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Course Information

Instructor Info:Sarah Hews
Office Extension x5414
Term: 2014S
Meeting Info: Monday Wednesday
09:00 AM - 10:20 AM Cole Science Center 316
09:00 AM - 10:20 AM Cole Science Center 316

Students will develop an understanding of different mathematical concepts to gain insights on potentials for collapse in civilizations and empires, species and ecosystems, products and fads, companies, structures, markets, governments and social order, diseases, and networks.  

Course Objectives:

There are two main objectives.

  1. Students should be able to identify what mathematical concept is responsible for different collapses and use the concepts to predict possible collapse events.
  2. Students should develop a basic mathematical understanding of 6 dynamics (chance, group behavior, competition and evolution, instability, nonlinearity, and network effects) and be able to answer the following questions.
    • How do seemingly random events perturb a system and alter its behavior?
    • How do we identify patterns in behavior of a large number of people or 'agents' if they are acting relatively independently?
    • How do we identify evolution of strategies by agents in a competitive environment?
    • How do we identify if a state is stable?
    • How can we identify scenarios where small differences in conditions at a given time can lead to huge and relatively unpredictable behavior later on?
    • How do we identify the propagation of an effect through a network of interconnected parts? 


Evaluation Criteria:

To receive an evaluation, students must complete

  • problem sets every two weeks (to be completed in and outside of class)
  • a project - students must select a collapse event, write background of the event, and then complete a short paper after each dynamic is studied describing how that dynamic played a role in the collapse


  • show up to class on time and engaged (miss no more than 2 classes)
  • hand work in on time - late work will not be accepted, students should hand in what they have completed by each deadline.  


Additional Info:

Book:  There is no required text for the course.  The course is based off of the following texts: Six Sources of Collapse by Charles R. Hadlock and Collapse by Jared Diamond.

Time Expectation:  In this course students are expected to spend between 6-8 hours of work outside of class.   

Accommodations: Upon request, we are happy to provide appropriate academic accommodations for students with disabilities. Please provide an accommodations letter from the Dean of Advising office (Joel Dansky) and a description of the accommodations you will need.

Academic Honesty Policy:

All Hampshire College students and faculty, whether at Hampshire or at other institutions, are bound by the ethics of academic integrity. The entire description and college policy can be found in Non Satis Non Scire at under Academic Policies/Ethics of Scholarship. Plagiarism is the representation of someone else’s work as one’s own. Both deliberate and inadvertent misrepresentations of another’s work as your own are considered plagiarism and are serious breaches of academic honesty and integrity. All sources used or consulted in the process of writing papers, examinations, preparing oral presentations, course assignments, artistic productions, and so on, must be cited. Sources include material from books, journals or any other printed source, the work of other students, faculty, or staff, information from the Internet, software programs and other electronic material, designs and ideas.


All cases of suspected plagiarism or academic dishonesty will be referred to the Dean of Advising who will review documentation and meet with student and faculty member. Individual faculty, in consultation with the Dean of Advising, will decide the most appropriate consequence in the context of the class. This can range from revising and resubmitting an assignment to failing the course. Beyond the consequence in the course, CASA considers first offenses as opportunities for education and official warning. Multiple or egregious offenses will have more serious consequences. Suspected instances of other breaches of the ethics of academic integrity, such as the falsification of data, will be treated with the same seriousness as plagiarism and will follow the same process.