Environmental Studies

Related disciplines

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, the Council on International Educational Exchange, the semester in environmental science at the Marine Biological Laboratory (Woods Hole), or 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.

2015-2016 Courses

Environmental Studies

New Nature: Environmental Design in the 21st Century

Open , Seminar—Year

This course investigates emerging technologies, philosophies, and practices of environmental design and management in the early 21st century from the level of regional landscapes to the level of cells. What are the values, visions, and assumptions that animate contemporary developments in environmental design? What forms of technological know-how and knowledge production practices enable these developments? What ethical, aesthetic, or political implications might these shifts in the making of environments, organs, and organisms entail? How might we begin to make informed judgments about emerging form(s) of nature, environmental design, and humanity? The course begins with an introduction to debates on the nature of nature and machines in America in the 18th century, grounding discussion through examining changing ideas of environment, ecosystems, and equilibriums. Post-World War II ideologies of design, command, and control of the environment, including nuclear power and developments in chemistry, are examined. We then turn to debates on nature, communities, and conservation from the 1970s through the late 1990s, from the era of “the green planet” and “rain-forest conservation.” Preoccupations with biowarfare, genetic engineering, and human enhancement in the post-9/11 era are key topics. We examine contemporary developments in environmental design in several domains, including landscape architecture; cyborg technology; simulation, mediation, and virtual environments; and biotechnology/biowarfare. The work of bioartists and engineers, genetic engineers working for private industry and the government, as well as the work of environmental networks—including the Critical Art Ensemble, Rhizome, and the New Media Caucus—form part of this itinerary. Attitudes toward pollution are undergoing sea changes as landscape designers remediate toxic sites using natural processes and timescales. Industrial designers and environmental chemists are reconceptualizing the basis for resource extraction, processing, and manufacturing. On a micro level, molecular biologists and nanoengineers are creating emergent forms of tissues and organisms for purposes of medicine, as well as for waging war. On the battlefield, the nature of war is rapidly changing. Robotic armies under “human control” may be the armed forces of the future. Organisms and biochemical processes are being enlisted and drafted into military, as well as medical, service. At the same time, landscape architecture is being reconceptualized as the discipline charged with responsibility for “imagining and saving the Earth.” A marvelous diversity of efforts at innovative sustainable uses of energy, water, and industrial design will be examined through texts, websites, films, and speakers from the ES/STS Colloquium Series. Where possible, field trips within the New York City/New York State area will be arranged. In New York City, for example, community gardens, rooftop agriculture and botanical gardens, waste treatment, and innovative urban installations may be visited. What will constitute our planetary home in a world of emerging new nature(s)? What forms of energy, water, and toxic management are being imagined, designed, and implemented? How are engineers, artists, architects, and agronomists, as well as writers of science fiction and film, contributing to the formation of new nature and human relationships to the environment in the 21st century?

Faculty

Landscapes in Translation: Cartographies, Visions, and Interventions

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Year

This course investigates the multiple ways in which landscapes have been imagined, interpreted, physically shaped, and controlled in a variety of historical and contemporary sites. The first section, Cartographies, explores ideas of landscape in Euro-America, Southeast Asia, and colonial-era Africa. The literatures of critical geography and political ecology provide theory and cases illuminating connections between the position of the cartographer and presuppositions about the nature of the territory being mapped and managed. We examine how landscapes on a variety of scales, from “bioregions” to nations, are imagined, codified, and transformed through representational processes and material moves. The second section, Visions, investigates how landscapes are embodied in fine arts and literature, as well as in garden and urban design. Readings draw on examples of landscape design in colonial New England and Indonesia and on contemporary examples of landscape design in response to climate change. We also study reworkings of the urban landscape to integrate more productive, biologically diverse “fringes,” as well as rooftop farms and apiaries. The third section, Control: Emerging Security-Scapes, investigates the rise of militarized “security-scapes” or “surveillance-scapes,” dating from slavery in the United States to the Department of Homeland Security in the post-9/11 era. We analyze the visual surround and landscapes seen by remote drone “pilots” scanning Los Angeles and Somalia and surveillance of the occupied Palestinian landscapes; we draw upon websites, advertisements, and new scholarship in security studies, media studies, and social theory.

Faculty

Related Biology Courses

Animal Behavior

Open , Seminar—Fall

Monarch butterflies migrate thousands of miles each year between Mexico and Canada. How and why do they achieve this magnificent feat? Superb Lyrebirds have a stunning ability to accurately mimic a variety of natural or artificial sounds. What is the purpose of this exceptional mimicking? The Clark’s nutcracker birds travel long distances and bury tens of thousands of seeds each summer—and the next spring remember the precise location of their cache sites to retrieve the seeds. Why has this tremendous long-term memory evolved, and what is its neural basis? Elephants and chimpanzees are known to mourn their dead for weeks or months. Do animals, like humans, have thoughts, feelings, morality, and empathy? How do scientists test these ideas? In this Animal Behavior course, we will cover the major topics in the study of animal behavior by exploring its function, development, mechanism, and evolution. We will particularly focus on the influence of genes and the environment on animal behavior. Students will conduct an independent project by learning to observe animal behavior, formulate a hypothesis, and design their own experiments.

Faculty

General Biology Series: Ecology

Open , Seminar—Fall

The natural world can be beautiful and inspiring but also can be challenging to understand mechanistically. Ecology is the scientific study of how organisms interact with the environment. 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 such as nitrogen and phosphorous cycle in rivers and streams. In this course, students will develop a strong foundational understanding of the science of ecology on 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 at local parks and field stations.

Faculty

Giving, Taking, and Cheating: The Ecology of Symbiosis

Open , Seminar—Spring

From gut flora of animals to fungi living in tree roots, symbioses are important and widespread throughout the natural world. We can broadly define symbiosis as different species living together in a close association of any nature, from mutualism to parasitism. In this seminar course, we will explore how symbioses are developed, maintained, and broken down and consider the scientific challenges to understanding the function of such associations. We will read and discuss papers from the primary literature exploring a broad range of taxonomic groups, including fungus-farming ants, bioluminescent bacteria living in squid, figs and their wasp pollinators, parasitic butterflies, and sloths and the moths that live in their fur. We will place a special emphasis on mutualisms, or interactions in which both partners benefit—unless, of course, one cheats. We will also think carefully about how to design scientific experiments to understand the nature of symbioses and design and carry out class experiments on mutualisms between plants and nitrogen-fixing bacteria.

Faculty

Global Change Biology

Open , Seminar—Spring

Climate change. Biodiversity loss. Nutrient pollution. Invasive species. Global ecosystems are being altered in dramatic ways due to human activities. In order to address these challenges, we first need to understand them scientifically. This course will explore the impacts of global environmental change through the lens of the biological sciences. Should humans assist with tree migration so that slow-migrating plants can catch up to changing temperature conditions? How are invasive predators like Burmese pythons in Florida affecting mammal populations? How can the extensive use of fertilizers upstream in a large river affect biological communities downstream? How has overfishing altered marine biodiversity? How could urbanization and habitat loss alter the risk of disease spillover from wildlife to humans? We will use the scientific journal articles and other primary sources to address these kinds of questions and more in this seminar course.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Disease Ecology

Intermediate , Seminar—Fall

Interactions between hosts and pathogens have consequences not only at the individual level but also cascading up through populations, communities, and ecosystems. In this course, we will look at infectious disease through the lens of ecology. We will consider infected hosts as ecosystems, focusing on ecological interactions within hosts both between microorganisms and between pathogens and the host immune system. Further, we will investigate disease dynamics within and between populations, including the emergence of new diseases and the dynamics of vector-borne disease systems. Mathematical models of disease transmission and spread will be introduced. Finally, we will explore the larger impacts of disease on biological communities and entire ecosystems, considering topics such as the relationship between disease and biodiversity and the surprising ways in which disease can affect ecosystem structure and function. Examples will be drawn from plant, wildlife, and human disease systems.

Faculty
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Related Economics Courses

Economics of the Ecological Crisis

Open , Seminar—Year

Humanity faces perhaps its greatest-ever collective challenge as population growth and economic development degrade and change the natural environment across the planet. Scientists and economists largely agree that massive changes from business-as-usual practices and growth paths will be needed to prevent catastrophes like climate change and mass extinctions. In this course, we will seek to understand the relationship between capitalism and the environment from a variety of perspectives, including ecological, environmental, and institutional economics and theories of sustainable development and eco-socialism. The course will be divided into two broad parts. First, we will examine economic theory. Why does capitalism have a tendency to overexploit the environment? Could we imagine “taming” capitalism to make it sustainable, or is another economic system required? What would such a system look like? Economists are deeply divided over this question, and even those who advocate for system change have recently tended to acknowledge that it may not be possible given the timeframe that humanity has for adjusting its environmental course. Another major issue that we will discuss in this section is valuation. When is it appropriate for society to place a quantifiable value on environmental goods and services, and how should that be done? The second part of the course will look more carefully at individual issues such as climate change, energy policy, local air and water pollution, and common property resource management. We will also discuss potential public-policy solutions for mitigating environmental damages and introducing new technologies such as renewable energy. Throughout the year, we will utilize economic theory, case studies (making use of the Center for the Urban River, for example), and the political economy of various environmental issues in considering our ultimate question: Can humanity avoid the worst impacts of climate change and other environmental threats over the coming decades?

Faculty
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Related Geography Courses

Geographies of Inequality: Social Movements and Urban Policy

Open , Seminar—Fall

This course will explore the ways in which cities are built, used, and changed by both policy makers and popular movements. Using the New York Metropolitan Area as the primary case study, we will look at the city as a dynamic, disputed space—a place where social, political, environmental, and ideological differences are expressed in both the formal political sphere and in the politics of everyday life. This course will take us into the halls of city government, the offices of city planners, the homes and workplaces of New York residents, and the streets used by all. Throughout the course and through various lenses, we will constantly ask ourselves: How are inequalities produced and contested in an urban environment? To answer that question, we will study the city’s historical, contemporary, and future development, looking at both the hard infrastructure (such as transportation and waste management systems) that make the city work, as well as the soft infrastructure (such as planning and development policies) that shape its growth. Through various case studies—from the challenges facing Chinatown to the politics of affordable housing—we will look at the planned roots of urban inequalities, the constituencies that benefited from these policies, and the popular movements that have challenged them. We will take field trips to the city to experience the geography of inequality firsthand, taking in the landscapes as we learn about the history. In conference work, students will be encouraged to pursue one of two tracks: (1) focus on one particular expression of inequality and develop a historical analysis of how it was created, maintained, and contested; or (2) focus on one particular neighborhood and demonstrate how planning and popular movements have shaped the urban environment. As a component of conference work, students will have the opportunity to connect with local community organizations that are dealing with the subjects being studied. In addition to learning from their examples, students will be encouraged to share with these organizations the results of their research. Students are greatly encouraged to utilize the college’s new Geographic Information Systems (GIS) lab and capacities to develop maps that demonstrate their theses over time and space. Students will also be encouraged to attend the Geography Film and Lecture series in which course-related topics will be addressed.

Faculty
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Related Literature Courses

Green Romanticisms

Open , Seminar—Spring

The British Romantic movement, it has been said, produced the first “full-fledged ecological writers in the Western literary tradition.” To make this claim, however, is to provoke a host of volatile questions. What exactly did the Romantics mean by “Nature”? What were the aesthetic, scientific, and political implications of so-called Green Romanticism? Most provocatively, is modern environmental thought a continuation of Green Romanticism or a necessary reaction against it? This course considers such issues through the prism of late 18th- and early 19th-century British literature, with additional forays into contemporary art and scientific writing and other national literatures. Possible areas of discussion include the following: leveling politics, landscape design, imperialism, astronomy, medicine, the visionary imagination, “peasant poetry,” vegetarianism, the sex life of plants, breastfeeding, ballooning, deism, sublime longings, organic form, and the republic of nature—with works by, among others, Edmund Burke, William Gilpin, Dorothy and William Wordsworth, S. T. Coleridge, John Clare, Charlotte Smith, Charles Darwin, Tom Stoppard, and others.

Faculty

Related Writing Courses

Using the Arts to Create Environmental Engagement

Open , Seminar—Fall

This is a class in which students are challenged to create pieces of writing, art, theatre, or other media addressing an area of their environmental concern. The work will be required to have the potential to cause behavior change in, or action by, relevant stakeholders—the public, legislators, media, fellow students, etc. The class will include case studies across the arts in which social change has been made, as well as recent thought on how communication through the arts can best create change. The lecturer has particular experience in this realm and also access to international practitioners who have subverted media to create change. The class is open to everyone but may be of special interest to students in writing, theatre, film, visual arts, music, and journalism.

Faculty
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