Spring 2019

STSC 381-401

Britt Dahlberg

Wednesday 2:00-5:00 PM

We live amidst a constant stream of messages, practices, and regulations about things, behaviors, or relationships deemed “toxic.” Within environmental health in particular, all sorts of actors grapple with complex decisions about what it means to live with materials and anticipate the ways they can interact with human health and the environment – at present through the distant future.  What exactly do we mean when we categorize some substances as toxic, and by extension others as safe? Are there other ways of managing uncertainty or conceptualizing harm? How are these concepts built into broader social structures, economics, and regulations? What other work are they used to do? In this course, we will explore major social science approaches to toxicity and apply these theories to our own analysis of examples from the contemporary United States, and in particular, to a robust oral history collection with residents, developers, and government scientists grappling with these questions just outside of Philadelphia.

This course grows out of scholarship in the history and anthropology of environmental risk, and health, as well as direct ethnographic, historical, and oral history research at a site outside of Philadelphia grappling with the meaning of materials that remain on site after past industrial manufacturing. In this course, students will gain an introduction to oral history and analysis of in-depth interviews, and introduction to key approaches in theorizing toxicity. By connecting life experiences of residents, government scientists and others, at an actual site, with the literatures we read in class, students will think critically about the ways the literatures we engage do and do not fully encompass the experiences and concerns that are intertwined with toxicity for actual people grappling with making sense of uncertain harms amidst urban planning.




This course is based on ethnographic and oral history research in Ambler, Pennsylvania, that is the basis of environmental humanities work, and introduces students to methods of public scholarship. The oral histories resulted in a play performance in Ambler. Photo by Conrad Erb
This course is based on ethnographic and oral history research in Ambler, Pennsylvania, that is the basis of environmental humanities work, and introduces students to methods of public scholarship. The oral histories resulted in a play performance in Ambler. Photo by Conrad Erb


Spring 2019

STSC 207-301

Lawrence Kessler

Tuesday/Thursday 12:00 - 1:30 PM

This course examines how agricultural science has shaped the modern world. It focuses on the lands touching the Pacific Ocean during the industrial era--from the late eighteenth century to the late twentieth century--to highlight how scientific knowledge of the natural world and regimes of agricultural production interacted to change spatial relations of power between distant places. We will explore the history of botany, chemistry, and entomology in the context of European and Euro-American exploration incursions into the Pacific. We will also explore the history of once-exotic but now commonplace things that sustain our existence, from sugar, rice, and palm oil to guano. In short, this course examines how ideas about nature, methods of converting nature into commodities, and nature itself all influence each other. Students will work throughout the semester to gain knowledge about the intersection of agriculture, science, and empire in the Pacific, while also developing and strengthening their ability to conduct historical research and produce original arguments.

Spring 2019

BIOL 464

Byron Sherwood

Friday 11:00 AM - 4:00 PM

This is a field and laboratory-based course that involves students in hands-on research methods in aquatic microbial ecology. Students will gain familiarity with experimental design, field measurements of environmental parameters (physical, chemical, and biological), sample collection techniques, and laboratory analyses required to assess the activity, health, and community composition of aquatic microbial ecosystems in an urban environment. We will compare and contrast various watersheds in and around the greater Philadelphia area, and students will design and conduct original independent research as a final course project.

Course theme for Spring 2019: Impact of freshwater mussels on microbial community composition and activity in the Schuylkill river. We will focus most of our field sampling and research projects on investigating the effects of the planned reintroduction of fresh water mussels to the Schuylkill river, on the surrounding microbial community composition. The goal of the course is to provide students with an opportunity to put the fundamentals of aquatic microbial ecology theory and techniques into practice by applying the group's effort toward real-world challenges in our community. The focus of this course stems from a $7.9 million PA state grant to reintroduce freshwater mussels to the Schuylkill river with the intended benefit of improving water quality. Data collected from this course will directly inform both scientists and a variety of other stakeholders vested in protecting Philadelphia’s drinking water and preserving and restoring the greater Delaware estuary ecosystem. Within this scientific framework, there may also be an opportunity (paid) for one to two enrolled students to develop an additional project that uses the arts to creatively communicate our findings to the public through a collaboration with the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities and the Schuylkill River & Urban Waters Research Corps. All interested students are encouraged to contact the instructor prior to the start of Spring semester (byrons@sas.upenn.edu).

Additional information: 

Field trips: approximately 10
Laboratories: approximately 4
Tentative field sites/trips:  The freshwater mussel hatchery at Fairmont Water Works • Cobbs Creek & Cobbs Creek Community Environmental Education Center • Bartram’s Garden • The Penn BioPond at James G. Kaskey Memorial Park • Stroud Water Research Center & White Clay Creek • Schuylkill River (multiple locations) • Delaware Bay

Spring 2019

URBS-334 / ANTH-344 / CIMS-344

Tuesday/Thursday, 10:30 - 11:50 AM

What can video art, experimental documentary, and sensory ethnography teach us about the practice of urban research? This course combines seminar readings on topics such as urban political ecology, gender and public space, and the architectures of racial division with regular screenings on related themes. Throughout the semester, we will survey a range of film and video works about urban phenomena including the production of space, human-environment interaction, and the politics of infrastructure. Taken as a genre, these time-based works provide a powerful model for training scholars’ observational skills, conceptualizing scales of analysis, and engaging broader publics in urban research. We will also complete a series of workshops on photo, video, audio, and postproduction skills so that students may develop and situate their own experimental documentary research projects in dialogue with urban studies scholarship. Suitable for all levels of filmmaking experience. Graduate students welcome.

Documentary Experiments course poster


Spring 2019


Mark Lycett

Kathleen Morrison

Tuesday/Thursday, 1:30 - 3:00 PM

This seminar explores the historical ecology of European colonial expansion in a comparative framework, concentrating on the production of “periphery” and the transformation of incorporated societies and environments. In the first half of the semester, we will consider the theoretical frameworks, sources of evidence, and analytical strategies employed by researchers to address the conjunction of environmental and human history in colonial contexts. During the second half of the course, we will explore the uses of these varied approaches and lines of evidence in relation to specific cases and trajectories of transformation since the sixteenth century.


Spring 2019

History 670-302

Marcy Norton

Wednesday 3:30 - 6:30 PM

This course is designed to explore the way that scholars in the humanities and social sciences grapple with non-human actors and agency when writing about history. We will explore different kinds of methods and theoretical orientations, beginning with the Annales school and proceeding to the overlapping and yet distinct lineages related to U.S. and global environmental history, science and technology studies (STS), new materialism (and its critics), Amazonian ontological studies, critical animal studies, haptic studies and ecocriticism. In the last third of the class, we will proceed in a “case study” fashion and look at concepts and entities such as the Anthropocene, climate, water, forests, and non-human animals. Authors likely to appear on syllabus include Fernand Braudel, Alfred Crosby, William Cronon, Virginia Anderson, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Bruno Latour, Cora Diamond, Vicky Hearne, Donna Haraway, Anna Tsing, Philippe Descola, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo Kohn, Jane Bennett, Graham Harman, Timothy Morton, and Richard Powers. Students planning (or considering) taking this course are encouraged to get in touch with me (marcy.norton@upenn.sas.edu) beforehand to let me know their particular interests as this will help me decide on final reading selections for syllabus.


Spring 2019


Daniel Barber

Wednesday 9:00 - 11:50 AM

Climate change is upon us. This course discusses the history of thinking about climate in architecture. We confront the geographic and epistemic challenges of climate change and other environmental threats, and reimagine the forces seen to condition the development of modern architecture. This course will explore the history of buildings as mechanisms of climate management, and the theoretical and conceptual frameworks that pertain.

As many of the arguments and innovations in the climate discourse were made through visual means, the images produced by architects and others interested in understanding the relationship between “man” and “climate” will be a central arena of exploration. We will treat these images as evidence of material innovations in energy efficient architectural design technologies and also as evidence of new ways of thinking about ecological, political, cultural, and economic concerns.

These narratives, images, and methods – and the broader understanding of environmental systems that emerged since the immediate post-war period – also suggest a complex relationship to the present. Rather than examine instrumental aspects of these methods and their histories, we will explore different historiographic and conceptual means for the archival analysis of climate, technology, and architecture. Recent texts concerned with theories of historical change, of new ideas about the human, and with the cultural anxieties associated with the Anthropocene will be read closely to this end.

Students will be expected to participate in class discussions, make a seminar presentation, and develop a semester-long research project.

Spring 2019


Kristina Lyons

Wednesday 3:30-6:30 PM

Occupy protestors in the U.S. argued that “Nature is the 99%”; the U.S.-Colombia War on Drugs combats la mata que mata [the plant that kills]; anti-mining protestors block extraction on the basis that mountains have the right to live; New Zealand legislation grants a river “legal personality.”

“That’s the stuff of politics” is a commonly heard phrase that often denotes nothing more than the shady dealings between elected officials, overheated rhetoric, party affiliations, and the negotiations of power between human actors that we may imagine constitutes political life in representational liberal democracies. However, this course follows the proposal to take the “stuff” of politics seriously (Braun and Whatmore 2010) – not as a shorthand phrase for political activity, but to consider instead the constitutive nature of material elements and nonhuman processes and beings in social and political life.  In other words, the way that things of every imaginable kind – what we may be accustomed to thinking of as objects, matter, nature, technology, and bodies – help constitute the dense fabric of relations comprising the worlds in which we live. This course asks: What happens to environmental politics – indeed to the political as a category – if we begin to take this matter seriously? How do notions like political ecology and political economy change when we consider nonhumans as constitutive of how we come to define and practice the political itself? What happens to our understandings of the ‘human’, and diverse struggles over rights, racism, and social justice if we question a modern divide between ‘nature’ and ‘culture’?

Spring 2019


Kristina Lyons

Tuesday 1:30-4:30 PM

This course takes inspiration from conversations and practices occurring at the interfaces of cultural anthropology, the environmental humanities, and feminist science studies.  Anthropologist Stuart McLean (2017) has asked: “What might become of anthropology if it were to suspend its sometime claims to be a social science? What if it were to turn instead to exploring its affinities with art and literature as a mode of engaged creative practice carried forward in a world heterogeneously composed of humans and other than humans?” At the same time, the emergence of the environmental humanities as an academic discipline in the twenty-first century reflects the growing conviction on the part of diverse sectors that “environmental” problems cannot be solved by science and technology alone. Instead, cultivation of experimental methods and alliance building between the arts and social and natural sciences has become ever more important strategy in terms of fomenting public engaged scholarship. In this course, we will not necessarily suspend the social scientific claims of anthropology, and ethnography more specifically, but we will push our methodological premises and conceptual work to experiment with our objects of study, matters of concern, and the diverse materialities that emerge from and participate in our ethnographic work.   

Spring 2019

LARP 780-003

Nicholas Pevzner

Tuesday 10:00 AM - 1:00 PM

What will it take to address climate change? Increasingly, it looks like it will take both a complete overhaul of energy infrastructure, and also a massive amount of carbon sequestration. How will carbon sequestration be depolyed, by whom, and what could it look like? How might future landscapes of carbon sequestration mirror previous patterns of energy extraction, or forge alternative pathways?

Landscapes of energy extraction and carbon sequestration may be located far from one another, yet they are closely connected through the dynamics of the carbon economy, the legacy patterns of territorial power and control, and of the cultural narratives that we tell. This seminar delves into energy infrastructure and its deeply-held cultural narratives, and analyzes some promising carbon sequestration practices and their cultural landscapes. Extraction and sequestration are two sides of an expanded concern with the resource territories required to power the industrialized world, and to deal with its byproducts.

The fist part of the class will look at how the large-scale infrastructure projects built to enable that extraction have long acted as powerful organizers of territory: how energy infrastructure projects have historically been used to project power, extract value, and reshape patterns of labor and settlement — whether it’s the canals that were built to support coal extraction in Pennsylvania, the geography of oil pipelines and oil ports, or emerging kinds of renewable energy that continue to carry old legacy patterns of power.

The second half — landscapes of sequestration — will survey a range of landscape strategies with the potential to “draw down” the atmospheric carbon pool — from new technological approaches, to new kinds of agriculture and forestry management, to coastal mangrove restoration and the farming of coastal “blue carbon.” We will investigate the ecological principles behind these strategies, and critically analyze the spatial and cultural effects that these practices can have.
From carbon markets to carbon capture, these practices are not neutral: this seminar will dig into the contested narratives of how carbon should be managed, and critically interrogates the spatial choices that will underpin the energy system of the future.

Landscapes of Extraction Course


Spring 2019