Native Science: Interconnection, Local Knowledge, & Memory

Native American, science

By Christy Tidwell

November is National Native American Heritage Month, a chance to acknowledge the history and living culture of Native American peoples. As a science, technology, and society program, this seems a good opportunity to discuss Native science, also called Indigenous science or Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK). As the varied names for this indicate, it’s not one monolithic entity but incorporates ideas from many perspectives. It is both traditional, building on Native peoples’ long histories of learning about and sharing knowledge, and contemporary, an ongoing part of living in and with the world.

What is Native Science?

Gregory Cajete (Santa Clara Pueblo) coined the term, and he describes Native science as “a metaphor for a wide range of tribal processes of perceiving, thinking, acting, and coming to know that have evolved through human experiences with the natural world.” Cajete says, “Native science is born of a lived and storied participation with the natural landscape. It is the collective heritage of human experience with the natural world” (2). In other words, Native science combines human and nonhuman and describes what humans know by relating to, communicating with, and experiencing the world. It is not a science based on laboratory experiments or anonymous review.

This contrasts with Western ideas of science by emphasizing connection rather than separation, relationships rather than objective distance. Native science sees people as part of the world they’re learning about, not outside it, and therefore people cannot be removed from scientific work. If you’ve been trained to think of science as necessarily objective and tainted by any hint of subjectivity or bias, this may sound unscientific. However, as Leila McNeill points out in a Lady Science interview, “It really just means that it’s grounded in this specific experience of this specific group of people in this specific place, which can actually give us better results than if we were looking at something that is looking at large, broad questions that they’re trying to apply to everything that just kind of obscures the particular.”

Environmental Literature & Culture: Spring 2022 Course

Classes

By Christy Tidwell

What is nature? What do you imagine when you think of nature? What are the qualities of nature (better yet, of Nature with a capital N)? 

Pause now and think about that for a minute. 

Seriously. 

What is the image of Nature you hold in your mind? Picture it.

Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

Did you imagine something like that? Maybe not that exact image, but something similar? If so, consider this response more fully. What are the qualities of this representation of nature? It’s beautiful. It has lots of elements of the natural world (I know, that seems circular, but stick with me), like trees, mountains, a lake. It’s pure and untouched. It’s wild. Notably, there are no humans in this image. 

Spooky Science at the Movies!: Week 5

Film, horror

By Christy Tidwell

This weekend is Halloween! To celebrate, I have two final movie recommendations to share. One is an all-time favorite of mine and probably no surprise to those who know me. The other is one of the scarier recent movies I’ve seen. Their premises are quite different, but both have science and technology at their core.

Classic Movie #5: Jurassic Park

Of course it’s Jurassic Park! Jurassic Park (1993, directed by Steven Spielberg) is an adventure movie featuring dinosaurs, a horror movie with terrifying monster attacks, and a science fiction movie that asks, “What if we could bring a creature back from extinction?” Jurassic Park is such a well-known part of US popular culture that it is a common reference point in discussions of scientific overreach and a familiar critique of the role of money in scientific research. “Spared no expense,” John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) repeats throughout – but the project still fails.

Jurassic Park is a reworking of Frankenstein with dinosaurs, and it is one of the best movies out there for raising important questions about scientific ethics while also being extraordinarily entertaining. If you haven’t seen it, now is the time! If you have already seen it, well, it’s always a good time to watch Jurassic Park again.

Official trailer for Jurassic Park (1993)

Contemporary Movie #5: Host

As Laura Kremmel noted in her recent post “High-Tech Spirits and Ghost Tours,” Host (2020, dir. Rob Savage) has been named as the scariest horror movie. It’s short (only 57 minutes!) and fun, but it definitely gets your heart pounding in that short running time. Host spends less time raising big issues about science than Jurassic Park and focuses more on scaring the audience, but the way it achieves its scares is worth noting from an STS perspective. Those scares are only possible through the technology of Zoom, and the audience’s ability to be scared by spirits via technology is a) definitely not new (as Laura Kremmel points out) and b) perhaps an indication of how mysterious the inner workings of these technologies are to most of us.

Official trailer for Host (2020)

Collected Movie Lists

This is the final entry in the series of STS-related horror movies for this season, so I’ll end by combining all the movies recommended and linking to the earlier posts.

Classic movies:

  1. Frankenstein (1931)
  2. Godzilla (1954)
  3. Phase IV (1974)
  4. The Fly (1986)
  5. Jurassic Park (1993)

Contemporary movies:

  1. Saint Maud (2019)
  2. Crawl (2019)
  3. In the Earth (2020)
  4. Annihilation (2018)
  5. Host (2020)

Happy Halloween, and happy viewing!

Spooky Science at the Movies!: Week 4

Film, horror

By Christy Tidwell

There’s just a week and a half left before Halloween, but there’s still time for more spooky movies! This week’s classic and contemporary movie recommendations prominently feature scientists and scientific research, highlighting the risks of scientific experimentation and exploration (especially when done outside the bounds of formal research contexts) as well as the limits of scientific knowledge.

Classic Movie #4: The Fly

David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of The Fly is a classic of body horror. Its central premise is that a human (Seth Brundle, played by Jeff Goldblum) merges with a fly and becomes a horrifying human-fly mutant: Brundlefly. This transformation emphasizes bodily mutation through both the intimate horror of things like losing fingernails (as gruesomely shown in the bathroom scene) and the ultimate form of Brundlefly, so dramatically changed that it no longer has a recognizably human face.

The Fly is also another horror film about mad science (following in the footsteps of Frankenstein, recommended during Week 1). It’s not just that a human merges with a fly, after all, but that a scientist conducts experiments on himself that go very wrong. The film dramatizes what can happen when scientists abandon the norms and regulations of scientific practice. If you can’t get funding through traditional means, how far are you willing to go for your research? Are you willing to experiment on yourself? Although historically there have been quite a few scientists willing to do this, The Fly serves as a cautionary tale indicating that this will not always work out. Some renegade scientists might get to be Humphry Davy (who experimented with nitrous oxide and discovered its use as an anesthetic – without killing himself!), but others are Seth Brundle/Brundlefly.

Poster for The Fly (1986)

Contemporary Movie #4: Annihilation

Alex Garland’s Annihilation (2018, an adaptation of Jeff VanderMeer’s 2014 novel of the same name) also follows a scientist, a biologist (Natalie Portman). She is on an expedition with an anthropologist, a psychologist, a surveyor, and a linguist (all women) into a mysterious environmental disaster zone known as the Shimmer. The Shimmer doesn’t follow the familiar rules of nature and ever stranger things happen to and around the group of explorers. Without giving too much away (since the movie is still relatively recent), I can say that Annihilation centers both scientific exploration and environmental issues, which connects it nicely to the STS degree.

Where The Fly endorses traditional science by showing the awful consequences of going outside its boundaries, Annihilation takes a different approach, illustrating the limits of scientific knowledge. The team of women in Annihilation are overwhelmed by the world within the Shimmer, ultimately unable to study it objectively and changed by it instead. In both films, scientists are unable to remain completely separate from what they study.

Trailer for Annihilation (2018)

For more recommendations, check out earlier entries in this series: Week 1, Week 2, and Week 3!

Spooky Science at the Movies!: Week 3

Environment, Film, horror

By Christy Tidwell

This week’s recommendations stick with the emphasis on ecohorror introduced last week. Instead of presenting monsters like Godzilla or crocodiles, though, these two films find both wonder and horror in exploring the agency of the nonhuman world. How do other species communicate? How do they act upon us and shape our actions?

Spooky Science at the Movies!: Week 2

Environment, Film, horror, Humanities

By Christy Tidwell

Horror movies are often defined by their monsters. Sometimes these monsters are terrifying beasts that give us nightmares (like Guillermo del Toro’s Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth or Pennywise from Stephen King’s It), sometimes they’re kind of silly (like the rampaging rabbits in Night of the Lepus), and sometimes they’re surprisingly sympathetic (like Frankenstein’s Creature).

In any case, monsters demonstrate something about both the world we live in and what we fear. In the 1950s, people feared nuclear war; now, we fear climate change. The two horror movies I’m recommending for this week directly address those fears, presenting viewers with monsters that embody the harm of nuclear warfare/testing in one case and that are the direct result of climate change’s superstorms and unpredictable weather patterns in the other.

Spooky Science at the Movies!: Week 1

Film, horror, Humanities

By Christy Tidwell

October means cooler temperatures, cozy sweaters, falling leaves – and scary movies. Horror might not be where you turn for your STS-related entertainment, but the genre frequently addresses science, technology, and humanity’s relationship to both. In Knowing Fear: Science, Knowledge and the Development of the Horror Genre, Jason Colavito writes that “horror cannot survive without the anxieties created by the changing role of human knowledge and science in our society” (4). These anxieties are also a big part of what we study in STS (Science, Technology, and Society), and they can shape the kinds of technologies we embrace or reject, both as individuals and as a culture.

In the spirit of Halloween, then, this is the first post in a series where I will recommend horror movies that address STEM topics, broadly defined. Each week until Halloween, I’ll suggest one classic and one contemporary horror movie that provide opportunities both to think more deeply about the relationships we as humans have with science/technology and also to have a little fun.

National Hispanic Heritage Month: Celebrating Hispanic Scientists

history, race, Representation

By Christy Tidwell

National Hispanic Heritage Month spans September 15 to October 15 and is a time to, as the official Library of Congress website says, celebrate “the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.” This includes important historical and contemporary contributions to STEM fields, despite the ongoing underrepresentation of Hispanic people within those fields.

Franklin R. Chang-Diaz, a Costa Rican American astronaut, conducting work on the International Space Station (ISS). Photo credit: NASA via Flickr.

Is it Hispanic or Latino or…?

The language used to refer to people “whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America” is complicated. Not all people included in this list would call themselves Hispanic, despite the name given to the month. Some prefer Latinx (or Latino/a or Latine), some prefer Chicano (or Chicana or Chicanx), and some prefer a more specific reference to their families’ nationality (e.g., Mexican American, Cuban American). And none of this addresses the question of indigeneity and the distinctions between histories of Indigenous peoples and colonizers in these regions. Nevertheless, given the lack of a consistent umbrella term and the name of the month, I will use the term Hispanic generally and will use other terms for individuals if they identify themselves in another way. (For more on this issue, see Vanessa Romo’s NPR piece “Yes, We’re Calling It Hispanic Heritage Month And We Know It Makes Some of You Cringe.”)

Running the Numbers

South Dakota Mines’ Hispanic student population has hovered around 5% of the total student population for the last 5 years, meaning that there have been approximately 120-140 Hispanic students enrolled in each of those years. This is not a high proportion of the overall student body, but Hispanic students still represent the largest group of students of color at Mines. (If you are a Hispanic student at Mines or if you’re interested in supporting Hispanic students at Mines, you can check out the Mines chapter of Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE).)

Source: South Dakota Mines Diversity Report, 2020-2021, compiled by Jesse Herrera.

Music, Horror Movies, and Racial Politics: Bringing the 1970s into the 21st Century

Events, Humanities, music

On Tuesday, September 21, 2021, at 11 am, Christy Tidwell will present a Brown Bag on the connections between 1970s horror film, 1970s racial politics, and recent songs by Clipping. This free presentation will be held in-person on the South Dakota Mines campus in Classroom Building 309.

Experimental hip hop group Clipping’s recent work revisits and revises 1970s horror narratives in new media and for new audiences. “Nothing Is Safe” (2019), for instance, draws on John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) and Halloween (1978) to update 1970s critiques of authority, institutional forces, and suburbanization for the 21st century, while “Blood of the Fang” (2019) combines Bill Gunn’s Blaxploitation vampire film Ganja & Hess (1973) with the radical Black politics of the 1970s to comment on 21st century racial politics.

Clipping’s commentary on contemporary issues like police brutality is clear in other songs that do not connect directly with 1970s horror and politics, however. So what is gained by connecting these two periods specifically? How do the politics and horror media of the 1970s resonate with the moment we are currently living through? In this presentation, Christy Tidwell will both introduce the audience to Clipping and explore these larger questions about politics and media.

Humanities & Technology: Defining Terms and the Complexity of STS

Classes, Humanities, Technology

By Christy Tidwell

Today marks the end of the first week back to class for South Dakota Mines, and the STS faculty are hard at work in their classes and enjoying meeting students! We are teaching classes on Environmental Ethics & STEM (HUM 250 with me), Computers in Society (HUM 375 with Dr. Erica Haugtvedt), E-sports (HUM 376 with Dr. John Dreyer), History and Philosophy of Science (PHIL 335 with Dr. Michael Hudgens), Terror & Horror (ENGL 392 with Dr. Laura Kremmel), and Licit and Illicit Drugs (SOC 411 with Dr. Kayla Pritchard) – plus many others! As this list of courses indicates, STS covers a lot of ground. It needs to, given its promise to study science, technology, and society, and there are countless ways to approach the field and the topics it includes.

In addition to Environmental Ethics & STEM (mentioned above), I am also teaching Connections: Humanities & Technology (HUM 200) this semester, which is a great illustration of what the STS major is all about. Since the course description and title are pretty broad, I’ve narrowed things down to focus on the following big questions:

1. How do we communicate with each other?
2. How do we design and build the places we live?

In response to these questions we will explore communication technologies from paper and books to social media, film, and robots, and we will consider urban design issues like curb cuts and plumbing, historical and contemporary ideas about what a home looks like, and what the city of the future could look like.