Humanities grab hold of environmental studies
Think about environmental studies and classes in sustainability. What comes to mind? Usually science and technology, biology and chemistry, endangered species preservation, earth-friendly building materials, clean gasoline.
But the humanities – history, literature, fine arts, philosophy, and religious studies – also can help illuminate and facilitate the study of our environment.
To that end, Arizona State University has established a new certificate program in environmental humanities, administered jointly by the Department of English in the College of Liberal arts and Sciences and Interdisciplinary Humanities and Communication in the School of Letters and Sciences.
The interdisciplinary certificate will offer students in all majors "a wider understanding of the role that humanities and arts play in shaping human interaction with the world that surrounds them, and training them to write about that understanding, so that the public will better understand the issues that face us all," said Joni Adamson, associate professor of English and environmental humanities.
"The environmental humanities are not just for majors in the humanities," Adamson said. "How about biologists who want to write accessibly? Or landscape architects who want to understand the cultural history of lawns? Or historians who want to understand ecology?
"This isn't just about writing and literature. This is about study of why cultures and societies make the political choices they do when it comes to energy consumption, food systems, etc.
"Writing well is part of it. After all, who would know about Darwin if not for his famously poetic prose? Or Einstein, who had a wonderful way with a metaphor?
"The liberal and fine arts (anthropology, drama, film, geography, history, landscape design, literature, philosophy, photography, religious studies, and other areas) illuminate not only the physical and political dimensions of the environment, but also the important ways that nature permeates our imaginative lives culturally, ideologically, and aesthetically, and, in turn, how our imagination permeates our understanding and treatment of nature."
Maureen Daly Goggin, interim chair of the Department of English, adds that “understanding and working on issues concerning the environment demand a rigorous understanding of the complex relationship between humans and their surroundings, a dimension that makes theoretical and methodological approaches from the humanities central to environmental studies.”
The certificate requires eight courses (24 credit hours). Three are chosen from a list of core English courses, one is an environmental humanities internship through the Department of English, and the remaining four are related electives from other programs. Students are also encouraged to pursue study abroad programs focused on culture and the environment, such as the “Human Dimensions of Sustainability” program in Australia.
Students will gain theoretical and practical knowledge of the relationships between human cultures and the rest of nature so that they will be better prepared to participate in activities that lead to meaningful social and environmental change, to make more well-informed decisions regarding sustainable personal lifestyles, and to contribute to the creation of ecologically responsible public policy.
Interested parties should visit http://english.clas.asu.edu/environmentalhumanities or contact Elizabeth McNeil, director, Undergraduate Academic Services, Department of English, ASU, Tempe (480-965-3168 or Elizabeth.McNeil@asu.edu), or Joni Adamson, Downtown-Polytechnic (480-727-1562 or Joni.Adamson@asu.edu).
Kristen LaRue, firstname.lastname@example.org