Untold Stories in Geosciences: Social and Historical Contexts of the Development of Geosciences as a Discipline

Jeemin Rhim, Earth Sciences

Dartmouth College


Through reading discussions and writing assignments, this class investigates 1) how a set of founding principles in geosciences was established on the basis of scientific racism and colonialism; 2) how the history of racism and colonialism manifests in geoscience practices and communities; and 3) paths forward to build an anti-racist, diverse and inclusive geoscience community. Students conduct their own research about the "untold stories" on a specific individual or concept in geosciences and write about them for a non-specialist audience. The reading, research and writing skills that students practice in this class can be applied to raise awareness for historical literacy in any academic field including (but not limited to) science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and social sciences.

Course URL: []
Course Size:

less than 15

Course Format:

Small-group seminar

Institution Type:

University with graduate programs, including doctoral programs

Course Context:

This course was designed as part of the campus-wide First-Year Seminars (FYS) program. Because every undergraduate student at Dartmouth is required to take a FYS course in their first year, every department offers one or more FYS course(s). This course was a FYS offered for the Earth Sciences department. To serve the purpose of a FYS, the assignments in this course focused on developing students' writing and research skills. FYS courses are also capped at 16 students. However, I believe that the course materials can be easily adapted for a reading discussion-based seminar for a larger group of undergraduate and/or graduate students.

Course Content:

Readings in this course largely focus on research articles that communicate the social and historical aspects of practices in (geo)sciences as well as commentaries that assess the current status of geoscience disciplines and offer recommendations for promoting anti-racist practices. The course is divided into three units that are organized in a chronological order. Unit 1 discusses the practices of extraction and oppression during the early development of geosciences; Unit 2 discusses the modern-day manifestations of racism and colonialism in geosciences; Unit 3 discusses plans for building anti-racist culture and practices in geosciences. Expanding on reading assignments, students conduct research on their topic of choice for each unit and write a paper in 1,200 to 2,000 words. As mentioned above, however, the course materials can be easily adapted for a seminar focusing on reading discussions instead of writing assignments.

Course Goals:

After taking this course, students will be able to articulate social, political and historical aspects of the development of scientific concepts; conduct research on "untold stories" about a person, research expedition or conceptual development in geosciences using primary and secondary sources; develop a narrative to reveal the "untold stories" to academic and public audiences; craft an argument for the significance and implications of the developed narrative; and critically review peers' and their own writing.

Course Features:

The primary projects assigned to students in this course are the three research papers they write for the three units. Each writing project is completed in multiple steps by completing smaller assignments including annotated bibliography, first draft peer-review, and final draft with a response to peer review feedback. In addition, students complete online discussion exercises for every reading assignment and participate in in-class discussions during class meetings. For each unit, an author of one of the readings for the unit was invited as a guest speaker for a deeper discussion of the topic and to give students opportunities to directly interact with scientists from diverse backgrounds.

Course Philosophy:

The multiple types of writing assignments work well for this course, as they give students opportunities to build up their work towards the bigger writing assignments. The short and frequent reading discussion posts, annotated bibliographies and rough drafts of essays, and the final drafts of essays all add up to the total quantity of writing required for the FYS program (6,000 words). The in-class discussions and peer review components also encourage students to work in collaboration with their classmates. Overall, students seem to find it helpful to have multiple different types and scales of assignments within each unit and repeat the structure of unit three times throughout the term. They also seem to appreciate opportunities to engage directly with some of the authors of the reading assignments who were invited as guests for a few class meetings.


Broadly, assessment takes place in four ways. These include the assessments of students' 1) research skills, 2) writing skills, 3) critical thinking and communication skills, and 4) participation. Through weekly reading assignments, students gain background knowledge on a specific topic and share their thoughts with peers in the form of online discussion posts and in-class discussions. Then, each student chooses a topic of their interest based on the reading exercises for the unit and conducts preliminary literature search to create an annotated bibliography. Peer assessments of annotated bibliography and rough drafts are part of each student's final grade for the paper. Through the peer review process, they practice critical thinking skills and communicating constructive feedback with one another. Students are asked to assess their peers' work based on the actual rubric used for grading, which reflects the learning objectives for writing components of the course.


Untold Stories in Geosciences Course Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 289kB Apr26 22)

Teaching Materials:

Untold Stories in Geosciences Reading List (Acrobat (PDF) 169kB Apr26 22)
Untold Stories in Geosciences Lecture Slides (Acrobat (PDF) 122.2MB Apr26 22)
Untold Stories in Geosciences Lecture Slides (.pptx) (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 108.1MB Apr26 22)

References and Notes:

Many of the course materials (readings and lecture contents) were taken from or inspired by resources from the Unlearning Racism in Geoscience and GeoContext.