This course will cover contemporary American novels (post-2001) that speak to current environmental crises, such as climate change and widespread toxicity. How do environments emerge as narrative subjects, and how can a novel become a channel for ecological thought? Focusing mostly on realist fiction, we will examine the relation between environmental experience and literary representation of environments. Our primary texts will address hurricanes, plastic waste, industrial dumping, weapons testing, greenhouse gas emissions, the human cost of environmental mismanagement, and other urgent issues. We will also read theoretical writing on ecology by scholars in the humanities. Among our central questions: how is scientific knowledge of today’s environmental crises reshaping the study of literature, and what can literary critics contribute to the climate conversation? Primary texts may include fiction by Don DeLillo, Colson Whitehead, Ruth Ozeki, Ben Lerner, A.S. Byatt, Thomas Pynchon, Jesmyn Ward, Cormac McCarthy, and David Foster Wallace. The Junior Research Seminar introduces students to a range of research methods within the discipline of literary studies. Short research and writing exercises throughout the semester will enable a final scholarly essay of 15 pages.
ANTH 581/ RELS 581
We are living in a moment of Environmental crisis as the oceans rise and carbon emissions warm the planet. And yet more than half the US population believes climate change will not harm them personally and 30% feel they cannot trust science. As the standoff at Standing Rock and the #NoDapl movement made clear, Native Americans' spirituality is playing a central role in galvanizing the public and providing alternative narratives to capitalist consumption. Students will work on ongoing projects to build partnerships between Penn and two Native American communities-- Sitting Bull College on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in South Dakota and a UNESCO World Heritage Site nomination submitted by Ojibwe First Nations in Canada to preserve 24,000 sq. kms. of boreal forest through the use of Traditional Ecological Knowledge. This class will learn to build multi-media exhibits using Scalar, Omeka, Google Earth, and StoryMap. No previous experience is necessary. Students will learn about choosing a platform, creating dynamic narratives that incorporate videos and interactive features, and learning about grant writing in order to sustain digital projects and benefit Indigenous communities. Although the emphasis will be on practical applications or praxis, the course will also engage with new theories from the fields of Digital Humanities and Environmental Humanities as a basis for building new exhibits.
ANTH 440-401 P
Interactions between humans and the living landscape around us have played - and continue to play - a fundamental role in shaping our worldview. This course is designed to introduce students to the diverse ways in which humans interact with plants. We will focus on the integration of ethnographic information and archaeological case studies in order to understand the range of interactions between humans and plants, as well as how plants and people have profoundly changed one another. Topics will include the origins of agriculture; cooking and plant processing; human health and the world of ethnomedicine; and poisonous and psychoactive plants. We will examine ancient plant material firsthand at the Center for the Analysis of Archaeological Materials (CAAM) and will handle botanical ecofacts from the Penn Museum's collections. Students will also carry out a substantial research project focused on an archaeological culture and plant species of their own interest.
Natural disasters occupy a powerful place in our imagination. Stories of floods, plagues, earthquakes and storms excite and horrify us and communities mobilize their resources quickly in response to these events. In the ancient Mediterranean world, natural disasters could take on potent meaning, indicating the anger or disfavor of the gods, acting as warnings against certain courses of action, or confirmations of individuals' fears or suspicions about the world in which they lived. In this course, we explore the evidence for some disasters in the ancient Mediterranean world, the ways in which contemporaries reacted to those disasters and interpreted their causes. This project is, of necessity, multidisciplinary, involving textual, archaeological, geological, and comparative materials and drawing on methodologies from history, political and archaeological science, and the emerging field of disaster studies. In the process, we will gain an appreciation of the social structures of communities in the period, the thought-world in which they operated, and the challenges and opportunities that attend a project of this sort. No prior knowledge of Ancient History is required, although it would be useful to have taken an introductory survey course. Texts will be discussed in translation.
In this course, we will explore the molecular revolution in biological anthropology. In particular, we will examine how molecular data can be used to illuminate anthropological question concerning human origins, evolution and biological variation. Some of the specific topics to be covered in this course are the phylogenetic relationships among primates, kinship in apes and monkeys, the hominoid trichotomy, modern human origins and migrations, Neanderthal and Denisovan admixture with modern humans, biogenetics of skin color, and physiological, phenotypic and disease adaptations.
What are the limits of nature? When do natural systems become human or socio-natural systems? In this course, we examine the human construction of nature both conceptually, through ideas about environment, ecosystem, organism, and ecology; and materially, through trajectories of direct action in and on the landscape. Beginning with a consideration of foundational concepts in human ecology, we will discuss current problems and approaches, centering on political ecology. Readings and case studies are drawn from human-environmental contexts in Oceania, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, Europe, and North America. We will also consider topics including a) the relationship between indigenous and technocratic knowledge and resource governance, b) environmental movements themselves as objects of ethnographic study; c) justice and sustainability as environmental goals; d) inequality, displacement and violence as environmental problems; and e) fair trade and food security or sovereignty.
This course is an introductory survey of the environmental humanities and social sciences. It draws on scholarship and methods in environmental history, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, and literary studies to address the causes, contexts, and consequences of domestication, urbanization, industrialization, pollution, extinction, climate change, and other subjects--all of which are simultaneously the product of long, complex histories and areas of recent, dramatic, and sometimes even catastrophic change. Readings in historical sources are combined with present-day case studies, including some focused on the Philadelphia region.
The idea of solving problems by collecting as much data as possible about them is an old dream that has recently been revitalized with the help of new technologies and new ways of organizing knowledge production. This course examines the hunger for data from a historical and social perspective, seeking to understand when, why, and how the collection of vast amounts of data has come to seem valuable and desirable, sometimes in ways that exceed any reasonable expectation of utility or feasibility. Topics include state surveillance, online tracking, the quantified self, citizen science, civic hacking, human genomics, bioinformatics, and climate modeling.
ENGL 016.302 (Freshman seminar)
Whether you call it climatological science-fiction or #clifi, speculative fiction about anthropogenic climate change is becoming an important site for thinking, feeling, and warning about earth’s changing environments. In this class we’ll study a cluster of recent cli-fi novels that project a variety of climate scenarios—apocalyptic, utopian, and everything in between—into the future. We’ll also look at earlier fictions that explore humanity’s entanglement with non-human beings and environments, as well as at fictions that connect climate change in the present with scarce-resources, conflict, displacement, and environmental racism. Supplementary readings in the environmental humanities will introduce terms and concepts such as the Anthropocene, deep time, the great acceleration, the nonhuman turn, and climate justice.