Applications of Environmental Philosophy is a senior-level collaborative seminar built on a foundation of philosophical inquiry and devoted largely to exploring real-world creative applications of philosophy’s sometimes ethereal concepts.. This course draws on these threads of contemporary century environmental thinking to propose a new approach to engaging in environmental discourse through a performative, affective eco-practice.
Students in Applications will build a foundational understanding of Affect Theory, Performativity, Phenomenology, and Embodiment in order to critique a diversity of both student and faculty-derived case studies. The basis for this exploration is to give students the space, tools, and inspiration to build creative ArtScience-based solutions to human/ecological challenges by drawing on resources from a wide array of sources.
Applications is divided into three distinct phases. First, in 3-weeks of lecture/discussion, the class provides framing necessary to scaffold group and independent engagements. Second, in 3-weeks of collaboratively designed case studies, the class will look at examples of material ArtScience and transdisciplinary makers. This section will include at least one extended field trip (to the MIT MediaLab). Third, the final 4 weeks will be devoted to group and independent projects that address key issues raised throughout the first 6 weeks of the course. We will also have the opportunity to propose a collaborative article to the Leonardo Journal through its Pioneers and Pathbreakers / Narratives in Dark Culture project.
This advanced studio woodworking course provides students the opportunity to research, design and build a project of their own choosing. Projects must include design and technical elements that build upon and challenge their existing woodworking knowledge, and provide opportunity to engage with new operations and techniques. Students will be responsible for submitting a project proposal complete with technical drawings covering all major elements of design and construction, a procedural outline for completing the project, and a list of questions and techniques that will challenge them throughout the build. Once proposals have been submitted, we will work together to develop a procedure that will safely and efficiently take them from the lumber yard to a finished project. As students work through new techniques and methods of work within their project, each will be asked to choose a problem of particular interest, research and develop a repeatable technique, and present their findings to the class in a short teaching demonstration. The class will culminate in a final critique in which students will present their completed project to the class and engage in a dialogue about the successes, failures, and challenges of both the process and the piece.
Through this course the students will acquire a deep understanding and appreciation for the myriad of interactions between plants and microbes in a variety of habitats, with a focus on the soil environment. Students will be introduced to how plants and microbes respond and adapt to their environment, both immediately and in the long-term with an emphasis on stress response. The role of soils as a way to create resilience and minimize stress in ecosystems will also be explored. This class will provide students with hands-on field and laboratory techniques for use in the study of soils, microbial life and plant health. Students will engage in writing their own research proposal using primary literature to explore novel ideas.
This course gives students an introduction to the biology and chemistry needed to understand how complex interactions between soil, plants and microbes build the foundation for terrestrial life. The classes focuses primarily on the evolutionary connection between plants and microbes through their diversity in metabolism, the structure and function of cells and tissue, and the transmission of genetic information. The topics are taught through the lense of the soil habitat interactions with a focus on photosynthesis, water and nutrient uptake and symbiotic relationships such as bacterial nitrogen fixation and mycorrhizal relationships. The lab component emphasizes the use of the scientific method, experimental design, reading and writing of scientific literature, lab safety and use of basic scientific equipment.
While credit for the origins of agriculture is commonly associated with the Fertile Crescent, the scale of coincident agricultural achievement in the Americas is truly astounding. Many cuisines around the world, now taken largely for granted, would not exist were it not for the agro-biodiversity of Native American domesticates cultivated before European contact. Maize, domesticated in central Mexico some 8,000 years ago, is the world’s most widely cultivated crop, and central to the diets of people around the world. Imagine Ireland without potatoes, southern Italian food without tomatoes, or the spicy cuisines of Korea, Thailand, or Vietnam without chile peppers. All of these crops were first domesticated in the Americas, and traveled around the world in a process of diffusion known as the Columbian Exchange. Just as Native American plant foods revolutionized food and cooking the world over, in seeking alternatives to the industrial food production system, scholars and activists are looking to Native American farming traditions for answers. While these same traditions are increasingly threatened, movements to decolonize the food system are underway. This class will explore the range of food and farming traditions of the Americas, from prehistory to the present, and examine the implications for contemporary concerns about public and environmental health, food sovereignty and security.
This course examines ecological foundations of agricultural management principles and practice, in order to foster an understanding of the management and design of agroecosystems. Using a whole-system, multi-disciplinary, and practical approach, students will explore Sterling’s agricultural systems, gaining insight into management and design principles that improve efficiency, diversity, self-sufficiency, self-regulation, and resilience (Magdoff, 2007). Students will gain a broad overview of agroecological history and theory that informs practical application on the Sterling farm. We will focus on specific ecological concepts applied to agricultural systems, such as: disturbance; microclimate development & use; ecotones; the impacts of herbivory, animal, and human impact on succession; use of biomimicry and synergisms in design; carbon, water, and nutrient cycling; biological organisms, cycles, and impacts; and biodiversity at multiple scales.
This course will serve as the foundation for students interested in woodworking at Sterling College by providing a structured, comprehensive introduction to basic woodworking processes and techniques. Students will learn proper care and use of the tools and equipment in Sterling’s woodshop, practice the steps involved in independent project design and proposal, and explore the history and context surrounding making in the modern world.
What is a text? How do texts create meaning? How do texts interrelate with the natural world? Foundations of Environmental Humanities considers a wide range of cultural texts–from poetry to podcast, from basket to ballad, from fiction to film, from comics to craft–to explore how cultural production both grows from and contributes to specific landscapes. Focusing on the theme of movements and migrations, we will investigate how cultural movement has led to cultural adaptations and created new relationships to places. Throughout this course, students will be introduced to the fundamental tools and skills of Environmental Humanities as a field in order to understand the roles that Humanities can play in environmental stewardship.
Homecoming I: Good Work Is Membership
Homecoming I: Good Work Is Membership is a two-week intensive, field-based course of the Wendell Berry Farming Program of Sterling College (WBFP). It introduces students to the WBFP, The Berry Center (TBC), and its home place, Henry County, Kentucky. Students gain insight into the natural and cultural history of the area by exploring how good work leads to membership in place, or as Wendell Berry puts it, how “people are joined to the land by work” (“People, Land, and Community” 189).
Students practice good work through hands-on training with draft animals and naturalists in fields, forests, and watersheds in north-central Kentucky. In so doing—and by studying key texts by Berry and his friends, family, and colleagues—they learn about the history of draft, human, and ecological labor with the land. By examining entwined human and ecological histories of woods, pastures, and waterways, they will understand, as Berry has written, that the “health and fertility of each involves and is involved in the health and fertility of all” (191). By re-schooling a team of long-idle workhorses, students will literally learn how to revitalize good work practices for healthy rural communities. Ultimately, this course demonstrates how a draft-powered farm model requires particular patterns of diversity and scale. This model invigorates ecosystems-based agrarianism as well as localized economies and communal social networks.
The class also introduces students to The Berry Center’s efforts to make this vision of good work possible through its initiatives: the Archive, Home Place Meats co-operative, and the Agrarian Culture Center. As with the overarching WBFP curriculum, the course merges multiple disciplines through the lens of ecology: rural leadership, arts and humanities, economics, and natural and applied sciences. This ecology-centered approach applies nature’s measure as the standard for work across the disciplinary spectrum, just as it blurs disciplinary boundaries.
In a display of remarkable grassroots mobilization and solidarity, in the fall of 2014 a coalition of protesters composed largely of indigenous peoples and smallholder farmers (campesinos) assembled in Guatemala City to demand the Guatemalan legislature’s repeal of Decree 19, the so-called “Monsanto Law.” The law would have created an opening for the corporate privatization of Guatemala’s seed market. Located in the midst of a multi-country region recognized as one of the world’s centers-of-origin for crop domestication and agro-biodiversity, Guatemala’s indigenous and rural populations recognized this latest attempt at enclosure as a serious threat to community seed and food sovereignty. Indeed, as this event clearly demonstrates, food sovereignty continues to serve as a central touchstone for movements for cultural survival and cultural equity in a country with one of the oldest continuous agricultural systems in the world, and yet simultaneously racked by a history of inequality.
In this global field studies course, we will study prehistoric, historic, and contemporary contexts of food traditions, agricultural systems, and food sovereignty efforts in the western highlands of Guatemala. The itinerary for the two-week field course includes one week in and around the city of Quetzaltenango (aka Xela) and one week divided between several sites on the shores of Lake Atitlan.
Content includes an overview of the history of the Leave No Trace organization, basic teaching techniques, presentation skills, and an introduction to the seven guiding principles: Plan ahead and prepare, Travel and camp on durable surfaces, Dispose of waste properly, Leave what you find, Minimize campfire impacts, Respect wildlife, Be considerate of other visitors.
This course takes students as far north as 69.6º north latitude in Arctic
Norway as we look at cultural traditions and contemporary lives of Sámi, herding
traditions, agriculture, and efforts to balance tourism, recreation, and
environmental impact in the region. From basecamps near Tromsø and Narvik,
Norway, we will meet with researchers and local experts to help us understand
the roles of ecological research, sustainable energy production in the face of climate change, and of food production this northernmost part of Europe.
Planned highlights of the course include: Trail building with the Norwegian Tourist Association (DNT), which manages most hiking trails and 500 huts throughout Norway; following Sámi reindeer production from herd to table; participating in the annual cloudberry foraging harvest; exploring traditional and contemporary Norwegian and Sámi cultural traditions; and looking at the role glaciers play in climate change, energy production, and biodiversity.