Course code:



MA - Intermediate/Advanced

Class size limit:


Meets the following requirements:

  • HY - History

Lab fee:


Typically offered:


Across a range of epochs, cultures, and territories, human beings have proffered myths, stories, and scientific theories in order to explain catastrophic natural events. From kata=down, strephein=turn, the Greek katastrephein meant “under-turning” in the ancient world. This course explores postulations regarding large- and small-scale calamitous events that seem to originate from below the surface of Earth. Our enquiry engages with legendary tales, historical records, material culture and scientific discourses that document attempts to explain the meaning and/or mechanism of such memorable episodes. What causes a mountain to eject ash and toxic gases? What infernal force creates lava flow? Why does the earth shake? Why do some natural waters cause harm? How do we understand that which we cannot see? Through case-studies informed by the literature of science, the arts and humanities, we will plumb the depths and limits of the human imagination. This class uses both a lecture-based and seminar-style discussion approach as well as time spent visiting local lab and field sites. Students will be evaluated based on their weekly activities and writing assignments, and a final project with both oral and written presentation components.


At least one previous class in either art history or literature is required; an additional class in, or knowledge of, geoscience is strongly suggested. Permission of instructor.

Always visit the Registrar's Office for the official course catalog and schedules.