2011-12 Catalog

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Offering Description

Nature Writing, Environmental History, and Place


Spring 2012 quarter

Matthew Smith political science
Fields of Study
environmental studies, history, natural history and political science
Preparatory for studies or careers in
social sciences and environmental history, literature, public policy and management.

As we move into the second decade of the 21st century, environmental issues are in the mainstream. Everything from the food we eat to climate change, from the philosophy of nature to the nature of our communities, from economic policy to our understanding of earth and human history, is being rethought. It wasn't always so. Fifty years ago one would search hard to find mention of these issues in the daily press. Thirty years ago, environmental issues were not understood as demanding systemic economic, philosophical, technological and social transformation. Today that has changed. This program examines that change by looking at nature writing, environmental history and the concept of place.  Our goal will be to develop through our conversation, reading and writing a complex understanding of current environmental issues and the forces that will significantly impinge upon our lives in the coming decades.

Nature writing deals with the big popular questions such as: what do we mean by nature? How can and should we value nature? How should we organize ourselves in relation to preservation and restoration of the natural world? We will investigate serious, but popular, writers who are using essays, fictions, and creative nonfiction forms to help shape a broad reflection on humans' place in nature. In the first two weeks we will take a quick look backward to Emerson, Thoreau, and Aldo Leopold.  Then we will jump forward to read texts and essays by such authors as William Cronon, Donald Worster, T.C. Boyle, Terry Tempest Williams, Patty Limerick, Seamus McGraw, Louis Warren, Michael Pollan, David Abram, David Sackman, John Vaillant and others.  Our work together is to explore these authors and others to see how they understand critical issues around place, around human and animal interaction, around the growing recognition of human-driven environmental forces--most notably with respect to water and climate change.  Throughout the quarter we will share in leading presentation of materials to the program.  We will develop short research essays (8-12 pages) that will draw upon our readings, essays, and library work.  We will use two shorter essays to help develop our thoughts about specific aspects of the author's work.

Environmental history has established itself as a legitimate piece of the history profession, a significant element in the debate over environmental policy, and a major factor in the simultaneously growing recognition of globalism, regionalism and localism as critical dimensions for understanding environmental phenomena. As environmental history has become more complex, it has challenged history based fundamentally on political units and created a map that provides important underpinning of contemporary popular discussions of place-based work and action, and global concern and policy. We will explore place as a concept that brings together the complexity of the intersection of diverse factors to produce lived experience in human and natural communities.

The program offers opportunities for serious conversation, focused research, and reflection on personal and collective understandings of environmental ethics and action. Each student should anticipate becoming the resident expert in the work of at least one of our authors or one major issue.

Online Learning
Enhanced Online Learning
Greener Store
Offered During

Program Revisions

Date Revision
March 5th, 2012 Description updated.