For many of us in North America this week marked the start of the academic year, a good time to think about teaching and pedagogical issues. The launch of Planetary provides an exciting new venue for this type of dialogue, and I thank Anthony and the rest of the editorial team for inviting me to participate.
I’ll start by posing a basic question: what do we mean when we talk about “environmental humanities” in the classroom? Courses on nature writing are, perhaps, the first thing that spring to mind. But what about other courses in the humanities that do not necessarily have words like “nature” or “environmental” in their titles? What are some strategies for teaching from an environmental humanities perspective in these courses?
I teach art history and visual culture and have had a couple of opportunities to teach senior level special topics classes with titles like “Landscape & Photography,” but for the most part my courses need to have a broader focus in order to fit into the curriculum of the various departments I have taught in. On the surface, these are not courses that appear to have an environmental humanities focus. If I were to ask incoming students to jot down their expectations of an introductory course on 19th century art, for instance, few would list “discussion of environmental issues.” However, when we stop to think about how cultural representations of space and place both inform and are informed by the world around us this connection becomes a lot more apparent. I often use writing exercises in order to get students to think about why a particular artist may have chosen to represent a landscape (including urban landscapes) in a particular way.
I’m interested to hear how others approach these themes in the various courses they teach. What kinds of exercises or models have you found to be particularly successful?