Spring 2019


Oscar Aguirre Mandujano

Tuesday 1:30 - 4:30 PM

Around 8000 years ago, communities in the western part of the Eurasian steppe began to breed and ride horses. This process of domestication made horses central participants in human history. The domestication of the horse transformed military tactics, human mobility and communication, agriculture, and entertainment. Humans have transformed the horse as well, producing about 200 breeds with unique characteristics matched to human goals. This course traces the history of equine-human relations across the globe, using the horse as a focal point to think about animal-human relations in societies ranging from prehistoric Europe to the Spanish conquests of Latin America. Our inquiry will address not only the place of horses in these particular phases of world history, but also by extension the debates about human-animal relations in our society today. The Major or Minor geographic requirement fulfilled by this course will be determined by an individual student’s research paper topic.

Spring 2019

GSWS 492

Jacqueline N. Sadashige

Thursday 7:00 - 9:00 PM, online

In early 2017, animal rights lawyer Steve Wise argued that two of his clients should be afforded the rights of "personhood." The clients in question were chimpanzees. This case suggests that "speciesism" might soon be met with the same degree of suspicion as sexism and racism. This course will explore how such a shift could come about and what it might signal. We will begin by examining the western foundations of binaries such as human-animal and male-female and how such categories have manifested in culture. From here we will explore recent ecofeminist and post-humanist attempts to dismantle these constructs. Finally, we will investigate how our beliefs about who "we" are and what "we" are not can affect everything from the foods we eat to how we vacation. NOTE: a component of this course will involve on cross-cultural analysis with focus on case studies of ecotourism and wildlife management outside the US.

Spring 2019

GRMN 150

Simon Richter

Tuesday/Thursday 1:30 - 3:00 PM

As a result of climate change, the world that will take shape in the course of this century will be decidedly more inundated with water than we're accustomed to. The polar ice caps are melting, glaciers are retreating, ocean levels are rising, polar bear habitat is disappearing, countries are jockeying for control over a new Arctic passage, while low-lying cities and small island nations are confronting the possibility of their own demise. Catastrophic flooding events are increasing in frequency, as are extreme droughts. Hurricane-related storm surges, tsunamis, and raging rivers have devastated regions on a local and global scale. In this course, we will turn to the narratives and images that the human imagination has produced in response to the experience of overwhelming watery invasion, from Noah to New Orleans and beyond. Objects of analysis include mythology, ancient and early modern diluvialism, literature, art, film, and commemorative practice in countries and regions such as the United States, China, India, Thailand, the Middle East, the Netherlands, and Peru. The basic question we'll be asking is: What can we learn from the humanities that will be helpful for confronting the problems and challenges caused by climate change and sea level rise?

Spring 2019

PHIL 079-301

Derek Skillings

Monday/Wednesday 3:30 - 5:00 PM

In this course we will investigate some of the ethical issues that arise from our relationship with the environment. Topics may include : What are our responsibilities toward the environment, as individuals and as members of institutions? How do our responsibilities toward the environment relate to other ethical considerations? Do non-human animals/species/ecosystems have intrinsic value? What should conservationists conserve?

Spring 2019

GRMN 544-01/COML 562-401/URBS 544-401/ANTH 543-401

Bethany Wiggin

Wednesday 2:00-5:00 PM

Work in environmental humanities by necessity spans academic disciplines. By design, it can also address and engage publics beyond traditional academic settings. This seminar explores best practices in public environmental humanities. Students receive close mentoring to develop and execute cross-disciplinary, public engagement projects on the environment, including PPEH’s ongoing public engagement projects on urban waters and environmental data.  Training and workshops cover topics including: grant writing, project management and best practices for collaborative research, writing and editing for blogs and micro-blogs, podcasting, sonic and visual research practices. We take field trips and host guests, including PPEH's visiting writers and artists, and we will participate in two workshops led by our 2019 Artist in Residence, Roderick Coover.  Course assignments include 2 short-form essays (course blog posts) about your PPEH Research project, participation in all PPEH public programming, and, for Graduate Fellows, six-week editorship of the PPEH blog. This broadly interdisciplinary course is open only to Graduate and Undergraduate Fellows in the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities (PPEH). 

Spring 2019

ENGL 200-304

Zach Fruit

Monday/Wednesday 2:00 - 3:30 PM

Does the way we describe the physical world have the ability to change it? How do history and politics interact with the experience of place? Do concepts like race and gender change when we think of them in terms of space? In this class, we will consider these questions through a survey of texts by nineteenth-century British authors. We will develop ways of thinking about the concept of “environment” in an era that witnessed massive changes in the infrastructure of urban centers, new forms of travel and communication, and the height of British empire.

This course will explore a wide range of nineteenth-century texts with a focus on "environment" as a phenomenon that is deeply entangled with realism and modernism. We will read fiction by Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James, and Joseph Conrad as well as poetry by William Wordsworth and Christina Rossetti and works by Dorothy Wordsworth, John Ruskin, and Charles Darwin. We will also be reading contemporary postcolonial, queer, and feminist theory as we attempt to develop a working definition of "environment." The syllabus will include a short walk as an opportunity to focus our discussion of sensation and perception.

This Junior Research Seminar is designed to introduce students to a variety of critical research skills and academic writing methods. In addition to a final research paper, assignments will include a short annotated bibliography, experiments in visual analysis, and creative writing exercises.

Victorian Environments Course Flyer

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