COURSES AND SEMINARS
ENVIRONMENT AND SOCIETY
Prof. Etienne Benson
Twenty-first-century humanity faces a variety of environmental challenges in domains such as energy production, waste disposal, pollution, population growth, biodiversity loss, and climate change. Scientific and technical expertise is essential to facing these challenges but not sufficient. All of them are deeply entangled with human history, society, and culture in ways that make simple technical fixes unlikely. This course introduces key concepts and theoretical frameworks from humanities and social sciences that help clarify the nature of today’s environmental challenges and suggest possible paths forward. These include ideas about the nature/culture divide, the significance of animals, plants, and technologies in human history, the management of risk and uncertainty, the role of experts and expertise in modern societies, the unequal distribution of political power, and the possibility of hope in dire circumstances. By the end of the course you should have a sense of the broad sweep of human environmental history over the past several thousand years, understand in depth the key issues at stake in a number of contemporary environmental challenges, and be able to deploy techniques of social and cultural analysis to better understand them.
GRMN 150/ COML 150/ ENVS 150
Prof. Simon Richter
As a result of climate change, the world that will take shape in the course of this century will be decidedly more inundated with water than we're accustomed to. The polar ice caps are melting, glaciers are retreating, ocean levels are rising, polar bear habitat is disappearing, countries are jockeying for control over a new Arctic passage, while low-lying cities and small island nations are confronting the possibility of their own demise. Catastrophic flooding events are increasing in frequency, as are extreme droughts. Hurricane-related storm surges, tsunamis, and raging rivers have devastated regions on a local and global scale. In this seminar, we will turn to the narratives and images that the human imagination has produced in response to the experience of overwhelming watery invasion, from Noah to New Orleans. Objects of analysis include mythology, ancient flood stories, documentary and feature film, and climate fiction. The basic question we'll be asking is: What can we learn from the humanities that will be helpful for confronting the problems and challenges caused by climate change and sea level rise?
ARCHITECTURE IN THE ANTHROPOCENE (FRESHMAN SEMINAR)
Prof. Daniel Barber
This course will use architecture and the built environmental as a lens to investigate the emerging field of the environmental humanities. We will analyze these new intellectual frameworks in order to consider the relationship between global environmental challenges and the process of constructing the built environment. We will oscillate between social and political theory, environmental history, architectural history and theory, and study of examples in the built world. Issues of importance will include (but are not limited to): theories of risk, the role of nature in political conflicts; design and environmental communication; and the relationship between speculative design and other narratives of the future. These conceptual frameworks will be read alongside related creative projects in art, literature, and architecture. The intent is to encourage a critical perspective on architectural theory and practice, while also allowing students to gain a broad perspective on the role of the humanities in encountering environmental threats.
RELIGION & ECOLOGY
Prof. Allison Covey
This class will introduce the overlaps between religion and ecology. Rather than assuming that there is a necessary positive or negative relationship between religion and ecology, we will look at how these relationships have materialized in complicated ways at different moments in history. We'll consider perspectives and case studies from a range of different moments in history. We'll consider perspectives and case studies from a range of different traditions, with a special attention paid to the genesis of the field of Religion and Ecology in critiques of Christian attitudes toward the environment in the 1960s and 1970s.
ANIMALS IN SCIENCE, MEDICINE, AND TECHNOLOGY
Prof. Ann N. Greene
This course explores human-animal relationships: the wide range of these relationships, why they originated and how they have changed over time. How have humans classified, valued, utilized, consumed, behaved toward and understood animals? Where is the boundary between humans and other animals, and how do we know, since humans are also animals? How is that boundary been maintained and redefined? Are humans part of the animal "natural" world- or apart from it? How are humans similar to and different from other kinds of animals? How do we know about animals and what is it we know? To what extent are questions about animals really questions about humans? How has the meaning of animal changed over time? The course focuses in particular to the roles and relationships of animals within science and medicine, and as biotechnologies.
ENVIRONMENTAL HUMANITIES: THEORY, METHOD, AND PRACTICE
COML-544 ENVS-543 GRMN-543 SPAN-543
Professor Bethany Wiggin
This immersive course’s first unit introduces influential texts in the formation of EH whose authors hail from disciplines from sociology to philosophy, from anthropology to literature and languages, and beyond. Its second unit explores public environmental humanities methods via a series of four guest roundtables. The seminar’s final unit invites students to contribute to PPEH’s ongoing public environmental humanities projects.
MONUMENT LAB: PUBLIC ART & CIVIC RESEARCH PRAXIS
Prof. Paul Farber and Prof. Matt Neff
What is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia? This question is the central prompt for a Fall 2017 citywide public art and history project, as well as a specially designed community-based and engaged research course in Fine Arts. Students in Monument Lab: Public Art & Civic Research Praxis will participate as members of specialized research teams, in partnership with local high school research fellows, embedded in iconic public squares, West Philadelphia sites, and neighborhood parks around the city; serve as trained art guides to facilitate learning around twenty temporary monument installations by internationally and locally-based artists; collect research proposals as a form of creative datasets managed by Penn's PriceLab and Library; and engage civic partners and public audiences around key issues of the project, including issues of race, gender, sexuality, class, social justice, and civic belonging. The class is structured as a socially-engaged art praxis experience: students will meet weekly for group facilitations, civic dialogues, and special guest lectures by participating artists. In lieu of midterms and a final exam, students will work at research "labs" throughout the city for a set number of hours per week, write reflection papers, and produce a final site-specific research portfolio. The course is ideal for students invested in issues of socially-engaged public art, history, and civic engagement. http://monumentlab.muralarts.org/
DIGITAL HUMANITIES AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Prof. Timothy Powell
Digital Humanities and the Environment will design a multi-media Scalar site to support a UNESCO World Heritage Site nomination to preserve almost 30,000 sq. kms. of boreal forest and the cultural landscape of four Ojibwe First Nations. The site will bring together current theories in the Environmental Humanities with Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) of the Indigenous people who have occupied the land for thousands of years. Students will have access to 70 hours of videotaped interviews with elders, more than 500 hours of oral histories, and 500 beautiful black and white photographs from the region and its people from the 1930s. The goal of the class is to create a site that will be incorporated into the UNESCO World Heritage Site nomination and thus establish a partnership between Penn and the Pimachiowin Aki project. Students will learn to write in a multi-media environment using map interfaces, visual culture, and cutting edge digital technology.
ARCHITECTURE, MEDIA, AND CLIMATE
Prof. Daniel Barber
This seminar will explore the history of buildings as mechanisms of climate management, and the theoretical and conceptual frameworks that pertain. From the 1930s to the 1960s, before mechanical systems of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) were widely available, the design of a building – including its relationship to site, use of shading devices and other systems, as well as familiar modernist tropes of open plans and an emphasis on volume – was central to managing seasonal and diurnal climatic variation. We will explore the history of these climate design strategies, and consider their significance to both the globalization of modern architecture and the conceptual frameworks that allow for discussion of design to resonate to changing geopolitical and geophysical conditions.
As many of the arguments and innovations in the climate discourse were made through visual means, the images produced by architects and others interested in understanding the relationship between “man” and “climate” will be a central arena of exploration. We will treat these images as evidence of material innovations in energy efficient architectural design technologies and also as evidence of new ways of thinking about ecological, political, cultural, and economic concerns.
Prof. Stephanie Carlisle and Prof. Nicholas Pevzner
Introduction to the Structure & Dynamics of Urban Ecosystems (Fundamental Ecological Mechanisms)
Socio-Ecological Pattern & Process in the Urban Environment
Ecosystem Flows & Cycles (Biogeochemical to Infrastructural)
Strategies for Assessing & Managing Ecosystem Services
MODES OF RESEARCH:
Lecture Presentations & Literature Review
Field Work & Experimental Design
Case Studies & Reference Sites
Management Plans & Strategies
WATER IN THE MIDDLE EAST PAST AND PRESENT
COMPARATIVE CULTURES OF SUSTAINABILITY, PENN SUMMER ABROAD IN BERLIN AND ROTTERDAM
GRMN 181 / ENVS 181 (1 c.u.)
Prof. Simon Richter
Fulfills requirement: Cross-cultural analysis
This hybrid course (with online and study abroad components) explores the role that cultural and -historical factors play in predisposing citizens to accept sustainability as a national, local and personal priority. In the online portion, students become acquainted with the cultural histories of German and Dutch attitudes toward sustainability and the environment. You also develop tools for analyzing and interpreting cultural differences. The course highlight is a 12-day trip to Berlin and Rotterdam for on-site visits to exemplary institutions noted for their ecological leadership.
For more information about the summer abroad program, click here.
NATURE CULTURE ENVIRONMENTALISM
Professor Nikhil Anand
Water wars, Deforestation, Climate Change. Amidst many uncertain crises, in this course we will explore the relationship between people and the environment in different parts of the world. How do people access the resources they need to live? How, when and for whom does ‘nature’ come to matter? Why does it matter? Drawing together classical anthropological texts and some of the newest debates in the field of Environmental Studies, in this class we focus on the social processes through which different groups of humans imagine, produce and protect the environment.
The course will begin by reviewing key analytical insights developed in cultural ecology and ecological anthropology that reveal the ways in which the environment is ‘cultured’; the ways in which it is imagined and constructed by diverse peoples around the world. Exploring long standing debates around whether nature constrains culture (or vice-versa), we examine how scholars have theorized the dynamic relation between the environment and our social, political and cultural lives.
Both nature and culture are embedded in political economic structures- of trade, investment, science and property. In the second part of the course, we turn to political ecology, exploring the histories of capitalism and post/colonialism in the production and management of environmental crises. How does a river or a forest come to be governed, owned and controlled? How are people marginalized by such projects and how do they contest their marginalization? In this section of the course, we focus on the ways in which the environment becomes the terrain for struggles of social justice. Is indigenous forest management more sustainable that scientific forestry? For whom? As scientists, indigenous peoples, loggers, and miners each claim authority to manage ‘nature’ for the greater common good, we examine how ‘natural resources’ are claimed by diverse groups, through global alliances and campaigns.
In the third and final section of the course, we will move beyond the troubling binaries of nature and culture to think through new ways to understand their entanglements in our everyday lives. The work of multi-species ethnographers provides a new opportunity to take the ecology of the Anthropocene seriously. As humans influence, and are influenced by new strains of bacteria, bees and trees, the course will conclude by describing how we might work with and think about nature culture in new and interesting ways.
ECOLOGIES OF TRANSLATION: CONSUMPTION, WASTE, AND ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
Professor Susie Hatmaker
The things we buy, carry around, use, enjoy, and throw away connect our bodies to lives and ecologies around the world. This class will examine how consuming, living with, and disposing of material objects draws us into a conversation – however partial and limited – with different people, cultures, and environments. We will trace two key sites of translation: when natural resources become consumer goods, and when goods become or create wastes. What stories are told to make sense of these ecological alterations? How do these material translations relate to social and cultural histories, ideas, and beliefs? How does our use of certain things in everyday life connect to the lived experiences of others and to environmental change, and in what specific ways?
As new technology, free trade, and deregulation accelerate the speed and complexity with which things and ideas flow across borders, it becomes necessary for scholars to pay attention to the consequences (increasing economic inequality, ecological crises, disasters, environmental racism and injustice, and unethical working conditions in factories producing consumer goods, to name a few) of these changes. In this course we will read texts, write journals and essays, and participate in discussions of the effects of this global network of producing, buying, and disposing, paying close attention to the often overlooked or forgotten places where American waste and toxins end up: in poor and marginalized communities. We will consider the how these patterns stem from legacies of colonialism, imperialism, racism, and gender inequality. We will engage with writings, films, art, and everyday objects to better understand how the movement of physical stuff connects us to diverse ecologies and their material histories, always in a process of translation.
FERAL TRANSLATIONS: THE WILD CHILD IN THE CULTURAL IMAGINATION
COML 570 | ENGL 573
Wednesdays 4:30-7:30 PM
Instructor: Leon J. Hilton, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow, Penn Humanities Forum
This interdisciplinary seminar will examine the cultural fascination with “wild” and “feral” children that took hold of the European imagination in the early nineteenth century, and that has continued to reverberate in transnational literature, film, and popular culture ever since. In response to the Penn Humanities Forum 2016/17 theme, “Translation,” we will especially focus on the figure of the Wild Child as a test case for investigating the origins of human language. We will explore how recent work in disability studies, animal studies, ecological criticism, and postcolonial theory might complicate and augment our understanding of categories like “the feral” and “the wild.” How were discussions of cases such as Kaspar Hauser and Victor, the “WildBoy of Aveyron,” shaped by the wider ideological context of European colonialism? How did the concept of the feral child play into emerging scientific discourses about racial difference that emerged in tandem with imperial ventures across the globe? How does the specter of the WildChild continue to shape debates about human language, animality, childhood development, and the representation of human difference?
—open to graduate and advanced undergraduate students—
POETRY AND ENVIRONMENT
Dr. Avery Slater
This interdisciplinary course will investigate the global evolution of ecologically concerned poetry in the twentieth and twenty-first century. No prior knowledge of poetry is required, and students from disciplinary backgrounds outside English, including the sciences, are very welcome. We will focus on poetry’s attempts to create and use language in ways that enable surprising and innovative ecological modes of relation: between human and nonhuman beings, living and nonliving worlds, science and art, history and imagination. Contemporary global poetry has rapidly expanded its commitments to include the nonhuman world it inhabits, a world lately thrown into crisis by human action. The poetry and essays we will read in this course represent a variety of attempts to bridge the boundary lines dividing worlds: “settled” from “wild,” resources from waste, human from nonhuman, language from matter. Language—presumed to separate human from nonhuman realms—is perhaps the most entrenched of these dividing lines. What might we discover in poetry that transgresses these boundaries, addressing the human as well as the nonhuman world?
Click here for more information.
EARLY MODERN NATURES
Professor Rebecca Bushnell
This course will consider the conflicting discourses of nature and natural history circulating in England from approximately 1550 to 1700 in the broader context of recent developments in ecocriticism and ecotheory. Critical and theoretical readings will cover a range of topics, from Raymond Williams’ The Country and the City to recent writings on ecofeminist theory, animal studies, and “thing theory.” The texts to be covered will include: the eclogue and the georgic (Virgil and Spenser); the nature of the New World (Hariot, Raleigh, and Shakespeare's The Tempest); garden poems (Marvell, Lanyer, and Jonson) and horticulturalmanuals (Tusser, Lawson, and Markham); technical works on manipulating nature, especially "secrets" and recipe books; and philosophical works (Browne's Pseudodoxia Epidemica, and Bacon's Advancement of Learning). Everyone in the course will undertake an independent research project to be presented as a conference paper in a "mini-conference" at the course's end and as a formal paper. Additional bibliographic exercises will be assigned in the course of the semester.
SPIRITUALITY IN THE AGE OF GLOBAL WARMING
ENVS 246 /RELS 246 / ENGL 282
Professor Tim Powell
We are living in the midst of one of the most severe crises in the Earth's history. Science confirms the glaciers are melting, hurricanes are growing more intense, and the oceans are rising. But there is also a deeply spiritual dimension to global warming that does not factor into the scientific explanations. This part of the problem has been more powerfully expressed in film, literature, and art. We will be looking at films like Spike Lee's "When the Levees Broke," about how the people of New Orleans turned to music and storytelling to rebuild their communities in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and Linda Hogan's novel, "Solar Storm," which explores how Native American women draw upon spirituality to heal their community after a dam flooded their ancestral homeland. We will focus, in the second half of the course, on the question of why the protests at Standing Rock were successful in a time of ecological despair.
The class will also work on a public history project as part of the City of Philadelphia’s Monument Lab initiative. We will be designing a digital museum exhibit about the “Indian Statue” in Fairmount Part on the Wissahickon River, which was the victim of a chemical spill in 2006. The project will allow the class to make a meaningful contribution to environmental studies locally as well as providing a way to implement the theoretical readings in a very practical instance of “geostorytelling” designed for the public.
Downloadable file here.
EXTRACTING LABOR: CAPITALISM AND THE ENVIRONMENT
ENVS 400-course level
Professor Kimberley Thomas
Extractive industries such as fishing and mining have brought enormous benefits to people by serving as a vital source of employment and resources. However, these benefits typically come at substantial ecological cost. Extractive industrial activities have left conspicuous, large-scale imprints on the Earth such as deforestation, fisheries collapse, desertification, and water and air pollution. As global consumption patterns change and standards of living improve, so does our collective demand for resources. Are devastating environmental impacts simply the unfortunate but inevitable outcomes of technological progress and a growing human population? What happens to people’s livelihoods when we regulate or limit the activities of extractive industries? What alternatives exist for the ways that we organize our relationship between work and non-human nature? In this hybrid lecture/seminar course, we will examine the relationship between human labor and the non-built environment, paying special attention to these and other pressing questions about the ways that we sustain ourselves through our work and our consumption of natural resources.
ANTHROPOCENE: THE HUMAN DOMINATED EARTH
Professor Alain Plainte
A new geologic epoch defined by the action of humans, the Anthropocene, is being widely and seriously debated. The scientific debate centers around the question of whether humans have altered the Earth’s land, oceans, biosphere and atmosphere to an extent equivalent to the geological forces that formed and shaped the planet itself. This seminar will examine the natural science origins of the Anthropocene, its many definitions, the ways in which humans have altered the Earth system, and what the future might hold for both humans and the planet. Implications of the Anthropocene worldview will be examined from the perspectives of the physical/natural sciences, the social sciences, as well as the humanities.
THINKING NATURE WITH SCHELLING AND GOETHE
GRMN 525 / PHIL 567 / COML 547
Professors Simon Richter and Andree Hahmann
Although the starting point for the Anthropocene is still under discussion, there is broad agreement that the industrial revolution and the turn to fossil fuels mark an intensification of humanity’s impact on the Earth. It may not be a coincidence that Kant’s proclamation of the Copernican revolution in philosophy, according to which human reason replaces the natural light of traditional metaphysics, falls roughly in the same period. Human finite cognition became the measure for God and his creation. The dawn of the era of human freedom and the ramped up exploitation of resources coincide. It is against this background that the Naturphilosophie of F. W. J. Schelling can become particularly interesting. The genesis of German idealism is closely related with the opposition between freedom and necessity that lies at the heart of Kant’s critical project. Kant associated the former with man and the latter with nature. In trying to bridge the gap between them, Schelling reinstates nature as an autonomous actor in its own right. Schelling’s thinking about nature chimed with the literary and empirical-scientific work of his contemporary Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In the productive interplay of poetry, science, religion, and philosophical thought, Goethe and Schelling offer a critical alternative to philosophy in the aftermath of the Copernican revolution that may be viable or useful today as humanity tries to come to terms with anthropogenically induced climate change. This co-taught interdisciplinary seminar will focus on works by Schelling (Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature, First Outline of a System of the Philosophy of Nature, On the World Soul) and Goethe (scientific writings, Faust I & II), in addition to engaging recent scholarship on Schelling and Goethe in relation to environmental humanities.
Animal Captivity: Philosophical Issues in Animal Cognition and Ethics
Tuesday & Thursday 3:00 – 4:20 PM (Spring 2017)
Instructor: Shereen Chang firstname.lastname@example.org
In this seminar, we consider philosophical questions about the science of animal cognition, the kinds of cognitive abilities nonhuman animals have, and whether their cognitive capacities might inform our moral judgements about them.
How should we assess different interpretations of animal behavior?
What’s the role of anthropomorphism in thinking about animal minds?
Should humans allow other animals to live free and wild?
How are moral judgements about animal captivity influenced by the animal's cognitive capacities?
This is a CWiC Critical Speaking Seminar in which most of the course grade will be based on oral assignments. Through assignments that emphasize critical thinking, speaking and listening, students will engage in issues pertaining to keeping animals in captivity and using them in research. Throughout the course, students will develop skills in presenting complex philosophical and scientific ideas with minimal distortion. No background in philosophy is assumed.
PROFESSOR ANN GREENE
The United States is “nature’s nation.” Blessed with an enormous, resource-rich, geographically diverse and sparsely settled territory, Americans have long seen “nature” as central to their identity, prosperity, politics and power, and have transformed their natural environment accordingly. But what does it mean to be “nature’s nation?
The first purpose of this course is studying the history of American “nature.” What have Americans believed about the nature of the nation’s nature at different times and why? What attitudes and policies have resulted by means of political institutions, economic arrangements, social groups and cultural values? Do natural actors (such landscape features, weather events, climates, plants, animals, microorganisms) have historical agency? How can we describe and explain the course of environmental change in the United States? In addition to the history of American nature, we will look for the nature in American history. Where is “nature” in some of the key events of American history that may not, on the surface, appear “environmental?” This course explores these questions by looking at the following problems: the idea of wilderness and its influence on parks, tourism and vacations; mobility of people and organisms; slavery and racial structures; ecology and environmental politics in the late 20th century; climate change.
The second purpose of this course is evaluating sources and arguments, and understanding how historians and others think and produce knowledge. To this end, students will develop research skills through in-class workshops, short research exercises, and a research project of each student’s choosing.
SYSTEMS AND ECOLOGIES: ARCHITECTURAL IDEAS AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Ben Franklin Seminar
Professor Daniel A. Barber
This seminar will discuss the emergence of 20 th century environmentalist thought and practice through the lens of architectural, landscape, and urban practices and ideas. The course does not presuppose advanced knowledge in the histories of architecture, of science, or of environmentalism; rather, it will introduce students to a set of historical and intellectual frameworks broadly aware of and engaged in environmental challenges. The material covered will be relevant to those interested in architecture, art, and urban studies, and students in economics, engineering, political science, and the environmental sciences, as well as in the history of science, will find much to engage. In this sense, the course will also offer an interdisciplinary forum for inquiry and discussion around environmental issues as they are reflected in contemporary scholarly and professional practices.
ARCHITECTURE, MEDIA, AND CLIMATE
Professor Daniel Barber
(Undergrads must receive permission from their home departments)
As we confront the geographic and epistemic challenges of climate change and other environmental threats, the forces seen to condition the development of modern architecture are being re-examined. The history of design methods to regulate thermal comfort – the interior climatic conditions of a building – are of increasing interest.
This seminar will explore the history of buildings as mechanisms of climate management, and the theoretical and conceptual frameworks that pertain. In particular, we will examine how visual and mediatic interventions became a crucial aspect of architectural engagement with climate systems, and how, simultaneously, architectural image-making techniques became an important interdisciplinary site for understanding the cultural effects of scientific knowledge.
From the 1930s to the 1960s, before mechanical systems of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) were widely available, the design of a building – including its relationship to site, use of shading devices and other systems, as well as familiar modernist tropes of open plans and an emphasis on volume – was central to managing seasonal and diurnal climatic variation. We will explore the history of these climate design strategies, and consider their significance to both the globalization of modern architecture and the conceptual frameworks that allow for discussion of design to resonate to changing geopolitical and geophysical conditions.
As many of the arguments and innovations in the climate discourse were made through visual means, the images produced by architects and others interested in understanding the relationship between “man” and “climate” will be a central arena of exploration. We will treat these images as evidence of material innovations in energy efficient architectural design technologies and also as evidence of new ways of thinking about “man” and “environment” as an ecological, political, cultural, and economic concern.
These narratives, images, and methods – and the broader understanding of environmental systems that emerged in the immediate post-war period – also suggest a complex relationship to the present. Rather than examine instrumental aspects of these methods and their histories, we will explore different historiographic and conceptual means for the archival analysis of climate, technology, and architecture. Recent texts concerned with theories of historical change, of new ideas about the human, and with the cultural anxieties associated with the notion of the Anthropocene will be read closely to this end.
Students will be expected to participate in class discussions, make a few seminar presentations, and develop a semester-long research project.
THE LIVES OF INFRASTRUCTURE: POLITICS AND TECHNICS IN THE ANTHROPOCENE
Professor Nikhil Anand
Infrastructures are technical systems that differentially move people, ideas and things. Their everyday management produces a range of political institutions and publics. Yet, how do social actors trouble and constitute the workings of infrastructure in uncertain environments? In this class we read recent work in Anthropology, STS and Environmental Studies to examine the unstable relations between the technologies of state politics (maps, laws, and plans) and the politics of technology (energy, material surfaces, wires and engines). We ask: how do infrastructures produce differentiated social and political subjects? How do infrastructures produce historic forms of the public? And how might we reimagine the futures of infrastructure in the unstable environments of the Anthropocene? Amidst a heightened concern about the continued viability of critical sociotechnical systems, the course will rethink the formations of the political with the material forms that regulate our lives.
ECOCRITICISM, SUSTAINABILITY, AND THE HUMANITIES
Professor Simon Richter
Among the many centers and institutes of environmental and sustainability studies cropping up at universities worldwide, we also find the occasional center for environmental humanities. What role can and should the humanities play in the burgeoning field of environmental studies? Where and how can scholars of the humanities insert themselves usefully into the conversation? The relatively new field of ecocriticism is certainly one way in which humanists have organized and conceptualized their efforts. Beginning in the mid-1990s, eco-critics have explored key concepts such as nature, the non-human, sustainability, ecology, and environmental justice and ethics in relation to works of literature, art, film and philosophy. This collaborative seminar has three goals: 1) to acquaint students with key essays, concepts, and disputes in the field of eco-criticism; 2) to practice eco-critical analysis on sample works of literature and film; and 3) to assess the role environmental humanities might play in the politics and practice of sustainability.
This course does not assume that students are already familiar with ecocriticism or that students are expert in environmental science. It does assume that students have a lively concern for the planet and are prepared to leave their intellectual and cultural comfort zones. We will begin with a variety of short theoretical texts in order to clarify and/or unsettle some terms. From there, our main focus will be on works of fiction and film that allow us to explore ways in which the humanities already participate in the effort to achieve a sustainable future. Although we start the course as students and scholars attending an American university, we will work to open ourselves to human and nonhuman perspectives from other regions in the world. The present moment calls for adventurous thinking. A great deal is up for grabs; many futures are at stake. Are the humanities any more up to the task than the scientists, lobbyists, politicians and members of the media who are trying to get a handle on climate change themselves? How will you respond to the challenges of climate change and global warming?
At times the reading and viewing schedule may seem daunting, though many pieces are actually quite short. Over the course of the semester, we’ll read four novels and view seven films. The novels are gripping and never back to back, so you should be able to pace yourself. I realize that you lead demanding lives and will understand if from time to time other obligations prevent you from finishing all the assignments. At the same time, bear in mind that our preferred mode will be discussion and discussion depends on informed, critical reading and viewing.
Professor Rahul Mukherjee
We will be engaging with an array of film and media texts and objects to understand the mutual entanglements of media and environment. Media Infrastructures like fiber optic cables are part of the environment and elements mined from the environment find themselves in digital media devices. In this course, we ask: In what ways does the environment shape media? How can we connect the aesthetics and politics of ecocinema? How are theories of viral media and microbial contagion related? How do vulnerable communities document their struggles against resource extractivism? The course is organized in three sections. In the first part, we will be engaging with mediated representations and visualizations of the environment including depictions of ecological disasters and GIS modeling of climate change. The second section shall deal with the environmental impact of media infrastructures such as the energy dynamics of data servers/cloud computing. Towards the end of the course, we examine ways of conceptualizing media as environment with a particular focus on media geology and media ecology as research methods to study media phenomena.
We will read essays by philosophers of science, environmentalists, media theorists, geographers, and cultural critics such as Karen Barad, Jussi Parikka, Vandana Shiva, Lisa Parks, Donna Haraway, Kathryn Yusoff, Cristina Venegas, John Durham Peters, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Priscilla Wald, and others, as well as watch/feel films and artworks by Michael Madsen, Anand Patwardhan, Hito Steyerl, Saman Salour, Louie Psihoyos, and Carolina Caycedo. Works of fiction that we will read in the Fall include Helon Habila's atmospheric novel Oil on Water and Mahasweta Devi's inimitable novella about interspecies intergenerational belonging titled Pterodactyl, Puran Sahay, and Pirtha.
INTRODUCTION TO ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE
Professor Alain Plainte
This course will explore the physical science of the Earth's environment and human interactions with it. Coverage will include the Earth’s various environmental systems (atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere and biosphere), various environmental problems (land use, energy use and its consequences, air and water pollution, and biodiversity), and the direct and indirect causes of these environmental problems (human population, urbanization, economics, risk assessment and ethics).
ENVIRONMENTAL CASE STUDIES
Professor Jane Dmochowski
This course, through the analysis of many different environmental cases studies, aims to introduce students to myriad earth and environmental issues—understanding how humans interact, affect and are influenced by our environment—as well as giving students an introduction to how complex cases are analyzed and what goes into decision-making at the individual, group, state, federal and global levels. The class analyzes 1-2 case studies each week, beginning with at-home preparatory assignments for each class, followed by in-class activities such as debates, drafting action plans, role-playing and group decision-making simulations. Each student will also research and develop a case study of their own, including a lesson plan for how the case study would be taught to a later college class.
COMMUNITY-BASED ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH
Professor Marilyn Howarth
AIR POLLUTION: SOURCES AND EFFECTS IN URBAN ENVIRONMENTS
Professor Marilyn Howarth
CLIMATE CHANGE AND SECURITY
Professor Kimberley Thomas
Climate change is widely understood to pose significant security risks, but the relationship is much more complex than such a simple cause-effect statement might suggest. Geographers, human ecologists, political scientists, and climate scientists, among others, actively investigate what kinds of security are threatened by climate change and through what mechanisms. For example, will severe drought lead to violent conflict? Who is vulnerable to reduced soil moisture or increased coastal erosion and why? What are the consequences of viewing a problem as a livelihood threat versus a national security risk? Who are the winners and losers of climate change-based security interventions? This course will orient you to the evolving debate on the relationship between climate change and its impacts on national, human, and environmental security.
EXAMINING SPATIAL PRODUCTION THROUGH PUBLIC ART AND MARKERS
Professor Ken Lum
The French social philosopher Michel de Certeau upset the conventional thinking of the relationship between space and place by prioritizing space before place. He defined space as ‘practiced place.’ For de Certeau, place is nothing more than a set of geo-physical coordinates without organic meaning unless it is enacted upon by social engagement. In other words, space is something constituted through the activities that humans make of it.
The spaces of the city (or civic space) are often abstractly conceived and experienced as sites of alienation. Social space is often embued with the character of homogenization, social stratification and fragmentation, reflecting the relationship of social space to the forces of or relations of production. This course is centered the matter of space by way of public art, the so-named “art” that operates in public space. Public art has been assumed as an instrument for the public “good.” Yet for as long as there has been public art, there has also been uncertainty about how to define that public “good’ and how to identify the kind of art that manifests such “good.” For instance, consider these questions: in whose interest does public art serve? Is it enough for a public artwork to be intellectually interesting, aesthetically pleasing, or to add to character of a city?
In recent years, public art has been increasingly called upon to address or mollify the problem of alienation through procedures of historical reconstruction, institutional critique and community acknowledgement. Public art is also a tactic to freshen up a city with a new identity or branding and often linked to the interests of large tract realty development in concert with major urban planning initiatives. Such transformations in a city often take place in poorer or marginalized neighborhoods. To wit: the former Portland district of St. Louis, Missouri, the hutong neighborhoods near the Forbidden City of Beijing or the destruction of favelas for the Rio de Janiero Olympics. Public Art often turns into an instrumental tool of more powerful forces.
This course will examine the discursive issues at play with respect to public art and markers in many sites around the world, from a study of the history of Tiananmen Square to a look at projects involving anti or even invisible monuments dealing with unspeakable crimes against humanity. The relationship of the monument to the anti-monument is a dialectic of contemporary art in which institutionalization and historical narratives are often tethered to the logic of exclusion. Particular emphasis will be paid to the city of Philadelphia, which has a rich and troubled history when it comes to public art and commemorative markers. It is significant that the very first development-linked public art program in the world was inaugurated in Philadelphia in 1959. Public art was viewed as a modernizing tool at a moment of rising civic distress and consequently implicated in the discursive rhetoric promising progress in addressing Philadelphia’s travails. But just as modernity hid within its terms the feature of coloniality, so too does an examination of the public art of Philadelphia conceal the hidden traumas and alternative histories of the city.
WATER WORLDS: CULTURA RESPONSES TO SEA LEVEL RISE AND CATASTROPHIC FLOODING
GRMN 105/ ENVS 150/ COML 151
Professor Simon Richter
As a result of climate change, the world that will take shape in the course of this century will be decidedly more inundated with water than we’re accustomed to. The polar ice caps are melting, glaciers are retreating, ocean levels are rising, polar habitat is disappearing, countries are jockeying for control over a new Arctic passage, while coastal cities and small island nations are confronting the possibility of their own demise. Catastrophic flooding events are increasing in frequency, as are extreme droughts. Hurricane-related storm surges, tsunamis, and raging rivers have devastated regions on a local and global scale. In this seminar we will turn to the narratives and images that the human imagination has produced in response to the experience of overwhelming watery invasion, from Noah to New Orleans. We’ll start with the ancient flood narratives (Atrahasis, Utnapishtim, Noah, Deucalion, Yu, etc.). We’ll spend time on iconic historical disasters such as dam breaks, tsunamis, and hurricanes.
We’ll look into the new Black Sea deluge hypothesis and the controversies surrounding the ARK Encounter theme park being built in Kentucky. We’ll also look at several nations and cities whose existence and identity involve the integration of water into urban space and the struggle to remain above water, with particular emphasis on Amsterdam and the Netherlands and New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Objects of analysis will include mythology, ancient and early modern diluvialism, literature, art, film, and commemorative practice. Although the texts and events we will consider come from all over the world, the course will carry a slight Germanic accent in that we will find that the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark provide important paradigmatic cultural and philosophical responses to sea level rise and catastrophic flooding as well as models of hydrological sustainability. It should be noted that Penn itself plays a role in the cultural history we’ll be examining. Penn historian Bruce Kuklick’s Puritans in Babylon documents the archeological race between Ivy institutions around 1900 to acquire cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia, among them important flood documents. A controversial player in this contest was Penn’s own German-trained archaeologist Hermann Hilprecht.
ENVIRONMENTAL AND OCCUPATIONAL HEALTH
Professor Marilyn Howarth
ANIMALS IN SCIENCE, MEDICINE, AND TECHNOLOGY
Professor Ann Norton Greene
This course explores human-animal relationships: the wide range of these relationships, why they originated and how they have changed over time. How have humans classified, valued, utilized, consumed, behaved toward and understood animals? Where is the boundary between humans and other animals, and how do we know, since humans are also animals? How is that boundary been maintained and redefined? Are humans part of the animal “natural” world—or apart from it? How are humans similar to and different from other kinds of animals? How do we know about animals and what is it we know? To what extent are questions about animals really questions about humans? How has the meaning of animal changed over time? The two big questions underlying all course questions are: Why is the world the way it is? What do we know and how do we know it?
The course focuses in particular to the roles and relationships of animals within science and medicine and as technologies. The course this term is organized around the history of American zoos (with particular reference to the Philadelphia Zoo, the oldest zoo in the United States). Zoos are important sites of knowledge production about animals, and studying them reveals ideas about animals, different human-animal relationships, and changing scientific and medical practices. Consequently this course also studies pets, wildlife, work animals and lab animals; we will look at domestication, breeding, archeology, veterinary medicine, ethology, ecology and extinction; we will consider particular cases involving primates and predators.