The Environmental Imagination: Green Writing and Ecocriticism
ENGL 112; Crosslisting: AMST 124; Certificate: Environmental Studies
Professor William Stowe
From the Course Catalog: “The new discipline of ecocriticism affirms the inescapable thereness of the natural world while exploring the way we use our imaginations to understand it. We begin this course by applying ecocritical insights to paintings, and we end by examining environmental Web sites. In between we read poets, nature writers, scientists, novelists, and activists, seeking to understand the natural world as an inspiration and a responsibility and to balance the demands of activism with the joys of aesthetic appreciation. Attention will be paid to critical writing, and there is a chance for some creative writing as well.”
Argus: Could you elaborate on the title of the course? Is ecocriticism a relatively new discipline or a longstanding one?
Stowe: Ecocriticism is a relatively new discipline, dating to the early 1990s. The single most important text in the field is Lawrence Buell’s “The Environmental Imagination,” where my course gets its name. In the early days it dedicated itself to affirming environmental values and studying nature writing… Nowadays I’d say ecocriticism is any literary or cultural criticism or scholarship that pays attention to the natural world. It includes studies of nature writing but also works on the place of landscape and the natural world in mainstream writers. It also has a strong interest in environmental justice, in the urban environment and various degraded environments around the world.
Argus: What inspired you to teach this FYI, and how long have you been teaching the course?
Stowe: I’ve always been interested in environmental issues, at least as far back as the original Earth Day in 1970. The inspiration for this course came from my first ASLE convention in Missoula, Montana, in 1996. I have probably taught the course six or seven times since then.
Argus: Why is the course cross-listed under American Studies?
Stowe: except for Darwin–oh, and the bible!–most if not all of the readings are by American writers.
Argus: How is the course geared towards freshmen? Which students are generally drawn to the class? Are you making any changes to the course this semester?
Stowe: I hope that the course will give students who are already interested in environmental issues new ways to think about their passion, new channels for exploring it. My upper-class seminars are advanced literature courses that assume skill in close reading and interest in specifically literary issues. English 112 is literary, too, of course, since that’s what I do, but it tends to attract students interested in science at least as much as future English majors. This is one of the most exciting things about the course for me. I’ve been in touch with Sam Bernhardt from WesU who has suggested integrating some radio segments into the course this year.
Professor Douglas Charles
From the Course Catalog: Forensic anthropology is the application of the science of physical anthropology to the legal process. The course will introduce students to aspects of the judicial system, crime scene investigation, biological profiling (e.g., sex, age-at-death, ancestry, stature), pathology and trauma, and identification. Hands-on experience with skeletal material and demonstration casts will be included in the course.
Argus: This is the first time the course is being offered. What inspired you to teach it?
Charles: The Anthropology Dept recently reorganized its curriculum/requirements, and the changes provided me the opportunity to teach an FYI course for the first time in a number of years. Because of “CSI” and other TV shows there is a lot of student interest in forensics.
Argus: How is this course designed for freshmen? What type of students is the course geared towards?
Charles: We study specimens for human skeletal anatomy in the Archaeology and Anthropology Collections, and a small class like an FYI is the ideal manageable size for hands-on learning. I teach a 300-level course on human skeletal anatomy in which a number of pre-med students usually enroll. This course will provide an introduction to some of the relevant knowledge and analytical techniques of biological anthropology, but the focus of this course is more on the applied use of that knowledge in the specific context of forensics. The main difference between a paleontologist researching fossil hominids, a bioarchaeologist analyzing the skeletons from a prehistoric cemetery, and a forensic anthropologist is how long their subject has been dead. Hopefully, the course will draw students with a broad range of backgrounds, but especially students who may not think they are interested in science.
Argus: How does the course apply physical and forensic anthropology to the legal process?
Charles: Forensic anthropologists are routinely called into criminal and civil cases as expert witnesses whenever decomposed or fragmentary human remains are involved…Forensic anthropologists were involved in the aftermath of 9/11 in the identification of victims at the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and the field in Pennsylvania. Standards of evidence are different for a scientific publication vs. legal testimony or reports, so we will examine how legal evidence is developed, and also touch on chain of custody and other relevant aspects of forensic analysis.
Argus: What do you hope students get out of the course?
Charles: Basically, I want to convey how a discipline constructs a body of knowledge, and how that knowledge can be applied in a particular context. Hopefully students will also realized that forensics isn’t really like “CSI” or “Bones.”
The American Playwright Performed
Professor David B. Jaffe
From the Course Catalog: This course examines the development of the uniquely American theatrical voice, from the early American plays of the late 18th and early 19th centuries through the 20th and into the 21st. The course examines both social and cultural context as well as dramatic structure and use of language. Playwrights may include Anna Cora Mowatt, James Nelson Barker, early O’Neill, Sophie Treadwell, Susan Glaspell, Elmer Rice, Hellman, late O’Neill, Miller, Williams, Odets, Wilder, Hansberry, Shepard, Adrienne Kennedy, Mamet, Kushner, Vogel, Parks, Rivera, and others.
Argus: How does this course differ from the FYI, Plays for Performance?
Jaffe: The American Playwright Performed is new—never taught it before. Last year I taught Plays For Performance as an FYI, as a departmental offering, because the professor was on leave. I had such a phenomenal time teaching that class, but the class is being offered in the spring, so I thought, well, let me offer something like it. So we came up with The American Playwright Performed, which is the same basic format. We’re reading 15 to 18 plays, doing semi-staged readings, and the students actually direct and act for each other, though there’s not a huge amount of rehearsal time.
Argus: The course is also a “Living and Learning Seminar.” How will students living together in the same residence halls affect their work in the classroom?
Jaffe: Well, the rehearsals are easier to arrange. The idea with a class like this, as I understand it, is to be able to be in the same dorm and have opportunities to meet outside of class; for me, it opens up opportunities for extra classroom deepening of the experience. If they have a question, they can just walk down the hall.
Argus: Is this class geared primarily towards Theater students?
Jaffe: Last year half of the students [in Plays for Performance] ended up taking Acting I in the spring. My guess is that among the choices for FYIs this one stood out as an opportunity for kids who want to do theater–Acting classes are only open to first year students in the spring. Whether this title might change that, I don’t know. You do not need to be an actor or director to be in the class. Everyone reads the parts and directs, but I don’t spend a lot of time in this class talking about acting; it’s more about what it means to perform this stuff. I leave most of the acting talks for the spring.
Argus: What about the title of the course? Is the course more focused on the plays or the playwrights themselves?
Jaffe: I think it’s a way of saying that if I said the American Play Performed, part of my strong focus is on what has this writer done, how has this writer constructed this piece. The core of the performance is what has been written. It’s important for people to know that even if it’s subliminal, we’re going to be talking about how playwrights feed the directors and actors. Let’s read these plays and examine them as texts for performance, not as theater literature. The work that we do is about examining them as text for performance; how actors, performers, and designers put this material to life.