Teaching the environmental humanities poses challenges because of the wide range of information that instructors must command and the unsettled nature of questions surrounding fundamental methodological issues in the field—for example, what constitutes the normative relationships between scientific and cultural or literary knowledge; how can we use the humanities to learn about how scientists act within the rigid structure of the scientific method; how should students be taught to navigate between reading a scientific paper and a novel; in what ways can instructors integrate contemporary scientific research, texts in the history of science, and cultural artifacts in the classroom? These questions have become urgent because of the accelerating intensity of climate change and its imminent threat to global economies and local cultures. Beyond research into how humanism and environmental science might offer competitive or sympathetic models of rights, justice, and norms, the environmental humanities offer an opportunity to change how students learn to interpret media about ecological crisis and make informed decisions as citizens and members of the public.
A need to create new courses to address an emerging interdisciplinary field, one that will have profound effects on the structure and objectives of the modern university, is one motivation for this group. Another is the desire to conceptualize course design in this field as first, a collaborative endeavor between members of science and humanities faculty, and second, as a process that ought to mirror research investigations. This colloquium will seek to identify not only new chances for inter-classroom dialogue across the humanities-sciences divide, but also entirely new sets of pedagogical goals and research problems that can be worked through with students. A core premise of this colloquium is that the environmental humanities represent more than a reorientation of content matter for courses. Rather, the environmental humanities pose a productive challenge to the conventional ways in which educators in both the humanities and the environmental sciences have conceived of the syllabus, the classroom space, and learning objectives. The pressing need to return to our most basic ideas of how science education and humanistic education ought to function and interact will be at the center of this colloquium’s work.
At this colloquium, faculty and graduate students at Columbia and other universities, as well as high school teachers, museum curators, textbook publishers, etc., will have the opportunity to share research papers, lead roundtable conversations, give talks and presentations, raise concerns about pedagogical methods, and seek assistance or collaborative partners in course design. We hope to engage with the Columbia Center for Science and Society, especially the “environment” research cluster, in order to expand the scope of the audience for this forum. Participants in the colloquium will be asked to contribute a syllabus of their own design to a digital workbook of sample syllabi. This workbook will be hosted on a colloquium website and available to the public.
The colloquium will conclude with a one-day symposium hosted at Columbia University in spring 2016. The symposium will allow colloquium members to present their original syllabi written over the course of the year and receive feedback from the academic community and the public. Panel discussions will revisit major topics from the colloquium meetings, possibly including environmental humanities and MOOCs, the challenges of inter-institutional collaboration, and the relationship of digital humanities and the environmental sciences. One or two invited speakers will deliver keynotes on larger issues in environmental humanities and curricula.
“Pedagogy in Environmental Humanities” will be an experiment in fostering discussion between researchers and teachers who rarely have the opportunity to confront the issues that are increasingly crucial to university operations and life on this planet: climate change, environmental justice, and shifting expectations for university education. We hope that this colloquium and its results, a workbook of syllabi hosted on the web and a major research symposium, will be the start of a new series of conversations inside Columbia and beyond.