The class originated at the University of Florida from the desire to help engineering students understand why humanities and sociology classes are relevant by showing how they are connected to engineering and to help expose non engineers to what engineering is all about. It started in 2010 when Dr. Kevin Jones approached Dr. Sophia Acord about offering a class that combined materials science and humanities. Using Stephen Sass’ book The Substance of Civilization as a guide Dr. Jones and Dr. Acord developed a set of lectures that they initially taught face-to-face to 15 students. Eventually, as more professors were invited to add content and lectures the course evolved to focus on a different material and a different social principle each week of the semester. The face-to-face class has since grown to 9 instructors and approximately 175 students per class. The content from the face-to-face course was adapted for the online environment at the University of Florida in 2015.
This course explores the connections between the discovery of new materials such as ceramics, glass, concrete, metals, plastics, semiconductors etc. and the development of technologies and social structures worldwide. To see these connections, the course will fuse basic concepts in materials science and engineering with perspectives and methods from anthropology, history, English, classics, literature, and sociology. From ancient cities and Roman baths to steel foundries and Tupperware parties, to virtual communities and nanomedicine, students will learn how the physical properties of different materials intersect with cultural variables like gender, race, power/authority, religious beliefs, values, and financial and political systems to shape human civilization. By connecting lessons from the past to the inventions of cutting-edge materials, we will also explore the future social impacts of new materials in medicine, construction, transportation, clean energy, sports, and other areas. Engineers play important roles in changing or maintaining the structure and fabric of society. This course will explore how their materials-based technologies shape our society, as well as how society shapes engineering