PPEH Announces 2019 Research and Teaching Seed Fund Recipients

March 10, 2019

The Penn Program in Environmental Humanities is delighted to introduce its second cohort of Faculty Research and Teaching Seed Fund grantees. The following projects will receive funding this year to build cross-curricular collaboration and grow opportunities for student involvement in the Environmental Humanities. Stay tuned for updates as these exciting initiatives move forward:


  • Cultural evolution, social networks, and sustainable natural resource use in Vezo fishers of SW Madagascar

Erol Akcay (Biology, School of Arts and Sciences) with Kristina Douglass (Department of Anthropology, Penn State)

Many societies around the world subsist on local natural resources using traditional knowledge. The traditional ecological knowledge and skills are transmitted along dynamic social networks that change as a result of intrinsic social dynamics and ecological feedbacks from exploited resources. We aim to study the intersection of these social, cultural, and ecological feedbacks in the context of a small-scale traditional fisher society, the Vezo people in Southwest Madagascar.

  • Workshop: Architecture and Energy Transitions: Past, Present, and Future

Daniel Barber (Architecture, PennDesign) 

Architecture of Energy Transitions is both a historical project and an agenda for the production of applied knowledge. It is focused on the role played by design in the energy transition of the built environment. Funds will be used to convene a small workshop, bringing together architects, scholars, engineers, and policy makers to look at the energy future of Philadelphia. The workshop would also anticipate phase two, by discussing the parameters for a larger exhibition of collaborative teams exploring energy transitions in cities around the world. Images and scenarios produced by this eventual exhibition would engage with the outlines of available technologies, policy mechanisms, and settlement patterns, considering them from a just-in-the-future perspective. The idea is both to produce possible tangible solutions to energy concerns at the architectural, urban, and district scale, and to encourage public discussion about energy imaginaries.

  • Re-imagining "August Wilson and Beyond"

Herman Beavers (English, School of Arts & Sciences) & Suzana Berger (English, School of Arts & Sciences)

The "August Wilson & Beyond" course is built around groundbreaking playwright August Wilson's 20th Century Cycle: ten plays that form an iconic picture of African American traumas, triumphs, and traditions through the decades. Since its inception, the course has used Wilson’s plays as the catalyst for arts-driven inquiry into place, emphasizing the ways the Penn campus and West Philadelphia are seeking to facilitate a sense of belonging. With the PPEH Seed Fund grant we will reimagine the course as a public engagement tool for multigenerational inquiry into gentrification and disruption of Black communal spaces in West Philadelphia, leading to responsible action toward environmental justice.

  • Living With Toxicity: Students Co-Creating New Public Engagement

Britt Dahlberg (History and Sociology of Science, School of Arts and Sciences and Science History Institute)

What does it mean to live with toxicity when we see the ways materials and their histories permeate our lives? Drawing on a rich environmental humanities project and oral history collection – the REACH Ambler project – and a new Spring 2019 course - this project directly links research and teaching, to allow students to not only learn about contemporary issues and methods of public engagement, but to apply these to create a new digital exhibit or public program of direct public interest.

  • Rivers Have Memory: Community Recovery of a Watershed in Times of Conflict and Transition

Kristina Lyons (Anthropology, School of Arts & Sciences)

The project will contribute to a process of reconstructing the environmental memory of the Mandur River in the context of a larger project to support the community governance, recovery, and conservation of the Mandur River watershed. This work is located in Puerto Guzmán, Putumayo in the Colombian Amazon and has been done in conjunction with the non-profit ItarKa Foundation.  We plan to implement a pilot restoration program in one community of the watershed to: 1) design curriculum to organize an intergenerational community environmental observatory; 2) engage in technical and popular mapping and the design of a community-based territorial governance strategy; 3) implement the reforestation of a delimited area of the banks of the Mandur River along with it affluent streams and wetlands; and 4) support an undergraduate research project connected to the watershed. Read a field note about this project.

  • The Body and Radiation

Rahul Mukherjee (English, School of Arts & Sciences)

In this layering of radiation data and oral testimonies, we hope to produce a living and contingent archive of the environmental milieu of Green Bank, West Virginia. By not merely using informational technologies to probe environmental milieu but also accounting for bodily sensitivities to that irradiated wireless environment, we as students and teachers of the “The Body and Radiation” class want to contribute toward a humane “informating environmentalism.”

  • Human Ecology of the Galápagos

Jennifer Pinto Martin (School of Nursing & School of Medicine) and Michael Weisberg (Philosophy, School of Arts & Sciences)

The Galápagos Education and Research Alliance is a partnership between the local community of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno and Penn Faculty that aims to address conservation issues by focusing on community science, education, and engagement. In this extension of our existing project, we will create an opportunity for Master of Public Health (MPH) students to complete community based participatory research in Galápagos, beginning with a needs assessment in order to identify the community's main health concerns.

  • Seeing the Invisible: Bringing the Microbiomes of the Schuylkill River and Cobbs Creek to the People

Byron Sherwood (Biology, School of Arts & Sciences) with Katie Barott (Biology, School of Arts & Sciences), Howard Neukrug (Earth & Environmental Science, School of Arts & Sciences), Tony Croasdale (Cobbs Creek Community Center for Environmental Education) and Rebecca Rutstein

The objective and proposed outcome of this seed grant is a student generated art exhibition of microbial communities of the Schuylkill River and Cobbs Creek presented to the water’s neighbors and general public. During the exhibit, and in subsequent neighborhood flyers and social media, a series of hands-on weekend workshops will be announced. Open to all ages, these workshops will engage any and all interested in collecting creek water samples and observing microorganisms under the microscope. The objective of the art-science exhibit and workshops is to engage the water’s neighbors and the broader pubic with current research at Penn and to increase basic awareness and appreciation of the role of microorganisms in our everyday life.

  • The Future of Food and the Human Diet at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Orkan Telhan (Fine Arts, PennDesign) Students in the FNAR264 Integrative Design Studio: Biological Design will contribute to an installation on the future of the human diet and how it will be shaped by new biotechnologies as part of a new exhibition on the Future of Design at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The installation will have different sections that will address new forms of labor in making, consuming, and storing food with respect to environmental, social and cultural challenges.


Read about the first fruits of 2018's Seed fund awards here.