Colgate Syllabus: Saving the Appearances

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Editor’s note: Wondering what’s happening in the classroom at Colgate? Here’s a real-time glimpse into academic life on campus — a syllabus from a course underway this semester.

CORE 106 Saving the Appearances: Galileo, the Church, and the Scientific Endeavor

Jeff Bary, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy
MW 2:45–4:00 p.m., Lawrence 20

Course description

The discoveries, writings, and trial of Galileo Galilei will serve as both a focus and backdrop for students to explore the practical development of scientific thought and the near simultaneous invention and re-invention of the Catholic Church. In addition to readings, written responses, and classroom discussions, the course requires students to repeat many of the ground-breaking observations Galileo made — using a hand-held refracting telescope similar in size and shape to the one he built.

This course also features a three-week extended study trip to Italy following the completion of the semester. Students will visit Rome and Florence, following in the footsteps of Galileo and visiting sites of significance for the work they have been doing in the classroom.

Major assignments

This course revolves around a final research paper and three smaller papers that are designed to prepare students for the research paper. The three smaller papers are opinion-style pieces, which are designed to teach students how to make strong, claim-based arguments. For these papers, students are able to pick a current event that they feel strongly about and write an opinion piece on the subject.


Students will read The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe by Arthur Koestler as well as excerpts from other texts as selected by Professor Bary.

Class format

Professor Bary begins classes by writing discussion questions on the board and asking students to write down responses to these questions. Following this, students begin a discussion based on their answers to the discussion questions, with Professor Bary offering guiding questions and insights.

During their trip to Italy, the class will visit Galileo’s home as well as the Vatican Observatory, where they will receive a tour from the observatory’s director.

The professor says

“This class differs from many other science classes at Colgate in the sense that it draws on historical perspectives to guide our current understanding of science and the world. Additionally, it allows me to teach some philosophy, religion, and history of a different place at a different time, which I don’t get the opportunity to do in a typical astronomy and physics class.”

Get to know: Professor Jeff Bary
Move aside, space invaders