- Ferrante Imperato’s 1599 Cabinet of Curiosities & SIMILE’s 2014 Cabinet of Curiosities


SIMILE is an intensive residential program in which students learn to approach science, technology, and medicine in their historical, cultural, and social contexts. When did what we define as “science” begin? How did it develop? And what might it become in the future? This program offers a lively community for students who are passionate about history as well as science and who want to understand these two subjects together.

Exploring the History of Science

In SIMILE, students grapple with the great thinkers and practitioners of science, medicine, and technology from antiquity to the present. However, this is not a science course. You will study the sciences as elements of changing cultures, integral to the fabric of human history. Like many history classes, SIMILE focuses on critical reading, written expression, and contextual analysis, encouraging students to understand science from a humanistic perspective. Lectures and discussions take place in the dorm and are complemented by hands-on projects, field trips, and guest speakers as well as informal conversations among faculty and students.

Across the year, students will examine rich and well-chosen case studies mapped in time and space. Explore how past societies identified, explained, and worked to solve important scientific and technical problems. For instance, the question of how to map the heavens also begs the question of why. What does a society do with this knowledge? How do they accumulate, interpret, and transmit it? And what do other societies do with this knowledge as it crosses borders?

Learning by Thinking and Doing

SIMILE is a yearlong program, with students living and learning together in Burbank House, part of the freshman complex Stern Hall. All lectures, small-group discussions, and presentations by invited experts take place in the dorm, which facilitates informal conversations among faculty and students. Learning is enriched through hands-on projects and field trips. Understanding ancient scientific instruments, historical experiments, and the ingredients that gave birth to modern technologies gives students a deep appreciation of how knowledge is made by doing as well as by thinking. Many of the hands-on activities make use of the “Collaboratorium,” one of the dorm spaces custom-built for SIMILE and ITALIC. These specially equipped rooms are also available to students working on independent projects.

Foundation for the Undergraduate Education

SIMILE students grapple with a set of profound questions as relevant today as in antiquity: How do scientific worldviews explain body, nature, and cosmos? What compels human societies to push beyond the frontiers of knowledge of any given time? Why do we accept some new ideas quickly, while others inspire our reaction and opposition? Above all, why has science been so successful – what, in the final analysis, makes it possible for us to discover truth and to transform the world around us?

Students emerge from the yearlong experience in SIMILE knowing how to think historically about science, medicine, and technology. They will have a subtle and sophisticated understanding of science, as entwined with the philosophies, religions, literatures, and arts of the worlds in which science was created.

Is SIMILE the right choice?

SIMILE is designed to appeal to several different kinds of students who might not otherwise find themselves in the same conversation. It is designed for the potential scientist, engineer or premed interested in understanding these fields historically; it is equally designed for the humanities or social science student who wants to understand science, technology, and medicine as social, cultural, and historical phenomena. Last but not least, it is designed for students who are fascinated with both the humanities and sciences and who do not wish to choose between them. In all instances, this is a program designed for students looking for a challenging and cohesive humanities program as the bedrock of their freshmen experience.