Environmental humanities

Growing Together

  • Each year, Colby faculty offer a wealth of courses in the environmental humanities and across an array of disciplines. Whether it’s through the economics of food inequality, nature photography on the Colby Island Campus, Kafka’s connection to the non-human world or more, EH-affiliated faculty are bringing critical humanistic perspectives to today’s environmental issues, and shaping the Colby community in the process.

Course Work Fall 2023

AR97a

AM128

Land, Sovereignty, and Cultural Identity

Natalie Michelle

Beginning with an historical overview of first contact and colonial occupation in the Northeast, the course offers a comparative examination of the cultural identities, traditional values, and decision-making processes of indigenous peoples that tie them to the greater ecology. The course explores the historical and legal impediments to Indigenous peoples access to culturally significant resources, as well as Natives traditional and non-traditional strategies of resistance. Focusing on Wabanaki of Maine, the course features an in-depth study of the histories and treaties that shaped coastal fisheries both before and after Maine statehood.

AY256

AY256

Land, Food, Culture, and Power

Mary Beth Mills

An examination of cultural and political aspects of land and other resource use, using the lens of political ecology and, a variety of ethnographic examples in different parts of the world. Case studies focus on ongoing conflicts over contested resources and related efforts to challenge experiences of environmental and food injustices. Students will apply conceptual tools from political ecology and environmental anthropology to develop a research project on a relevant topic of their choosing. Prerequisite: Anthropology 112.

BI118

Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems

Andrew Marshall

Agriculture is a fundamental way in which humans interact with their environment and is at the nexus of ecological, social, and economic systems. An introduction to the ecological bases, practicalities, and philosophies of food and agricultural systems. Provides a foundation in such concepts as agroecology, sustainable soil management, pest and weed control, and organic farming. Also considers social, economic, and public-policy issues. Field trips to local farms and other agricultural institutions. Cannot be counted toward the biology major.

pexels-pixabay-52502

EC214

Economic Policy and Performance in Contemporary Latin America

Patrice Franko

This course challenges students to think about the Latin American development dilemma and critically evaluate policy responses.  Latin American development is fascinating, fraught with promise and frustration.  Heterogeneous country experiences turn standard economic prescriptions on their head. Puzzles abound. 

  • What historical legacies constrain sustainable, equitable growth in Latin America?
  • Why was inflation so intractable and debt so devastating in the region?
  • How has  the globalization of trade and finance created challenges and opportunities for growth?
  • Can natural resource and agricultural growth provide sufficient dynamism for equitable and green growth?
  • How can private social investment complement public resources to deliver sustainable growth?
  • How have structural inequalities, especially regarding race, ethnicity and gender, constrained regional growth?
  • How can the work in the low-productivity informal sector be transformed into decent jobs to support citizen’s well-being?
  • Are rising incomes and new consumption patterns compatible with an environmentally sustainable development pattern? 

Studying Latin American economic development raises questions about the ability to sustain internal and external macroeconomic balance while creating an opportunity set to live a valued life in a sustainable economic system.

EC343

Land, Food, Culture, and Power

Jen Meredith

The link between economic development and the status of the environment is evident in many of our world’s most pressing problems: from climate change to overfishing, our understanding of poverty must intertwine with our study of ecosystems. This applied economics course will introduce theoretical models of human decision-making about natural resources and analyze their empirical applications within developing countries. Topics will include the resource curse, environmental Kuznets curve, climate variability, natural disasters, fisheries, deforestation, conservation, and human health impacts. Throughout the course, we will weigh the tradeoffs between policies designed to promote sustainable development and learn how economists assess the impact of environmental interventions. Prerequisite: Economics 223 and 293.

EN120J

Language, Thought, and Writing: Rhetoric of Environmentalism

Melissa Heide

This writing-intensive course examines the roles and rhetoric of environmental writing and art in the fight for a more sustainable planet while developing and practicing the skills essential for a meaningful liberal arts education: information literacy, research best practices, critical analysis, rhetorical analysis, revision, and peer review. Students will pursue one topic for the length of the term related to environmental activism and/or environmental art to ask (and maybe answer) the following questions: How do works of environmental art, literature, and film contribute to environmentalist activism? How do artists use diverse media to make arguments about consumption, environmental degradation, and humans’ effects on our ecosystems? How has art changed in the Anthropocene? Can art save the planet?

EN283

EN283

Environmental Humanities: Stories of Crisis and Resilience

Dyani Taff

What can literature teach us about nature and environmental justice? Do the humanities and environmental studies share a vision of a sustainable future? Is it possible to understand climate change without telling stories about its uneven global impacts? To address these and other questions, we will examine how the environmental humanities implicitly respond to the “two cultures” debate. We will then investigate the relationship between environmental justice and western societies’ extractive logics, economies, and management of nature. From within this theoretical framework we will analyze novels, poetry, and environmental films. Fulfills English C and D requirements.

pexels-vanderlei-longo-2081132

EN324

Creative Environmental Communication

Matthew Schneider-Mayerson

Can media play an important role in addressing the climate crisis? Are some kinds of narratives more effective than others? We will answer these and related questions by considering select examples from different mediums (from film to literature) and situating them within scholarship from both the humanities (ecocriticism) and the social sciences (environmental communication). For their final project, students will be asked to create a work of art, craft a detailed research design for an empirical study, or write a public-facing ecocritique of a contemporary text. Fulfills English C and LE requirements. Prerequisite: Any one of the following: Anthropology 256, East Asian Studies 120, English 120H, 283, 350, 357, or 493; Environmental Studies 118, Philosophy 126, 243, or 328; or Religious Studies 232, or Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies 339.

Em228

EN350

Another World is Possible: Ecotopian Visions

Matthew Schneider-Mayerson

In this moment of climate emergency, it is imperative to develop alternatives to fossil-fueled liberal capitalism. This course explores visions of positive environmental futures that can inspire imaginations and movements by examining how various thinkers and communities have depicted better, more sustainable, and more just worlds. With a diverse range of texts, we pair literature, language, film, video, architecture, and manifestos with critical scholarship from relevant fields. Fulfills English C, D, and LE requirements. Prerequisite: Any W1 course.

EN493N

EN493N

Seminar: 17th-century Literature and the Natural World

Elizabeth Sagasar

Explores English literature written during the scientific revolution, including Shakespeare’s King Lear, poems and prose by 17th-c. women, and Milton’s Paradise Lost. How do these texts imagine the natural world and the human within it? How do they propose or challenge boundaries between human and non-human animals? How do attitudes toward the environment emerge, change and persist in literary history and more broadly in the history of ideas? We seek answers through lively reading strategies, creative exercises, and research both online and in Special Collections archives. Fulfills English E, LE, and P requirements.

ES233

Environmental Policy

Philip Nyhus

A comprehensive and interdisciplinary introduction to the process and challenges of developing, implementing, and evaluating environmental policy. The roles of costs and benefits, uncertainty and risks, science and technology, and attitudes and ethics are explored. Historic and contemporary case studies are used to examine major institutions and actors, laws and regulations, incentives and enforcement approaches, and their role in addressing our nation’s most pressing environmental problems. Students complete a semester-long research assignment. Prerequisite: Environmental Studies 118 or 126.

ES364

Climate Change, Justice, and Health

Gail Carlson

Examines the impacts of changing climate dynamics on human livelihoods, rights, health, and well-being. Through interdisciplinary readings, class discussions, research projects, and innovative communications, students will engage deeply with data from the natural and social sciences about human impacts, adaptations, and vulnerabilities, as well as explore climate justice activism. Key learning goals include improved information literacy and written and oral communication skills and increased understanding of the ways climate change is impacting the world in which we live. Prerequisite: Environmental Studies 118 or 126..

PL126

PL328

Radical Ecologies

Keith Peterson

Radical ecologies interrogate our everyday, scientific, and metaphysical conceptions of nature, they emphasize that environmental problems in human-to-nature relations originate in human-to-human relations (e.g., gender, class, and race relations), and they call for comprehensive social and cultural changes through their critiques of existing social forms. They critically explore the historical, cultural, ethical, political, economic, and technological aspects of the place of the human in nature. Readings from anarchist social ecology, deep ecology, ecofeminism, and ecosocialism. Prerequisite: One philosophy course.

RE128

RE218

Global South Asia: Literature, Art, Environment

Nikki Singh

Explores South Asians in their diasporic and transnational context. What contributions are Hindus, Muslims, Parsis, Jews, and Sikhs from the South Asian subcontinent making to contemporary global literature, film, art, and environmentalism? How do tradition and modernity intersect in their works? How do they negotiate religion, gender, sexuality, race, class, environmentalism, medicine, and globalization? Includes writings by Salman Rushdie, Jhumpa Lahiri, Hanif Kureishi, Shashi Tharoor; films by Mira Nair and Deepa Mehta; art by Siona Benjamin, Anish Kapoor, M.F. Husain, Arpana Caur, Singh Twins; and the environmentalist works of Vandana Shiva and Maneka Gandhi.

EN493i

SP297

Deep Ecology in Human Imagination

Luis Millones

This course starts with an exploration of the ideas by Deep Ecology authors, and by questioning human exceptionalism with readings and experiential exercises in the Colby Arboretum and other outdoor experiences. Students will then use what they have learned to research and produce an environmental tour guide of selected art material from the Colby Museum of Art. Fulfills Spanish H/E requirement. Environmental humanities coursePrerequisite: Spanish 135 or instructor authorization.

SP346

Race, Rights, and Land in the Americas

Nico Ramos Flores

Examines issues of race, rights, and land for subaltern subjects across the Americas. By focusing on Afro-diasporic peoples, students will better understand how systematic issues of race and the disenfranchisement of black bodies are not isolated to any one area, but a product of the legacy of slavery. We will explore how these issues are ever-present for Black subjects in the Americas through various examples from Brazil, Central America, the U.S. and Maine. By examining archival materials and artistic works, students take part in a range of projects that show the multifaceted nature of land rights for the Afro-Americas. Boundaries and Margins humanities labPrerequisite: A 200-level Spanish literature, culture, or film course.

WP115i

WP115I

First-Year Writing: Landscape and Place

Carolyn Megan

Reading fiction, essays, and poetry, we will explore the nature of place and landscape as physical, social, and intellectual and consider what it suggests about American culture and ideas. We will consider how place and landscape, both real and imagined, influence writers as well as how these concerns influence our own lives as readers, writers, thinkers, and dreamers. In this first-year writing course, students will write personal narratives, argument, and synthesis as well as develop their critical reading skills.

Jan Plan 2024

BI118

Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems

Andrew Marshall

Agriculture is a fundamental way in which humans interact with their environment and is at the nexus of ecological, social, and economic systems. An introduction to the ecological bases, practicalities, and philosophies of food and agricultural systems. Provides a foundation in such concepts as agroecology, sustainable soil management, pest and weed control, and organic farming. Also considers social, economic, and public-policy issues. Field trips to local farms and other agricultural institutions. Cannot be counted toward the biology major.

EN237

Environmental Writing in the Himalayas: Practicing the Arts of Unmastery

Sarah Braunstein and Chris Walker 

Taking place in Kalimpong, India, this course works at the intersection of civic engagement, creative writing, and environmental humanities to explore the entanglements between literature, ecology, and multispecies communities. Experiencing these entanglements in an unfamiliar setting, we develop creative and critical methodologies for producing knowledge and art without the need to master or manage our connection to the world. Along the way, we ask questions such as: How is place reflected and refracted in its literature? What is the relationship between research, creativity, and activism, and how might these endeavors respond to environmental crises? What can we learn about global environmental challenges by working with local activists? Approximate cost: $4,900. Fulfills English D and LE requirements. Prerequisite: Any W1 course.

EN297

Charting the Stars in Enlightenment Britain

Aaron Hanlon

This study-abroad course in London will examine print, manuscript, and scientific instrument archives at the Royal Society and Royal Observatory to understand the extent to which major developments in Enlightenment science (natural philosophy) and technology relied on the literary imagination. In so doing, the course would bring together the study of literature and science in a period that drew no hard boundary between the two. A second goal of the course—and the rationale for orienting the study of literature and science around navigation and astronomy—is to understand more of the physical and conceptual machinery of the British Empire and the application of the literary imagination for ill as well as good. Prerequisite: Any W1 course and English 200.

Spring 2024

AY221

AY221

Of Beasts, Pets, and Wildlife: What Animals Mean to Humans

M. Suzanne Menair

Explores human-animal relations in cross-cultural and historical perspective to view the centrality of animals to human existence. Considers the social, symbolic, and economic uses of animals in a variety of contexts, from cockfighting in Bali to the corporate culture of Sea World to central Maine farms. Examines the history and philosophies of the animal rights movement from the anti-vivisection campaigns of 19th-century England to contemporary animal rights protests in the United States. Concludes with an analysis of human animality and animal subjectivity to arrive at a deeper understanding of both human and non-human animals. Prerequisite: Anthropology 112 or Philosophy 113 or 114.

AY229

Reading Ethnographies of Climate Change and the Crisis of Capitalism

Catherine Besteman

The ethnographic genre is unique to anthropology. Through focused reading and discussion of ethnographies on the theme of climate change, students will develop analytic and critical reading skills in this genre. The texts approach climate change from a wide variety of anthropological perspectives, from the impact of fossil fuel extraction on host communities to disaster relief efforts to community-based initiatives of ecological sustainability. We will focus on the form and genre of the assigned ethnographies, engage in close textual analysis, and read comparatively. Class will be run as an open discussion seminar. The course will also include a consideration of art about climate change in relation to our assigned ethnographies. Environmental humanities labPrerequisite: Anthropology 112.

EA120

EA120

Nature in East Asian Literature and Culture

Kim Besio

Combines readings of traditional literature with an exploration of the perceived relationship between nature and man, as reflected in the literary, visual, and material culture of China, Japan, and Korea. Students will improve writing skills through weekly writing reflections, two short essays, and one research paper. Other goals include, hone analytical skills through close reading of East Asian texts; reflect critically on the relationship between the natural world and man in East Asian culture, and how these views might enrich our own; and acquire an understanding of how literature and art can both shape and reflect our world view.

EN120I

Inventing Nature in New England

Mary Gibson

Combines field trips around Maine with work in the Colby Museum and the rare book room. We’ll read some of the classics of New England nature writing, make our own “field journals” on Mayflower Hill, and think about how our ideas of and relationships to the natural world are shaped by our knowledge, our technology, and our historical situation. We’ll read prose and poetry, from Emerson to Maine writer Sarah Orne Jewett’s short stories, to modern poetry broadsides in our library’s collection. When spring finally comes we’ll make a field trip to the Maine coast to see for ourselves the world described in Celia Thaxter’s The Isle of Shoals. We will keep journals and write and revise both research essays and journalistic essays.

EN283

EN283

Environmental Humanities: Stories of Crisis and Resilience

Matthew Schneider-Mayerson

What can literature teach us about nature and environmental justice? Do the humanities and environmental studies share a vision of a sustainable future? Is it possible to understand climate change without telling stories about its uneven global impacts? To address these and other questions, we will examine how the environmental humanities implicitly respond to the “two cultures” debate. We will then investigate the relationship between environmental justice and western societies’ extractive logics, economies, and management of nature. From within this theoretical framework we will analyze novels, poetry, and environmental films. Fulfills English C and D requirements.g.

EN355

Staging Pirates and Captives in Early Modern Romance

Dyani Taff

Pirates, slaves, and shipwrecks are ever present in romances from the 16th and 17th centuries. We will place representations of these figures from ballads, plays, and prose fiction–including texts by William Shakespeare, Miguel de Cervantes, and Margaret Cavendish–alongside historical accounts of captivity, forced migration, and environmental violence in both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic worlds. We’ll examine early modern discourses about race, class, gender, and ability and the ways that writers use romance, across genres, to reinforce and also to challenge social prejudices. Fulfills English C, E, and LE requirements. Prerequisite: Any W1 course.

IT246

EN357

Literature and Environment

Dyani Taff

Introduces students to the history and diverse traditions of global environmental writing. By analyzing this tradition, students will gain mastery over a range of methods for interpreting representations of nature, human-environment relations, and nonhuman animals, with a focus on how these representations intersect with the history of environmental racism and environmental justice movements. Topics may include the history of ecocriticism, ecopoetics, queer ecologies, animal studies, posthumanism, and postcolonial ecocriticism. Fulfills English C requirement. Prerequisite: English 200 or 283.

ES118

ES118

Environment and Society

Justin Becknell, Stacey-ann Robinson, Matthew Schneider-Mayerson

An introduction to the multi study of the relationship between humans and the world around us. Through an examination of the most pressing environmental problems–such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and environmental racism–students will be introduced to methods and key concepts of Environmental Studies. Through lectures, case studies, and collaborative work, students will assess the strengths and weaknesses of approaching environmental problems from the sciences, social sciences, and humanities, and gain tools to work toward a more just environmental future.

PL243

ES243

Environmental Ethics

Keith Peterson

Aims to familiarize students with the many philosophical approaches that have been developed over the past few decades in response to the environmental crisis. It covers not only classical issues such as anthropocentrism and the intrinsic value of nature, but also supplies the conceptual tools needed to tackle the complex ethical, political, cultural, scientific, and practical dimensions of human relations to more-than-human nature. Special attention will be devoted to the topics of nonhuman animals, food, energy, and climate change

ES366

Pollution and Human Health

Gail Carlson

How human health is affected by physical, chemical, biological, and social environments; how we use science to measure effects of these determinants at the level of cell, tissue, individual, and population; how we assess these determinants to make regulatory decisions. Topics include introductions to toxicology, epidemiology, and risk assessment; health effects of pollution, synthetic chemicals, consumer products, climate change, and the built environment; the etiology of health outcomes including cancer, obesity, endocrine disruption, and respiratory diseases. Students use primary scientific literature for independent research and, when appropriate, engage in environmental health policy debates in Congress and/or the Maine legislature. Prerequisite: Environmental Studies 118 or 126, and sophomore or higher standing.

SP498

Interplay Between Speculative and Environmental Fiction

Luis Millones

Both speculative and environmental narratives among Latin American and Latinx writers have been growing in production and significance in recent years. In this course we will read fiction and study theoretical approaches to speculative fiction and its interplay with environmental fiction in Latin American and Latinx short stories, novels, and a couple of films. We will read and analyze texts from contemporary authors paying attention to how their work differ in their response to the technological and environmental challenges of our time from the well established Anglophone tradition and classic sub-genres such space opera or climate fiction. Students will learn how these narratives engage imperialism, social inequality, gender, and environmental justice in creative and well crafted works. Prerequisite: A 300-level Latin American Studies or Spanish course.

WP115i

WP115I

First-Year Writing: Landscape and Place

Carolyn Megan

Reading fiction, essays, and poetry, we will explore the nature of place and landscape as physical, social, and intellectual and consider what it suggests about American culture and ideas. We will consider how place and landscape, both real and imagined, influence writers as well as how these concerns influence our own lives as readers, writers, thinkers, and dreamers. In this first-year writing course, students will write personal narratives, argument, and synthesis as well as develop their critical reading skills.