Environmental Studies Concentration

The Environmental Studies concentration provides students with an opportunity to explore how humans interact with the environment, including physical, biological, philosophical, and social elements. The concentration is designed so that students will understand the complexity of issues and perspectives and appreciate that most environmental issues lack distinct disciplinary boundaries. The goal of the concentration is to educate students to be well–informed, environmentally–literate citizens of the planet who have the capacity to become active participants in the local and global community. To this end, the concentration is designed to develop the capability to think in interdisciplinary ways and to use synthetic approaches to solve problems while incorporating the knowledge and experiences gained from majoring in other departments at the College.

Read a full description of the program http://web.williams.edu/admin/registrar//catalog/index.html

Requirements for the Concentration in Environmental Studies

The concentration in Environmental Studies consists of four core courses and one elective course in each of the three divisions: natural science, social science, and humanities and arts.

Variations from the requirements of the concentration must be approved in writing by the director of the program. Students are urged to consult with program faculty and the director as soon as they develop an interest in the concentration or if they intend to participate in study away opportunities. In addition to courses fulfilling the concentration requirements, the following electives and related electives are offered:

  • Environmental Studies 397, 398 Independent Study of Environmental Problems
  • Environmental Studies 493-W31-494 Senior Research and Thesis

In order to complete the concentration in Environmental Studies a student must take one course from each of the three distribution categories: the Natural World, Humanities Arts, Social Sciences, and Environmental Policy. Courses may be counted both towards the concentration in Environmental Studies and towards the student’s major. Not all courses are offered each year, and new courses are often added to the list based on the interests of new faculty members. Students may check with the department coordinator to see if other courses not listed here might count as electives.

Winter study courses play an important role in the program, offering opportunities to experiment in fields unfamiliar to the student, and for interdisciplinary topics to be developed by faculty working alone and in teams. Students are urged to review each year’s winter study offerings bearing in mind their interests in the environment.

Core Courses

ENVI 101(F)Nature and Society: An Introduction to Environmental Studies

This course introduces environmental studies as an interdisciplinary field of learning. It will provide a survey of a broad range of environmental problems, cases, and questions, from climate change to sustainable agriculture, from toxic waste to species extinction. We will also examine the intellectual traditions, authors, and historical developments that have most profoundly shaped our understanding of these issues. Keeping a constant eye on the complexities of life in the twenty-first century, we will explore the many different theories and methods that inform environmental scholarship, activism, and policy-making in a variety of cultural arenas and across geographical scales. Along the way, we will read works by philosophers, economists, journalists, historians, sociologists, and many others. [ more ]

BIOL 203 / ENVI 203(F)Ecology

This course combines lectures with field and indoor laboratory exercises to explore factors that determine the distribution and abundance of plants and animals in natural systems. The course begins with an overall view of global patterns and then builds from the population to the ecosystem level. An emphasis is given to basic ecological principles and relates them to current environmental issues. Selected topics include population dynamics (competition, predation, mutualism); community interactions (succession, food chains and diversity) and ecosystem function (biogeochemical cycles, energy flow). [ more ]

ENVI 302(F)Environmental Planning

This interdisciplinary course introduces the theories, approaches, methodologies, and legal framework of environmental planning and provides students with experience in the planning process through project work in the Berkshire region. The first part of the course introduces the students to planning literature through analysis and discussion of case studies. In the second part of the course students tackle an actual planning problem. Small teams of students, working in conjunction with a client in the community and under supervision of the instructor, conduct a planning project, using all the tools of an environmental planner. The project work draws on students' academic training, extracurricular activities, and applies interdisciplinary knowledge and methodologies. The course includes several class presentations and culminates in a public presentation of each team's planning study. This course also includes field trips, town meetings, interviews, survey work, and computer mapping labs. [ more ]

ENVI 402 / MAST 402(S)Senior Seminar: Perspectives on Environmental Studies

The Environmental Studies and Maritime Studies programs provide students with an opportunity to explore the myriad ways in which humans interact with diverse environments at scales ranging from local to global. As the capstone course for Environmental Studies and Maritime Studies, this seminar will bring together students who will have specialized in the humanities, social studies and/or the sciences and will provide an opportunity for exchange across these disciplinary streams. Readings and discussion will be organized around the common theme of climate change. Over the course of the seminar, students will develop a sustained independent research project on a topic of their choice. [ more ]

Distribution Courses in the Natural World

GEOS 101 / ENVI 105The Co-Evolution of Earth and Life

Not offered this year

Our planet is about 4.6 billion years old and has supported life for at least the last 3.5 billion of those years. This course will consider the inter-related nature of Earth and the life that inhabits it, starting with the first living organisms and progressing to the interaction of our own species with the Earth today. Students will investigate the dynamic nature of the Earth-life system, examine many of its feedbacks, and learn about the dramatic changes that have occurred throughout the history of the Earth. We will ask questions such as: How did the Earth facilitate biologic evolution, and what effects did those biologic events have on the physical Earth? When did photosynthesis evolve, how can we detect that in the rock record, and how did this biological event lead to profound changes in the environment? How and why did animals evolve and what role did environmental change play in the radiation of animal life? How did the rise and radiation of land plants affect world climate? How do plate tectonics, glaciation, and volcanism influence biodiversity and evolutionary innovation? What caused mass extinctions in the past and what can that teach us about our current extinction crisis? Labs will involve hands-on analysis of rocks, fossils, and real-world data as well as conceptual and analytical exercises; field trips will contextualize major events in Earth history and will help students learn to read the rock record. Through these investigations, the class will provide a comprehensive overview of Earth history, with special attention paid to the geological and paleontological history of the northeastern United States. [ more ]

ENVI 102(S)Introduction to Environmental Science

Environmental science is the interdisciplinary study of the Earth's systems through the synthesis of physical, chemical, geological, and biological perspectives. This course introduces students to the scientific methods used to assess human impacts on the environment. This is important because with the human population expected to grow to more than nine billion people by 2050, we will continue to struggle to find ways to solve, or at least mitigate, the growing environmental consequences of our activities. In this course, we will take a problem-oriented approach to environmental science, focusing on five key questions: 1) Do we have sufficient material resources for the future world population? 2) How can we feed our growing population? 3) How can this population maintain a clean environment? 4) Do we have sufficient sustainable energy resources for a growing population? and 5) How will this growing population change our planet? Over the course of this semester, we will explore the science necessary to understand the underlying environmental systems involved and to develop effective scientific and policy solutions. We will also touch on how science can (and cannot) influence broader issues associated with complex environmental problems. Field and laboratory exercises will generate data that students will analyze, interpret and compare to historic data sets. Students will design and complete an independent project on an environmental science topic of their choice. [ more ]

Taught by: Alex Apotsos

Catalog details

GEOS 102(S)An Unfinished Planet

The Earth is a work-in-progress, an evolving planet whose vital signs--as expressed by earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and shifting plates--are still strong. In a geological time frame, nothing on Earth is permanent: ocean basins open and close, mountains rise and fall, continental masses accrete and separate. There is a message here for all of us who live, for an infinitesimally brief time, on the moving surface of the globe. This course uses the plate tectonics model--one of the fundamental scientific accomplishments of the past century--to interpret the processes and products of a changing Earth. The emphasis will be on mountain systems (on land and beneath the oceans) as expressions of plate interactions. Specific topics include the rocks and structures of modern and ancient mountain belts, the patterns of global seismicity and volcanism, the nature of the Earth's interior, the changing configurations of continents and ocean basins through time, and, in some detail, the formation of the Appalachian Mountain system and the geological assembly of New England. Readings will be from a physical geology textbook, a primary source supplement, selected writings of John McPhee, and references about the geology of the Northeast. [ more ]

GEOS 103 / ENVI 103(F)Global Warming and Natural Disasters

The destruction caused by recent storms such as Irene and Sandy, devastation of prolonged drought in the African Sahel, catastrophic flooding and mudslides in SE Asia and sea level encroachment on the Alaska coast are visible examples of natural disasters that may be modulated by climate change. Global climate change, together with environmental degradation and the explosive growth of urban areas, has the potential to increase the severity and impact of natural disasters. In this course we globally examine geological and climatological processes that "set up" natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, landslides, droughts, extreme temperatures, and coastal surges, as well as the processes that condition availability of water resources. We study in detail the causes and anticipated consequences of human alteration of global climate and its impact on the spectrum of natural hazards and resources. During laboratory sessions we use local field sites and computer models to analyze recent disasters/hazards, trends in weather and climate and options for mitigating future impacts. [ more ]

Taught by: Alex Apotsos, David Dethier

Catalog details

MAST 104 / ENVI 104 / GEOS 104(S)Oceanography

The oceans cover about 72% of Earth's surface, yet we know the surface of Venus better than our own ocean floors. Why is that? This integrated introduction to the oceans covers formation and history of the ocean basins; the composition and origin of seawater; currents, tides, and waves; ocean-atmosphere interactions; oceans and climate; deep-marine environments; coastal processes; productivity in the oceans; and human impacts. Coastal oceanography will be investigated on an all-day field trip, hosted by the Williams-Mystic program in Connecticut. [ more ]

PHYS 108 / ENVI 108Energy Science and Technology

Not offered this year

Energy use has skyrocketed in the United States and elsewhere in the world, causing significant economic and political shifts, as well as concerns for the environment. This course will address the physics and technology of energy generation, consumption, and conservation. It will cover a wide range of energy sources, including fossil fuels, hydropower, solar energy, wind energy, and nuclear energy. We will discuss energy use in transportation, manufacturing, building heating, and building lighting. Students will learn to compare the efficiencies and environmental impacts of various energy sources and uses. [ more ]

BIOL 134 / ENVI 134(S)The Tropics: Biology and Social Issues

Intended for the non-scientist, this course explores the biological dimensions of social issues in tropical societies, and focuses on specifically on the peoples and cultures of tropical regions in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Oceanea, and the Caribbean. Tropical issues have become prominent on a global scale, and many social issues in the tropics are inextricably bound to human ecology, evolution, and physiology. The course begins with a survey of the tropical environment of humans, including major climatic and habitat features. The next section focuses on human population biology, and emphasizes demography and the role of disease particularly malaria and AIDS. The final part of the course covers the place of human societies in local and global ecosystems including the challenges of tropical food production, the importance of organic diversity, and the interaction of humans with their supporting ecological environment. This course fulfills the EDI requirement. Through lectures, debates and readings, students confront social issues in the tropics from the perspective of biologist. This builds a framework for lifelong exploration of human diversity. [ more ]

GEOS 201 / ENVI 205(F)Geomorphology

This course is designed for Geosciences majors and for environmental studies students interested in surficial geologic processes and their importance in shaping the physical environment. Geomorphology is the study of landforms, the processes that shape them and the rates at which surface processes change the landscape. This class emphasizes the influence of climatic, tectonic, and volcanic forces on landform evolution over relatively short periods of geologic time, generally thousands to a few millions of years. At this time scale, the influence of human activity and climate change on landforms may be strong, perhaps dominant, in many geologic environments. Many of our examples analyze human interaction - planned or unplanned-- with geomorphic processes. Labs focus on field measurements of channels and landscapes in the Williamstown area as well as on the analysis of topographic maps and stereo air photos. [ more ]

GEOS 205 / ENVI 207(F)Earth Resources

The metal in your soda can, the plastic in your Nalgene, the components of your computer, the glass in your window, the hydrocarbons being burned to keep you warm in the winter or to transport you in cars or aircraft, the cars and aircraft themselves: all are made of materials mined from the Earth. Right now there are more people building more houses, paving more roads, making more vehicles, more electronics, and more plastic packaging--all with geologic materials. As demand soars in both established and growing economies, and as we realize the environmental damage that can result from resource extraction and processing, the importance of understanding Earth's resources increases. Finding new deposits and managing those we have requires insight into the geology that underlies the location and origin of strategic Earth materials. This class introduces the geologic processes that control formation, distribution, and extent of materials reserves: dimension stone and gravel, base and precious metal ores, gemstones, petroleum, nuclear energy sources, and specialty materials for medical, technological, and military uses. [ more ]

GEOS 206 / ENVI 206Renewable Energy and the Sustainable Campus

Not offered this year

Rising oil and electricity costs disrupt the economy and help fuel global insecurity. Extraction of fossil fuels degrades the environment. Clearer understanding of how fossil-fuel consumption contributes to global climate change is increasing the demand for renewable sources of energy and for more sustainable campus environments. What sources of energy will supply Williams College and nearby areas in the twenty-first century? How will campus buildings, old and new, continue to be attractive spaces while making far more efficient use of heat and light? How can the College's operations and purchasing become more sustainable? This course is a practical introduction to renewable sources of energy, including conservation, principles of sustainability, and to their application to the campus environment. Topics covered include: biological sources of energy (biomass, biogas, liquid fuels), wind energy, geothermal and solar energy, energy efficiency and the environmental impacts of using renewable energy. Lectures, field trips and individual projects emphasize examples from the campus and nearby area. [ more ]

MAST 211 / GEOS 210(F, S)Oceanographic Processes

This course examines ocean and coastal environmental science issues including carbon dioxide and the ocean's role in climate, El Ni?o and other ocean-atmosphere oscillations that influence our weather, coastal erosion and other hazards, coastal pollution, and fisheries. The focus is on controlling processes with regional comparisons. Blue water oceanography is conducted in the Atlantic and comparative coastal oceanography includes trips to southern New England shores, and the West and Gulf coasts of the US as part of the Williams-Mystic program. [ more ]

GEOS 214(S)Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Systems

This class provides a practical look at fast-evolving methods used to integrate information about the Earth's surface with spatial data collected by disciplines such as archaeology, economics, the field sciences, history and political science. Remote sensing involves collection and processing of data from satellite and airborne sensors to yield environmental information about the Earth's surface and lower atmosphere. Remote sensing allows regional mapping of rock materials, analysis of vegetation cover and measurement of urban areas and land-use change over time. A Geographic Information System (GIS) links satellite-based environmental measurements with spatial data such as topography, transportation networks, and political boundaries, allowing display and quantitative analysis at the same scale using the same geographic reference. This course covers concepts of remote-data capture and geographic rectification using a Global Positioning System (GPS), as well as principles of remote sensing, including linear and non-linear image enhancements, convolution filtering, and image classification. Principles of GIS include display and classification, spatial buffers, logical overlays and techniques of spatial analysis. Weekly labs focus on training in the application of techniques using data from the region and other areas of North America. [ more ]

GEOS 215 / ENVI 215Climate Changes

Not offered this year

In recent years, there has been a growing public and scientific interest in the Earth's climate and its variability. This interest reflects both concern over future climate changes resulting from anthropogenic increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases and growing recognition of the economic impact of "natural" climate variability (for example, El Ni?o events), especially in the developing world. Efforts to understand the Earth's climate system and predict future climate changes require both study of parameters controlling present day climate and detailed studies of climate changes in the past. In this course, we will review the processes that control the Earth's climate, like insolation, the greenhouse effect, ocean circulation, configuration of continents, and positive and negative feedbacks. At the same time, we will review the geological record of climate changes in the past, examining their causes. Laboratory exercises and problem sets will emphasize developing problem solving skills and using quantitative analyses to assess if a given explanation is possible and reasonable. These exercises will include developing and applying numerical models of the radiative balance of earth and the carbon cycle. [ more ]

BIOL 220 / ENVI 220(S)Field Botany and Plant Natural History

This field-lecture course covers the evolutionary and ecological relationships among plant groups represented in our local and regional flora. Lectures focus on the evolution of the land plants, the most recent and revolutionary developments in plant systemics and phylogeny, and characteristics of plant families and cultural and economic uses of plants, native species. The labs cover field identification, natural history, and ecology of local species. [ more ]

MAST 226 T / ENVI 226 / GEOS 226The Oceans and Climate

Not offered this year

The oceans are a fundamental part of Earth's climate system. Ocean currents redistribute heat and water vapor around the globe, controlling temperature and precipitation patterns. Marine phytoplankton blooms and air-sea gas exchange modulate the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. The dynamic interaction of the atmosphere and the sea surface results in multi-year climate variations such as the El Ni?o-Southern Oscillation. This course will examine gradual and abrupt climate shifts from Earth's history and the ocean's role in driving, amplifying or dampening the changes, the ocean's response to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, and the projected impacts of continued emissions and climate change on the ocean in the coming decades and millennia. We will analyze articles from the scientific literature that lay out the theory on the ocean's influence on climate, reconstruct past climate and ocean changes, test the mechanisms responsible for those changes, and with that knowledge, project the consequences of continued anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Topics may include the climate effects of opening and closing seaways with plate tectonics, ocean feedbacks that amplify the intensity of ice ages, the instability of ocean circulation during ice-sheet retreat, the evolution of the El Ni?o-Southern Oscillation with changing carbon dioxide through the geologic past and the next century, ocean heat and carbon dioxide uptake during the last century and into the future, and the impact on sea level, seafloor methane reservoirs, ocean acidification, oxygenation and marine ecosystems. [ more ]

BIOL 302 / ENVI 312(F)Communities and Ecosystems

An advanced ecology course that examines how species interact with each other and their environment with a focus on conservation implications. This course emphasizes phenomena that emerge in complex ecological systems, building on the fundamental concepts of population biology, community ecology, and ecosystem science. This foundation will be used to understand specific topics relevant to conservation including the functional significance of diversity for ecosystem stability and processes. Lectures and labs will explore how to characterize the emergent properties of communities and ecosystems, and how theoretical, comparative, and experimental approaches are used to understand their structure and function. The lab component of this course will emphasize hypothesis-oriented field experiments but will also include some laboratory microcosm experiments. The laboratory component of the course will culminate with a self-designed independent or group project. [ more ]

MAST 311 / BIOL 231(F, S)Marine Ecology

Using the principles of evolutionary biology and experimental ecology, this course examines the processes that control the diversity, abundance and distribution of marine organisms. Major marine communities, including estuaries, the rocky shore, sandy beaches, salt marshes, coral reefs, and the deep sea are discussed in detail. [ more ]

GEOS 314 / ENVI 314(S)Sediment Records of Climate Change

Sediments and sedimentary rocks may appear unassuming but they are an extraordinarily rich archive of Earth's geologic history, including Earth's past climate. In the first half of this class, we will survey techniques of stratigraphic analysis and dating of sediments, including paleomagnetism, seismic stratigraphy, biozones, and radioisotope methods. In the second half, we will survey the wide variety of methods for reconstructing past climate from sediments including the composition and texture of the sediment, the assemblage of fossils, and the elemental and isotope chemistry of sediment components. These are used to reconstruct many climatic parameters from the past, including the temperature and salinity of seawater, atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration, ocean circulation, sea ice distribution, global terrestrial ice volume, terrestrial biomes, and in some cases, seasonal to interannual climate variability. In labs and independent projects, students will apply these tools to a collection of sediment samples spanning eight million years from the warm Miocene to the present collected from the Monterey Bay region by GEOS 25 during WSP. Students who register for this class are strongly encouraged to take GEOS 25, and are given enrollment preference in that course. [ more ]

CHEM 341 / ENVI 341Toxicology and Cancer

Not offered this year

What is a poison and what makes it poisonous? Paracelcus commented in 1537: "What is not a poison? All things are poisons (and nothing is without poison). The dose alone keeps a thing from being a poison." Is the picture really this bleak; is modern technology-based society truly swimming in a sea of toxic materials? How are the nature and severity of toxicity established, measured and expressed? Do all toxic materials exert their effect in the same manner, or can materials be poisonous in a variety of different ways? Are the safety levels set by regulatory agencies low enough for a range of common toxic materials, such as mercury, lead, and certain pesticides? How are poisons metabolized and how do they lead to the development of cancer? What is cancer and what does it take to cause it? What biochemical defense mechanisms exist to counteract the effects of poisons?
This course attempts to answer these questions by surveying the fundamentals of modern chemical toxicology and the induction and progression of cancer. Topics will range from description and quantitation of the toxic response, including risk assessment, to the basic mechanisms underlying toxicity, mutagenesis, carcinogenesis, and DNA repair.
[ more ]

CHEM 364 / ENVI 364(F, S)Instrumental Methods of Analysis

This course provides the student an understanding of the applicability of current laboratory instrumentation both to the elucidation of fundamental chemical phenomena and to the measurement of certain atomic and molecular parameters. Student will gain knowledge and understanding of the theory and practical use of a variety of instrumental techniques; including, but not limited to, chromatography, mass spectrometry, thermal methods, electroanalytical techniques, atomic and molecular absorption and emission spectroscopy, X-ray diffraction, and optical and electron microscopies, with examples drawn from the current literature. Analytical chemical and instrumental techniques will be developed in the lecture and extensively applied within the laboratory. These skills are useful in a wide variety of scientific areas. Through exploration of primary literature and review articles we will discuss recent developments in instrumental methods and advances in the approaches used to address modern analytical questions. [ more ]

Taught by: Patrick Barber

Catalog details

GEOS 405 / ENVI 405(F)Geochemistry: Understanding Earth's Environment

Rocks, water, air, life: what comprises these interconnected components of the Earth system? How do they interact today, and how did these interactions differ in the past? In this course we will study how chemical elements are distributed in the Earth, cycle through the Earth system, and act together to produce a planet that is habitable. As Earth's landscapes and oceans, and the life they harbor, have evolved through time, they have left an imprint in the geological record that we can read using geochemical tools such as molecular fossils, elemental ratios, and stable and radioactive isotopes. Topics include the synthesis of elements in stars, the formation and differentiation of planet Earth; radiometric dating; the major constituents of the atmosphere, rain, rocks, rivers and the ocean; how they're linked by chemical weathering and biological activity; and reconstruction of past environments. Students will explore these topics through lecture; reading and discussing articles from the scientific literature; and collecting, analyzing and interpreting data from environmental samples. [ more ]

MATH 410 T / BIOL 214(S)Mathematical Ecology

Using mathematics to study natural phenomena has become ubiquitous over the past couple of decades. In this tutorial, we will study mathematical models comprised of both deterministic and stochastic differential equations that are developed to understand ecological dynamics and, in many cases, evaluate the dynamical consequences of policy decisions. We will learn how to understand these models through both standard analytic techniques such as stability and bifurcation analysis as well as through simulation using computer programs such as MATLAB. Possible topics include fisheries management, disease ecology, control of invasive species, and predicting critical transitions in ecological systems. [ more ]

BIOL 422 / ENVI 422(F)Ecology of Sustainable Agriculture

A seminar/field course investigating patterns, processes, and concepts of stability in human-dominated, food production ecosystems. As a capstone course, the course will draw upon the experiences that students have had in biology and environmental studies courses. Topics will include: the relationships among diversity, ecosystem function, sustainability, resilience, and stability of food production, distribution systems, nutrient pools and processing in human dominated ecosystems. Two extensive field trips will be taken to agricultural operations in the region. Each student will present a seminar on a topic requiring extensive reading of primary resources and is responsible for leading the discussion that ensues. Reading question paper assignments will be due prior to the seminar. Criticism paper assignments will be made at approximately bi-weekly intervals and due two days after the seminar to which they relate. [ more ]

BIOL 424 T / ENVI 424Conservation Biology

Not offered this year

This tutorial examines the application of population genetics, population ecology, community ecology, and systematic to the conservation of biological diversity. While the focus of this tutorial is on biological rather than social, legal, or political issues underlying conservation decisions, the context is to develop science-based recommendations that can inform policy. Topics include extinction, the genetics of small populations, habitat fragmentation, the impact of invasive species, restoration ecology, design of reserves and conservation strategies. Format; tutorial/field trip, one to three hours per week. Requirements: evaluation will be based on 5 writing assignments, tutorial presentation, performance in the role of paper critic, and course participation. [ more ]

Distribution Courses in Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences

ENVI 209 / AMST 209 / ANTH 209Ecologies of Place: Culture, Commodities and Everyday Life

Not offered this year

This course will explore the environmental implications of everyday life in modern America. It will ask how cultural, political, economic, and ecological systems interact to produce ordinary places and vernacular landscapes, from campuses to cul-de-sacs, farms to forests, nation-states to national parks. Combining approaches from cultural geography, environmental history, and political ecology, it will focus on the hidden lives of "things"--the commodities and technologies that form the basic building blocks of place: food, oil, water, wood, machines. With strong emphasis on local-global relations, it will look beneath the surface of the ordinary to reveal the complex networks of power, meaning, and matter that connect "here" to "there," "now" to "then," and "us" to "them." In so doing, it will pursue parallel goals: to understand the socio-spatial processes shaping today's global environment; and to explore the cultural systems through which those processes are understood and contested. Topics will include the bottled water controversy, factory farming and local agriculture, the political economy of lawns, and the cultural politics of invasive species. [ more ]

AFR 211 / AMST 211 / ENVI 211 / SOC 211(S)Race and the Environment

In contemporary societies, race remains an enduring impediment to the achievement of equality. Generally understood as a socially meaningful way of classifying human bodies hierarchically, race manifests itself in a number of arenas, including personal experience, economic production and distribution, and political organization. In this course, we will explore how race emerges in local and global environmental issues, like pollution and climate change. We will begin with a review of some of the landmark texts in Environmental Studies that address "environmental racism," like Robert Bullard's Dumping in Dixie and David Pellow's Garbage Wars. We will examine how and to what extent polluting facilities like landfills, oil refineries, and sewage treatment plants are disproportionately located in communities of color; we will also pay attention to how specific corporations create the underlying rationale for plotting industrial sites. After outlining some of the core issues raised in this scholarship, we will turn to cultural productions--like literature, film, and music--to understand how people of color respond to environmental injustice and imagine the natural world. [ more ]

ANTH 214 / ENVI 224(F)The Rise and Fall of Civilizations

Over the centuries, philosophers and historians have asked how societies evolved from simple hunter-gatherer bands to complex urban civilizations. Human prehistory and history have shown the repeated cycles of the rise, expansion and collapse of early civilizations in both the Old and New World. What do the similarities and differences in the development of these first civilizations tell us about the nature of societal change, civilization and the state, and human society itself? The course will examine these issues through an introductory survey of the earliest civilizations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, Mesoamerica and South America. Classical and modern theories on the nature, origin, and development of the state will be reviewed in light of the archaeological evidence. [ more ]

ENVI 217 / AMST 216(S)Environmental Humanities: Theory and Practice

How does culture shape our use and imagination of the physical environment? And how does the physical environment shape culture in turn? These are the central questions of the environmental humanities. This course will explore the various ways in which scholars from a broad range of disciplines have sought to answer these questions by incorporating insights from social theory and cultural criticism. Focusing on studies of land and landscape in the Americas from the time of European colonization to the present, it will examine key works from fields such as environmental history, ecocriticism, environmental philosophy, and cultural geography, and it will survey the major methodological and theoretical commitments that unite these fields. Emphasis will be placed on the ideological critique of modernity. How have scholars made environmental sense of liberalism, colonialism, capitalism, nationalism, sexism, racism, and speciesism? How have these "isms" influenced our relations with the natural world, and how can the humanities help us both understand and change these relations for the better? This course fulfills the Exploring Diversity requirement. [ more ]

LATS 220 / AMST 221 / ENVI 221Introduction to Urban Studies: Shaping and Living the City

Not offered this year

Generally, cities have been described either as vibrant commercial and cultural centers or as violent and decaying urban slums. In an effort to begin to think more critically about cities, this course introduces important topics in the interdisciplinary field of Urban Studies. Specifically, we will discuss concepts and theories used to examine the peoples and structures that make up cities: In what ways do socio-cultural, economic, and political factors affect urban life and development? How are cities planned and used by various stakeholders (politicians, developers, businesses, and residents)? How do people make meaning of the places they inhabit? We will pay particular attention to the roles of race, ethnicity, class, and gender in understanding and interpreting urban communities. Texts include works by anthropologists, historians, sociologists, cultural critics, cultural geographers, and literary writers. [ more ]

REL 227 / AMST 227 / ENVI 227 / LATS 227Utopias and Americas

Not offered this year

Where does the term "new world" come from? What do we mean by "utopia," "utopian," and "utopianism?" What relationships exist between the people who imagine utopias and the lands they inhabit? This course considers the relationship between utopian imaginations and the imaginations of the lands and peoples in the Western hemisphere. We will spend some time studying utopian theory, ancient proto-utopias, and utopias in Latin America, though our main focus will be on particular examples of utopianism in the U.S.A. We will attend to particular instances of utopian social dreaming that re-imagine time, space, environment, gender, family, education, and power. While the U.S.A. is the main focus of the class, students are encouraged to pursue and bring to class utopian perspectives from other parts of the Americas. Students are also strongly encouraged to take questions from class and engage utopian images not listed on this syllabus but pertinent to our classroom learning. [ more ]

MAST 231 / ENGL 231(F, S)Literature of the Sea

Taking advantage of our maritime museum, coastal setting, and three field seminars, we study canonical and lesser-known American novelists, travel writers, and poets who set their works in the watery world, often in the exact places where we travel as a class. We read, for example--depending on fall or spring semester--Hemingway when sailing on the Straits of Florida, Steinbeck when exploring Cannery Row on Monterey Bay, and Twain on a steamboat on the Mississippi. We read Rachel Carson beside the Mystic River estuary, Chopin on the sands of the Gulf of Mexico, Kipling out on Georges Bank, and Melville's masterpiece Moby-Dick aboard Mystic Seaport's historic whaleship, the Charles W. Morgan, a vessel nearly identical to the vessel he climbed aboard at age twenty-one. In the classroom we examine these works through a mixture of lecture, small-group discussion, and formal and creative writing. To further appreciation and analysis, this interdisciplinary course uses students' emerging knowledge of maritime history and marine science. Other authors and poets include, depending on fall or spring: Richard Henry Dana, Jr., Walt Whitman, Jack London, Joseph Conrad, T.S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, Elizabeth Bishop, Frederick Douglass, Timothy Egan, and Ursula K. Le Guin. [ more ]

PSCI 235 / ENVI 235Environmental Political Theory

Not offered this year

What is the relationship between politics and nature? Today, this question has been given special urgency by the reality of environmental degradation and the efforts of social movements that seek a more sustainable future. But the nature-politics relationship is also a longstanding source of controversy and insight within the history of political thought. In this class, we will consider the efforts of both canonical and contemporary political theorists to fashion political principles suited to organizing the comportment of human communities towards non-human nature. The texts we read will prompt us to question common presuppositions about human nature and the material settings of political life. They will also challenge us to reconsider the actors, spaces, and knowledge that constitute politics. By putting contemporary scholarly and activist visions of environmental justice and sustainability into dialogue with works by Aristotle, Hobbes, Rousseau, and others, we will become more familiar with the theoretical roots of contemporary debates about the environment and better equipped to notice elisions in both past and present conceptions of nature and politics. The course will primarily be driven by discussion, often introduced by 15-20 minute lectures. [ more ]

ENVI 239 / COMP 239Introduction to Ecocriticism: North-South Dialogues on Nature and Culture

Not offered this year

This course will introduce students to the study of the relationship between literature and the environment, often referred to as 'ecocriticism,' through careful examination of Jean de Lery's 1577 History of a Voyage to the Land of Brazil and related texts. Lery's fascinating account of a yearlong stay among the 'cannibals' of Brazil gets at many of the themes and debates taken up by ecocritics today: How do political, economic, religious and philosophical factors influence individual and collective conceptions of 'nature' and its value? How do acts of reading and writing inform (or deform) our understanding of the 'natural' world? What is the role of aesthetics in environmental politics, and how can unspoken assumptions about race, gender, and cultural difference influence representations of global environmental issues like deforestation and global warming? Envi 239/Comp 238 fulfills the goals of the Exploring Diversity Initiative by contextualizing current questions of international environmental policy within the long history of colonialism, challenging students to think about cultural diversity as well as economic inequality as relevant to contemporary debates about the value and distribution of natural resources. In addition to Lery's History, we will also read landmarks of ecocritical theory by scholars including Lawrence Buell, William Cronon, Candace Slater and Jorge Marcone, as well as more recent literary interventions into environmental issues in the Americas. [ more ]

COMP 263 T / ENVI 223 / RLSP 223Colonial Landscapes: Latin America's Contemporary Environmental Literature

Not offered this year

"It is not by coincidence that our societies are both racist and anti-ecological," wrote the Chilean sociologist Fernando Mires in his now-classic study, The Discourse of Nature. This tutorial explores works of contemporary literature that implicitly and explicitly link Latin America's ongoing environmental crisis to the region's long and multi-layered history of colonialism: novels by Sylvia Iparraguirre (Argentina), Mayra Montero (Puerto Rico), Giaconda Belli (Nicaragua), Luis Sepulveda (Chile); poetry by Homero Aridjis (Mexico); essays by Octavio Paz (Mexico), Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (Brazil), and more. Representing a wide variety of geographies, literary styles and ideological perspectives, these writers nevertheless converge in challenging us to consider the effects of environmental crisis within structures of power that are radically unequal at the local, national, and global levels; and to recognize that consciousness of environmental vulnerability can prompt new forms of inclusion and community as well as exclusion. Topics to be explored also include the role of indigenous cosmologies in contemporary environmental politics, the place of urban ecologies within the environmental imaginary, and the ongoing debates among academic critics and others regarding the scope and methodologies of ecocriticism as an approach to Latin American literature. Students have the option of tutorial in Spanish or in English; partners will be assigned accordingly. Each tutorial pair will meet with me for one hour during the week, during which time we will discuss a 5-page paper that one of the partners has submitted the night before. This adds up to a substantial amount of (reading and) writing for each student in the course, i.e., six 5-page essays over the course of the semester. This tutorial meets the goals of the Exploring Diversity Initiative by challenging students to position themselves, intellectually and imaginatively, in the space of those excluded from modernity's material benefits as they struggle to brace themselves against its catastrophic environmental effects. [ more ]

ANTH 272 / WGSS 272Sex and the Reproduction of Society

Not offered this year

Why is reproduction such a controversial subject in society today, especially in areas of medicine, culture, and religion? And why is the reproductive body subject to such highly ideological and yet contradictory types of practices and discourses across the globe? This course seeks to examine the myriad ways that societies police the range of practices surrounding reproduction--including fertility, conception, pregnancy, birth, abortion, and motherhood. We will pursue a comparative analysis of reproduction across major societies and cultures, through an in-depth look at specialized topics such as the new reproductive technologies, the medicalization and ritualization of obstetrics in America, the continuing controversies over abortion across the globe, and the ongoing debates about the rise of women and the 'End of Men'. Throughout the course, we remain focused on the cultural, social, and medical construction of birth and reproduction more generally. To this end, we explore the varying ritual and medical practices that surround reproduction in different cultural contexts, from high tech to low tech settings and societies. We will deconstruct the process of human reproduction through readings culled from a variety of cultures and disciplines including anthropology, medicine, religious studies, sociology, and gender and sexuality studies. [ more ]

ENVI 285 / ENGL 286(S)Writing About Science and Nature

Over the last few decades, the nature of nature has changed and so, necessarily, has nature writing. In this course we will read essays and articles by some of the most innovative science and nature writers working today. Students will also produce their own work. The class will include workshop sessions and group discussions. There will be frequent short exercises and a long final project. [ more ]

Taught by: Elizabeth Kolbert

Catalog details

REL 287 / ENVI 287The Dynamics of Globalization: Society, Religion and the Environment

Not offered this year

This course offers a theoretical reflection on the social, cultural and environmental dynamics of globalization and their consequences for the nature and place of religion. Rather than argue for or against globalization, we first examine the nature of this new configuration and its relation to (post)modernity, asking questions such as: What are the cultural and social dynamics of globalization? What are the effects on the nature of the state and the political practices that take place in the global world? What are its environmental consequences? We then shift to examining the role of religion, arguing that its renewed relevance is a function of the socio-cultural transformations that globalization brings about, particularly the loss of community and the increasing atomization of individuals. We conclude by examining some of the perspectives created by the new religious expressions that attempt to respond to this situation, from personal spiritual quests as manifested in interest in Buddhism, ecology or mountain climbing, to various forms of fundamentalism, such as Evangelicalism, the fastest growing religious movement in the Americas, and the most radical forms of Islamicism. Reading list: Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity; Castells, The Rise of the Network Society; Bauman, Globalization; Kivisto, Multiculturalism in a Global Society; Casanova, Public Religions in the Modern World; Ortner, Life and Death on Mt. Everest; Matthews, Global Cultura/ Individual Identity; Shuck, Mark of the Beast; Roy, Globalized Islam. [ more ]

ENVI 291 / REL 291 / SOC 291(S)Religion and the American Environmental Imagination

This course examines the relationship between religious and environmental thought in modern America. Exploring a broad range of practices and beliefs, we will examine the religious (and anti-religious) roots of contemporary environmental discourse. Drawing widely on both religious studies and the environmental humanities, we will examine the works of famous environmental thinkers such as Henry David Thoreau and Wendell Berry, as well as a number of lesser-known writers from non-Christian backgrounds. We will read these writers alongside recent scholarship on religion and ecology to understand how they were influenced by social and environmental trends such as urbanization, industrialization, immigration, and globalization. We will also ask how religion has intersected with gender, race, class, and ethnicity to shape environmental politics in the twenty-first century, with particular emphasis on agrarianism, wilderness preservation, and climate justice. [ more ]

ENVI 303 / SOC 303(F)Cultures of Climate Change

This course asks why people think and talk about climate change in such very different ways. Climate change is a physical phenomenon that can be observed, quantified, and measured. But it is also an idea, and as such it is subject to the vagaries of cultural interpretation. Despite scientific agreement about its existence and its causes, many people do not see climate change as a serious problem, or as a problem at all. Many others see it as the most serious problem our species has ever faced. What are the sources of this disparity? Why can't we agree about climate change? How does something as complex and confusing as climate change become a "problem" in the first place? This course will explore a broad array of factors, from religion to race, class to colonialism. It will focus especially closely on the communication of scientific knowledge, risk perception, and environmental ethics, and it will apply a range of theories from the social sciences and humanities to a set of concrete case studies. [ more ]

ENVI 313 / AMST 312 / LATS 312Chicago

Not offered this year

"The city of big shoulders has plenty of room for diversity," reads the official visitor's website for the City of Chicago. Focusing on this claim, this course asks students to think critically about what kind room has been made for diversity--social, spatial, and ideological. Additionally we examine the ways in which diverse social actors have shouldered their way into the imagined and physical landscape of the city. Working with ethnography, history, literature, critical essays, and popular culture, we will explore the material and discursive constructions of Chi-Town and urban life among its residents. Appreciating these constructions we also consider how Chicago has served as a key site for understandings of urbanity within a broader national and global context. [ more ]

SOC 315Culture, Consumption and Modernity

Not offered this year

How do lifestyles, fashions and trends appear and evolve? Are we authors of our own taste? What structures our choices of goods and activities? What is it that gives meaning to objects and makes them desirable? Are there non-consumer societies in the modern world? How has globalization changed the ways people consume in different parts of the globe? This course will explore the consumption and consumer practices as products of modernity and will analyze the political, cultural and social agendas that have transformed consumption over time. Politics of consumption (the way in which seemingly free and independent consumption choices aggregate into the existing system of global capitalism) will be treated alongside its symbolic element: the role of consumer practices in creating and articulating identities, building relationships and creating solidarities. It will look at fashion, advertising, arts and shopping in places as varied as nineteenth-century France, socialist Russia, and in contemporary United States, tracing both the mechanisms that structure patterns of consumption, and the implications that these patterns have for the larger social order. [ more ]

COMP 328 / AMST 318 / ENVI 318 / LATS 318 / REL 318California: Myths, Peoples, Places

Not offered this year

"Now I wish you to know about the strangest thing ever found anywhere in written texts or in human memory...I tell you that on the right-hand side of the Indies there was an island called California, which was very close to the region of the Earthly Paradise." As far as we know, the name "California" was first written in this passage by Garci Rodriguez de Montalvo, ca. 1510. Within a few decades, it came to be placed first on the peninsula of Baja California and then upon a region stretching up the Western coast of North America. What aspects of this vision are still drawn upon in how we imagine California today? How did certain narratives of California come to be, who has imagined California in certain ways, and why? What is the relationship between certain myths, the peoples who have imagined them, and the other peoples who have shared California dreams? In this course, we will examine some of the myths that surround California by looking at a few specific moments of interaction between the peoples who have come to make California home and the specific places in which they have interacted with each other. Of special interest will be imaginations of the Spanish missions, the Gold Rush, agricultural California, wilderness California, California as "sprawling multicultural dystopia," and California as "west of the west." [ more ]

ARTS 329(F)Architectural Design II

A continuation and expansion of ideas and skills learned in Architectural Design I. There will be four to six design projects requiring drawings and models, each of which will emphasize particular aspects of architectural theory and design. Visiting critics will discuss student work. The course is useful for students thinking of applying to graduate school in architecture. [ more ]

PSCI 331Knowledge and Politics

Not offered this year

Is there a form of knowledge proper to politics? What are the risks and promise of turning to the sciences to supply or guarantee that knowledge (as we do, in different ways, when we call the study of politics "Political Science" or when we call for "science-based policies")? In this class, we will engage several recent works at the intersection of political theory and science studies that reopen the question of science's proper relationship to politics. These works challenge critical theory's traditional assumption that scientific knowledge is, at best, impotent and, at worst, imperious in the context of politics. Yet in defining a more productive role for the sciences in politics, they do not take for granted that science is what its traditional advocates often took it to be: objective, dispassionate... in short, a-political. Works we will consider may include William Connolly's Neuropolitics, Isabelle Stengers The Invention of Modern Science, Karen Barad's Meeting the Universe Halfway, Bruno Latour's Politics of Nature, Mark Brown's Science in Democracy, and Joseph Rouse's Knowledge and Power. [ more ]

PSYC 346 / ENVI 346Environmental Psychology

Not offered this year

This is a course in social psychology as it pertains to the natural environment. We will consider how the environment influences aspects of human psychology (e.g., the psychological implications of humans' disconnect with nature), as well as how human psychology influences the environment (e.g., why some people engage in environmentally destructive behaviors despite holding proenvironmental attitudes). At the core of this course is an attempt to examine various ways in which research and theory in social psychology can contribute insights to understanding (and encouraging) environmentally responsible behavior and sustainable practices, both here at Williams and globally. Because human choice and behavior play such an important role in environmental problems, a consideration of human psychology may therefore be an important part of the solution. [ more ]

MAST 352 / HIST 352(F, S)America and the Sea, 1600-Present

This course focuses on the history of America's relationship to the sea from the age of discovery through the heyday of merchant sail to the triumph of steam and the challenges of the twentieth century. Readings in primary sources and secondary works on the social, economic, and diplomatic implications of maritime activities culminate in a research paper. Topics such as shipbuilding, whaling, and fisheries are studied through museum exhibits and artifacts in the material culture component of the course. [ more ]

SOC 368Technology and Modern Society

Not offered this year

With widespread use of new social media, controversial developments in such bio-technical practices as the cloning of mammals, rapid advances in various forms of telecommunication, and the increasing sophistication of technological weaponry in the military, the triumph of technology remains a defining feature of modern life. For the most part, modern humans remain unflinchingly confident in the possibilities technology holds for continuing to improve the human condition. Indisputably, technology has benefited human life in innumerable ways. However, as with other features of modernity, technology has also had significant, albeit largely unanticipated, social consequences. Working within a sociological paradigm, this course will focus on the less often examined latent functions of technology in modern society. It will consider, for example, the social effects of technology on community life, on privacy, and on how people learn, think, understand the world, communicate, and organize themselves. The course will also examine the effects of technology on medicine, education, criminal law, and agriculture and will consider such counter-cultural reactions to technology as the Luddite movement in early nineteenth century England, Amish agrarian practices, and the CSA (community supported agriculture) movement. [ more ]

HIST 371 / ENVI 371The History of U.S. Environmental Politics

Not offered this year

The politics surrounding the environment today are a super-heated source of conflict, at the same time that most opinion polls show that Americans widely embrace many environmental protections. While environmental concerns have long been a part of local politics in America, this course will largely explore the emergence and prominence of environmental issues in national politics from the first organized conservation efforts in the late nineteenth century to the present-day concerns with the global environment. Throughout the course, we will investigate both how changes in the environment have shaped American politics and how political decisions have altered the American, as well as the global environment, with particular attention to which groups of people have had, or have not had, access to political processes and institutions. [ more ]

ENGL 378 / ENVI 378(F)Nature/Writing

What do we mean by "nature"? How do we understand the relationships between "nature" and "culture"? In this course we will examine how various American writers have attempted to render conceptions of "nature" in literary form. We will compare treatments of various kinds of natural environments and trace the philosophical and stylistic traditions within the nature writing genre. The authors to be considered include Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, William Faulkner, Annie Dillard, Barry Lopez, Ursula LeGuin, and Wendell Berry. [ more ]

LATS 408 / AMST 408(S)Envisioning Urban Life: Objects, Subjects, and Everyday People

What is the relationship between real life in urban communities and the multiple ways in which they are imagined? What does it mean to be "urban," to live in an "urban community," or to be the product of an "urban environment"? Who do we think the people are who populate these spaces? This course takes a critical look at specific populations, periods, and problems that have come to dominate and characterize our conceptions of the quality, form, and function of U.S. urban life. A few of the topics we may cover include historical accounts of the varied ways in which poverty and "urban culture" have been studied; race, class, and housing; the spatial practices of urban youth and the urban elderly; and gendered perspectives on social mobility and community activism. Finally, this course will explore how diverse social actors negotiate responses to their socio-spatial and economic circumstances, and, in the process, help envision and create different dimensions of the urban experience. The course fulfills the Exploring Diversity Initiative requirement as it explores how various forms of urban inequality affect the collective experience of social actors in diverse race and class categories. It focuses on the complex and contradictory ways in which urban residents confront, negotiate, and at times challenge social and structural inequalities and the changing political economy of U.S. cities. [ more ]

HIST 478 / AMST 478 / ENVI 478Cold War Landscapes

Not offered this year

The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union set in motion dramatic changes to the natural and built environments of many nations between 1945 and 1991. Nuclear test and missile launch sites, naval installations, military production operations, and border securitizations are just a few of the most obvious ways in which the stand-off between the two countries altered rural and urban landscapes around the world. But one can also see the Cold War as setting in motion less immediately direct but nonetheless profound changes to the way that many people saw and planned for the environments around them, as evidenced, for instance, by the rise of the American suburb, the reconstruction of postwar Europe, and agricultural and industrial initiatives in many developing nations. We will begin this seminar by exploring several distinct "Cold War landscapes" in the United States, then move on to examining others in Europe and the Soviet Union. We will spend the final weeks of the semester discussing examples from other parts of the world. Our approach to our topics will be interdisciplinary throughout the semester, and students are welcome to write their research papers on any geographical area of the world. [ more ]

Distribution Courses in Environmental Policy

ECON 204 / ENVI 234(S)Economics of Developing Countries

The leaders of poor countries almost universally proclaim "economic development" to be their eventual destination, but it is not easy to visualize the journey. Is rapid economic growth sufficient to generate development, or do governments need to pro-actively invest in health and education? When does globalization facilitate development? Is it true that corruption is major obstacle? Has the climate crisis upended our traditional models to the point where we need to rethink the notion of development? The class will introduce this set of issues, as analyzed by economists. [ more ]

ENVI 208Science and Politics in Environmental Decision Making

Not offered this year

This course explores the relationship between science and politics in environmental decision-making. How do legislators know when a species is endangered and warrants protection? What precautions should be applied in allowing genetically modified foods onto our plates? Can we, and should we, weigh the risks of malaria against the impacts of pesticides used to control those mosquitoes that transmit the disease? How has the global community come together to understand the risks from global climate change, and how has this understanding shaped our policy responses? What are some of the limits of science in shaping policy outcomes? In addressing these and other questions, we will pay particular attention to how power relations and existing institutions shape what knowledge, and whose knowledge, is taken on board in decision-making, be it at the local, national or global level. We will delve into how these dynamics shape policy outcomes and we will also examine novel approaches for incorporating the knowledge of traditionally disempowered groups, including indigenous and local communities. [ more ]

ANTH 210 / ENVI 210 / JLST 210Governing Nature

Not offered this year

This course analyzes the regulation of natural resources, primarily in today's United States. We will study how shared definitions of nature and, hence, nature's resources are instituted in law and policy and the extent to which these legal mandates shape actual landscapes. We will examine the workings of government bureaucracies--for example, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service--to see how their understanding and administration of natural resources operate on the ground and affect local communities. We will consider an array of questions: What is the relationship between nature and what anthropologists call "the State"? Does scientific expertise command authority? When is the governance of natural resources synonymous with the governance of people? To what extent are taken-for-granted terms like "endangered" in reality social and legal constructs? In order to unpack these and other puzzles, we will turn to historical works and ethnography, focusing on insights from political and environmental anthropology. We will also read legal doctrine, such as the Wilderness Act of 1964 and judicial opinions regarding tribal sovereignty and fishing rights. Our case studies will range from rivers and national forests in the American Southwest to local conservation issues in the Berkshires, including land trusts. [ more ]

ECON 213 / ENVI 213(F, S)Introduction to Environmental and Natural Resource Economics

We'll use economics to learn why we harm the environment and overuse natural resources, and what we can do about it. We'll talk about whether and how we can put a dollar value on nature and ecosystem services. We'll study cost benefit analysis, pollution in general, climate change, natural resources (like fisheries, forests, and fossil fuels), and energy. We will take an economic approach to global sustainability, and study the relationship between the environment and economic growth and trade. [ more ]

Taught by: Sara Adler Mandelbaum, Sarah Jacobson

Catalog details

ECON 215 / INST 315International Trade, Globalization and Its Effects

Not offered this year

This course is an introduction to international trade and finance with an emphasis on issues of current interest. Topics to be discussed may include: the gains from trade; why nations trade; different theories of the pattern of trade; the effects of tariffs and other trade barriers on national welfare and income distribution; the balance of payments, the determination of foreign exchange rates, and alternative exchange rate regimes. [ more ]

ECON 228 T / ENVI 228(F)Water as a Scarce Resource

For a variety of reasons including environmental pollution, urbanization, changing agricultural techniques, resource mismanagement, and the consequences of climate change, water is becoming a scarce resource even in places where it was relatively plentiful in the past, and it is likely to become an increasingly scarce resource over the coming decades. In this course we will use basic economic models to consider policy issues relating to water: Is access to water a basic human right, and if so, what market and non-market mechanisms should play a role in water allocation? Does public ownership of water improve the way it is provided and used? Why do societies differ in their approaches to allocating water and are some systems better than others? What does it mean to have a property right to water? Could private property rights to water help address the water pollution problem? How can societies change their water-related property rights, regulations and social institutions when individuals have implicit or explicit rights to the institutional status quo? Who has the right to water that crosses international boundaries? How should societies allocate water across generations? [ more ]

PSCI 229(S)Global Political Economy

Political economy, historically denoting the discipline which is today known simply as 'economics', is an holistic inquiry into the structures, institutions and social actors which determine the production, extraction, distribution, consumption and accumulation of economic surplus. Global political economy, the theme of this course, is therefore the study of those processes at the global scale and their diverse territorial, political, economic, and social effects around the world. Thirty years ago the production, distribution, consumption and accumulation of goods, services and capital were predominantly national, organized by nation-states and within national territories. Today they all are increasingly global in scope, and nation-states find themselves more and more the subjects than the masters of mobile transnational corporations, international trade tribunals, global currency markets and natural resources cartels. All of these developments have direct and far-reaching effects on the power of states, the wealth of societies, and the life chances of billions of people around the world. This course offers a broad introduction to contemporary global capitalism, emphasizing the inherent and inseparable intertwining of politics and economics, power and wealth, the state and the market. It begins with an overview of the recent history of globalization. The core of the course is made up of a broad analysis of global trade, global finance, and development, with special attention to subjects such as free trade, foreign aid, industrial policy, currency wars, and financial crisis. We conclude the course with a close look at current global financial instabilities and the implications for the future of global capitalism. [ more ]

ENVI 233(S)The Industrial Animal

This class is inspired by a January 2015 New York Times expose written by the food journalist Michael Moss. "At a remote research center on the Nebraska plains," he wrote, "scientists are using surgery and breeding techniques to re-engineer the farm animal to fit the needs of the 21st-century meat industry. The potential benefits are huge: animals that produce more offspring, yield more meat and cost less to raise. There are, however, some complications." There are always complications. In this class, we examine the historical development of the industrial animal. Exploring the physical, scientific, and political infrastructures that support American industrial meat production, we pay critical attention to the biological complications that have arisen in shaping animal life to fit the needs of the modern factory. We examine the methods--from synthetic vitamins and artificial light to antibiotics and artificial insemination--industrial producers use to overcome the obstacles of biology. Finally, we consider the industrialization of the meat animal in the context of the industrialization of feedstuff crops like corn and soy, changing US consumption patterns, local and national food politics, and the human labor that makes it all possible. [ more ]

Taught by: Adam Romero

Catalog details

PSCI 273 / ENVI 273Politics without Humans?

Not offered this year

Are human beings the only beings who belong in politics? And is political involvement a unique or defining aspect of what it means to be human? Such questions are increasingly complex as the boundaries of "the human" become blurred by the rise of artificial intelligence, robotics, and brain implants: shifting attitudes towards both animal and human bodies; and the automation of economic and military decisions (buy! sell! attack! retreat!) that used to be the prerogative of human actors. How do visions of politics without humans and humans without politics impact our thinking about longstanding questions of freedom, power, and right? Can and should the link between humans and politics survive in an age in which "posthuman" or "transhuman" entities become central characters in the drama of politics? This class will consider these questions through readings, films and artifacts that bring political theory into conversation with science fiction, popular literature on the so-called "singularity" (the merger of humans with computers), science and technology studies, evolutionary anthropology, "new materialist" philosophy, and feminist theory. [ more ]

ENVI 283 / PSCI 283(S)Dirty Politics: Regulating Hazardous Chemicals and Wastes

Since consumers were first introduced to the promise of "better living through chemistry," society has had to wrestle with the impacts, often far removed in place and time, resulting from a rapid proliferation of hazardous chemicals and wastes. Policy responses, be they at the local, national or global scale, are often limited to reactionary efforts to counter releases into the environment, are constrained by the prevalent use of the technologies in question, and further bring to the fore key challenges of environmental justice and risk management. How then are we to regulate DDT without adversely affecting our fight against mosquito-borne malaria? How might we preserve the ozone layer while still maintaining the benefits of food preservation through refrigeration? How can we reap the benefits of the electronic age without condoning the steady flow of electronic waste affecting workers' health and environments in developing countries? Emphasis will be placed on understanding the politics that bring about, and allow us to address, these problems. We will be examining in particular novel policy responses, including Europe's precautionary safe use law, citizen science initiatives and consumer-driven certification schemes. [ more ]

ENVI 307 / PSCI 317(F)Environmental Law

We rely on environmental laws to make human communities healthier and protect the natural world, while allowing for sustainable economic growth. Yet, despite 40 years of increasingly varied and complex legislation, balancing human needs and environmental quality has never been harder than it is today. Environmental Studies 307 analyzes the transformation of environmental law from fringe enterprise to fundamental feature of modern political, economic and social life. ENVI 307 also addresses the role of community activism in environmental law, from local battles over proposed industrial facilities to national campaigns for improved corporate citizenship. By the completion of the semester, students will understand both the successes and failures of modern environmental law and how these laws are being reinvented, through innovations like pollution credit trading and "green product" certification, to confront globalization, climate change and other emerging threats. [ more ]

SCST 309 / PSCI 301 / ENVI 309 / HSCI 309Environmental Politics and Policy

Not offered this year

This course will provide an overview of environmental policy-making, with an emphasis on the ways in which policies are developed and implemented at the local, state and national level. Special attention will be paid to the variety of actors that shape environmental outcomes, including legislators, administrators, the science community, civil society and the private sector. Following an examination of different models of environmental policy-making, this course will focus on several case studies, including on the management of public lands, air and water pollution, climate change and endangered species protection. [ more ]

ENVI 311(F)History of the Chemical Revolution in US Agriculture

Where do fertilizers, pesticides, and other agricultural chemicals come from? How are they made and why are they used? Why does the United States use so much more than other countries? This class examines the development of US agriculture through a lens of the chemical revolution. We begin with a study of the intensive growth of the US chemical industry and US agriculture during and after WWI, situating their growth within an era of chronic farm surplus. We then turn to the dramatic increases in chemical consumption among all branches of agriculture following WWII, paying particular attention to the relationships between seed technology, chemical warfare, mechanization, labor, government institutions, and petroleum-based organic chemicals. We conclude by turning our historical understanding of US agrochemical development toward the current state of US agriculture and examine the rationales and policies that support the ongoing consumption of industrial chemicals across the entire US agricultural complex. [ more ]

Taught by: Adam Romero

Catalog details

ENVI 328 / PSCI 328(F)Global Environmental Politics

In the last two weeks of our Fall 2015 semester, world leaders will gather in Paris with the aim of finalizing an arduously negotiated global agreement on climate change. This new treaty will determine whether we, as a global community, can still be on track to avoid catastrophic climate change. In the first ten weeks of this writing-intensive course, we will turn to a broad array of case studies to examine how, by whom, and to what effect global environmental governance is shaped and implemented. Case studies will build on original documents, scholarship from a variety of disciplines, and class visits by practitioners and negotiators and will include chemicals management, atmospheric pollution, species protection, transboundary movement of genetically modified organisms, forest management, and environmental rights. By building on the last four decades of international efforts to regulate the environmental commons, we will develop research projects to complete as we engage in a "virtual field-trip" to the Paris Climate Summit in the last two weeks of the semester. [ more ]

ANTH 332 / ENVI 332 / GBST 332 / JLST 332(S)Environmental Justice

This course explores the concept of justice and the ways in which interested parties have defined that term in relation to man-made environmental hazards. We will analyze episodes of environmental injustice recounted in ethnography, literature, and historical works. To familiarize ourselves with the remedies available to people disproportionately affected by environmental perils, we will read domestic and international legal doctrine as well as documents produced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the United Nations Environment Programme. Our initial readings will include philosophical treatises on justice as well as texts outlining the spatial dimensions of social inequality. In the United States, our case studies will range from air quality in the South Bronx to water pollution in New Jersey and West Virginia. Internationally, we will study the effects of oil extraction in the Niger Delta as well as climate change adaptation in nations that emit relatively little carbon dioxide. Throughout the course, we will discuss how lawyers and the communities they represent mobilize scientific evidence to achieve desired ends. Simultaneously, we will consider the extent to which otherwise marginalized people participate in environmental law- and policymaking. This course satisfies the EDI requirement, by critically examining the unequal exposure of different social groups to environmental harms. [ more ]

MAST 351 / PSCI 319 / ENVI 351(F, S)Marine Policy

This seminar utilizes the interdisciplinary background of the other Williams-Mystic courses to examine national and international contemporary issues in our relationship with ocean and coastal resources. This seminar takes a topical approach to the study of marine law and policy, examining fisheries, harbor development, coastal zone management, admiralty law, law of the sea, marine pollution, and shipping. [ more ]

ECON 386 / ENVI 386(S)Environmental and Natural Resource Policy

Economic activity often damages the environment significantly, especially in developing countries. Firms may clear-cut valuable forests, while consumers may drive high-pollution vehicles with little thought for the environmental consequences. Economists have proposed a variety of policy remedies, from pollution taxes to tradable permit schemes and restrictions on the quantity of pollution. This course first examines the relative merits of these policies from a theoretical perspective. When pollution damage is uncertain, is it better to use a pollution tax or a quantity restriction? Is it worse to set a pollution tax too high than to set it too low? It then proceeds to the practical issues that attend policy implementation, particularly where state capacity is limited. What is the best policy when inspectors can be threatened or bribed? When resource extraction is hard to monitor? Case studies will likely include policies aimed at deforestation, mineral ownership and extraction, particulate air pollution from industry and transportation, and carbon emissions from electricity generation. In evaluating policies we will think about both efficiency and the distribution of costs and benefits. (What if environmental regulation only benefits the wealthiest people in a country?) We will also examine the environmental consequences of policies aimed at other problems, like poverty and low education. [ more ]

Taught by: Matthew Gibson

Catalog details

ECON 388 / ENVI 388Urbanization and Development

Not offered this year

At current rates of growth, the combined population of urban areas in developing countries will double in the next 30 years. The land area devoted to urban use is expected to double even more quickly. The costs of providing housing and infrastructure to accommodate this growth are enormous, but the costs of failing to accommodate urban development may be even larger. The decisions made in response to these challenges will affect the economic performance of these countries and the health and welfare of the urban residents. By affecting global patterns of energy use, these decisions will have broader impacts on the entire planet. This course will focus on these challenges. What are the economic forces that drive the process of urbanization, and how does the level of urbanization affect economic development? How are policies towards housing, transportation, public finance and development affected by urbanization? What policy choices are available, and which are most likely to succeed in dealing with the challenges of urban growth? [ more ]

ECON 465(F)Pollution and the Labor Market

If your home town has polluted air, does that reduce your wage? Do you work less? Are you less likely to finish high school? These are specific versions of an important general question: how does pollution affect labor market outcomes? The answer matters for individual decisions (where to live) and government policies (air pollution regulations). This seminar begins from theories of optimizing worker behavior in the presence of pollution. Building on this foundation, students will critically evaluate new empirical research into the impacts of pollution on human capital, labor supply, and productivity. Schedule permitting, we will also study the impact of pollution regulations on wages and employment. Included papers will cover both developed and developing countries. [ more ]

Taught by: Matthew Gibson

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