Environment and Culture

Professor: Daniel Patterson
Course Number: Humanities 300

Description and Purposes of the Course:

This is an interdisciplinary investigation of the ways in which human culture has responded to and been shaped by aspects of the natural environment. After an
introductory look at the history of the human response to nature, we will focus on modern and contemporary responses from the areas of philosophy and ethics, visual arts, literature, anthropology, architecture, biology, and music.

This will be a wide-ranging lecture and discussion seminar to which specialists in several disciplines will be invited to represent valuable perspectives on the constant questions before us: What meaning can we discover in a particular cultural response to the natural environment? How should humans now live on
Earth? What are the possibilities and limitations?

Since this is an interdisciplinary (non-disciplinary? omni-disciplinary?) course, a primary goal will be to break through the traditional university departments in order to understand more deeply why human culture has responded as it has to nature and to encourage creative, re-visioned thinking about how humans should shape their culture. Our classes will be a mix of lectures, media presentations, discussions, outside speakers, and student presentations. Each speaker will assign certain readings, questions, or activities for you to prepare before her or his scheduled appearance.

You will have the full schedule of speakers, assignments, and dates before the end of this month. To keep down the cost of assigned texts, we will make much use of the library’s reserve reading room.

Texts to Be Purchased:

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac with Essays on Conservation from Round River.

Thomas J.Lyon, ed. This Incomperable Lande: A Book of American Nature

Roderick Frazier Nash. The Rights of Nature: A History of Environmental Ethics.

Terry Tempest Williams. Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place.


All requirements must be completed to receive credit for the course.
Attendance is required. Much of the good this course will cause will happen in
class, and because you are there. So be there. If you have a legitimate excuse for missing a class, you are responsible for informing me of that no later than the first class meeting following the absence.

All assignments must be completed by the announced due date.

Advice: During my office hours, I sit in my office for hours and wait for you to
bring me ideas–whether half-baked, just right, or overcooked. Since this course is new and interdisciplinary, there is more space for discovery and creativity than any of us might suspect. Such freedom can be intimidating, perplexing, or even stagnating, but it can also enhance the quality of life.

And this: the Project you do for this course could be one of your most meaningful college experiences, if you make it so.

Requirements and Grading:
Essays: two essays ( 2-4 pages each; typed; two copies) will be assigned.

Each essay will be a creative, critical response to a question or problem I assign, and it should demonstrate your grasp of ideas and issues raised by readings, speakers, or class discussions. I will grade them using the usual criteria of good writing: creativity, correctness, coherence, logic, and analytical insight. (30% of the final grade.)

Class participation: 10% of your final grade reflects my judgment of your overall participation throughout the semester.

An in-class mid-term essay on an assigned topic. (15% of the final grade.)

An in-class final essay on an assigned topic. (15% of the final grade.)

The Project: Each of you designs, in consultation with me, a major course
project. Each project should be a critical response to a specific issue or problem in the current relationship between human culture and the natural environment. Because of the interdisciplinary nature of the course, you are free to work in any discipline or across any of several (e.g., architecture, sculpture, literary criticism fiction or poetry, natural history, law, petroleum engineering, ethics, agriculture, renewable resources, history, economics, biology). For each project, however, I do require a written analytical component. If, for example, you create a work of sculpture or design an agricultural model, I require an explanation of the principles that inform the work, commenting on just how the sculpture or agricultural model embodies a response to one of the central questions of the course. The scope and quality of the project should be appropriate to the level of the course. In guiding your progress on the project and in evaluating and grading the end product, I may
seek advice from colleagues in other departments. On Tuesday, 24 January, you will sign up for a March completion date on which you will formally present your project to the class. Following the presentation and the class response, you will have a week to revise your project. (30% of the final grade,)

A tour led by me along the levee trail at Lake Martin, a human-created lake and wetland complex.

Course Schedule:

Jan 17   Overview of course.

Jan 19   Lecture: a brief history of the interaction between human culture and the natural environment.

Jan 24-Feb 9   Philosophy and Ethics: a three-week unit provides a basis for much of the intellectual and theoretical pulse of the course. Topics include: theories of nature, natural religion and the ‘greening” of religion, environmental ethics, ecofeminism.

Assigned readings: Nash, The Rights of Nature; Leopold, “The Land Ethic.”
On reserve: Garrett Hardin, “The Tragedy of the Commons.”

Feb 14-16   Visual Arts: a week’s consideration of selected artists and their works.

Topics include “Earth Works,” Christo, Nancy Holt, James Turrell. On reserve:
Vera Norwood and Janice Monk, eds. The Desert Is No Lady, selected chapters.  [Other readings to be announced]

Guest Lecturers: Dr. John Hathorn, Department of Visual Arts (2/14)
Dr. Lynda Frese, Department of Visual Arts (2/16)

Feb 21-Mar 9  Literature: a three-week unit treating the literary response to nature. Topics include: a brief history of natural history writing, from Linnaeaus to Terry Tempest Williams; a brief history of nature in literature; contemporary
nature writing.

Assigned readings: Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac; Lyon, This
Incomperable Lande
; Williams, Refuge. On reserve: Thoreau, ‘Walking” and
“Spring” from Walden; selected poetry by Gary Snyder, Lorine Niedecker, and
Mary Oliver.

[Feb 28 No class: Mardi Gras]

Mar 14  Professor Holmes Rolston, author of Environmental Ethics: Duties to and Values in the Natural World, will speak in Rougeou Hall, room 332, at 11 a.m.

Mar 16 Mid-term exam.

Mar 21 Directed, open discussion.

Mar 23 Discussion of the following, all on reserve:
William Cronon, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of
New England
, chs. 2,3,4, and 7 (pp. 19-81 and 127-56).
Wes Jackson, Altars of Unhewn Stone: Science and the Earth, ch. 10 (63-76).
———– New Roots for Agriculture, ch.5 (61-65).

Mar 28-30  Architecture: how this form of human culture has reflected the human response to nature. Topics include: a brief history; contemporary designs and technologies that minimize the human impact.

Guest Lecturer: A representative from the School of Art and Architecture to
be announced.

[Assigned readings to be announced]

April 4-18 Science and technology: developments in biological sciences and related technologies that result from or cause changes in the human response to the natural environment. Topics include: institutional science; wildlife management; wildlife biology; energy technologies; agriculture.

Guest Lecturers: Dr. Griff Blakewood Department of Renewable Resources (4/4)
Dr. A. Lee Foote, National Wetlands Research Center (4 / 6)
Dr. Lee Burras, Department of Renewable Resources (4 / 11)

[April 13 No class: spring break]

Dr. Naomi Krogman, an eco-sociologist from Colorado State University (4/18)

Assigned readings:
4/4: Wendell Berry, “The Use of Energy” (on reserve, and in Berry’s The
Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture
, ch. 6).
4/6: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (on reserve and in most bookstores, new and
4/ 11: Jack R. Harlan, Crops & Man (pages 3-60; on reserve).
[Others to be announced.]

Apr 20 and 25  Music: the response of musicians to the natural environment.
Topics include: Gary Snyder and the Paul Winter Consort; Brian Eno; wind harps; various artists working with earth sounds.

Guest performer: Mr. Harry Haecker

Apr 27 Open discussion, performance, prophecies, perorations.

May ? An in-class final essay.