"Earth Day—Trees" image courtesy of Travis Morgan, Creative Commons

Course Overview

In the twenty-first-century, environmental problems are often imagined to be problems of science, technology and policy. This course starts from the idea that environmental problems are also problems of culture and history. An introduction to the environmental humanities, the course covers some of the ideas, images and stories that have shaped different forms of environmentalism and environmental science. The focus is American culture since the 1960s, with points of comparisons to other time periods and national contexts.

Through this lens, the class takes up several questions: How have cultural ideas of nature and of other creatures taken shape in specific historical moments? How do different communities understand the causes and impacts of current environmental challenges—such as biodiversity loss, pollution and global warming? How do particular genres and media convey these problems and imagine solutions? And what new environmental stories and images are needed now and in the future? To tackle these questions, the course examines a wide range of primary material—including popular science, graphic narrative, speculative fiction, lyric poetry, animation art, documentary film and data visualization—along with research from disciplines such as anthropology, ecology, history, literary studies and philosophy.