Environmental Studies Development Project

Steering Committee: Stuart Belli (Chemistry), Randolph Cornelius (Psychology), Andrew Davison (Political Science), Rebecca Edwards (History), Harvey K. Flad (Geography), Leathem Mehaffey III (Biology), Seungsook Moon (Sociology), H. Daniel Peck (English), Anne Pike-Tay (Anthropology), Jill Schneiderman (Geology), Christopher Smart (Chemistry), Peter G. Stillman (Political Science), Jeffrey R. Walker (Geology).

The four-year Environmental Studies Development Project (1996-2000) is designed to encourage the inclusion of environmental considerations in studies at Vassar and to develop multidisciplinary approaches to these studies. Environmental studies, as defined by the project, addresses the relationships between people and the environment as broadly conceived, encompassing all aspects of the settings - natural, built, or social - in which people exist. It involves the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities.

The project concerns itself with the description and analysis of environmental systems; with interspecies and species-environment relationships and the institutions, policies, and laws which affect those relationships; with aesthetic portrayals of the environment and how these affect human perceptions and behavior towards it; and with ethical issues raised by human presence in the environment.

The courses listed here were developed by the project, some in cooperation with a co-sponsoring department or program, or are regular offerings, particularly relevant to the Project's intellectual concerns, of other departments and programs.

Course Offerings

105a. Earth, Environment, and Humanity (1)

(Same as Geology 105a) An introductory level Earth and environmental science course covering basic physical processes of the Earth including plate tectonics, atmospheric and oceanic circulation, and biogeochemical cycles; geologic hazards such as earthquakes, floods, and volcanic eruptions; human impacts on the environment including ozone depletion and acid rain; and sustainability. Ms. Menking.

Three 50-minute periods; one 3-hour laboratory. Several laboratory sessions are devoted to off-campus field trips.

130a. Geology and Society (1)

(Same as Geology 130a) Study of the ways that geological processes have shaped society as expressed in literature, scientific works, art, music, film, and other media. Topics change regularly. Mr. Walker.

Topic for 1999/00: Landscape & History in the Mid-Hudson Valley. Geology controls the landscape, and landscape has a profound influence on history. Through readings drawn from history, literature, science, and contemporary observers, supplemented by writing, discussions, and field trips, this course explores the relationships between geology, landscape, and cultural history in the mid-Hudson Valley region. Topics to be explored include: changing patterns of settlement; changing vegetation patterns in response to climate change; land use and resource exploitation; and current environmental issues such as power generation and disposal of municipal and toxic wastes.

One 2-hour discussion period.

150b. Earth System Science and Environmental Justice (1)

(Same as Geology 150b) Exploration of the roles that race, gender, and class play in contemporary environmental issues and the geology that underlies them. Examination of the power of governments, corporations, and science to influence the physical and human environment. We will critique the traditional environmental movement, study cases of environmental racism, and appreciate how basic geological knowledge can assist communities in creating healthful surroundings. Examples will come from urban and rural settings in the United States and abroad and will be informed by feminist analysis. Ms. Schneiderman.

Three 50-minute periods.

[182a. The Environmental Imagination in Literature and Science] (1)

(Same as American Culture 182a) The troubled relationship between humans and the rest of nature is a problem as urgent as any in our time. But if environmental thinking is timely, it is not new. This course, taught by a biologist and an environmental writer, considers how our thinking about nature has developed and how it shapes our ways of understanding and approaching environmental problems. The readings, which include poetry, fiction, essays, and scientific literature, focus on social and philosophical constructions of nature, on the historical interplay of humans and our environment, and the modes by which we evaluate and attempt to solve environmental problems. Readings and classroom discussions are complemented by trips in the local area, to experience how scientific methods can be used to measure nature and to test ideas from our reading against experience in the field.

Open to freshmen and sophomores

Two 75-minute periods and one 4-hour laboratory session or field trip.

Not offered in 1999/00.

201b. Religion Gone Wild: Spirituality and the Environment (1)

(Same as Religion 201) A study of the dynamic relation between religion and nature. Religion, in this course, includes forms of spirituality within and outside the bounds of conventional religious traditions (for example, Buddhism, Christianity, and Jainism, on the one hand; ecofeminism, the literature of nature, and Australian Aboriginal religion, on the other). Topics in this study of religion, ethics, and ecology might include: religious depictions of creation, nature, and the position of humans in the environment; religious aspects of environmental degradation and contemporary ecological movements; environmental justice; and environmentalism as a religion. Mr. Cladis.

Prerequisite: One course in Religion, or by permission.

Two 75-minute periods.

[206a. Environmental Biology] (1)

(Same as Biology 206a and Science, Technology, and Society 206a) A biological exploration of the impacts of contemporary agricultural production, transportation, waste disposal, and energy production, as well as human population growth, on the health of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. The course will also treat biological conservation, recycling, renewable resource utilization, and energy efficiency, and their roles in the transition to a sustainable society. Mr. Hemmes.

Two 75-minute periods.

Not offered in 1999/00.

280b. Environmental Hazards (1)

The study of environmental hazards is approached from a variety of social science and policy perspectives, and a variety of types of hazards are examined. Consideration is given to the psychological, social, cultural, political, and historical contexts in which environmental hazards are perceived, conceptualized, and addressed as both social and physical problems. Questions are raised about notions of danger, risk, and responsibility; the nature and production of environmental knowledge; and changing views of what the "environment" encompasses. Ms. Bianco.

Two 75-minute periods.

286a. Plants in a Human Environment: The Paleoethnobotany (1)
of Eastern North America

(Same as Biology 286a, Anthropology 286a, and American Culture 286a) This course focuses on Eastern North America, an area of complex and varied human/plant relationships in which exciting research is currently underway, particularly on the processes of domestication. Students are introduced to the biochemical, botanical, archaeological and ethnohistorical methods used in studying past relationships between people and plants. Through learning the principles and processes of ethnobotany as applied to Eastern North America, the students are able to generalize to other areas and times. Ms. Johnson and Mr. Schlessman.

By special permission. Satisfies college requirement for quantitative analyses.

Two 75-minute periods; one 4-hour lab.

[287a. From the Natural History Museum to Ecotourism] (1)

From the rise of the Natural History Museum, the Bureau of Ethnology, and early endeavors to create a national literature, the appropriation of American Indian lands and American Indians (as natural objects) offered white Americans a means to realize their own national identity. Today, the American consumer-collector goes beyond the boundaries of the museum and zoo and into ecotourism, which claims to make a low impact on the environment and local culture, while helping to generate money, jobs, and the conservation of wildlife and vegetation. This course examines historical and current trends in the way North Americans recover, appropriate, and represent non-Western people, cultural materials, and natural environments from theoretical and ideological perspectives. Course readings draw from the fields of museology, literature, archaeology, anthropology, and environmental studies. Ms. Graham, Ms. Pike-Tay.

Special permission.

Two 75-minute periods.

Not offered in 1999/00.

367b. Peoples and Environments in the American West (1)

(Same as History 367b) This course explores the history of the trans-Mississippi West in the nineteenth century and its legacies in modern America. Themes include cultural conflict and accommodation; federal power and Western politics; and humans' negotiations with their environments. The course considers the history of the frontier as a process; the Western U.S. as a geographic place; and the legendary West and its functions in American mythology. Ms. Edwards.

One 2-hour period.