Certificate in Bio-Humanities

Are you a bio-engineering or life science major interested in philosophy, history, or literature? Are you a humanities major who also dabbles in biology, neuroscience or endocrinology? Here's an opportunity for those interested in how the sciences and the humanities are generating new areas of research together.

HRI's Undergraduate Certificate in Bio-Humanities is a thematic cluster of four courses that gives students in any major the opportunity to learn about the interplay between the life sciences and society. The certificate is for both students in the humanities interested in the biological sciences and students in STEM fields who wish to explore how humanists address issues of importance to their training and expertise.

Bio-Humanities is an emerging field distinguished by its critical and creative appropriation of findings in the biological sciences for the purpose of reimagining and reconfiguring our sense of human being and of the meaning and significance of human undertakings. This certificate provides an opportunity for undergraduate students interested in this emerging area to take courses that complement their undergraduate major.

These courses will give students the opportunity to develop interdisciplinary thinking about the ways in which science, culture, and politics shape one another, and offer students a distinctive perspective on prospective careers in public health, medicine, and biomedical or biotechnological research. Whether they go on to graduate school or pursue employment in the arena of policy, law, arts, education or medicine, they will do so with foundational knowledge of how linked biology and culture are, and how those connections illuminate new pathways for research and practice.

In earning a Certificate in Bio-Humanities, students will learn to:

  • assess and anticipate the goals, impacts, and unintended consequences of biological and medical research;
  • trace the connections between culture, economics, and technology, on the one hand, and health and medical practice, on the other;
  • reconsider and remap patterns of ethical, legal, and political accountability in the areas of health, nutrition, medicine, and biotechnology;
  • use critical categories and historical knowledge to improve research and medical protocols; and
  • think innovatively and creatively about the relationship between science and culture in both research and practice.

The certificate draws on courses developed as part of a Bio-Humanities initiative funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation as well as related courses from a variety of humanities disciplines.

Students must complete a minimum of 12 hours of course work drawn from the following list:


Bio-Humanities Certificate class list
Class Code Class Name
AFRO 481/SOC 472/UP 481 Urban Communities and Public Policy
ANTH 241 Human Biological Variation
ANTH 258 Sex in Nature and Culture
ARCH 321 The Environment, Architecture, and Global Health
ENGL 220 Literature and Science
HIS 483/AFRO 466 Race, Science, and Medicine
HIS 342 Cultural History of Technoscience
HUM 395 Biology and Society: From Organism to Politics
HUM 395 Imagining Molecular Reality
IB 202 Physiology (pre-reqs: IB 150 and MCB 150)
KIN 442 Body, Culture, Society
LLS 479 Race, Medicine, and Society
PS 300/HUM 395 Feminism, Bioethics, and Biopolitics
PS 2** Science and Democracy
MCB 170 Society and the Brain


Questions about the certificate requirements should be sent to Assistant Director for Education and Outreach Alaina Pincus. Students will be required to submit a course plan with a rationale to indicate how the courses they select are appropriate for (and will complement) their major plan of study. In accordance with LAS guidelines on certificates, student must take at least one course at the 300 or 400 level. We recommend students to enroll in at least one HUM 395 course and one course from among the IB, MCB and ANTH offerings.

Check out the courses designed by the Bio-Humanities Research Group

HUM 395 - Imagining Molecular Reality


Offered Spring 2018. Taught by Samantha Frost & Daniel Liu

Why are some of our most important questions in life addressed and answered by recourse to the smallest, invisible particles? How is it that fundamentally invisible things like molecules come to exert such a powerful influence on our ideas about who we are, our relationship to the environment, and our treatment one another? What intellectual, religious, and political forces have shaped our ideas about atoms and molecules? And how have we learned anything about such tiny things? In this course we study a combination of primary source texts and read the latest scholarship on the development of molecular ideas and their influence on social and political life.

This course draws on history, science and technology studies, philosophy, bioethics, sociology, and environmental studies to teach students about the ways that science and society shape one another and to give them intellectual tools to navigate diverse academic fields and broaden their understandings of the socio-political and ethical challenges we face today. Fulfills 3 credit hours towards General Education requirements in Humanities & Arts (Historical and Philosophical Perspectives) and in Cultural Studies (Western Cultures).

Instructor: Dr. Daniel Liu has held positions as teaching assistant and lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 2011, he was awarded an "Honored Instructor" award for undergraduate teaching. In 2015, he was nominated by his department for the university-wide Capstone Teaching Award. Liu has received the teaching training provided by the UW-Madison College of Letters & Sciences in 2010 and also "Equity and Diversity" training for graduate assistants from the UW-Madison"s Office of Equity and Diversity in 2011.

HUM 395 - Biology and Society: From Organism to Politics

Offered Fall 2017. Taught by Samantha Frost & Judith Rosine Kelz

This course will draw on the fields of history, science and technology studies, political theory, philosophy, biology, sociology and environmental studies to introduce students to the emerging field of bio-humanities. Its aims are twofold: to come to term with the ways that science and society shape one another and to teach students how dialogue between diverse academic fields can help us to create a broader understanding of the socio-political and ethical challenges we face today.

***This course has been petitioned for general education credit. It has been approved by ACES, AHS, BUS, EDU, FAA, LAS, and Media for Historical and Philosophical Perspectives and Social Sciences. ENG has approved this for ONLY Social Sciences credit.

This interdisciplinary course will fulfill 3 credit hours towards General Education requirements in Humanities & Arts (Historical and Philosophical Perspectives) and in Social and Behavioral Science (Social Science). The course satisfies the General Education Historical and Philosophical Perspectives requirement in that it presents the historical continuities and discontinuities in the way that scientific findings have shaped political life and the way that the demands of politics have shaped scientific research; it facilitates an appreciation of how contemporary scientific questions and critical engagements with science have emerged from the past; it fosters cross-disciplinary dialogue as a counterweight to the narrowness of disciplinary expertise; it stimulates questions concerning the nature of the human; it engages questions of ethics and principles in scientific practice and in the instrumentalization of scientific findings in social and political life; and it fosters critical thinking and refined judgment with regard to the interaction between science and society.

In addition, the course satisfies the General Education Social Science requirement in that it traces the interactions and the effects of interactions between scientists, research institutions and practices, philosophers, political activists, and political and legal institutions; it provides historical, social, and political-economic context for scientific research; it deploys specific instances as well as historical patterns to explore how scientific research findings and biotechnological innovations provoke and are bound up with transformations in philosophical, ethical, and political understandings of social and political life; and it provides examples and opportunities to undertake interdisciplinary research in this field.

Through this course, students will also learn different modes of critical and interpretive analysis, historical contextualization, network analysis, discourse analysis, and develop a working familiarity with research fundamentals in molecular and cellular biology.

Instructor: Dr. Rosine Kelz has taught undergraduate and graduate courses in a variety of academic settings and consistently received excellent teaching evaluations. Most recently, she taught Social Theory in the M.A. program 'Critical Theory and the Arts' at the School of Visual Arts, New York, and undergraduate courses in political and social theory at the University of Hamburg and Humboldt University, Germany. She is accredited as an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy by the Developing Learning and Teaching Program of the University of Oxford.