A World Beyond Humans

Writing in an Endangered World

Coming into this class, I’ll admit that I had no idea what to expect. I hadn’t read any books about the environment before, so I didn’t know what this class was going to be about. I didn’t know how interested in the environment I was, but I thought it was a good class to take because I’d never taken an environmental class before. After the first couple of classes, it turns out there actually are a lot of resources about the environment. I even remembered a song on my own that’s specifically called “Dirt.” 

Looking back into other parts of my life, there are other songs that actually motivate me to do something in the world or just go outside that I didn’t realize until this week.  My favorite songs are ones that describe nature scenes. For example, “The Best Day” by Taylor Swift reminds me of being a kid around Halloween time.  Swift mentions the “pumpkin patch,” “the sky is gold,” and having a “big coat on.” It reminds me how important the environment was to me as a kid and how I paid attention to every little detail outside when I was younger. It makes me wonder why I don’t do that as much now. 

Bubbly” by Colbie Caillat reminds me of the calming and simplicity of nature. I love seeing the scenery in this music video. She mentions “rain is falling on my window pane, but we are hiding in a safer place.” The music video displays nature through summer days and summer nights, and it just makes me want to go outside and be free in nature. 

Overall the song that I think of most is “Waiting On the World to Change” by John Mayer. It just makes me think of the world and how much could potentially be bettered. It’s interesting that he mentions everyone’s waiting on the world to change instead of doing something about it. It feels like this is what most people do when it comes to big issues surrounding the environment. 

I’ll post a separate section on my blog for songs/resources I find that remind me to think about nature and the environment, but I feel like it’s important to include here because music/movies are ultimately what’s going to shape our thoughts on the environment, whether we know it or not. 

My Philosophy:

If someone were to ask me if I’m always conscious of the natural environment, my honest answer would be no. I don’t always pay attention to the world around me. Sometimes I’m so busy that I don’t even notice the fresh air I’m breathing until I step through a cloud of cigarette smoke being blown in my direction. I would like to say that the environment is always on my mind, but in reality, the only time I’m able to think about it is when I have the time to – like when I recycle, or when I go on a walk. 

When I was a kid, the environment was so important to me. My eye was always on sticks and stones, and collecting the best ones. I would put them all in a bucket with mud and make “dirt soup.” It was fun to stir it up and pretend I was stirring a cauldron. Then I would dump it out and pretend I was making a cake. My sister and I made an out door clubhouse of rocks and pretended to live there. Then we’d crush acorns as food and walk barefoot on all the rocks because it made us feel tough. We basically spent all day outside to the point that being indoors with real walls and walking on carpet after spending all day on sharp rocks felt strange. There’s a different feeling you have when you’re outside in the sun, observing the trees. It almost feels like you are a tree, and going back inside is a whole different world.

As I got older, I stopped interacting with the environment as much. My schoolwork was indoors, so I figured I didn’t have time to go outside. It’s like the trees, the clouds, and the sun all disappeared, but I know it’s still there. I know it’s important, I know it’s dying, but I just don’t spend enough time doing anything about it – which gets me wondering, why do we ignore something that’s literally keeping us all alive? 

Maybe some people don’t want to be labeled as “activists” or “environmentalists.” Maybe other people really don’t care what happens to the environment. Maybe some people are just “waiting on the world to change.” I personally think that taking care of the environment is something everyone should do automatically. Recycle, pick up trash when it falls on the ground, hang out with a tree every now and then. It’s the little things that count.

Unfortunately, some people don’t care as much about the world because most environment/science classes have historically been taught indoors, and  that’s something that should be done outdoors or at least through experience. Take them to see dolphins, take them to a farm, have them plant some trees or garden, or even go apple picking! Most people don’t learn until they actually experience it, and not everyone has had the opportunity to experience that world beyond humans.

When I think of the environment, I usually think about the trees, pollution, or recycling, but animals are a part of that world too. People tend to forget that. Throwing trash on the ground also affects those cute little animals we all love. Take care of the ground, take care of the animals. We’re all connected in one way or another, and we all have to take care of each other.

Classes like this one remind me to be conscious of the environment around us, and that’s a good thing.

Who We Are

We are it
It sings through us-

-Gary Snyder, “By Frazier Creek Falls”

On the first day of the semester we introduced ourselves with the help of an object or artifact that might suggest our place in the world, and that might express our experience of, and concern for, the more-than-human-world.

A Devon-eye-view of a favorite trail in Keene. In an essay called “Country Life,” Ralph Waldo Emerson writes about the contemplative activity of walking. “Few men know how to take a walk. The qualifications of a professor are endurance, plain clothes, old shoes, an eye for nature, good humor, vast curiosity, good speech, good silence, and nothing too much.”
Meghan with Grey Whales in Baja California Sur. Check out the Loreto National Marine Park at http://www.loreto.com/loreto-national-park/
Anna Leclere travels every year with her family to Acadia Park in Maine
Nick alive and well, Solitude, Utah
Kate Cunningham with her family in her home landscape near Cold Spring, New York, in the Hudson Valley
Vermont native Chelsea Birchmore’s sand dollar from a favorite beach
Ariel and friends managing the natural world while enjoying community service in Keene
Mykayla traveled to North Carolina to experience large, charismatic megafauna, including this lion
Ethan Chalmers lives in Conway, New Hampshire. This image is of Mt. Washington, the highest peak in the Northeastern United States at 6,288.2 ft.  As Henry David Thoreau wrote in his journal, “I see the stanzas rise around me, verse upon verse, far and near, like the mountains from Agiocochook.” The Abenaki-Penobscot name Agiocochook, “home of the great spirit, is also known as Kodaak wadso, or “summit of the highest mountain”
Devon traveled to California with her family and spent some time with the coastal redwoods
Colby’s wooden skateboard
Mark shared a chunk of 7600 year-old rhyolite lava from the Long Valley Caldera in California




Getting Started

Welcome to Environmental Studies 363 and English 390! I am writing to welcome you to the course, and to provide you with some information about our work together this semester.

This cross-listed course is designed for students in the sciences and in the humanities. The course offers the time and space to read some of the most beautiful, provocative, and culturally significant environmental writing from the 1950s to the present. The literary and cultural history of environmental thinking is a history that makes visible many of the most pressing personal, social, cultural, and moral questions facing humankind in the present moment.

The books for the course are available at the Keene State College Bookstore, although they can also be purchased at a local bookstore, or new or used at an online book vendor. Please order or purchase your books before the second week of class. If you are having any problems accessing your library for the course, please let me know and we can work together to make sure that you have the books for the class. Supplementary reading and materials are available in digital format and are embedded in this course site.

In addition to getting the books for our class you will be setting up a digital domain for your work in this class-and beyond. During our first week we will be setting up your domains and then you will be installing the application Word Press to set up a process blog for the course.

  1. On Tuesday during our first class session you will request an account using this Google Form
  2. You will then receive an email by Wednesday at noon with a link to create a domain on KSCopen
  3. On Thursday, in class, you will create your domain and create a blog for the class. Before we meet, I encourage you to look through the materials on the KSC Open site.  It would be helpful, too, for you to look over the KSC Open Terminology page

For now, please read the other two posts: Welcome to KSC Open and The Web Log as Genre. The other activity worth doing before we meet is browsing each of the pages in the top menu of this course blog, including the syllabus. And, if you want to begin building your awareness of the movement of environmentalism, go ahead and poke around on the links to resources and web sites in the sidebar.

Please bring your laptop or tablet to class. If you do not have a portable machine, let me know and I will work with you to make alternative arrangements so that you can participate in the in-class writing workshops and activities. And send along any questions.

I’m looking forward to seeing you on Tuesday!

Welcome to KSC Open

Writing in an Endangered World is a course in literary and cultural studies that is designed to improve your writing, as well as to empower you with the critical and rhetorical skills to communicate effectively with audiences beyond the classroom—whether you are majoring in sciences, the social sciences, or the humanities.

Developing these skills and habits of mind will make a difference in both the personal and professional dimensions of your life. However, because digital-mediated forms of communication have become ubiquitous in our lives, digital fluency and literacies are imperative. As educated citizens, we need to engage with the personal, social, cultural, and political complexities of the web, as well as navigate, and critically resist, digital technologies.

For more than twenty years my students have worked with digital tools as well as considered the relationship between literacy and technology-whether in academic and professional practice, through building intellectual networks, sharing intellectual work, constructing e-portfolios, or developing online profiles; or in critical thinking about technology, by reflecting on digital platforms, considering the ways that digital technologies constitute identities and social relations, and understanding how digital media both create and reproduce social institutions and structures.

For the past year I have worked to create a learning opportunity for my students that students and faculty at other institutions have been developing—including The University of Mary Washington, Emory University, Middlebury College, Davidson College, and the University of Oklahoma. The opportunity is to participate in a own Domain of One’s Own project, KSC Open.

KSC Open is a collaboration with a talented information technologist (Jenny Darrow), and a visionary colleague in Biology (Dr. Cangialosi), that allows you to register a personal domain name and to begin working in a free, hosted web space. KSC Open is designed to empower you to use the web as a platform for creative expression, critical thinking, and integrative learning— inviting you to connect your learning in unique ways based on your experiences and interests.

KSC Open is at the same time a deliberate pedagogical project, a project based on values that reflect a critical philosophy of education, and a conviction that the  digital platforms (and spaces) we use for teaching and learning can be more: as one of the creators of Domain of One’s Own, Martha Burtis, puts it succinctly: “More critical. More relational. More flexible. More beautiful.”

Working in your digital domain will enrich your learning. It will at the same time empower you to shape a critical perspective on how current web architecture works-specifically, how it extracts users data through persistent surveillance, data mining, tracking, and monetization. As Professor of English at Macomb Community College, Keith Gilyard, notes in his essay Pedagogy and the Logic of Platforms, participation on the web raises difficult questions about access and equity. For  “web based surveillance, personalization, and monetization works perfectly well for particular constituencies, but it doesn’t work quite as well for persons of color, lower-income students, and people who have been walled off from information or opportunities because of the ways they are categorized according to opaque algorithms.”

These cultural and economic questions are questions that have become imperative for everyone in institutions of higher education-indeed, for anyone. As Gilyard writes,

The fact that the web functions the way it does is illustrative of the tremendously powerful economic forces that structure it. Technology platforms (e.g., Facebook and Twitter) and education technologies (e.g., the learning management system) exist to capture and monetize data. Using higher education to “save the web” means leveraging the classroom to make visible the effects of surveillance capitalism. It means more clearly defining and empowering the notion of consent. Most of all, it means envisioning, with students, new ways to exist online.

These forces are one of the reasons we need to be thoughtful about the uses of educational management systems. They are also the reason why I am making visible the risks and rewards of participating in the digital spaces we too often simply accept.

I will add, finally, that the Domain project got its start at a peer institution, a public liberal arts college not unlike our own, The University of Mary Washington. If you are curious about the emergence of the Domain of One’s Own project, read Part One and Part Two of a Brief History by Jess Reingold and Jesse Stommel.

Welcome to KSC Open! Setting up and managing a domain will enliven your reading and thinking and writing in this course, as well as engage you with the literary and cultural questions inherent in digital participation and exchange.