“Environmental Humanities” is a new minor emphasis in the Humanities. Starting last year, UWGB offers a minor in Humanities, with an emphasis on environmental topics. In addition to including interdisciplinary Humanities classes, the program also includes courses from English, First Nations Studies, History, and Philosophy.
We often think of environmental problems as scientific and technical problems, so when we think about sustainability, we usually turn to scientific and technical solutions. While science and technology are clearly critical to both understanding and solving our environmental problems, they are two pieces of a larger puzzle. After all, since the 1960s (at least), we’ve had a growing scientific understanding of several environmental crises that are underway, including problems with pollution, deforestation, declining biodiversity, and climate change. During the same period, technologies for renewable energy, energy efficiency, and other environmentally friendly measures have expanded tremendously. Yet, arguably, the overall global environment is more degraded than ever before in human history. What gives?
To understand what’s going on, we clearly need a perspective that includes history, culture, and ethics. That’s where the Environmental Humanities come in!
The study of History can give us insight into how and why current environmental problems developed over a long period of time and across vast distances on Earth–and can also help us understand and evaluate how effective various efforts of reform and regulation have been over the years.
First Nations Studies allows us to consider perspectives on the relationship between humans and (the rest of nature) that depend more on respect and reciprocity than on control and consumption. What would it mean, as Potawatomi botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer has asked, to “Reclaim the Honorable Harvest”?
Last but not least, Philosophy helps us think in a complex way about the ethical issues involved in our relationships with the natural environment. What’s the moral significance of a tree or of a disappearing species? Do we have obligations to the environment that go beyond human needs? What do we owe future generations?
Taken together, these humanistic disciplines empower us to ask crucial, big questions, including: When we talk about sustainability, what exactly is it that we are trying to sustain?
For the Spring 2019, we are offering three courses that will count toward the minor emphasis in Environmental Humanities:
- FNS 224: First Nations and the Sacred
- History 220: American Environmental History
- FNS 360: Women and Gender in First Nations Communities
Click here for more information about the Environmental Humanities program at UWGB, or feel free to contact me for questions. There are a couple of other courses that may be substituted for requirements, so please do check in with me or with the Humanities adviser, Professor Heidi Sherman.
Associate Professor of Humanities and History