.

Learn more about the initial project findings.

Summary 

In 1959, C.P. Snow famously critiqued the “two cultures” divide between science and the humanities, reflecting a pedagogical parting of ways. “There is only one way out of all this,” quipped Snow, “It is, of course, by rethinking our education.” Our team of two historians and one scientist set out to bridge the two cultures by infusing General Education science courses with humanistic approaches. In part, we were inspired by chemist James Bryant Conant’s Postwar vision of general science education through historical case studies, whereby he hoped that these could provide the non-scientist citizen with a “feel” for the “tactics and strategy of science.”  We also drew upon Bruno Latour’s view of science-in-the-making—the idea that science should be studied “in action.” Our approach, likewise, was informed by Maryellen Weimer’s call for “learner-centered teaching,” as well as by approaches to integrative learning advocated by Nancy Budwig among others. 

Subsequently, we created and implemented two courses that integrated science labs with history lectures. During the 2018-2019 academic year we tested this teaching model through a blind study of volunteer student participants, involving pre-test, post-test, and written intake/exit interviews. We hypothesized that the model would improve student learning outcomes, experience of science learning, and attitudes toward science. Our results suggested robust learning outcomes. More importantly, they suggested that teaching with this model worked in two directions: first, it improved experiences and attitudes toward science learning among students who were less “friendly” to science.  Second, and surprisingly, it also improved experiences and attitudes toward history among students who initially were more “friendly” to science than history. In January 2020, we presented our model and results at the 134th meeting of the American Historical Association in New York. Full results of our study will be available in the fall 2020 issue of Isis, the journal of the History of Science Society. Select data is included in the figures below.

Figures

The figures below display the changes in learning experience and attitudes after implementing the courses. The four-point Likert scale indicates the following student responses: 

1 = “not my experience”

2 = “sometimes my experience”

3 = “usually my experience”

4 = “always my experience.”

Dean College History of Science Figure 1 Learning Outcome Chart

Dean College History of Science Figure 2 Learning Outcomes Chart

Dean College History of Science Figure 3 Learning Outcomes Chart

Dean College History of Science Figure 4 Learning Outcomes Chart

Bibliography

Allchin, Douglas, Elizabeth Anthony, Jack Bristol, Alan Dean, David Hall, and Carl Lieb. “History of Science – with Labs.” Science and Education 8 (1999): 619–632.

Budwig, Nancy, Sarah Michaels, and Lisa Kasmer. “Facilitating Campus Leadership for Integrative Liberal Learning.” Peer Review 16/17, no. 4/1 (2015).

Brandt, Allan M. “Emerging Themes in the History of Medicine.” Milbank Quarterly 69, no. 2 (1991): 199-214.

Conant, James Bryant and Leonard K. Nash, eds. Harvard Case History in Experimental Science. Volume I. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1957.

Dennis, Michael Aaron. “Historiography of Science: An American Perspective.” In Companion to Science in the Twentieth Century. Edited by John Krige and Dominique Pestre. London & New York: Routledge, 2003.

Duster, Troy. “Race and Reification in Science.” Science 307 (2005): 1050-51.

Grawe, Nathan D. “The Potential for Teaching Quantitative Reasoning across the Curriculum: Empirical Evidence,” International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 5, no. 1 (2011): 1-12.

Hamlin, Christopher. “The Pedagogical Roots of the History of Science: Revisiting the Vision of James Bryant Conant,” Isis, 2016, 107: 282-308.

Klein, Julie Thompson. “Integrative Learning and Interdisciplinary Studies.” Peer Review 7, no. 4 (2005): 10.

Latour, Bruno. Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1987.

Lave, Jean and Etienne Wenger. Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Pollio, Howard. “The Two Cultures of Pedagogy: Teaching and Learning in the Natural Sciences and the Humanities.” Trace: Tennessee Research and Creative Exchange (1996).

Snow, C.P. The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998 [1959].

Weimer, Maryellen. Learner-Centered Teaching. New York: Wiley, 2013.

Learn more about the project team.

Personnel involved in project included a team of professors from Dean College as well as External Consultants.

Dean College Team 

Dean College team members include: Dr. David Dennis, Dr. Jessica Pisano and Dr. Rob Lawson. Read on to learn more about each member.

Dr. David Dennis

David Brandon Dennis, Ph.D.Associate Professor of History, Humanities Program Coordinator, NEH Project Director

“Never has an experience been more rewarding in my professional life. This project has transformed my approach to teaching and my research agenda. Leading a team of talented colleagues and working with our external consultants has been a joy. More than anything else, though, I will always remember interacting with ‘History of Science’ students in the lab as they tried to figure out how to build a water clock to be able to reproduce Galileo’s inclined plane experiment. They were frustrated at first, but, once they figured out how to do it, their sense of excitement and accomplishment was palpable. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more learning take place in the span of two hours.”

Jessica Pisano

Jessica M. Pisano, Ph.D.| Associate Professor of Biology and Mathematics, Mathematics and Science Program Coordinator, NEH Project Co-Director

“Working on the NEH grant project has been a transformative experience for me personally and professionally. The close collaboration has helped me develop as a listener, better able to engage with a topic from another perspective. Through the preparation process, I gained the ability to view science from a humanistic perspective and through a historical lens. I approach integrative learning with the dual goals of integrating skills and integrating ways of creating and understanding knowledge. Together, seeing my field with a broader lens has impacted my framing of material in class, is influencing the Biology major at Dean, and is inspiring my ongoing intellectual curiosity.”

Dr. Rob Lawson

Rob A. Lawson, Ph.D.| Professor of History, Honors Program Director

“In this project, my role was to shape the cultural history investigations and narratives as they relate to social factors such as ethnicity/race, gender, class, etc. Most exciting to me in this process—in addition to the rewarding collaboration with our consultants and my institutional colleagues—was inhabiting the space of the student-learner for the lab sessions, modeling the joy of learning (which was in fact genuine) alongside our students.”

External Consultants

Liliana Busconi, Ph.D. | Senior Lecturer in Biology at Emmanuel College

“It was a rich and rewarding experience to participate in the initial conversations leading to ‘Beyond Henrietta Lacks’ and to work with a multidisciplinary group of outstanding professors of history, medical history and ethics, and biology. More courses like this one will greatly contribute to engaging and motivating students of the 21st century.”

Emily Hamilton, Ph.D. | Assistant Professor of History at University of Massachusetts Amherst

Learn more about Dr. Hamilton. 

Florence C. Hsia, Ph.D. | Professor of History of Science, Associate Vice Chancellor for Research in Arts & Humanities, Associate Dean for Graduate Education at University of Wisconsin-Madison

Learn more about Dr. Hsia.

Susan E. Lederer, Ph.D. | Robert Turell Professor of Medical History and Bioethics, Chair, Department of Medical History and Bioethics at University of Wisconsin-Madison

Learn more about Dr. Lederer.

Project team members in Dean College laboratory working on an experiment as a part of the NEH Humanities GrantDean College professors in a lab working on an experiment as a part of the Humanities GrantDean College professors looking at a screen in a lab as a part of the Humanities Grant

View the sample course materials for: History of Science.

Sample Syllabus 

Sample Paper Assignment: “Lab Reports through Time” 

Please Note: Links to open access readings and online resources have been provided for each Learning Module where applicable. In all cases, detailed citations have been provided.

Sample Module I: Early Modern “Big Science” & Spanish Empire Mapmaking

Lecture Overview

The Scientific Revolution didn’t happen only in the small workshops, laboratories, and observatories of famous early modern European scientists. It was also a global affair, involving what Derek J. de Solla Price called “Big Science,” as well as knowledge produced by diverse cultures across the world. While large European organizations at the time acted as conduits for knowledge, they also relied on the wisdom and know-how of peoples with whom they came into contact during the age of exploration and colonialism. In this lecture, students consider early modern “Big Science” through the examples of the Dutch East India Company, the Jesuits, and the Spanish Empire, as well as their exchange of knowledge with non-European societies. The lecture concludes with a case study of the Relaciones Geograficas, a vast geographical and cartographical endeavor undertaken by Spain during the 1570s and 1580s, which relied heavily on indigenous knowledge in the Americas to map its growing empire.

Note: This lecture is part of a unit that explores the origins and institutional contexts of the Scientific Revolution.

Lab Overview

In the lab for this module, we focus on geography as well as the scientific concepts of accuracy and precision. Students perform two key tasks from the mapping questionnaire sent out by Spanish authorities in 1577 to local officials and councils in the Empire. But, in this case, they use the geography of the Dean College campus. First, they calculate latitude using tools and concepts available in the sixteenth century. Second, they are asked to draw a map of campus but are given no instructions for how to standardize their maps (Spanish authorities failed to provide such instructions in the 1577 Questionnaire). Comparisons of student latitude calculations and maps allow for a discussion of accuracy vs. precision.

Lab and Lecture Materials
Readings and Resources for Students
  • Bowler, Peter J. and Iwan Rhys Morus. Making Modern Science: A Historical Survey. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005, p. 319-329.
  • 1577 Relaciones Geograficas Questionnaire. Reproduced in Cline, Howard F. “The Relaciones Geograficas of the Spanish Indies, 1577-1586.” The Hispanic American Historical Review 44, no. 3 (1964): 341-374.
  • Mundy, Barbara E. The Mapping of New Spain: Indigenous Cartography and the Maps of the Relaciones Geograficas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996. (Chapter 4)
  • Digitized Maps: Relaciones Geográficas. LLILAS Benson Latin American Studies and Collections. 
Supplemental Readings for Instructors
  • Cook, Harold J. “Moving About and Finding Things Out: Economies and Sciences in the Period of the Scientific Revolution.” Osiris 27, no. 1 (2012): 101-132. 
  • Edwards, Clinton R. “Mapping by Questionnaire: An Early Spanish Attempt to Determine New World Geographical Positions.”  Imago Mundi 23 (1969): 17-28.
  • Harris, Steven J. “Long-Distance Corporations, Big Sciences, and the Geography of Knowledge.” Configurations 6 (1998): 269-304.
  • Mundy, Barbara E. The Mapping of New Spain: Indigenous Cartography and the Maps of the Relaciones Geograficas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996. 
  • Murphy, Kathleen S. “Translating the vernacular: indigenous and African knowledge in the eighteenth-century British Atlantic.” Atlantic Studies 8, no. 1 (2011): 29–48.
  • Roberts, Lissa. “Situating Science in Global History: Local Exchanges and Networks of Circulation.” Itinerario 33 (2009): 9-30.
  • Strong, Cameron B. Frontiers of Science: Imperialism and Natural Knowledge in the Gulf South Borderlands, 1500-1850. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2018.

Sample Module II: 17th Century Cultures of Experimentation – Galileo vs. Boyle 

Lecture Overview

What values and assumptions came to inform ideas about “valid” experimentation during the Scientific Revolution? How did this transform scientists’ identities and style of writing about experiments? This lecture, with an in-class activity, allows students to compare changing cultures of experimentation during the 17th century. Before class, students read relevant passages recounting the “Ship Experiment” from Galileo’s Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems (1632), as well as Robert Boyle’s write-up of one of his air-pump experiments that was published in Philosophical Transactions in 1667. During the first part of class we discuss the shifting cultural conventions and styles surrounding experimentation using Galileo and Boyle as examples. Students then complete an in-class activity, comparing the style, length, format, level of detail, and contents of each scientist's experimental report. They also compare each scientist’s assumptions about what counts as a valid experiment. This material draws upon insights from historians Steven Shapin’s and Simon Schaffer’s Leviathan and the Air-Pump

Note: This lecture is part of a unit on empiricism and universal laws in the Scientific Revolution. In a prior lecture, students already are introduced to the renewed emphasis on empiricism of the 16th and 17th centuries through the ideas of figures such as Hugh Plat and Francis Bacon.

Lab Overview

In the lab for this module, students focus on physics and lab write-up techniques. They reproduce Galileo’s Inclined Plane Experiment using only those tools that would have been available to him. This means that they must first figure out how to build a water clock to time motion. Students are provided with a set of objects that could be used to build the clock, but they are not given instructions on how to do this. This allows them to experience science-in-the-making and reflect on the role that tools play in making experiments possible. In addition, they are encouraged to write down everything that happens during the lab, sparing no detail. This lab, along with the lecture on “Cultures of Experimentation,” prepare students to write the course’s first major paper, “Lab Reports through Time.”

Lab and Lecture Materials
Readings and Resources for Students
  • Bowler, Peter J. and Iwan Rhys Morus. Making Modern Science: A Historical Survey. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005, 33-45.
  • Galilean Relativity and Galileo's Ship.PhysicsCentral.com. American Physical Society. Physics Central, April 15, 2020.
  • Passages recounting the “Ship Experiment” from Galileo’s Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems, 1632
  • Robert Boyle, “New Experiments Concerning the Relation between Light and Air,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, no. 31 (1667): 581-600.
Supplemental Readings for Instructors
  • Daston, Lorraine and Elizabeth Lunbeck, eds. Histories of Scientific Observation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011. 
  • Harkness, Deborah E. The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007. 
  • Shapin, Steven. “Pump and Circumstance: Robert Boyle’s Literary Technology.” Social Studies of Science 14, no 4 (1984): 481-520.
  • Shapin, Steven. “The House of Experiment in Seventeenth-Century England.” Isis 79, no. 3 (1988): 373-404.
  • Shapin, Steven and Simon Schaffer. Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011 [1985].

Sample Module III: The Race to Discover DNA’s Structure 

Lecture Overview

What historical developments led to the formation of molecular biology?  How did new tools such as x-ray crystallography extend the horizons for understanding the molecular structure of DNA?  Who should get credit for a scientific “discovery” and how did the allotment of credit work by the 1950s?  This lecture explores these questions through the dramatic story of the race to discover and publish the structure of DNA.  It focuses on key players: Rosalind Franklin, Maurice Wilkins, Linus Pauling, Francis Crick, and James Watson, who were working at various labs in the U.K. and the U.S.  Students examine how personality and rivalry shaped this story, as it played out against a backdrop of 1950s social, gender, and political issues.  They also learn about the formalization of international science as a high-pressure, competitive environment, from winning the Nobel Prize to publishing in elite journals such as Nature and Science.

Lab Overview

In this lab, students learn about molecular biology and how data is derived from X-Ray Crystallography. Using datasets provided, they are divided into 5 teams and experience a competitive race to discover the structure of DNA. The lab narrative is as follows: Your team is one of 5 scientific labs in a highly competitive race. The mystery is how the identity and structure of hereditary material was found, but the data sets may produce different results. Each lab has their own area of expertise. You may not share your lab’s mission but if asked, you must share your results. 

Lab and Lecture Materials
Readings and Resources for Students
Supplemental Readings for Instructors
  • Coffee, Patrick. Cathedrals of Science: The Personalities and Rivalries that Made Modern Science. New York: Oxford, 2008. (Provides a similar narrative of personalities and rivalries involved in the development of physical chemistry from the 1870s to the 1940s.)
  • Klug, Aaron. “The Discovery of the DNA Double Helix.” In DNA: Changing Science and Society. Edited by Torsten Krude, 5-43. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
  • Maddox, Brenda. Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA. New York: Harper Perennial, 2003.

View the sample course materials for: Beyond Henrietta Lacks: Race and Medicine in American History.

Sample Syllabus

Sample Poster/Paper Assignment: “History of a Treatment”

Please Note: Links to open access readings and online resources have been provided for each Learning Module where applicable. In all cases, detailed citations have been provided.

Sample Module I: Human Classification in the Enlightenment 

Lecture Overview

By the 18th century, Europeans were developing a wide variety of classification systems as part of the larger philosophical movement of the Enlightenment. When it came to differences among human beings, conflicting information and competing ideas emerged. Londa Schiebinger explains, among other things, Lamarckian theory, poly- vs. monogeneticism, Johann Blumenbach’s skull-based system, and more. Students come to class having read Schiebinger’s article. Class time is spent discussing her evidence and arguments. We pay particular attention to how existing social hierarchies were reproduced in Enlightenment era classification schemes for race/ethnicity and gender.

Lab Overview

In this lab students consider taxonomy and classification of organisms in general and humans specifically. Through a series of exercises, students practice sorting “individuals” according to characteristics such as color. In this case, students classify a collection of paint chips to explore the limits of classification by color. This exercise helps students understand the scientific value of the concept of taxonomy, while also recognizing more problematic aspects of using classification as an explanatory framework for human difference.

Lab and Lecture Materials
Readings and Resources for Students
  • Schiebinger, Londa. “The Anatomy of Difference: Race and Sex in Eighteenth-Century Science.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 23 (Summer 1990): 387-405. 
  • Linnean Leaning. Linnean.org. The Linnean Society of London, April 15, 2020. 
  • Race.Plato.Stanford.edu. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, February 17, 2016.
Supplemental Readings for Instructors
  • Arendt, Hannah. “Race-Thinking before Racism.” The Review of Politics 6, no. 1 (1944): 36-73.
  • Bhopal, Raj. “The Beautiful Skull and Blumenbach’s Errors: The Birth of the Scientific Concept of Race.” BMJ (Clinical research ed.) 335, no. 7633 (2007): 1308-1309.
  • Fausto-Sterling, Anne. “Gender, Race, and Nation: The comparative anatomy of ‘Hottentot’ women in Europe, 1815–1817.” In Skin Deep, Spirit Strong: The Black Female Body in American Culture, edited by Kimberly Wallace-Sanders. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002.
  • Schiebinger, Londa. Nature’s Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Science. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2004 [1993].

Sample Module II: Race, Slavery, and Spirometry 

Lecture Overview

In this session we look at medicine in the context of slavery. How did the practices and culture of American slavery shape how medical doctors and scientists attempted to administer medicine to the enslaved? And how did this power relationship shape their thinking about the differences between free (i.e., white) and enslaved (i.e., black) people? How did their contemporary social and political situation bias their understanding of history and ancestry? Students come to understand through discussion of primary sources, such as Samuel Cartwright’s 1851 “Report on the Diseases of the Negro,” that by the mid-nineteenth century most medical professionals had accepted the premise of biomedical difference based on race. We then focus on a case study: historian Lundy Braun’s work on the racialization of spirometry (measurement of lung function) during the Civil War era. Students also learn that, while most biomedical practices based on racial difference have been discarded, “racial corrections” continue in spirometry through the present day.

Note: This lecture, “The View from Above,” is part of a series that examines the interconnections between the histories of medicine and slavery in 19th century America. In particular, this lecture examines the dominant discourses and practices among white medical professionals and the racialization of medicine. 

Lab Overview

In this lab, students learn how to administer a spirometry test and carry out a series of exercises that demonstrate the problematic nature of “racial corrections” in respiratory health measurements. In particular, they complete data analysis using the still-racialized spirometry measurement data from the CDC website, and discuss whether this type of biomedical categorization should continue.

Lab and Lecture Materials
Readings and Resources for Students
  • Braun, Lundy. “Race, ethnicity and lung function: A brief history.” Canadian Journal of Respiratory Therapy: CJRT = Revue Canadienne de la Therapie Respiratoire: RCTR 51, no. 4 (2015): 99-101.
  • Braun, Lundy, et al. “Racial Categories in Medical Practice: How Useful Are They?” PLoS Med 4, no. 9 (2007): e271. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040271
  • Cartwright, Samuel A. “Report on the Diseases and Physical Peculiarities of the Negro Race,” New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal, May 1851. 
  • Moore, V.C. “Spirometry: Step by Step.Breathe, no. 8 (2012): 232-240. doi: 10.1183/20734735.0021711
  • Orenstein, David. “Spirometry: A Built-In ‘Correction’ for Race?News.Brown.edu, News from Brown, June 3, 2013. (Interview with Lundy Brown)
  • Pittman, Jessica, et al. “Spirometry in Biracial Children: How Adequate Are Race-Based Reference Equations?” Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 165, no. 6 (2011):573-574. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2011.76  CREATE LINK TO PDF IN TITLE OF ARTICLE
  • Shaban, Hamza. “How Racism Creeps into Medicine,The Atlantic, August 29, 2014. (Interview with Lundy Brown)
  • Spirometry.Mayo Clinic, August 17, 2017.
Supplemental Readings for Instructors
  • Braun, Lundy. Breathing Race into the Machine: The Surprising Career of the Spirometer from Plantation to Genetics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014. 
  • Fett, Sharla M. Working Cures: Healing, Health, and Power on Southern Slave Plantations. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.
  • Humphreys, Margaret. Intensely Human: The Health of Black Soldiers in the American Civil War. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008.
  • Kahn, Jonathan. Race in a Bottle: The Story of BiDil and Racialized Medicine in a Post-genomic Age. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.
  • Kaufman, Jay S. and Susan A. Hall. “The Slavery Hypertension Hypothesis: Dissemination and Appeal of a Modern Race Theory." Epidemiology 14, (2003): 111-18.

Sample Module III: Henrietta Lacks, HeLa Cells, and Bioethics 

Lecture Series Overview

Thanks to the book by Rebecca Skloot and an Oprah movie, the story of Henrietta Lacks has become widely known. But what are we to make of the woman who died of a terrifyingly aggressive cervical cancer, the doctor who extracted her cells, and those cells, which continue to reproduce to this day as a major cancer research cell line (HeLa cells)?  We discuss Henrietta Lacks’ biography, the ongoing significance of HeLa cells for biomedical research and industry, and the ethical considerations arising from her case.  This module also involves a critical discussion of Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, considering both the value of the text and its more problematic aspects.   

Note: This module involves a three-lecture series on Henrietta Lacks that is integrated with a cell culture lab. 

  • Lecture 1: Biography of Henrietta Lacks
  • Lecture 2: Implications for Cancer Research and Biomedicine
  • Lecture 3: Implication for Bioethics
  • Cell Culture Lab
Lab Overview

Thousands of researchers, doing billions of dollars of work, have used HeLa cells.  This lab allows students to experience working with cells in culture to gain appreciation for the importance of HeLa cells for medicine and biomedical research. 

Lab and Lecture Materials
Readings and Resources for Students
Supplemental Readings for Instructors
  • Gamble, Vanessa Northington. "Under the shadow of Tuskegee: African Americans and health care." American Journal of Public Health 87, no. 11 (1997): 1773-1778.
  • Landecker, Hannah. Culturing Life: How Cells Became Technologies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007. 
  • Lucey, Brendan P., Walter A. Nelson-Rees, and Grover M. Hutchins. “Henrietta Lacks, HeLa Cells, and Cell Culture Contamination.Archives of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine 133, no. 9 (2009): 1463-1467. doi: 10.1043/1543-2165-133.9.1463.
  • Smith, Susan Lynn. Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired: Black Women's Health Activism in America, 1890-1950. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995.

Learn more about how pandemics in history, including the 1918 Influenza Pandemic, and how it affected Dean.

1918 Influenza Pandemic at Dean Academy and Around the World

View the video below for the "Lessons from the 1918 Flu Pandemic" by David Brandon Dennis, Ph.D.

Student Responses

Students respond to pandemics in history with the following:

  • “So if history teaches us anything, it's to remain calm and self-controlled, and not to underestimate the power of viruses.” - Stephanie Pak Kai Li '22, Business Major 
  • “When Philadelphia did not take the outbreak seriously [in the Fall of 1918] you saw a large number of people being infected and a high death rate … We can take away from this to show that with the right measures in place we can slow the spread of this virus and … prevent overcrowding of hospitals and stop the spread from being unmanageable.” – Kobe Welch-Porter '22, History Major 
  •  “[The history of the 1918 Flu Pandemic] provides essential facts when considering why the cancellation of mass gatherings due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic were necessary. Despite the economic challenges that these cancellations can lead to, they ultimately help to maintain the health of the citizens and promote a quicker recovery following any such pandemic. This is also why distance learning is essential for educational systems to take part in. The distance that it allows between individuals helps to ensure our safety.” - Ann Bosio '21, Business Major  
  • “There are a few lessons to apply from the history of the Flu Pandemic of 1918 to the current Covid-19 Pandemic. Foremost, that strong leadership is needed from many sectors of society to communicate the lessons learned and apply them to today’s crisis. One of these lessons is that social isolation does work and it takes time for the benefits to surface. Social isolation can only work when all members of a community/family adhere to it; otherwise the benefits are probably negligible … I also believe that candid, tough discussions are needed from as many credible sources possible to send the same messages over and over.” – Mark Genesky, School of Continuing Studies

Dean Alum Experiences 1918 Flu Pandemic

In the fall of 1918, having recently signed up to fight in World War I, Corporal George T. Angell, a former Dean student, found himself in of one of the worst “hotspots” for the 1918 influenza: Camp Devens near Ayer, MA.  Over 15,000 personnel from the Camp came down with the illness and more than 800 died.  A collection of 36 letters he wrote home during his time in the Camp now belongs to the collection of the Vermont Historical Society.  Angell was hospitalized with the flu but survived.  His letters show the everyday, human side of coping in the midst of a pandemic.

Below is a photo of Corporal George T. Angell (1918).

Corporal George T. Angell (1918)

Below is a photo of one of Angell’s letters to his mother and father (November 11, 1918).

Angell’s Letter to His Mother and Father (November 11, 1918)

Click the link below to read more of Angell's letters.

Student Responses 
  • “[George Angell’s] experience can show us that even though times are scary, we can't just completely shut down, we can push through this scary time.” - Rebecca Cimmino '22, Dance Major
  • “George Angell’s story is an uplifting journey of success in all the madness – a light at the end of a dark, dark tunnel. Angell is a local figure to whom we can look for a story of comfort in the coming weeks and possibly months. I can relate to a lot of his letters. I have recently been really bummed about missing a few weddings and big moments. While they are not my events, my heart goes out to all who have had to cancel or postpone some of the best days in their lives. It is true we all must go on and continue buying toothbrushes, as he does, however its tough mentally to adjust to this time. I know things will improve. We just must remember stories like Angell’s to be reminded that there are happy times to follow.” – Kirstin Hansen '20, History Major

Additional Resources for Studying the 1918 Influenza Pandemic

Other Pandemics in History

The Black Death

Communications major, Glenn Morales '20, produced a short film with accompanying slides explaining how plague affected Italian communities in the 14th and 15th centuries. In Morales’ work, the basics of public health needs, like identifying the sick and keeping them from public interaction, are eerily similar to what many of us experience today.

Source: Slack, Paul. Plague: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012. 

Additional Resources for Studying Pandemics

Professor of History Dr. Rob Lawson and Dr. David Dennis explain the power of history in the midst of pandemic.