Foundations of Environmental Humanities

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 (WBFP)

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.

Guatemala: Mesoamerican Food Sovereignty (GFS & ST)

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.

Leave No Trace Trainer

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.

Cultural & Ecological Resilience in Arctic Norway

Sustainable Scandinavian Systems (Global Field Study)

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.

Timber Framing Practicum

Faculty: Makaio Maher, Rick Thomas, Charlie Ryland, Tony VanWinkle

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Learn and practice the art of timber framing! This two week intensive will cover the fundamentals of designing and constructing a post and beam structure using mortise and tenon joinery.

Students in this immersive, hands-on course will join in all aspects of timber frame construction while building a traditional timber frame structure that will be used as an outdoor classroom on campus.

We will begin with introductions both to timber framing as a craft, and to your fellow students who will be working together to cut the class project frame. We will then move into an introduction to design in which students will discuss joinery, timber dimensions and general structural considerations.

The second portion of the class will be centered around hands-on work and demonstrations. The instructors will demonstrate Square Rule layout; how to efficiently use hand saws, chisels, and other tools; how to cut a mortise and a tenon; how to sharpen tools; how to lay out rafters; and more. Students will work from shop drawings to build a mid-sized frame using a combination of traditional and modern techniques for laying out timbers, cutting joinery and raising the structure.

Finally, students will be introduced to the basics of traditional half-dovetail log building techniques including hewing timbers, laying out joinery, and constructing the outdoor classroom.


Register Now for Early Bird Pricing!

Register Now!

Want some more information before you register?  Let us know!

Level:  Beginner – Intermediate. 

This class is for anyone who is interested in the building craft of timber framing. All students, no matter what skill level they bring to the class, will participate actively in the cutting and erecting of a timber frame project.  In the past our students have included professional builders who want to shift their careers into timber frame building, architects and designers, owner-builders and hobby woodworkers who want to build a modest timber frame structure for themselves, as well as potential timber frame homeowners who want an intimate education in the art of timber framing.

Prerequisites:  There are no formal prerequisites for this class.

Tuition & Fees:  Early Bird Pricing: $2250 / Pricing after July 7th: $2275 covers the cost of the class, most course materials, and daily meals from our top-ranked Sterling Kitchen. Accommodations are not included in course pricing.

Housing Availability & Fees: On-campus housing is available for an additional fee of $60/night with a private bathroom and $50/night with shared bathrooms. Please note that Sterling College offers rustic/vintage/farmhouse style accommodations that are clean and safe but not luxurious.  Availability is limited and room requests are filled on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you prefer to stay off-campus please see our accommodations page for local recommendations.

photo of local timber framer Makaio Maher

Makaio Maher: master builder and owner of Green Timber Works, brings fifteen years of experience to exquisitely craft one of a kind custom homes, and other projects. From restoring and renovating old timber frames, to creating new homes and barns, Green Timber Works will be invested every step of the way in your project from design to finish. We have experience in many facets of construction using locally harvested and milled wood from the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, including custom cabinetry and built in furniture, pavilions, decks, greenhouses, straw bale construction, renovations, and small scale excavation.



Disclaimer: Course descriptions on this webpage are for informational purposes only. Content may be updated or change as planning evolves.  Sterling College reserves the right to alter the program specifics, including details about course content, instructors, collaborations, field trips and facilities at any time without notice.

Dimensions of Ethnobotany

This course bridges ecology, food systems, cultural studies and humanities, and provides students with an investigation into the diverse relationships between humans and plants. The course will explore how different cultures have classified and understood ecological concepts, the liminal spaces between humans and plants, how social dynamics established landscape practices and cultural identities, and the use of plants in artistic pursuits. The class will explore the theories and methods associated with the academic field of ethnobotany through lectures, field trips and experiential activities. Talks and interviews with local foragers, herbalists, crafters, and restaurant owners will provide students with opportunities to investigate the role of plants in Vermont culture .

Students enrolling in this class will also participate in Forgotten Foods

The Walls Are Meant for Murals (ST)

This class will guide students in the mural creation process from concept to completion in painting groups, teams, or individually. We will briefly introduce the concept of murals in art history and do a short research project to seek inspiration! We will then scout our own spaces for potential murals around campus, and then create design proposals for our murals using input from the community, and get the necessary approval before we start throw paint on the walls. After we gather materials and troubleshoot installation logistics, and we will get painting!

Foundations of Outdoor Education: Leadership & Facilitation

The course will provide a broad introduction to leadership and facilitation skills as they apply within the context of outdoor education, as well as an overview of the history and philosophical/theoretical underpinnings of adventure programming broadly speaking, and challenge-based experiences more specifically. Students will identify and cultivate the skills necessary for working effectively with groups, including assertion and listening skills, group assessment, briefing, facilitation of reflection, tone setting, intervention, working one-on-one, and other leadership and facilitation skills. The vehicle for skill development will be facilitation of high and low challenge course activities for middle and high school age students. Students will also understand how to apply new facilitation and leadership skills in a variety of settings and will gain practice doing so through experiences built into the course as well as through structured reflection. Attention will be given to cultural contexts and applications of challenged-based programming, and to diversity and inclusivity theory and practice in challenge course settings. The course will introduce students to important thinkers and practitioners in the field and will provide exposure to a range of work opportunities in the field of outdoor education. By the end of the course students will be able to identify, use, and safely facilitate the use of a variety of high and low challenge course elements. Students will receive intensive leadership development through feedback and self-evaluation, and will increase their own confidence and competence in confronting physical and interpersonal challenges. Writing competency will be a central focus of this course through use of a portfolio which requires twice-weekly reflective writing to engage students with course materials (course readings, class sessions, and practical leadership experience) as well as two formal written assignments that will utilize a revision process and peer review.

Ecology: Concepts and Applications

This course will provide an overview of core ecological concepts and their application in studying the natural world. This course will help students understand the cycles and interconnectedness of living things and their environments, and how to study these systems. Successful completion of this course will also prepare students for further study in the environmental field.

Natural History of California (ST)

California is the most topographically, geographically, ecologically and biologically diverse place in temperate North America. This course is a field-based exploration of the flora and fauna of California and the physical factors such as climate and geologic history that shape the region. Emphasis is placed on the ecological interplay amongst desert, montane forest, alpine, grassland and coastal chaparral vegetation types and the climatic and physiographic factors that determine community distribution. Students build on foundational principles of natural history and ecology through development and practice of observation, identification, and interpretation skills and the keeping of a refined naturalist field journal. Topics include a botanical survey of plant families and representative species, introduction to major groups of animals including insects,herps, mammals and birds, plant and animal adaptations, natural community composition and structure, biogeographic concepts, geologic history, geomorphic processes and related landforms, and California weather and climate. Students gain skills in identification, classification and interpretation of organisms, field journaling, species accounts and systematic species lists, and reading the California landscape. Course format includes lectures, discussions, and a significant field component.

Global Environmental Literature (ST)

Global Environmental Literature is a cross-cultural exploration of fiction that examines the intersections of culture and ecology. Questions we will consider include: What does literature reveal about differing cultural perceptions of the relationship between culture and ecology? How does literature help challenge dominant narratives of the role of humans in relation to other species?

This course counts as one of the required two 400-level seminars. This course counts toward the writing-intensive requirement.