November 21, 2014 § Leave a comment
My teaching and scholarship on the literary and cultural history of the United States is focused in the environmental humanities, American poetry and poetics, and the teaching of writing.
Academic Appointments Professor, Department of English, Core Faculty, American Studies Program, Affiliate Faculty, Environmental Studies Program, Keene State College; Faculty member, Middlebury College Bread Loaf School of English, University of Southeast Alaska-Southeast
Administrative Appointments Chair of the Department of English (Three terms). Interim Coordinator of Thinking and Writing program. Chair of the American Studies program
Professional Leadership President, Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE); Vice President, ASLE; Chair and Member, MLA Committee on Academic Freedom and Professional Rights and Responsibilities; Member, Executive Council, ASLE; Program Director, Mentoring Program, ASLE
Curriculum & Program Consulting External Reviewer for Self Study, Department of English, SUNY Geneseo, New York; External Reviewer for Self Study, Department of English, College of Idaho, Caldwell, Idaho; Invited Consultant, with Gerry Francis, Executive Vice President, Elon College, Moving to Four-Credit Courses, Mount Union College, Alliance, Ohio; External Reviewer for Self Study, Environmental Studies Department, Bates College, Lewiston, Maine
Editorial Experience (selected) Founding co-editor, Strigidae: A Journal of Undergraduate Writing in the Arts and Humanities; Associate Editor, Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture; Member of Editorial Advisory Board, IJE: Indian Journal of Ecocriticism; Editorial Advisory Board, ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment; Developmental Editor, The Mountaineers Books, Seattle, Washington
March 14, 2015 § Leave a comment
Strigidae: A Journal of Undergraduate Writing in the Arts and Humanities
About a year ago I began working with my colleague Kirsti Sandy on a peer-reviewed online journal dedicated to publishing the written work of undergraduate students in the arts and humanities. And this winter we launched the journal Strigidae. The journal welcomes submissions of writing in the disciplines, creative nonfiction, poetry, and fiction. We will also publish clips of musical, dance, or theatrical performances and original artwork with accompanying artists’ statements.
Strigidae, of course, refers to the largest of the two families of owls (the other is Tytonidae) that live in terrestrial habitats across the world. I came up with the name of the journal when I was thinking about the association of the owl with the Greek goddess Athena and wisdom, but also the understanding of the owl as a nocturnal messenger, a symbol of illness, or a harbinger of death. A suggestive symbol for a journal committed to the exchange of artifacts and ideas, we agreed. The owl happens to be the mascot of Keene State College as well.
The special inaugural issue, “Written Bodies/Writing Selves,” is now available in the Mason Library’s Digital Commons. The second issue of Strigidae will appear in 2015. A call for papers will be circulated this spring.
The Aspect Magazine Project
Another project on which I continue working with students is the Digital Archive of Aspect Magazine. This fall I added a series of Project Links, including a Description and History, a Project Overview, Information about the editorial process, and a supplemental document “Remembering Ed Hogan.” I am looking forward to building the archive over the next few years as part of my upper-level courses in English and American Studies.
As the President of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE) I was one of the project directors that created a new web site for our international association. My work involved working with a team of web developers we hired to design the site, the Managing Director of our Association, Amy McIntyre, and a small group of ASLE colleagues. I spent many hours of my sabbatical leave writing content, soliciting and editing member and project profiles, course profiles, and helping to represent a broad vision for interdisciplinary work in the “ environmental humanities.” I drafted a New Mission Statement for the association that was subsequently approved adopted by the Executive Council, a Vision and History, and a Message to Members. I continue to work with our members to create new course and member profiles. The most recent is a Profile of Robert M. Thorson, University of Connecticut Professor of Geology and Affiliated Faculty at the Center for Integrated Geosciences.
November 6, 2014 § Leave a comment
Because the literary fiction and nonfiction that I study and teach is concerned with environmental systems, the primary questions about literary production and reception that have kept professors of English busy for nearly one hundred years have become, for me at least, inextricable from complicated economic, social, and cultural activities. Though as Gregory Bateson once pointed out, our failure to relate to natural systems and processes is a product of the way we think and talk. We need alternative patterns of thinking and talking about natural and human systems, and we need new ways to teach these alternative patterns.
At the recent conference on ecocultural ethics in Goa, India, I found myself on a featured panel dedicated to the question of ecological learning. One way to define ecological learning would be to draw on Timothy Morton’s elaboration of what he calls the “ecological thought”: “The ecological crisis we face is so obvious that it become easy. . .to join the dots and see that everything is interconnected. This is the ecological thought. And the more we consider it, the more the world opens up.” As he goes on to argue, though, the ecological thought
- “brings to light aspects of our existence that have remained unconscious for a long time; we don’t like to recall them”
- “is about considering others, in their interests, in how we should act toward them, and in their very being”
- “forces us to invent ways of being together that don’t depend on self interest”
This language reminds me of John Muir, in 1911, saying in My First Summer in the Sierra, that “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” Ecological learning, then, to stumble toward a more abstract formulation, is learning about what Muir call “things” and then finding that things are only really things when connected to other things.It is difficult to study and teach Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, for instance, without addressing basic science as well as questions about science and society; there is little doubt that reading in the literature of food or animal studies without addressing the application of rapidly evolving technology would be next to impossible; and there is no question that narratives of environmental justice raise pressing moral and ethical questions by tracing the life-world consequences of rapid developments in science and technology.
These were some of the thoughts I was having as I prepared for the panel discussion in Goa. The discussion was moderated by Dr. Samhida Shikha, from Dronacharya Government College Gurgaon, and included a fisheries biologist, Aaron Salvio Lobo, an expert on waste management, Dr. Srikanth Mutnuri, a professor of ethics who teaches at a school of mining, Dr. Ajit K. Behura and an architect, environmental educator, activist, and blogger from the capital city of Panjim, Tallulah D’Silva, whose work has been recognized in the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Community. The audience for our session on ecological learning included members of the humanities and social sciences, from literary and cultural studies, anthropology, philosophy, religious studies, linguistics and political science.
My contribution to the panel began with an anecdote about arriving in Mumbai at the beginning of this month to meet Rebecca, who had been teaching law in Pune. Gandhi Jayanti, the national holiday, was in full swing, and Prime Minister Modi happened to be using the occasion to kick off his Swachh Bharat Campaign. What followed were days of editorial and public commentary in the Times and in Goa periodicals and online about the clean India campaign. In Goa, one headline read “Desi tourists leave behind uncivil footprints,” and the it-is-the-other-guy’s-problem excuse was once again registered. “Calangute and Baga beaches witness trail of broken bottles and garbage: visibility upset, Calangute MLA Michael Lobo has accused the tourism department of not being serious enough to tackle the problem.” Remarkably, I noted, one person from out of state when interviewed complained of the lack of warning or display boards regarding the disposal of trash and bottles on the beach. “I don’t see a single warning signboard so it is no use blaming us tourists.” Enough said.
I then offered a case study of Keep America Beautiful (founded 1953), the largest community improvement organization in the United States, that was formed in response to the problem of highway litter that followed the construction of the Interstate Highway System and an increasingly mobile and convenience-oriented American consumer in the middle decades of the twentieth century. I traced the Keep America Beautiful organization joining with the Ad Council in 1961; the subsequent 1971Earth Day theme, “People Start Pollution. People can stop it,” featuring the well-known (and problematic) “Crying Indian” campaign launched on Earth Day, narrated by actor William Conrad, and featuring “Iron Eyes Cody,” the Native American man (who was actually an Italian) devastated to see the destruction of the earth’s natural beauty caused by the thoughtless pollution and litter of a modern society). In 1975 the “Clean Community System” led to the “Keep My Town Beautiful” organization and the more recent “Great American Cleanup” campaigns that have organized 3.9 million volunteers who have removed seventy-six million pounds of litter and recycled hundreds of millions of pounds of metals, newsprint, tires and electronics.
While noting the fundamental historical and cultural differences with the Modi campaign, I admitted that the anecdote offered some hope for those who are rightly cynical of centralized campaigns for “cleanliness” linked to patriotism and political parties. Still, the narrative from the 1950s to the present in the US offers a complex of motivations and investments that contributed to changing the behavior of people as part of a social movement. The question I posed is how academic disciplines and institutions of higher education prepare students to participate throughout their lives in the practice of what the panel was calling ecological learning.
Listening to my colleagues, and participating in the lively audience give and take that followed in the hour we had reserved for discussion, I realized how challenging it is to free ourselves from the terminological moraines. These jumbled piles of words and phrases make it difficult to enact the necessary changes in teaching and learning that would be commensurate with the environmental predicament. What was refreshing for me was that the discussion with my Indian colleagues unfolded without the use of any of the terms so common in the discourse of American academics, terms such as “interdisciplinary,” “multidisciplinary,” “transdisciplinary.” Rather, my Indian friends and colleagues were focused on practice. They were talking about the real work.
Since arriving back in the United States this panel discussion has stayed with me. And I have been thinking more about the terms we use to define what we do and that we deploy to stake out our place in the enterprise of higher education. It is my good fortune to be a member of a faculty that offers courses, minors and degree programs in what we call “interdisciplinary fields of study.” These include American Studies, Criminal Justice Studies, Environmental Studies, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies. Over the years, I have taught courses in three of these “fields” (American Studies, Environmental Studies, Women’s and Gender Studies) and have given much thought to the approaches taken to the various subjects, materials, and topics within these fields.
The self-evident fact that knowledge about our selves and the world, to use the commonplace jargon often used academic circles, is “constructed” often devolves into abstract and decontextualized conversations about the knowledge and methods of academic disciplines or “interdisciplinary” fields of study or “multidisciplinary” modes of teaching and learning. The consequence is that the questions that structure the intellectual work in our colleges and universities (for professors and for students) become less salient or, arguably, less relevant—particularly in public discourse where facts are bound to be uncertain, values are disputed, and the stakes are high.
I am most grateful to my colleagues in India for helping me to think though my own evolving approach to the study, teaching, and learning as a literary and cultural historian. The term that appears most aligned with my practice as a thinker and teacher is “transdisciplinarity.” A sabbatical leave offers the necessary time and space to reflect on one’s ongoing work as a reader, writer and teacher. And among the most fruitful set of ideas for my reflections this year has been the thinking of Basarab Nicolescu—in particular, his Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity, trans K. Claire Voss (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002). A useful précis of the manifesto is available in the “Charter of Transdisciplinarity” that has its origins in the First World Congress of Transdisciplinarity convened in 1994 in Convento da Arrábida, Portugal. The document, produced by the editorial committee comprised of Lima de Freitas, Edgar Morin, and Basarab Nicolescu, has 15 articles, as well as a Preamble, that reads as follows:
· Whereas, the present proliferation of academic and nonacademic disciplines is leading to an exponential increase of knowledge which makes a global view of the human being impossible;
· Whereas, only a form of intelligence capable of grasping the cosmic dimension of the present conflicts is able to confront the complexity of our world and the present challenge of the spiritual and material self-destruction of the human species;
· Whereas, life on earth is seriously threatened by the triumph of a techno-science that obeys only the terrible logic of efficacy of efficacy’s sake;
· Whereas, the present rupture between increasingly quantitative knowledge and increasingly impoverished inner identity is leading to the rise of a new brand of obscurantism with incalculable social and personal consequences;
· Whereas, an historically unprecedented growth of knowledge is increasing the inequality between those who have and those who do not, thus engendering increasing inequality within and between the different nations of our planet;
· Whereas, at the same time, hope is the counterpart of all the afore-mentioned challenges, a hope that this extraordinary development of knowledge could eventually lead to an evolution not unlike the development of primates into human beings;
One cannot help but admire the ambitious and hopeful language of this manifesto. My admiration, however, is precisely how the language links the abstractions of knowledge production to the material (and ideological) planetary concerns of the present. What is really remarkable, though, is that this heady rhetoric allows for both a generative acceptance and skepticism about knowledge and power, a finely aware register of social and environmental equity and justice, and an inclusive acceptance of the human in the words “cosmic” and “spiritual.” Just how these ideas might shape one’s day-to-day work is a challenge to be sure. But the challenge might help to put the words we use to describe teaching and learning in our colleges and universities to more consequential work—words such as “integrative,” “interdisciplinary,” and “multidisciplinarity—by envisioning a transformation of both our knowledge-seeking methods and the institutions that sponsor our ongoing search.
This was my ambition in India, after all: to imagine with my colleagues practical projects for individual and collaborative inquiry that would in turn expand the scope of conventional pedagogical theory and practice. Perhaps a moratorium on any word that builds off the term “discipline” would offer a glimpse of something more.
October 24, 2014 § Leave a comment
“The true artist, like the true scientist, is a researcher using materials and techniques to dig into the truth and meaning of the world in which he himself lives. . . .”
-Paul Strand, Letter to the editor of the Photographic Journal 103.7 (1963): 216.
Sixty years ago, in June of 1955, an international symposium on the relationship between the human and the earth was organized by the Wenner Gren Foundation for Historical Research in Anthropology. Convened in Princeton, New Jersey, “Man’s Role in the Changing Face of the Earth” honored George Perkins Marsh’s 1864 book Man and Nature. The symposium brought together seventy participants to further, in the words of the Wenner-Green Foundation President Paul Frejos, an understanding of the human and the earth “by synthesis, transcending the limits of present disciplines or branches of science” (vii). The conference participants, in fact, were chosen not to represent academic disciplines; and, as the symposium unfolded, in the words of one of the organizers, Marston Bates, “less and less was said in defense or in support of a particular disciplinary association” (1132).
One of the conveners of the symposium, Carl O. Sauer, professor of Geography at the University of California, Berkeley, raised the present and future condition of the earth as a principal ethical concern. In the words of Marston Bates, a professor of Zoology at the University of Michigan, and also a co-convener of the symposium, “What sort of world is it that we want, and can we get it?” (1134). In his summary remarks on the proceedings, Bates insisted, “the sciences and the humanities form a false dichotomy, because science is one of the humanities” (1139). The third principal organizers of the symposium, Lewis Mumford, reminded the participants that “within the limits of earth’s resources and man’s biological nature, there are as many different possible futures as there are ideals, systems of values, goals and plans, and social, political, educational, and religious organizations for bringing about their realization” (1150).
In linking ideals and systems of values to collective organizations and institutions, Mumford suggests a direction for one of my primary fields of work, ecocriticism and the environmental humanities. In preparing a keynote address that I delivered in Goa, India, this month I found myself reading in the two-volume proceedings of the International Symposium edited by William L. Thomas, Jr. in collaboration with the principal organizers of the symposium, Carl O. Sauer, Marston Bates, and Lewis Mumford, a historian, philosopher and literary critic. The Princeton Symposium reminded me of the challenges we face when ideals and systems of values run up against less agile organizations and institutions.
Since at least the publication of David Orr’s important 1990 book Ecological Literacy: Education and the Transition to a Postmodern World, those of us who work in the environmental humanities have been aware of how individual research agendas and narrow professional incentives do not directly address ecological literacy or sustainability. Orr makes a case that our individual work as research scholars will and should continue. But he is convinced that this work holds less promise in addressing the global predicament of environmental crisis. In essays with titles such as “The Problem of Education,” “What is Education For?” and “Place and Pedagogy,” Orr argues that our current ecological crisis is associated with a failure of education. We face a moral and the ethical obligation, he concludes, to rethink our professional activities as well as to transform the institutions where we work.
Why is this rethinking so difficult to do? In my recent keynote address at the Birla Institute of Technology Pilani Goa, I suggested to the international gathering that we need more activism within our places of work, as new kinds of interdependence are increasingly a feature of our educational institutions. In the United States, for example, professors and students are designing and implementing curricular models that emphasize collaboration across disciplines and fields of study—from applied and problem-based learning to service learning initiatives and projects involving students, teachers, and local citizens or community groups. In Goa, I encouraged my audience to imagine new ways to integrate ecological, ethical and social contexts in the work of the humanities. I called on the words of a colleague, and former president of ASLE, Ursula Heise, who argues that the environmental humanities by definition “seeks to respond to the call for new institutional formations to correspond to innovative kinds of knowledge. . . [and] also to translate humanistic research more effectively into the public sphere” (“Comparative”). And yet I cautioned that transformations of academic programs and institutions requires valuing this work—among our peers, in our disciplinary associations, as well as in faculty promotion and retention standards. For it is easy to say that our activities are constituted in socially constructed systems, and that our activities can reconstitute those very systems. It is much more difficult to do.
In preparing my remarks for BITS Pilani Goa, I learned that the Birla Institute was founded by the industrialist Ghanshyam Das Birla who voiced a broad and progressive approach to education. “What do we propose to do here?” he asked. “We want to teach real science, whether it is engineering, chemistry, humanities, physics or any other branch.” The next generation of the Birlas speak in similar language. Here is Basant Kumar Birla echoing the same educational ethos. “For a rich and full life, interest and involvement in Fine Arts, Music, Literature, Social, Cultural and Spiritual activities are essential.” And Dr. Sarala Birla, the wife of Basant Kumar—and daughter of activist and writer Brijlal Biyani—Education is a meaningless ritual, unless it moulds the character of students and imparts in them a strong sense of values.”
In my keynote that opened the conference I asked the hundreds of participants to consider recent trends and future directions in “ecocultural ethics” as intellectual work in our shared study of environmental issues and problems. I shared a few examples of innovative collaborations with students, academic colleagues and community-based groups: faculty and students conducting research together, often by taking the campus or local community as a site for the inquiry (a pedagogical model, by the way, that responds well to the call for surveys of employers and business leaders—in the US and in The Times of India that I read in Mumbai—for the human skills of thinking well, communicating effectively, collaborating, and persuasion; programs, centers, and institutes in which faculty are working on projects not limited by disciplinary, methodological or epistemological differences; and technology initiatives designed to build resources for academics, journalists, and the members of the public.
We then talked, in the discussion period and throughout the conference, about comparable projects and initiatives in India. One of the research scholars was inspired by my talk and invited tribal people to the BITS campus for his presentation. And later, during an evening out with colleagues, I learned more about the generative work of one of the conference organizers (who is collaborating with my English colleague Rayson Alex on the natural and cultural history of a bird sanctuary near Panjim) Solano Jose Savio Da Silva, who works in Development Studies and Political Science.
October 24, 2014 § Leave a comment
Let’s just say your professional title is Professor of English and American Studies, and you happen to have been elected President of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE-US), and you are invited to deliver the Keynote Address at the International Conference on Ecocultural Ethics: Recent Trends and Future Directions, sponsored by the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, at the Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Goa, India. Perhaps, in addition to your address, “The Ecological Arts: Humanities, Technology, Science,” you would be invited to be part of a featured conference session on ecological learning with a fisheries biologist, a philosopher of science, a community activist, and an expert on wastewater treatment. And let’s say you also chair a session called “Representations of Land and Animals,” and spend your days on campus meeting with research scholars from universities across India to discuss their work in the environmental humanities. How would you approach your visit?If your goal in India was to share with your Indian colleagues recent trends and future directions in ecocriticism and the environmental humanities, you might feature your own project, or talk about methodological or theoretical trends. However if your focus was not on intellectual or theoretical discourse then you might zero in on institutions—and the pressing need for us to work together to change them. In fact you might float the title, “The Ecological Arts,” and use the term ecology to bring together the humanities, sciences, and technology. Then you would lay out your key terms and then connect those key terms to a way of thinking about education before sharing your own efforts, and those of ASLE-US colleagues, who are transforming their intellectual work, disciplines and institutions. Hey, you might even conclude that our current intellectual work, our academic disciplines and institutions, struggle to honor this basic point and that we need to work together to transform our work, and the work of our students, as we meet the new challenges of a rapidly changing world.
So that is what I did. I explained to my audience that one of my projects as the current president of ASLE-US has been designing and building a web site to strengthen how our members share resources, collaborate, as well as engage audiences beyond the academy—from community groups and national organizations to journalists. As part of this work, we have reached out to dozens of our members, and have compiled an archive of video, audio and text commentaries that chronicle the histories and activities of ecocriticism and the environmental humanities. The web site includes an archive of member perspectives on ecocriticism and the environmental humanities delivered for academic audiences. Currently the archive includes University of California Los Angeles professor Ursula Heise’s assessment of the environmental humanities in her 2014 “American Comparative Literature Association’s State of the Field Report”; University of Wisconsin professor Rob Nixon’s keynote address at the Utrecht Edward Said Memorial Conference in 2013 that explores convergences between colonial oppression and ecological degradation, the unequal distribution of environmental resources and risks and conditions of environmental injustice; the University of Texas’s Stacy Alaimo’s primer on science studies and the environmental humanities. The archive has an essay by Julianne Lutz Warren, Senior Scholar at the Center for Humans and Nature, on “Generativity,” and a conversation with Iain MacCalman, professor at the Sydney Environment Institute, in Australia, about the necessary transformation of our intellectual work in the humanities and social sciences in the “anthropocene.” These member perspectives, I concluded, are all pointing to the historical and ethical imperative to transform our intellectual work to address the complicated and complex environmental questions we are facing today.
October 24, 2014 § Leave a comment
11 October 2014, Goa India
“The Ecological Arts: Humanities, Technology and Science” was the topic on which Prof. Mark C Long, President ASLE (American Society for Literature and Environment) and Professor at Keene State College, USA delivered the inaugural address at the three day International Conference “Towards Eco cultural Ethics: Recent Trends and Future Directions” being hosted by the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, BITS Pilani, K K Birla Goa Campus during 9-11 October 2014. Chief Guest at the inaugural ceremony held at the campus auditorium on 9th October 2014, Prof. Mark explored the historical and ethical imperative to build intellectual collaborations across the humanities and sciences to address global issues of environmental concerns.
Environmental Humanities or Ecological Humanities, an interdisciplinary area of research that has emerged in the Humanities discipline over the past few decades is the topic of deliberations at the conference. The term “Ecoculture” brings the two disciplines namely ecology and culture on a single platform. The present conference strives to build a platform to initiate an ecocultural dialogue between theorists and practitioners belonging to various disciplines. It is here that ethics becomes a relevant and a vital point of focus. As the methodologies of the fused disciplines are diverse, the perspectives on ethics can also be seen from various dimensions.
Realizing the importance of research in the area of Environmental Humanities, the conference has brought together about 160 participants across India and abroad to present papers on various related issues. Prof. K. E. Raman, Director, at the inaugural ceremony emphasized the environmental concerns researchers need to take up and also the need for promoting interdisciplinary research. Prof. Meenakshi Raman, Dr. Reena Cheruvaleth, Dr. Rayson K. Alex and Dr. Gyan Prakash are the organizers of the event that is co-sponsored by ASLE, USA and Esteem Builders and Developers, Goa.
March 5, 2014 § Leave a comment
This morning I read Michelle Navarre’s “Cleary The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar” in The Atlantic magazine. The essay takes up the question whether grammar lessons must come before writing or the learning of grammar through writing (and reading). Navarre, an associate professor and associate dean at DePaul University’s School for New Learning, notes the decades of study that demonstrate how teaching rules outside of context or use does not work well for most writers.
These kinds of conversations inevitably bring up approaches to teaching writing, and the ways that teaching writing in schools does and does not result in better writing. What we have discovered in more than a decade of work at Keene State College is that developing writers requires a sustained focus on writing—across all four years, and in as many classrooms and fields of study as possible. If we value writing, we need to give students authentic and challenging writing at every turn. This philosophy of teaching writing, it should follow, needs to shape elementary, secondary and post-secondary classrooms. Have a look at another essay in The Atlantic series, Peg Tyre’s 2012 essay “The Writing Revolution” for a case study at New Dorp High School focused on teaching analytic writing, every day, in virtually every class.
Finally, and not incidentally, The Atlantic series includes an essay by a secondary teacher, Andrew Simmons, whose “Facebook Has Transformed My Students’ Writing—for the Better,” offers a first-person anecdotal case for the value of social media in developing skills associated with storytelling and emotional authenticity in personal writing.