Environmental humanities

Cultivating Roots

Environmental Humanities Faculty

Professor Michael D. Burke

Michael D. Burke

Professor of Creative Writing

Michael Burke’s interest in the Environmental Humanities began in 1999, when he participated in the first Integrated Semester Program on the environment at Colby. He has organized an ASLE conference on Maine’s Place in the Environmental Imagination (from which an edited volume of the same title came), and regularly writes on the human-nonhuman relationship. His teaching includes Environmental Writing and an experimental creative nonfiction course titled “Coming of Age in the Anthropocene.” He has developed an interest in eco-theatre and recently completed a three act play on climate change.

Assistant Professor Danila Cannamela

Danila Cannamela

Assistant Professor of Italian Studies

Danila Cannamela’s first book The Quiet Avant-Garde: Crepuscular Poetry and the Twilight of Modern Humanism (2019) locates the crepuscular poetics of the object in relation to the futurist avant-garde and as a precursory discourse on the posthuman. Her research interests are at the crossroads of environmental humanities, gender studies, and Italian literature and culture. She is currently working on a new book-length project that explores the pastoral genre as a “comfort food recipe,” whose simple ingredients have inspired sophisticated “cooking techniques” and contemporary reinventions. She is also conducting research on how contemporary sci-fi has represented the motif of love in relation to environmental concerns.

Visiting Assistant Professor Danae Jacobson

Danae Jacobson

Assistant Professor of History

Danae Jacobson’s teaching and research are animated by the belief that history is vital to make sense of our world today. In her research, she examines the interplays of the environment, gender, race, and religion in settler colonial efforts in the U.S. West. In her teaching, she introduces students to the many ways history shapes the nations we live in, the communities we relate within, and the ecosystems we depend on. She loves inviting students to query how our stories of the past change when we include microbes, pigs, and the climate, alongside more typical subjects like presidents, wars, and ideas. She hopes students in her environmental history classes learn to appreciate the ways nature is constructed, how ideas about it have changed over time, how it surrounds us, nourishes us, has been used to justify violence and racism, and how we cannot separate ourselves from nature.

Visiting Assistant Professor Amanda Lilleston

Amanda Lilleston

Visiting Assistant Professor of Art

Amanda Lilleston’s artwork depicts a long and evolving relationship with human anatomy, physiology, and ecology. Lilleston explores interconnected systems of biology and physiology where she visualizes environmental pressures, toxins, and stressors impacting the ecosystem in equal force as it impacts human biology. She integrates human beings into the larger ecosystem by collaging prints of organs, tissues, and other human anatomy into botanical or zoological forms. Her work as an artist explores the mutuality between the world and the bodies it continually shapes. In the classroom, Lilleston encourages students to tap into their intellectual passions outside of studio art to fuel their creative work. She believes a liberal arts education is the best place for nurturing interdisciplinary creativity.

Professor Bénédicte Mauguière

Bénédicte Mauguière

Professor of French

Bénédicte Mauguière holds a Ph.D in Francophone cultures and Literature from the Université Paris IV-Sorbonne. Her interest in Environmental Humanities started with her doctoral research on Gender and the Poetics of space in Francophone Literatures. She has published numerous articles in books and scholarly journals in the US, Canada, France, Belgium, Italy, India and Mauritius. Her research focuses on how bodies of water (lakes, rivers or oceans) are used as metaphors of power struggles (especially related to gender and race) in the literary imagination of minority, indigenous and creole communities across the Americas, the Pacific and Indian Ocean islands. She has presented her research at international conferences such as STREAMS-Transformative Environmental Humanities. She has contributed to several Environmental Humanities seminars including the EH New England Consortium of Universities and the Faculty Seminar in Environmental Humanities. She has also developed courses, Digital Humanities labs and sessions at CLAS with a focus on climate change and renewable energies in the Indian Ocean.

Mary Beth Mills

Mary Beth Mills

Professor of Anthropology

Mary Beth Mills is a cultural anthropologist. Her research and teaching address a variety of topics relevant to the environmental humanities. Much of her work focuses on the changing lives and livelihoods of agricultural producers in globalizing Asia, especially Thailand, including the contemporary effects of large-scale rural-urban labor migration and the shifts these entails for household and gender relations. Currently her research explores processes of globalization through the lens of food with special attention to culinary tourism and the global mobility of Thai cuisine. Some of the courses she teaches that address environmental humanities topics include: Introduction to Cultural Anthropology; Land, Food, Culture, Power; and the Anthropology of Food.

Luis Millones​

Luis Millones

Allen Family Professor of Spanish

Luis Millones’s research and teaching interest in Environmental Humanities are mainly in three areas: colonial Latin America (particularly in natural histories of the New World written by Jesuits); Native American lore (particularly in Andean and Meso–American societies from pre-Columbian time to the present); and contemporary fiction and film (particularly those featuring non-human beings). Courses he offers in Environmental Humanities include: Eco Fiction & Eco Thought, Non-human beings in Native American Lore, Environmental Knowledge, and Imperialism & Resistance.

Assistant Professor Dyani Johns Taff

Philip Nyhus

Professor of Environmental Studies

Philip Nyhus’ interdisciplinary research bridges the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities to address human interactions with the environment. He is particularly interested in large mammal conservation, large landscape conservation, and human-wildlife conflict. He has published over 50 papers, chapters, and scholarly reports and has been interviewed by diverse media outlets, including National Geographic, New York Times, Time and the Animal Planet channel. He has participated in a range of environmental humanities initiatives at Colby, including the Faculty Seminar in Environmental Humanities; co-teaching Colby’s Environmental Studies gateway course with Dr. Chris Walker, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Environmental Humanities and now Assistant Professor of English, and others; and co-organizing the Community, Culture, and Conservation: Sustaining Landscapes and Livelihoods conference.

Associate Professor Keith Peterson

Keith Peterson

Associate Professor of Philosophy

Keith Peterson teaches introductory and advanced courses in environmental philosophy, including Environmental Ethics and Radical Ecologies, conducts research in environmental philosophy and environmental humanities, and published A World Not Made for Us: Topics in Critical Environmental Philosophy in 2020. In the book, he provides a broad reassessment of the field of environmental philosophy, taking a fresh and critical look at three classical problems of environmentalism: the intrinsic value of nature, the need for an ecological worldview, and a new conception of the place of humankind in nature. He makes the case that a genuinely critical environmental philosophy must adopt an ecological materialist conception of the human, a pluralistic value theory that emphasizes the need for value prioritization, and an ontology that affirms the basic principle of human dependence on more-than-human nature. For three years, he led the Faculty Seminar in Environmental Humanities, which set an institutional precedent for interdisciplinary dialogue, collaboration, and EH program development.

Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh​

Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh

Crawford Family Professor of Religious Studies

Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh’s wide-ranging teaching and scholarship in South Asian religions is intrinsically grounded in biophilia—going beyond divisive mind-body, sacred-secular, nature-culture, heaven-earth dualities. In Singh’s classes, environmental justice is an existential issue explored across literary, theoretical, and visual source materials. In her writings, she redirects the “otherworldly” orientation  reinforced by normative interpreters of Sikh scripture (her area of expertise), to a praxis-based life cultivated through intimate relationships with society and the cosmos. Her latest book devoted a chapter to the ecological theology of the First Sikh (Life and Legacy of Guru Nanak, 2019). Her forthcoming volume (Word and Text, 2022) explores illustrated popular stories from a premodern pluralistic Punjab as eco-narratives that contribute to making sense of the material forces and substance of our very historical, temporal, ever-changing world. Singh’s biophilial lens reveals the aesthetic beauty of diverse South Asian landscapes and cityscapes that should foster a dynamic environmental ethics.

Elizabeth Sagaser

Associate Professor of English

Elizabeth Sagaser’s research and teaching takes place at intersections of poetry and poetics, early modern poetry and its afterlives (particularly in 19th-c. America), history of ideas and cognitive science. She has published scholarship on Shakespeare, Spenser, Daniel, Mary Sidney Herbert, Milton, and Dickinson, as well as reflective essays and poems. Increasingly, she explores poetry and poetics as embodied, environed practices; a current project focuses on poetry and perception, particularly Dickinson’s experiments with environmentally situating the human. Elizabeth’s Environmental Humanities courses include 17th-century Literature and the Natural World, Poetry and the Nature of Being, and Dickinson and Poetry Across Centuries (with a vital unit on ecopoetics).

Matthew Schneider-Mayerson​

Matthew Schneider-Mayerson

Associate Professor of English

Matthew Schneider-Mayerson’s work combines humanistic and social scientific methods to examine the cultural and political dimensions of climate change, with a focus on literature and climate justice.He is currently conducting empirical research on the influence of environmental literature on readers, co-editing Empirical Ecocriticism: Environmental Narratives for Social Change, co-authoring an ecotopian children’s book, and writing a book on Americans who are factoring climate change into their reproductive plans and choices.

Assistant Professor Dyani Johns Taff

Dyani Johns Taff

Assistant Professor of English

 Dyani Taff came to Colby from Ithaca College and to Ithaca from Davis, California where she developed an interest in maritime figures—like John Milton’s Satan who crosses Chaos with wings like sails and washes up to assault Adam and Eve in Eden—during her graduate work. That interest spawned her first book, Gendered Seascapes and Monarchy in Early Modern English Culture, which examines gender, political power, and the maritime environment as represented in English cultural texts from the 16th and 17th centuries. She is developing a second project on the afterlives of the sea monsters Scylla and Charybdis that will examine the entanglement of notions about race, gender, and monstrosity with notions about environments. She teaches courses in early modern literature and culture as well as topics-based courses on environments, natures, bodies (of water), performance, migration, islands and more; she asks students to examine the long histories of race, gender/sexuality, class, place, and ability-based prejudices through discussion of early modern texts.

James Taylor​

James Taylor

Assistant Professor of Classics

James Taylor’s research and teaching interests span a wide variety of genres and time periods in classical antiquity, embracing texts as diverse as Aristotle’s Meteorologica and Ovid’s Metamorphoses and drawing upon interpretative frameworks from the history of science, environmental criticism, and the philosophy of history. His current book project investigates how the observation of geological processes led classical authors to imagine much deeper timescales than those made possible by the shallow reach of recorded history and collective memory. Its central argument is that this deeper, geologic time exercised a disruptive influence within classical thought, in so far as its vast timescales completely dwarfed the narrow bounds of a human life or even of a community’s existence. His second book project explores the concept of the Anthropocene and its applicability to the ancient Roman imagining of their own environmental impact. 

Assistant Professor Chris Walker

Chris Walker

Assistant Professor of English

Christopher Allen Walker joined the Colby faculty in 2017 as the Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Environmental Humanities and joined the English Department as an Assistant Professor in 2020. Chris holds a JD from Columbia University and a PhD in English with a certificate in Environment and Society from the University of California, Santa Barbara. In his time at Colby, Chris has played a crucial role in inspiring students and faculty alike to engage with the Environmental Humanities. It is a mark of his success as a teacher that many of his students first learned about and fell in love with EH in his classes, and now form the greater part of the EH Student Advisory Board. Chris has also played a key role in developing the EH faculty seminar and the Colby Summer Institute in Environmental Humanities. His research is centrally concerned with how literature, art, and film afford new understandings of environmental change. In his current book project, Narratives of Decay: Environmental Change and Speculative Form, Chris explores an archive of 20th-century of literature, art, and science to argue that the discovery new types of material decay–from radioactive half-life to ozone depletion–prompted the development of new methods for speculative about environmental futures.

Ashton Wesner​

Ashton Wesner

Visiting Assistant Professor of Science, Technology, and Society

Ashton Wesner’s research and writing intersect the fields of feminist science & technology studies, critical environmental history, political ecology, Indigenous and settler colonial studies, and cultural geography. Wesner combines frameworks and methods from these fields to examine articulations of nature, culture, and power to better understand how ongoing US settler colonialism and imperial expansion structure both bioscientific knowledge production and environmentalist practices. As a teacher—in classes like “Engineering, Society, and Environment,” “Biology, Ecology, and the Making of US Imperialism,” and “Environments, Animals, and Militarism”—she builds on a foundation of feminist pedagogy and commitment to social justice oriented learning in and beyond the university.