Environmental Studies

Environmental studies at Sarah Lawrence College is an engagement with human relationships to the environment through a variety of disciplines. Sarah Lawrence’s environmental studies program, a critical component of a liberal-arts education, is an intersection of knowledge-making and questions about the environment that are based in the humanities, the arts, and the social and natural sciences. Sarah Lawrence students seeking to expand their knowledge of environmental studies are encouraged to explore the interconnections between disciplinary perspectives while developing areas of particular interest in greater depth. The environmental studies program seeks to develop students’ capacities for critical thought and analysis, applying theory to specific examples from Asia, Africa, and the Americas and making comparisons across geographic regions and historical moments.

Courses include environmental justice and politics, environmental history and economics, policy and development, property and the commons, environmental risk and the rhetoric of emerging threats, and cultural perspectives on nature, as well as courses in the natural sciences.

Environmental studies offers an annual, thematically-focused colloquium: Intersections: Boundary Work in Science and Environmental Studies. This series brings advocates, scholars, writers, and filmmakers to the College, encouraging conversations across the disciplines among students, faculty, and guest speakers, as well as access to new ideas and lively exchanges. Students may participate in internships during the academic year or in rural and urban settings across the country and throughout the world during the summer. Guest study at Reed College (Portland, Oregon), the Council on International Educational Exchange (Portland, Maine), the semester in environmental science at the Marine Biological Laboratory (Woods Hole, Massachusetts), and other programs are available to qualified Sarah Lawrence students. Vibrant connections across the faculty mean that students can craft distinctive competencies while building a broadly based knowledge of environmental issues, problems, policies, and possibilities.

Environmental Studies 2021-2022 Courses

The Environmental Imagination: Perspectives From the Social Sciences, Environmental Humanities, and the Arts

Intermediate/Advanced, Seminar—Year | 10 credits

“Climate change” covers a variety of hydrological, thermal, geological, and atmospheric crises that are intersecting and accelerating in scope and intensity. Inspired by Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwOvBv8RLmo) performing her poem Earthrise, this course invites a conversation that draws together the social sciences, the humanities, and the arts: a journey through the global climate crisis on a variety of scales, in specific contexts, and through diverse media. Fiction and nonfiction writing, history, and film will be drawn upon to investigate understandings of an epoch controversially called “the Anthropocene.”  What do these different perspectives, methods, and insights bring to our perceptions of specific environments? How do different rhetorical formations, imaginaries, narratives, and visual images inform cognitive and affective responses to the Anthropocene?  What do they bring to our understanding of the global environmental emergency that is the signature of this moment in planetary history? How do interventions in the arts and humanities constitute acts of “world-making”—new ways of seeing, feeling, and imagining human ways of caring for this planet? In conjunction with the literatures of political ecology and cultural anthropology, we will read fiction by authors such as Amitav Ghosh and Stanislas Lem; nonfiction by Robert MacFarlane (Underlands), Ben Ehrenreich (Desert Notebooks), Joseph Masco (irradiated landscapes in the American West), Kate Brown (Plutopia), and Madeleine Watts (The Inland Sea).

Faculty

Ethnographic Research and Writing

Advanced, Seminar—Year

Javanese shadow theatre, Bedouin love poems, and American community life are but a few of the cultural realities that anthropologists have effectively studied and written about. This is no easy task, given the substantial difficulties involved in understanding and portraying the concerns, activities, and lifeworlds other than one’s own. Despite those challenges, ethnographic research is generally considered one of the best ways to form a nuanced and contextually rich understanding of a particular social world. To gain an informed sense of the methods, challenges, and benefits of just such an approach, students in this course will try their hands at ethnographic research and writing. In the fall semester, each student will be asked to undertake an ethnographic research project in order to investigate the features of a specific social world, such as a homeless shelter, a religious festival, or a neighborhood in Brooklyn. In the spring, she or he will craft a fully realized piece of ethnographic writing that conveys something of the features and dynamics of that world in lively, accurate, and comprehensive terms. Along the way, and with the help of anthropological writings that are either exceptional or experimental in nature, we will collectively think through some of the most important features of ethnographic projects, such as interviewing others, the use of fieldnotes, the interlacing of theory and data, the role of dialogue and the author’s voice in ethnographic prose, and the ethnical and political responsibilities that come with any attempt to understand and portray the lives of others.

Faculty

Architecture and the Future, 1900–Present

Open, Seminar—Spring

Visionaries and builders...users and functions...thoughts, practices, and theories of architecture from the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution to today...all claim in one way or another to rethink the past, realize the present, and, most importantly, create the future. Through PowerPoint presentations, readings, and discussion, this course gives a challenging, inclusive, and nuanced understanding of buildings and monuments. We will learn to read architecture and to read in depth with architects, critics, historians, and philosophers in order to analyze the concept of form and its urban, sociopolitical, and epistemological implications and to see how architecture gives shape and meaning to its context, sense to our spatial and historical experience, and image to philosophies of human collective action. We will analyze major movements (arts and crafts, technological sublime and Brooklyn Bridge, Bauhaus, modernism and machine villas, Archigram and Walking Cities, postmodernism and DisneyWorld, deconstruction, new pragmatism, figural, digital, sustainable) and figures, including Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, Peter Eisenman, Rem Koolhaas, Sam Mockbee, Zaha Hadid, Jean Gang, and BIG (Bjarke Ingels, not the Notorious). Readings will be drawn from history, philosophy, literature (realist, sci-fi, and visionary), William Morris, Buckminster Fuller, Heidegger, Foucault, Benjamin, and others. Monuments include the Eiffel Tower, the Houses of Parliament, the Einstein Tower, the World’s Fairs of 1925 and 1939, the Bauhaus Building, Fallingwater, Seagram’s Building, New York monuments at Ground Zero and in Lower Manhattan, the Irish Hunger Monument, among many other structures. Projects, papers, an architectural notebook dedicated to class notes, readings, drawings, musings, etc., and a conference project will be required in the history, theory, philosophy, and sociopolitical context, including women as users, patrons, and makers of art and architecture. Well-formulated design projects are a possibility. This course shares connections with visual arts, film, and a broad range of subjects in the humanities and social sciences.

Faculty

Evolutionary Biology

Open, Lecture—Spring

What biological processes led to the development of the incredible diversity of life that we see on Earth today? The process of evolution, or a change in the inherited traits in a population over time, is fundamental to our understanding of biology and the history of life on Earth. This course will introduce students to the field of evolutionary biology. We will interpret evidence from the fossil record, molecular genetics, systematics, and empirical studies to deepen our understanding of evolutionary mechanisms. Topics covered include the genetic basis of evolution, phylogenetics, natural selection, adaptation, speciation, coevolution, and the evolution of behavior and life-history traits. Students will attend one weekly, 90-minute lecture and one weekly, 90-minute group conference where scientific papers in evolutionary biology will be discussed in small groups.

Faculty

General Biology Series: Ecology

Open, Seminar—Fall

Ecology is a scientific discipline that studies interactions between living organisms and their environments, as well as processes governing how species are distributed, how they interact, and how nutrients and energy cycle through ecosystems. Ecologists might ask questions about how plant growth responds to climate change, how squirrel population size or behavior changes in response to acorn availability, or how nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorous cycle in rivers and streams. In this course, students will develop a strong foundational understanding of the science of ecology at the individual, population, community, and ecosystem scales. Throughout the course, emphasis will be placed on how carefully designed experiments and data analysis can help us find predictable patterns despite the complexity of nature. Students will be expected to design and carry out a field experiment in small groups. The course will include a weekly lab section, with most labs held outdoors.

Faculty

Microbiology

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

Humans are bathing in a sea of microbes. Microbes coat our environments, live within our bodies, and perform functions both beneficial and detrimental to human well-being. This course will explore the biology of microorganisms, broadly defined as bacteria, archaea, viruses, single-celled eukaryotes, and fungi. We will study microbes at multiple scales, including the individual cell, the growing population, and populations interacting with one another or their environments. Microbial physiology, genetics, diversity, and ecology will be covered in depth. Particular emphasis will be given to the role of microbes that cause infectious disease in humans and microbes that play critical roles in ecological processes. Seminars will be supplemented by a weekly lab section to learn key microbiological techniques and methods, most notably culturing and identifying bacteria.

Faculty

Plant Systematics and Evolution

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

Understanding the diversity of plants and their evolutionary relationships is fundamental to understanding the complex web of life on Earth. Nearly all other organisms, including humans, rely on plants—directly or indirectly—for their food and oxygen. Consequently, plants are essential to our existence; and by studying plants in detail, we learn more about our own species and the world we inhabit. This course is a detailed survey of plant diversity and the evolutionary relationships of plants. In the course, you will gain a thorough understanding of the diverse morphology of plants and will acquire an understanding of the plant “Tree of Life.” You will be able to describe morphological structures of plants using botanical terminology and learn how to identify prominent plant families using diagnostic morphological characters and plant keys. Seminars and associated labs will be supplemented with independent field collections.

Faculty

Political Economy of Global Climate Change

Open, Large seminar—Fall

Climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions will be the number-one global threat of the 21st century. Global warming has caused destructive effects on the environment and on human society and has pushed our planet past the boundary within which humanity can safely operate. Scientists estimated that we had, at most, one generation in which we could take actions to prevent us from going beyond the point of no return. In 2016, parties to the Paris Agreement committed to a target of keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels; however, by far, almost no major industrialized or industrializing countries are doing enough to meet the target. Drawing on economics and interdisciplinary materials, this seminar will provide a political economy analysis of global climate change. Have economists been playing a constructive role in climate-change policies? Can we price carbon? How are interest groups in the society promoting and blocking climate actions? How should we reform global institutions to promote climate actions? Who benefits from global economic activities that cause global warming, and who bears the costs? Why is climate change also rooted in the global history of racial discrimination and gender discrimination? By the end of this seminar, you will be able to form a holistic understanding of global climate change, conduct political-economy research on climate change, and make policy proposals.

Faculty

Environmental and Ecological Economics: Theories and Policies

Open, Seminar—Fall

Since the 19th century, generations of economists have analyzed the role of environment and natural resources in society and the economy. John Stuart Mill, a classical economist, argued: “Is there not the Earth itself, its forests and waters, and all other natural riches, above and below the surface? These are the inheritance of the human race, and there must be regulations for the common enjoyment of it....No function of government is less optional than the regulation of these things, or more completely involved in the idea of civilized society.” What property-right regimes are proper for solving the “problem of the social cost”? Is privatization the only solution, as the market fundamentalist economists have argued? Why do developing countries have higher pollution levels? Are pollution activities migrating to developing countries? In most places in the developed world, environmental quality has improved significantly in the past decades. How can we explain such progress? Should efficiency be the top concern in protecting the environment? How can we incorporate equity and justice in environmental decision-making? What political-economy factors are determining environmental policies? What do we mean by “sustainability”? By the end of the seminar, you will be able to apply theories of environmental economics and ecological economics to real-world problems, conduct independent research in environmental and ecological economics, and form policy proposals.

Faculty

Political Economy of Environmental Justice

Open, Seminar—Spring

We frequently observe that the burden of environmental harms and/or the benefit of environmental protection are unequally distributed in a society. Within a nation, the underrepresented households, such as minorities in the United States, bear a disproportionate burden. Globally, under the neoliberal regime, trade and financial lateralization have made it easier to transfer highly polluting economic activities to the Third World. Moreover, the capitalist development in the Third World has increasingly deprived the rural communities and the urban poor of their environmental rights. This course examines ways in which environmental injustices may arise and affect different people with different power in different places. We will draw knowledge from multiple fields, such as economics, political science, sociology, environmental studies, geography, etc. We will examine the issue using multiple methodologies and assess different policy options.

Faculty

Political Economy of Cities

Open, Large seminar—Spring

Today, more than 50 percent of the world population—4.2 billion people—live in urban areas. By 2050, the global urban population will more than double its current size, and nearly 70 percent of the population in the world will live in cities. Understanding the economic future of human societies requires understanding cities. As cities become hubs of innovation, trade, finance, and modern life, there is also a rapid urbanization of inequity, inequality, and injustice among class, race, and gender. In this seminar, we will examine modern cities from a political-economy perspective. We will discuss foundational and classical perspectives of cities, including the Chicago school; neoclassical economics and location theory; Marxist school; and feminist, poststructuralist, and postcolonial approaches. We will examine issues such as urban poverty and inequality, environmental degradation, job precarity, intercity and intracity social and economic dynamics, rural-urban dynamics, and democratic governance of cities.

Faculty

First-Year Studies: Climate Change

Open, FYS—Year

Climate change will be the defining issue of the coming decades. Climate change threatens the ecosystems and infrastructure that human society relies upon and will impact most aspects of the global economy, policymaking, and day-to-day life. This FYS course will provide the basic foundation in earth system science needed to understand why the planet is warming, drawing on fundamental concepts of physics, chemistry, and biology. During the spring semester, we’ll build upon this foundation to investigate the linkages between global climate, natural ecosystems, and human society. We will explore topics such as biodiversity, land use, adapting to climate-change impacts, and the energy-systems transition needed to prevent catastrophic global warming. This class will alternate biweekly individual conferences with biweekly small-group workshops on climate data analysis, technical writing, and communicating science.

Faculty

Green Infrastructure

Intermediate, Seminar—Fall

Green infrastructure has the potential to transform our cities, replacing asphalt and concrete with soil, vegetation, and waterways. But while cities across the globe are now developing green infrastructure plans to protect water resources, enhance biodiversity, and adapt to the impacts of global climate change, there is an ongoing debate on what green infrastructure actually is. And there are still many remaining barriers to its broad implementation in our cities and suburbs. In this seminar, we will explore green infrastructure through the lens of ecosystem services—the regulating, provisioning, and cultural benefits that natural ecosystems provide for free to humans. Through quantitative case studies and field visits to green infrastructure projects in Yonkers and New York City, we will learn about a variety of different types of green infrastructure, including rain gardens, green roofs, detention basins, and constructed wetlands. We will also learn about the challenges associated with assessing the performance of green infrastructure and will critically evaluate existing green infrastructure plans and designs.

Faculty

Geospatial Data

Open, Seminar—Spring

Geospatial data are information associated with locations on the surface of the Earth. This can include a variety of different types of data used in environmental science, such as sample collection locations at a field study site, the areal extent of a forest biome, or the output generated by global climate models. The analysis of geospatial data also allows social scientists to identify disparities in access to natural resources or exposure to pollutants and hazards and has been critical to the study of environmental justice. This course provides an introduction to foundational concepts in geodesy, cartography, and geostatistics, along with practical experience in geospatial data analysis using open-source geographic information systems (GIS) software. Although we will focus primarily on environmental applications, the skills learned in this course can be utilized in many natural and social-science disciplines—and can also help you avoid getting lost!

Faculty

First-Year Studies: Media Sketchbooks

Open, FYS—Year

In this course, students will develop work that aims to challenge audience perceptions of traditional filmmaking while retaining “audience reading” of a film’s message, intention, and meaning. This is a production and research class, where the development of experimental fiction and nonfiction film is covered from the conception of an idea to the finished product. Students will have the opportunity to experiment with nonconventional techniques for image creation, either individually or in collaboration with their peers. We will explore technical, conceptual, and aesthetic approaches to constructing art films with directed shots, cinéma vérité, animation, performance art, and free-media montage. Emphasis will be placed on producing innovative and creative films in the experimental genre. This is a solid introductory course for students who are interested in film and want to get their “feet wet” in film during their first year at the College. Students will participate in technical production modules and exercises in which an exploration of modes of experimental film and video will be covered. Focus will be on an exploration of structure and format, as well as film’s relationship to story, poetry, and experimental text. We will review the work of professional artists’ films and read theoretical texts as they apply to artist film production. The class will also function as an editing workshop with critique and feedback. Visiting experimental filmmaker labs will be an important part of this year’s class.

Faculty

Intermediate French III: Soil, Nature, and Culture in Contemporary France

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course will explore the question of nature in France in the context of both climate change and the rich cultural and literary history of the country. Some of the themes that will allow us to better understand how the French relate to nature include the forêt de Brocéliande in medieval novels of the Arthurian stories cycle; discussions about the status of animals in 17th-century France; romantic depictions of nature in French novels, set both in France and America in the early 19th century; evocations of exotic islands, in contrast to Paris’s industrial revolution, in Baudelaire’s poetry; and Louis Ferdinand Céline’s account of life in French Congo in the 1920s. In parallel to this literary exploration, we will study how France is reacting to the threat of climate change, from legendary vineyards that must face rising temperatures, to new legislation that stirs the country into new practices, and to the work of NGOs that work to protect habitats in various parts of France. We will look at a mix of theoretical works by Foucault, Deleuze, and Irigaray, among others, as well as focus concretely on specific regions, local associations, and farms that are inventing a green future. In addition to conferences, a weekly conversation session with a French language assistant(e) is required. Attendance at the weekly French lunch table and French film screenings are both highly encouraged.

Faculty

Food, Agriculture, Environment, and Development

Open, Lecture—Year

Where does the food that we eat come from? Why do some people have enough food to eat and others do not? Are there too many people for the world to feed? Who controls the world’s food? Will global food prices continue their recent rapid rise? And if so, what will be the consequences? What are the environmental impacts of our food production systems? How do answers to these questions differ by place or by the person asking the question? How have the questions changed over time? This course will explore the following fundamental issue: the relationship between development and the environment, focusing in particular on agriculture and the production and consumption of food. The questions above often hinge on the contentious debate concerning population, natural resources, and the environment. Thus, we will begin by critically assessing the fundamental ideological positions and philosophical paradigms of “modernization,” as well as the critical counterpoints that lie at the heart of this debate. Within this context of competing sets of philosophical assumptions concerning the population-resource debate, we will investigate the concept of “poverty” and the making of the “Third World”; access to food, hunger, grain production and food aid, agricultural productivity (the Green and Gene revolutions), biofuels, the role of transnational corporations (TNCs), the international division of labor, migration, globalization and global commodity chains, and the different strategies adopted by nation states to “develop” natural resources and agricultural production. Through a historical investigation of environmental change and the biogeography of plant domestication and dispersal, we will look at the creation of indigenous, subsistence, peasant, plantation, collective, and commercial forms of agriculture. We will analyze the physical environment and ecology that help shape, but rarely determine, the organization of resource use and agriculture. Rather, through the dialectical rise of various political-economic systems—such as feudalism, slavery, mercantilism, colonialism, capitalism, and socialism—we will study how humans have transformed the world’s environments. We will follow with studies of specific issues: technological change in food production; commercialization and industrialization of agriculture and the decline of the family farm; food and public health, culture, and family; land grabbing and food security; the role of markets and transnational corporations in transforming the environment; and the global environmental changes stemming from modern agriculture, dams, deforestation, grassland destruction, desertification, biodiversity loss, and the interrelationship with climate change. Case studies of particular regions and issues will be drawn from Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe, and the United States. The final part of the course examines the restructuring of the global economy and its relation to emergent international laws and institutions regulating trade, the environment, agriculture, resource extraction treaties, the changing role of the state, and competing conceptualizations of territoriality and control. We will end with discussions of emergent local, regional, and transnational coalitions for food self-reliance and food sovereignty, alternative and community supported agriculture, community-based resource management systems, sustainable development, and grassroots movements for social and environmental justice. Films, multimedia materials, and distinguished guest lectures will be interspersed throughout the course. One farm/factory field trip is possible in each semester if funding permits. The lecture participants may also take a leading role in a campus-wide event on “food and hunger,” tentatively planned for the spring. Please mark your calendars when the dates are announced, as attendance for all of the above is required. Attendance and participation are also required at special guest lectures and film viewings in the Social Science Colloquium Series, which are held approximately once per month. The Web Board is an important part of the course. Regular postings of short essays will be made there, as well as followup commentaries with your colleagues. There will be in-class essays, a midterm quiz, and a final exam each semester. Group conferences will focus on in-depth analysis of certain course topics and will include debates and small-group discussions. You will prepare a poster project each semester on a topic of your choice that is related to the course and which will be presented at the end of each semester in group conference, as well as a potential public session.

Faculty

Introduction to Development Studies: The Political Ecology of Development

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

In this seminar, we will begin by examining competing paradigms and approaches to understanding “development” and the “Third World.” We will set the stage by answering the question: What did the world look like 500 years ago? The purpose of this part of the course is to acquaint us with and to analyze the historical origins and evolution of a world political-economy of which the “Third World” is an intrinsic component. We will thus study the transition from feudalism to capitalism, the rise of merchant and finance capital, and the colonization of the world by European powers. We will analyze case studies of colonial “development” to understand the evolving meaning of this term. These case studies will help us assess the varied legacies of colonialism apparent in the emergence of new nations through the fitful and uneven process of decolonization that followed. The next part of the course will look at the United Nations and the role some of its associated institutions have played in the post-World War II global political-economy, one marked by persistent and intensifying socioeconomic inequalities, as well as frequent outbreaks of political violence across the globe. By examining the development institutions that have emerged and evolved since 1945, we will attempt to unravel the paradoxes of development in different eras. We will deconstruct the measures of development through a thematic exploration of population, resource use, poverty, access to food, the environment, agricultural productivity, urbanization, industrialization, and different development strategies adopted by Third World nation-states. We will then examine globalization and its relation to emergent international institutions and their policies; for example, the IMF, World Bank, AIIB, and WTO. We will then turn to contemporary development debates and controversies that increasingly find space in the headlines: widespread land grabbing by sovereign wealth funds, China, and hedge funds; the “global food crisis”; and the perils of climate change, as well as the potential of ”a new green deal.” Throughout the course, our investigations of international institutions, transnational corporations, the role of the state, and civil society will provide the backdrop for the final focus of the class: the emergence of regional coalitions for self-reliance, environmental and social justice, and sustainable development. Our analysis of development in practice will draw upon case studies from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, and North America. Conference work will be closely integrated with the themes of the course, with a two-stage, substantive research project. Project presentations will incorporate a range of formats, from traditional papers to multimedia visual productions. Where possible and feasible, you will be encouraged to do primary research over fall study days. Some experience in the social sciences is desired but not required.

Faculty

The Rise of the New Right in the United States

Open, Seminar—Spring

Why this course and speaker series/community conversations now? The rise of the New Right is a critically important phenomenon of our time, shaping politics, policies, practices, and daily life for everyone. The insurrection at The Capitol on January 6, 2021, is only one egregious expression of long-term ideas and actions by a newly emboldened collective of right-wing ideologues. The violent challenges to the realities of a racially and ethnically diverse America is not a surprise. Nor is the normalization of White Power politics and ideas within mainstream politics and parties. The varied nature of the New Right’s participants—their ideologies, grievances, and goals—requires deep analysis of their historical roots, as well as their contemporary manifestations. The wide range of platforms and spaces for communicating hate, lies, and calls for violence against perceived enemies require their own responses, including the creation of platforms and spaces that offer analysis and alternatives. Seriously engaging the New Right, attempting to offer explanations for its rise, is key to challenging the authoritarian drift in our current political moment and its uncertain evolution and future. To do so requires our attention; it also requires a transdisciplinary approach, something inherent to our college and to geography as a discipline, be it political, economic, cultural, social, urban, historical, or environmental geography. The goal of this new seminar, one that is accompanied by a facilitated speaker series and community conversations, is to build on work in geography and beyond and to engage a wide array of thinkers from diverse disciplines and backgrounds, institutions and organizations. In addition to teaching the course itself, my hope is that it can be a vehicle to engage our broader communities—at the College and in our region, as well as reaching out to our widely dispersed, multigenerational alumni. Pairing the course with a facilitated/moderated speaker series, livestreamed in collaboration with our Development and Alumni offices, offers the chance to bring these classroom conversations and contemporary and pressing course topics, grounded in diverse readings and student engagement, to a much wider audience and multiple communities. In this class, we will seek to understand the origins and rise of the New Right in the United States and elsewhere, as it has taken shape in the latter half of the 20th century to the present. We will seek to identify the origins of the New Right and what defines it, to explore the varied geographies of the movement and its numerous strands, and to identify the constituents of the contemporary right coalition. In addition, we will explore the actors and institutions that have played a role in the expansion of the New Right (e.g., courts, state and local governments, Tea Party, conservative think tanks, lawyers, media platforms, evangelical Christians, militias) and the issues that motivate the movement (e.g., anti-communism, immigration, environment, white supremacy/nationalism, voter suppression, neoliberal economic policies, anti-globalization, free speech). This is a reading-intensive, discussion-oriented large seminar in which we will survey a broad sweep of the recent literature on the New Right. While the class focuses most specifically on the US context, conference papers based on international/comparative case studies are welcome. Students will be required to attend all associated talk and film viewings, write weekly reading memos, engage colleagues in biweekly online essays and conversation, and write a brief final paper that links the themes of the class with their own interests, creative products, research agenda, and/or political engagement. Transdisciplinary collaborative activities across the College and community are encouraged. Film, performance, written commentary, workshops, and other forms of action can provide additional outlets for student engagement.

Faculty

Theories at Heart

Open, Seminar—Fall

This course takes political aesthetics, from the Zapatistas to Amazonian autonomy projects, as a point of departure to ground historical understandings of interculturality from an indigenous perspective. The course seeks to develop students’ critical skills as they acquire tools to talk about transcontinental political aesthetics. While engaging this aesthetics of resistance, students will be exposed to a series of critical theories that convey the depths of cultural memory—which is necessarily tied to a local indigenous history remembered in the community by heart. Students will read historical and literary texts from the 16th century onward, as well as secondary readings from recognized scholars interested on indigenous historiography. Thus, students can compare various indigenous perspectives—from the Amazon to the Andes and Chiapas and the people of Turtle Island—contextualized in each nation’s colonial long-durée.

Faculty

Environmental Politics, Informality, and Democracy in Brazilian History

Open, Seminar—Fall

When wildfires spread across the Brazilian Amazon in the summer of 2019, international concern spread rapidly. Containing more than one-third of the world’s primary rain forest, Brazil has featured prominently in hopes for a carbon-neutral future. Yet, Brazil is also home to a complicated past. Since the colonial era, inequality and authoritarianism have competed with democratic reforms and populist social movements. From the occupation of urban favelas by poor families to the development practices of wealthy corporations, legal reforms have often given way to the politics of informality—gray areas beyond the law. How have these politics enabled democracy, and how have they subverted it? And what have they meant for environmental conservation efforts? This course seeks to peel back the layers of informal politics in Brazilian history, with specific attention to the intersection of informal practices, democracy, and environmental politics in the present. We will begin by examining indigenous environmental practices before 1492 and continue with the Iberian glorifications of the walled city as a site of order and the social implications of sugar production and slave society. We will continue by examining the rise of populism in the 1930s; slum clearance in the 1940s and ’50s; contemporary indigenous social movements; and the explosion of drug traffic, gentrification, and deforestation in a neoliberal age. Along the way, we will trace the destruction of Brazil’s once vast Atlantic Forest near Rio de Janeiro, the rise of the Green Party in Brazilian politics, and future prospects for the Amazon. The course makes use of a variety of sources, including scholarship, films, and novels, with a critical analysis of urban popular music..

Faculty

First-Year Studies: Difficult Women of the Americas

Open, FYS—Year

Difficult women go against the grain: They make noise. They make trouble. They challenge categories, preconceptions, and assigned roles and shine light where some would rather not look. Through novels, films, and essays by thinkers and artists like Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Octavia Butler, Cristina Rivera Garza, Judith Butler, Lucrecia Martel, Frida Kahlo, Sara Gómez, Margaret Atwood, and Lia Garcia La Sirena, this course will explore questions of gender, labor rights, race, borders, bodies, and environmental issues, among others. Students will learn how to analyze cultural objects and theory, to build arguments around plot elements or imagery, and to ground their analysis effectively in social and cultural contexts. The course will combine one-on-one conference work with group activities and exercises designed to introduce students to the resources available to them at the College, take advantage of New York City’s cultural offerings, and improve their writing skills through workshops.

Faculty

Studies in Ecocriticism: The Idea of Nature in the Western Tradition

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

As the capitalistic and predatory model aggressively promoted by the United States continues to reveal itself as a major threat to biodiversity and the environment in general, it is vital to understand the cultural and literary history of the concept of “nature” that is at the core of the Western and Judeo-Christian tradition while also putting that concept in the context of gender, race, and ethnicity in America today. For example, comparing stories of world creation from indigenous nations, with narratives taken from the Bible and from Greek and Roman classical texts, will allow us to better grasp how language in the European tradition functions as a deep divider between humans and other living creatures. We will also follow the development of the genre of the pastoral as an idealized construction of nature that deeply influenced Europe from third-century BC to 19th-century English and American Romanticism. We will try to better understand how the conception of wilderness in America is in close relation to the presence of enslaved black bodies on its land. Going in a different direction, we will analyze how contemporary feminism and gender studies provide crucially important models to invent new ways for the West to relate to nature. Animals will also be a focus of our discussions, from classical representations of animals as machines to the use of models like the burrow or territoriality imported from the animal realm by Deleuze and Guattari, to the possibility of shifting from a humanist understanding of nature inherited from European Renaissance, to new forms of ecocentric expression. These are some of the themes that we will cover in this lecture, with the goal of reading texts of the past in order to better understand the complexities of today’s discussions and debates about how to invent new forms of relating to the living environment around us.

Faculty

Milton, Blake, and the Bible

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

John Milton in the 17th century and William Blake in the late-18th and early-19th centuries forged fiercely independent poetics of visionary resistance to the trends toward intellectual materialism, religious conformity, economic mercantilism, and political authoritarianism that dominated the England and Europe of their periods. Both represented themselves as visionary teachers and prophets in a line of prophetic succession that began with Moses and included Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jesus, and John, the writer of the Apocalypse. They founded their prophetic imaginations on what Blake called, “the sublime of the Bible,” the great epic of human liberation and imaginative inspiration. This course will provide readings of central biblical narratives and poetry and examine how Milton and Blake read, understood, and rewrote scripture in their major poetic texts in their prophetic expectation of changing the world and how we see it.

Faculty

Conscience of the Nations: Classics of African Literature

Open, Seminar—Fall

One way to think of literature is as the conscience of a people, reflecting on their origins, their values, their losses, and their possibilities. This course will study major representative texts in which sub-Saharan African writers have taken up the challenge of cultural formation and criticism. Part of what gives the best writing of modern Africa its aesthetic power is the political urgency of its task: The past still bears on the present, the future is yet to be written, and what writers have to say matters enough for their work to be considered dangerous. Political issues and aesthetic issues are, thus, inseparable in their work. Creative tensions in the writing between indigenous languages and European languages, between traditional forms of orature and storytelling and self-consciously “literary” forms, register all of the pressures and conflicts of late colonial and postcolonial history. To discern the traditionalist sources of modern African writing, we will first read examples from epic, folk tale, and other forms of orature. Major fiction will be selected from the work of Tutuola, Achebe, Beti, Sembene, Ba, Head, Ngugi, La Guma, Dangaremgba, and Sarowiwa; drama from the work of Soyinka and Aidoo; poetry from the work of Senghor, Rabearivelo, Okigbo, Okot p’Bitek, Brutus, Mapanje, and others. Conference work may include further, deeper work on the writings, writers, and genres that we study together in class; aspects of literary theory, particularly aspects of postcolonial and womanist theory relevant to readings of African literature; or readings of more recent writers out of Africa whose work draws on and develops the “classical” works that will be the foundation of our work together.

Faculty

An Introduction to Statistical Methods and Analysis

Open, Lecture—Spring

Variance, correlation coefficient, regression analysis, statistical significance, and margin of error...you’ve heard these terms and other statistical phrases bantered about before, and you’ve seen them interspersed in news reports and research articles. But what do they mean? And why are they so important? Serving as an introduction to the concepts, techniques, and reasoning central to the understanding of data, this lecture course focuses on the fundamental methods of statistical analysis used to gain insight into diverse areas of human interest. The use, misuse, and abuse of statistics will be the central focus of the course; and specific topics of exploration will be drawn from experimental design theory, sampling theory, data analysis, and statistical inference. Applications will be considered in current events, business, psychology, politics, medicine, and other areas of the natural and social sciences. Statistical (spreadsheet) software will be introduced and used extensively in this course, but no prior experience with the technology is assumed. Group conferences, conducted in workshop mode, will serve to reinforce student understanding of the course material. This lecture is recommended for anybody wishing to be a better-informed consumer of data and strongly recommended for those planning to pursue advanced undergraduate or graduate research in the natural sciences or social sciences.

Faculty

Crossing Borders and Boundaries: The Social Psychology of Immigration

Open, Small Lecture—Fall

Immigration is a worldwide phenomenon, whereby people move into another nation with the intention of making a better life for themselves and/or residing there temporarily or permanently. While anchored in a multidisciplinary perspective, this seminar explores the crucial role of psychology in understanding the processes associated with our conceptualizations of immigrants and immigration. The course begins with some theoretical perspectives on immigration, as well as a brief historical overview of sociological and social psychological research on immigrants. We then examine the identity of the immigrant, stressing the profound distinctions between forced and voluntary immigrants. We will analyze the processes through which “illegality” is constructed by reflecting on the lives of undocumented immigrants. We will look at how the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, and culture shape the psychological experience of immigrants. Seeking to extend our analysis to immigration’s impact on the host population, we conclude the course by discussing several social psychological issues, such as intergroup relations, discrimination, and modes of adaptation.

Faculty

Urban Health

Open, Seminar—Fall

This community partnership course will focus on the health of humans living within physical, social, and psychological urban spaces. We will use a constructivist, multidisciplinary, multilevel lens to examine the interrelationship between humans and the natural and built environment, to explore the impact of social group (ethnic, racial, sexuality/gender) membership on person/environment interactions, and to explore an overview of theoretical and research issues in the psychological study of health and illness across the lifespan. We will examine theoretical perspectives in the psychology of health, health cognition, illness prevention, stress, and coping with illness; and we will highlight research, methods, and applied issues. This class is appropriate for those interested in a variety of health careers or anyone interested in city life. The community-partnership/service-learning component is an important part of this class. We will work with local agencies to promote health-adaptive, person-environment interactions within our community.

Faculty

Food Environments, Health, and Social Justice

Open, Seminar—Fall

With a growing awareness of health disparities and inequity in food access, researchers and policymakers are rethinking the role of the environment in shaping our diets and health. This course takes a collaborative approach to investigating some of the key issues guiding this area of research and action. Students will critically review literature on food environments, food access, and health inequities and explore how modes of food production and distribution shape patterns of food availability and consumption in cities. Students will use photography and video to examine foods available in the neighborhoods where they live, review news articles and media related to the course themes, and reflect on the ways that their own eating habits are influenced by the social and material settings of their day-to-day lives. The course concludes with students writing letters to the editor/op-eds to a news outlet of their choice, with suggestions about how to move forward with action to improve food access, public health, and social justice in the places where they live.

Faculty

Art and Visual Perception

Open, Large seminar—Spring

Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak. —John Berger

Psychologists and neuroscientists have long been interested in measuring and explaining the phenomena of visual perception. In this course, we will study how the visual brain encodes basic aspects of perception—such as color, form, depth, motion, shape, and space—and how they are organized into coherent percepts or gestalts. Our main goal will be to explore how the study of visual neuroscience and art can inform each other. One of our guides in these explorations will be the groundbreaking gestalt psychologist Rudolf Arnheim, who was a pioneer in the psychology of art. The more recent and equally innovative text by the neuroscientist Eric Kandel, Reductionism in Art and Brain Science, will provide our entry into the subject of neuroaesthetics. Throughout our visual journey, we will seek connections between perceptual phenomena and what is known about brain processing of visual information. This is a course for people who enjoy reflecting on why we see things as we do. It should hold particular interest for students of the visual arts who are curious about scientific explanations of the phenomena that they explore in their art, as well as students of the brain who want to study an application of visual neuroscience. In this large seminar, you will meet weekly in small groups (five-to-seven students) to design a collaborative conference work that curates an in-depth perceptual museum tour. Individual conference meetings will be held only twice over the course of the semester.

Faculty

Environmental Psychology: An Exploration of Space and Place

Open, Seminar—Spring

This course explores human-environment interactions and the relationships between and among natural, social, and built environments in shaping us as individuals. We will critically explore human interactions from the body, the home, and the local to the globalized world, with a return to the individual experience of our physical and social environments. As a survey course, we will cover myriad topics, which may include informal family caregiving, urban/rural/suburban relationships, gentrification, urban planning, environmental sustainability, globalization, and social justice, as well as varying conceptualizations and experiences of “home,” based on gender, race, class, and age and for people with disabilities. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we will give special consideration to public space and home environments. As a discussion-based seminar, topics will ultimately be driven by student interest. Several films will be incorporated into class.

Faculty

The Psychology of Social Influence

Intermediate, Seminar—Spring

Individuals are often influenced by others and by the social situations in which they find themselves. Social influence refers to the processes by which a person or group changes, or attempts to change, the opinions, beliefs, and/or behaviors of another person or group. This process can be either intentional or unintentional. In this seminar, we will examine the basic concepts, theories, and applications of social influence by reviewing four of its key areas: conformity, innovation, compliance, and obedience. Additionally, we will explore some related topics to demonstrate the pervasive nature of social influence. The topics to be addressed include attitude measurement and attitude change, propaganda, cults, subliminal persuasion, and the use and abuse of persuasion in our current social context. The seminar will make use of case studies and situations in daily life to better illustrate how social influence works.

Faculty

First-Year Studies: Borders, Nations, and Mobilities: A Sociological Introduction

Open, FYS—Year

In this FYS seminar, students will be introduced to the field of borders and migration studies based in the social sciences. We will start by reading some key sociological theories that provide students with an overview of sociology as a discipline and its relevance both within a liberal-arts education and to a wider social and political context. We will then focus on readings that provide students with foundational knowledge in border studies, globalization, the role of nations, nation states and nationalism in society, and, last but not least, migration and displacement studies. Special focus will also be given to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on globalization, migration, and the rise of new nationalisms around the world. As part of the seminar’s “practicum” dimension, students will learn the basics of initiating, designing, and carrying out sociological research using various methods of data analysis, including surveys, statistics, interview, and field research. Throughout the year, students will have opportunities to engage in new and ongoing research projects related to the themes of nationalism, borders, and mobilities by engaging with cross-campus organizations, community partners, and broader initiatives such as the Consortium on Forced Migration, Displacement, and Education. Starting in the fall, students will be introduced to some of the resources on campus that are essential for their learning and academic progress at Sarah Lawrence, such as the library and the writing center. Students will be expected to take advantage of these resources as they learn the ropes of conducting research in the social sciences and refining their academic writing skills. In addition to our regular class sessions, students will meet with the faculty instructor weekly during the fall semester for conference meetings. Conference meeting times will be used to discuss the student’s progress in the class and, more generally, during their first semester at Sarah Lawrence. In the subsequent spring semester, we will move to a biweekly conference-meeting schedule, depending on the student’s ongoing progress and needs.

Faculty

Theories of Agency and Action in Science Studies

Open, Lecture—Fall

This course surveys a rich historical debate in science, technology, and society studies on the nature of agency—or the motivation behind, and responsibility for, action. The lecture course begins with an exploration of the nature of scientific fact, including how discoveries are made and how they become accepted in society. We will pay special attention to the concepts of co-production, the idea that humans and technologies work together, and situated action, the reality that actions are rooted in social context, to study how technologies become central to social interaction. This grounding theory will lay a foundation for students to consider an ongoing debate on the distinction between human and nonhuman action. The course culminates with an exploration of three contemporary discussions on the nature of agency with respect to automated weapons systems, assistive technologies for people with disabilities, and the use of algorithms to order social life. For each topic, we will consider how technologies influence social interaction and who or what is responsible when things go wrong. In group conference, students will practice analyzing how technologies shape social interaction through a series of “object readings,” short analyses of a single technological object. These assignments are designed to prepare students for a final group analysis of a technology of their choice.

Faculty

Bad Neighbors: Sociology of Difference, Diversity, and Cosmopolitanism in the City

Open, Seminar—Fall

The focus of the seminar will be on questions of diversity, difference, and cosmopolitanism as it pertains to urban life in a contemporary American city such as Yonkers or New York City, as well as in urban societies around the world. We will take a sociological look at how urban communities experience, navigate, and transform social structures, relationships, and institutions in their everyday lives, as they deal with problems such as inequality, hate, and exclusion while co-existing with different and diverse populations. We will read books and essays by Arlie Hochschild, Asef Bayat, Yuval Noah Harari, Dina Neyeri, Robert Putnam, and others, as we explore ways in which cities embody particular histories as central while marginalizing others—and how communities and people in their everyday lives resist, alter, and decenter those histories and hierarchies. Through engaged field research, we will try to learn and understand how diverse communities of people work and live together; build and provide for the wider community; and rely on informal and formal opportunities, resources, and networks to make life in the city possible.

Faculty

Lineages of Utopia

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Spring

Utopias have existed in human history for centuries. Guided by a critique of the world as constituted, utopias have been vehicles for both imagining and constructing a different socio-spatial order. In this seminar, we will examine the materialization of utopias in physical space and the logic(s) that informed them. Rather than dealing simply with the abstract ideas behind utopian thinking, we will examine a diversity of socio-spatial formations—both as a critique of the present state of existence and as a practice rooted in a radically divergent notion of the future. It is the contention of this course that utopias, rather than being solely imaginary, are deeply historical and informed by existing social conditions. With the objective of analyzing utopias as materialized practices, we will look at different kinds of utopian communities, ranging from millenarian movements, to socialist, anarchist and countercultural experiments, to the Occupy Wall Street movement. We will also examine architectural and aesthetic utopias which, like their more explicitly movement-based counterparts, attempt to visualize and rethink space—which remains an essential utopian preoccupation. Our foray into these various utopian designs is meant to get us to interrogate the impulses undergirding these practices instead of an approach that dwells primarily on their sustainability over time. We will attempt to understand the traces that these various experiments have bequeathed us regarding activism, social transformation, and the potential for a more just world. Participants in this seminar will be encouraged to address our living relationship with utopia by asking how we might, both individually and collectively, work to create, experience, or perform utopia without ascribing a totalizing vision to it. Student projects might take the form of a close examination of specific utopian practices or be based on creative projects and/or fictional utopias frequently encountered in science-fiction novels and film. Particular activist movements—such as Black Lives Matter, LGNTQ+ activism, and feminist movements—can also be seen as ways of visualizing futures that depart from the historical present, out of which such movements emerge and in which they are embedded. As such, these, too, have a vision of the future that is at odds with the present and will provide fertile ground for conference work. Finally, while the course will not specifically address the vexed relationship between utopias and dystopia, an examination of the latter remains yet another possible line of inquiry for student projects.

Faculty

Advanced Intermediate Spanish: Political Creativity

Open, Seminar—Year

This course looks at ways in which individuals and communities across the Spanish-speaking world have gotten creative about politics and political about creativity. Students will develop analytic skills and explore social-justice issues through the literature, film, music, and visual art of Miguel Ángel Asturias, Gloria Anzaldúa, Nancy Morejón, Sara Gómez, Rebecca Lane, Yásnaya E. Aguilar Gil, Lia Garcia La Sirena, and many more. We will also learn about the politically creative actions of communities and organizations working outside the structures of the nation state; an important aspect of this course will be engaging with activist efforts in real time. Students will produce both critical and creative written work. This discussion-based course will be conducted in Spanish and is intended for students who wish to further hone their communication and comprehension skills through advanced grammar review.

Faculty

Architecture Design Studio: Heavy–Light

Open, Seminar—Fall

This studio introduces students to architectural design with a focus on supply chains, material flows, embodied energy, and lifecycles of building materials. Alternative materials, whether heavy and earthen or lightweight and ephemeral, will serve as avenues for design research. Our design investigations will operate from a basis of energy and resource scarcity by doing as much as possible with as little as possible. Rather than an approach characterized by austerity, however, we will rethink the design of the built environment from the ground up by questioning basic assumptions that undergird the carbon economy. The studio will encourage students to operate with the resourcefulness, efficiencies, flexibilities, and informal systems seen in parts of Asia, Africa, and South America as precedents for design and construction. Could these methods from the Global South allow us to reimagine the territory and lifecycles of an architectural project? In addition, we will explore design opportunities presented to us by phased construction and strategies of disassembly and reusability. Creative work will be advanced through successive assignments and design briefs that increase in scale and complexity over the semester. Prior experience with hand drafting, digital drawing, and physical and digital modeling is beneficial but not a requirement.

Faculty

Architecture Design Studio: Enclosure and Environment

Open, Seminar—Spring

This studio introduces students to architectural design, with architecture’s capacity as enclosure to produce alternate climates, biomes, and ecologies forming the major conceptual framework for studio projects. The studio will explore, through research and design speculation, the history and possible futures of the architecture of the nonhuman world. Research into histories of botany, colonialism, and resource extraction will serve as the basis for ambitious forms of design speculation for an ecologically and climatically uncertain present and future. Landscape and environmental factors will be treated as architectural fundamentals integral to the design process rather than as supplemental components or afterthoughts. Consequently, projects will be highly attuned to natural history, climate, and site specificity. Creative work will be advanced through successive assignments and design briefs that increase in scale and complexity over the semester. Prior experience with hand drafting, digital drawing, and physical and digital modeling is beneficial but not a requirement.

Faculty

Site/Situation

Open, Seminar—Spring

Like the body, a sculpture is always somewhere. Movable or fixed, permanent or ephemeral, sculptural work is indivisible from the space in which it is experienced—a space that we, too, inhabit. Over the semester, students in this course will engage in progressively complex interactions with object, space, and site. Our first site will be a sheet of paper for “conversational” works with a partner. The course will end with students engaging in independently conceived interactions with a specific site (thinking of “site,” broadly, as the place where the work “resides”). Throughout, we will look at diverse examples of “installation” from throughout art history and a range of texts that take on the relationship of artist and site. And we will make at least one trip to museums and galleries in New York City. We will also discuss the process and possibilities of documentation (through photography, video, writing, and even speaking) as a part of the life and experience of the work.

Faculty

The Matter in Material

Sophomore and Above, Seminar—Fall

“...[O]ur bodies are large collections of oscillating entities existing in an environment made largely of diverse populations of other oscillating identities,” posits the philosopher Manuel DeLanda in column #10, Matter Singing in Unison, of his “Matter Matters” series in Domus Magazine (2005). Within the scope of those oscillations, our physical surroundings and the material of our daily existence hold inherent resonance and association within and upon our memories and bodies. As artists, how can we learn to tap those often invisible vibrations that course through stuff? How can the materials that we use in our work be encouraged to speak their own realities and histories? And how do we deepen our understanding of material in order to amplify this effect or, even better, understand what is already there? This semester-long course will explore diverse strategies to mine this “invisible” information. Broad (and messy) experimentation, collaboration, readings, and creative research in the first part of the course will lead to the creation of a series of two- and three-dimensional works that use the inherent assets of material (both physical and psychological) to create new forms and meanings. Reassembling, repurposing, recombining, relocating, and deconstructing will be examined as process filters through which we can push materials to communicate their histories and properties. Regular group discussions and critiques will allow us to learn from our own experiments and those of others. Prior experience in visual art courses is helpful, though not required. Please bring examples of relevant work to the interview, and expectations of what you hope to gain from the course.

Faculty

Art and the Climate Crisis

Open, Concept—Spring

Artists throughout time have used nature as both inspiration and medium. This course will explore art about our human relationship to the environment through to the natural trajectory of art that engages with our current climate crisis. What role are artists and art institutions taking in helping raise public consciousness about issues like climate change? As cultural producers, what is the responsibility of artists to sustainability or to the environment? We will discuss the ramifications of these questions by examining some of the history of artists working in and with the environment and nature, through taking field trips to relevant art works and installations, through dialogue with practitioners in the field, and through some hands-on creative exercises in making art within these themes. Concurrently, individual research in a topic of interest will lead students to a final project where they will make/propose/analyze/curate an environmental art project of their own. No previous experience in studio arts classes is required but could be helpful.

Faculty

First-Year Studies: After Nature: On Writing the Environment

Open, FYS—Year

At the turn of the century, the philosopher Glenn Albrecht coined the term “solastalgia” to refer to the distress caused by climate change. In this yearlong FYS writing seminar and workshop, we will attempt, in a collective way, to write through our loneliness, anxiety, and melancholy with climate change. Students will submit regular, weekly, notebook-like responses about paying attention to plants, animals, weather, and place, culminating in writing through their encounters with the outside world. These responses will be catalyzed by reading ecological meditations that function, in many ways, as elegies that think through landscape, time, and our kinship with the nonhuman. The project is for our reading and writing to somehow counter, but also work through, despair with radical hope and imagination. The final conference project for each semester will be a finished piece of writing that has been critiqued in several drafts over conference, collaborative small groups, and a full-group workshop over the semester. The class will alternate biweekly individual conferences with biweekly small-group activities, including writing workshops, screenings, and field trips.

Faculty

Ecopoetry

Open, Seminar—Year

In this poetry class—a yearlong school of poetry and the living world—we will consider the great organism Gaia, of which we are a part. We will read and write poems every week. We will ask questions: When did we begin to think of nature as apart from us? Why did we begin to speak of the animals as if we are not also animals? What are the stories and myths that have determined our attitude toward what we are and what we believe? We will read some of these stories and myths (myths of creation; Eden, the lost garden). We will read the long and rich tradition of poetry addressing itself to this subject, from the early indigenous peoples through the Zen monks and Wordsworth and right up through Gary Snyder to utterly contemporary poets writing right now. We will read books and articles that teach us about the other animals and living entities that we call plants and trees and planets and galaxies. Each student will research an aspect of the living world and teach the rest of us what they have learned. And we will write poems that incorporate that knowledge. We will read books of poems but also watch films, take field trips, and meet with each other outside of class in weekly poetry dates. By the end of the class, my hope is that each of us will have a greater understanding of the great organism that we call Earth and will create a collection of poems that engage the questions that our class raises: What is time? What is death? What is Eden? Where is the garden now? Who are the other organisms? How have we, as a species, affected the other organisms? How have we affected the oceans, the Earth, the air? How can poetry address the planetary emergency? Required for this class: intellectual curiosity, empathy, and a willingness to observe the world, to pay attention, and to write poetry that matters. This is a class for experienced writers, as well as for those who want to give writing poetry a try. All are welcome.

Faculty