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Center for Environmental Studies

Environmental Policy

The major in Environmental Policy brings together core courses in Environmental Studies with relevant coursework in related fields including Economics and Political Science. The goal of the Environmental Policy major is to combine scientific literacy with an understanding of the economic, political and cultural structures involved in institutional decision–making on environmental matters.

Eight courses are common to all Environmental Policy majors; there are also three distinct tracks through the major, each of which entails an additional theory/methods course and two electives. The three tracks through the major are a) Political Economy, b) Political Theory and Law, and c) Society and Culture. Environmental Policy majors are also encouraged to take GEOS 214 Remote Sensing and GIS.

Students majoring in Environmental Policy should investigate the courses required for their chosen track and consult their advisor to plan an appropriate schedule for completing the major, including any prerequisites not listed below. Courses cannot be double–counted within the major; for example, a course used to fulfill the theory/methods requirement cannot also be used as an elective. The availability of required courses may vary slightly from year to year, and substitutions may be authorized occasionally by the Director of CES. Environmental Policy majors will be exempt from taking Econ 110 if they received a score of 5 on the Microeconomics AP exam, a 6 or 7 on the higher–level Economics IB examination, or an A or B in economics in A–levels. Students seeking exemption from ENVI 102 on the basis of exam results should consult the Director of CES.

Requirements for the Major in Environmental Policy

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 ]

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. Through this course students will be introduced to scientific literature on local and regional issues and place them in a global context The environmental policy implications of the local and regional data that is collected also will be examined through discussions and class debates. We will explore the physical/natural environmental processes within the local Hoosic River Watershed through field and laboratory exercises, these local findings then will be interpreted in the broader context of the downstream watersheds and landscapes in which the Hoosic is situated, namely the Hudson River, and ultimately the Atlantic Ocean. Examples of topics covered are: linkages between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, climate change, human impacts on water quality, acid rain, toxic metals, human influences on hydrology, ecosystem restoration/remediation, and waste treatment. Some to the analyses of these topics will be through short lab reports, while the applications of these science topics to policy issues will be explored through classroom debates. Students design and complete an independent project on one of these subjects as it pertains to their hometown. There will be an all-day field trip through the Hoosic River Valley early in the semester. [ more ]

ECON 110 (F, S)Principles of Microeconomics

This course is an introduction to the study of the forces of supply and demand that determine prices and the allocation of resources in markets for goods and services, markets for labor, and markets for natural resources. The focus is on how and why markets work, why they may fail to work, and the policy implications of both their successes and failures. The course focuses on developing the basic tools of microeconomic analysis and then applying those tools to topics of popular or policy interest such as minimum wage legislation, pollution control, competition policy, international trade policy, discrimination, tax policy, and the role of government in a market economy. [ 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 Workshop

This interdisciplinary course introduces the theories, approaches, methods, and legal framework of environmental planning and provides students with experience in the planning and design 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. The midterm project is an urban design exercise. In the second part of the course students tackle an actual planning project. Small teams of students (3-4), working in conjunction with an experienced community member "client," and under supevision of the instructor, conduct a planning project, using all the tools of an environmental planner. The project work draws on students' full range of academic work, extracurricular interests and activities, and applies interdisciplinary knowledge and methodologies. The course includes several student presentations and culminates in a public presentation of each team's planning study and a project report. This course also includes field trips, town meetings, interviews, survey work, and computer mapping labs. [ more ]

ENVI 307 / PSCI 317 (F)Environmental Law

We rely on environmental laws to make human communities healthier and to 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 ]

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

TThe 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 semester, students will develop an independent capstone project. [ more ]

Political Economy track theory/method courses

POEC 253 (F)Empirical Methods in Political Economy

This course introduces students to common empirical tools used in policy analysis and implementation. The broad aim is to train students to be discriminating consumers of public policy-relevant research. The emphasis in the course is on intuitive understanding of the central concepts. Through hands-on work with data and critical assessment of existing empirical social scientific research, students will develop the ability to choose and employ the appropriate tool for a particular research problem, and to understand the limitations of the techniques. Topics to be covered include basic principles of probability; random variables and distributions; statistical estimation, inference and hypothesis testing; and modeling using multiple regression, with a particular focus on understanding whether and how relationships between variables can be determined to be causal--an essential requirement for effective policy formation. Throughout the course, the focus will be on public policy applications relevant to the fields of political science, sociology, and public health, as well as to economics. [ more ]

ECON 255 (F, S)Econometrics

An introduction to the theory and practice of applied quantitative economic analysis. This course familiarizes students with the strengths and weaknesses of the basic empirical methods used by economists to evaluate economic theory against economic data. Emphasizes both the statistical foundations of regression techniques and the practical application of those techniques in empirical research. Computer exercises will provide experience in using the empirical methods, but no previous computer experience is expected. Highly recommended for students considering graduate training in economics or public policy. [ more ]

Political Economy track electives

Political Theory and Law theory/method courses

SCST 309 / PSCI 301 / ENVI 309 / HSCI 309 (S)Environmental Politics and Policy

This class examines 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. This course will focus on in-depth examination of several case studies, including on the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, climate change, urban sprawl and transportation, endangered species protection for polar bears, acid rain, agricultural runoff and water pollution, logging and wildfire management, wind development, and disaster preparedness. [ more ]

ENVI 328 / PSCI 328 (S)Global Environmental Politics

Not offered this year

This seminar draws on the last four decades of international efforts to regulate the environmental commons. The process of negotiating and implementing international environmental treaties will be a core focus of the course, yet emphasis will also be placed on emerging non-state means of addressing global environmental challenges. A variety of challenges faced in global environmental policymaking (compliance, participation by civil society and industry, incorporation of science, efficiency.) will be examined through the study of several international regimes, including on climate change, endangered species, biodiversity, biosafety and chemicals management. [ 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 Policy and Natural Resource Management

Not offered this year

Policymakers in developed and developing countries struggle to manage natural resources and to protect the environment from excessive degradation while attending to pressing human needs. Economics has a rich body of advice to help achieve these goals. In this course, we will study environmental policy and natural resource management from a microeconomic (and, to a lesser extent, macroeconomic) perspective. We will explore relevant economic theory, look for empirical evidence in scholarly studies, and study actual policies as they have been implemented. The course is undergirded by concepts like sustainability, welfare within and across generations, market failure, and valuation of environmental assets. We will continually emphasize issues of efficiency and equity. Again and again we will see that the challenges are both technical and ethical, as society is forced to make troubling tradeoffs. Topics in the class will include pollution (with a focus on climate change and on incentive-based policies like tax and "cap-and-trade"), management of nonrenewable and renewable resources (including resources like oil, forests, and fisheries), and energy (with its obvious links to resource use and climate change). We will also examine the relationship between development and the environment, touching on controversial topics such as the "natural resources curse" and the relationship between economic growth and the demand for environmental quality. [ more ]

Political Theory and Law track electives

Society and Culture theory/method courses

ENVI 217 / AMST 216 (S)Environmental isms: Ideology in the Environmental Humanities

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 socio-environmental conflict in the United States and Latin America from the time of European colonization to the present, it will examine key works from 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 environmental justice and the ideological critique of modernity. How have scholars made environmental sense of liberalism, colonialism, capitalism, nationalism, sexism, and racism? 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 ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

Society and Culture track electives

PSCI 203 (F, S)Introduction to Political Theory

Is politics war by other means? Is it merely a practical way to meet our needs? Or is it, rather, the activity through which citizens pursue justice and the good life? And what is justice? How can it be established and secured? What are the powers and obligations of citizenship? Who should rule? Who decides? On what basis? Political theory addresses questions such as these as it investigates the fundamental problems of how we can, do, and ought to live together. The questions have sparked controversy since the origins of political thinking; the answers remain controversial now. This course addresses the controversies, focusing on major works of ancient, modern, and contemporary theory by such authors as Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Rousseau, Hegel, Mill, Marx, Nietzsche, Arendt, Rawls, and Foucault. Themes may include authority, obligation, power, war, violence, freedom, justice, equality, democracy, liberalism, capitalism, community, and pluralism, though the emphasis will vary from semester to semester. [ more ]

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

This course is an introduction to the economics of development. The central question is: why are some people and nations poor? And what can governments (or donors) do to reduce poverty? Possible topics include agricultural productivity, health, education, microfinance, child labor, corruption, resource utilization and pollution, and intellectual property rights. We shall also discuss the extent to which market-friendly reforms (such as trade liberalization) can reduce poverty. [ more ]

ENVI 208 (F)Science and Politics in Environmental Decision Making

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 ]

ENVI 209 / AMST 209 / ANTH 209 (F)Ecologies of Place: Culture, Commodities & Everyday Life

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 the bottled water controversy, factory farming and local agriculture, the political economy of lawns, and the cultural politics of invasive species. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

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

Not offered this year

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 ]

ENVI 212 / AMST 214 / AFR 218 (F)African American Environmental Culture from Slavery to Environmental Justice

Until the environmental justice movement rose to prominence over the past few decades and invited a more critical perspective on the connection between race and the environment, popular understanding of the American environmental (and environmentalist) tradition had effectively been whitewashed. But why? This course will work to find answers to that question while unearthing the deeper roots of African American environmental culture in conversation with key moments in African American history; from slavery to sharecropping, from migration and urbanization to environmental justice. With an interdisciplinary approach that considers sources as diverse as slave narratives, fiction, poetry, songs, photographs, maps, and ethnographies, we will consider African American intellectuals, writers, and visual and musical artists not always associated with environmental thought, from W.E.B. Du Bois and Zora Neale Hurston to the Black Panthers and Marvin Gaye. Evaluation considers active, informed participation in class discussion based on assigned readings, midterm and final exams, and three 5-7 page essays. Students are also expected to research and respond to one news article exploring some aspect of the intersection between race and the environment over the course of the semester, and to share your findings with the class for discussion. This course fulfills the Exploring Diversity Initiative requirement by examining the themes of empathetic understanding and power and privilege. Among many other paths of inquiry, we will examine how African American environmental culture has evolved in conversation with an historical context of discrimination, racism, and inequality. [ more ]

ECON 213 / ENVI 213 (F)Introduction to Environmental and Natural Resources Economics

Not offered this year

Economists love free markets, but many people fear that market-driven economic growth and consumption are endangering the natural environment. In fact, core economic theories predict that people and firms, left to their own devices, will often tend to pollute too much, conserve too little, overfish common waters, and cut down too many trees. These predictions seem to be borne out by the world's environmental problems. Fortunately, economics offers tools to address these issues, and these tools are increasingly gaining attention in the policy world. In this course, we will survey environmental and natural resource economics, fields that work to inform policy with attention to both natural assets and human needs. We will focus on real-world problems, mostly from a microeconomic perspective. Underlying issues in these fields include: why markets might be inefficient where the environment and natural resources are concerned; whether and how to value the benefits we receive from the environment; and how to carefully evaluate policies. We will study the economists' perspective on sustainability and we'll discuss how sustainability, growth, and human wellbeing relate to each other. We will study the use of non-renewable resources (like oil) and renewable resources (like trees and fish), and we will spend some time talking about energy and energy policy. We will examine issues related to pollution, looking at traditional "command and control" regulations and at market-based pollution control policies. Climate change is a pressing global problem, and we will study current and proposed climate policies and the role economics can play. We may cover other topics, including international development, food, agriculture, and water. [ more ]

ARTH 214 / ENVI 216 (F)The Landscape of Allusion: Gardens and Landscape Design to c. 1800

This lecture course investigates how humans have shaped and interpreted nature through a study of gardens, architecture, and painting from antiquity to the nineteenth century, with a focus on Europe and the early modern period. It traces the persistence of the classical tradition in European landscape design and also addresses to a lesser extent the Islamic world and America. Approaching landscape and the garden as expressive media, we examine the social and intellectual contexts of their design and themes such as the sacralization of landscape, its use as an instrument of power, and the invention of landscape as an idea. [ more ]

ECON 215 / INST 315 (S)International 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 ]

ENVI 219 / ANTH 218 (F)Topics in Sustainable Agriculture

What does sustainability mean in the context of agricultural practice, food production, and consumption? This course encourages students to think analytically and critically about the meanings and practices of sustainability in the context of food and agriculture. We examine diverse regional and historic contexts to explore how concerns about sustainability in relation to agricultural production and food consumption emerged, and explore the contemporary incarnations of sustainable agriculture in organic, fair trade, and local agriculture as well as in debates around food miles, biofuels, and genetic modification. Cutting across each of these individual topics, we will think about the connections between production and consumption, ecology and society. By the end of this course, it is expected that students will develop a multifaceted understanding of the social, political and cultural dimensions of sustainable food and agriculture. [ more ]

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

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 ]

ECON 228 T / ENVI 228 (S)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 ]

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 ]

PHIL 236 (F)Contemporary Ethical Theory

Is sacrificing an individual's welfare for the sake of the community ever justified, or does each individual have an inviolable status that must be respected? Should moral considerations always take priority over personal projects and intimate relationships, or are there some spheres in which we should be free to pursue our goals without concern for morality? We will explore these and related questions by systematically comparing the two dominant ethical theories of the 20th century, consequentialism and deontology. While both find their roots in earlier thinkers -- consequentialism in Mill and Sidgwick, deontology in Kant -- our focus will be on contemporary developments of these views. We'll conclude by examining contractualism, which attempts to transcend the divide between consequentialist and deontological views. Readings include works by Bentham, Mill, Nozick, Railton, Brink, Williams, Wolf, Taurek, Rawls, Smart, Scheffler, Nagel, Kant, Kamm, Quinn, Kagan, Ross, and Scanlon. [ more ]

HSCI 240 / HIST 295 (F)Technology and Science in American Culture

Although technologically dependent, the American colonies slowly built a network of native scientists and inventors whose skills helped shape the United States' response to the Industrial Revolution. The interaction of science, technology, and society in the nineteenth century did much to form American identity: the machine in the garden, through the "American System of Manufactures" helped America rise to technological prominence; the professionalization and specialization of science and engineering led to their becoming vital national resources. Understanding these developments, as well as the heroic age of American invention (1865-1914), forms the focus of this course: how science and technology have helped shape modern American life. [ more ]

ENVI 251 / AMST 251 (S)Discovering New England's Environmental Culture: From Howling Wildernesses to Managed Forests

Williams College was founded in 1793, and in its first century, it was surrounded more by farmland than forest. How did we get from there to here, and why? More broadly, how and why has New England's material environment--and the way writers, politicians, farmers, and common laborers understood that environment--changed so drastically in the past two hundred years? This course will begin to answer those questions by exploring the historical, literary, and political trends that have defined New England's environmental culture, from European contact and settlement in the 17th century to the 21st century's battle over Cape Wind. Topics discussed will include deforestation and reforestation, fishing and overfishing, urbanization and industrialization, and gendered perspectives of the landscape. Key texts include Henry David Thoreau's Walden, Sarah Orne Jewett's The Country of the Pointed Firs, and Michael Rawson's award-winning environmental history of Boston. [ more ]

ENVI 252 / AMST 252 (S)A Perfect Storm: How Economic and Environmental Disaster Defined America During the Depression

What happens to environmental priorities and perspectives when the economy crashes? Since 2008, the "Great Recession" has been disastrous not only for Americans' financial well-being, but also for the political will to take action on climate change (to name just one environmental issue). But it wasn't always this way. The 1930s, one of the most traumatic decades of the twentieth century in America, actually spurred environmentally-conscious action in an economic context far worse than what we are experiencing today. Why? This class will explore the many ways Americans understood their diverse local environments and took action to save them during the Great Depression. Although the Dust Bowl is perhaps the most iconic of these environmental upheavals during the 1930s, this course will explore diverse geographical regions: from the Appalachian mountains to the (de)forested Upper Midwest, from the agricultural South to the Dust Bowl plains and the water-starved West. In each region, we will trace the impacts of economic turmoil on the environment and the people who depended on it for their livelihoods, as well as the way the economic disaster paved the way for the federal government's unprecedented intervention in environmental matters. Key texts will include John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (along with the John Ford film adaptation) and Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac. [ more ]

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

Not offered this year

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 both 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 ]

REL 287 / ENVI 287 (S)The 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

Not offered this year

This course examines the relationship between religious and environmental thought in the modern United States. Focusing on the complex and closely linked legacies of Christianity, secularism, and popular spirituality, we will explore the religious and anti-religious roots of contemporary environmental discourse. Along the way, we will pursue a set of vexing questions about environmental thought: Is environmentalism a religion? If so, what kind of religion is it? If not, why not (and why do we even ask)? Is anti-environmentalism religiously motivated? Could religion be the cause of our ecological crisis? Could it be the solution? For answers, we will look to the writings of thinkers such as John Muir, Edward Abbey, Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, and Wendell Berry, as well as a number of lesser-known authors. We will read these authors alongside recent scholarship in the social sciences and humanities to understand how their thinking was 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. Finally, we will pay particularly close attention to episodes of conflict and cooperation between the environmental movement and religious conservatives during the past forty years, and we will analyze popular religious media from this period alongside the writings and visual productions of environmentalists. [ more ]

ECON 299 / PSCI 238 / POEC 250 (F)Economic Liberalism and Its Critics

Economic liberalism holds that, society is better off if people enjoy economic freedom. Its critics point to what they believe this position ignores or what it wrongly assumes, and hence, how it would make bad policy. This course explores the relationship between politics and economics by surveying influential works of political economy. Its first part examines major thinkers in relation to the historical development of capitalism in Western Europe and the United States: the classical liberalism of Adam Smith, Karl Marx's revolutionary socialism, and the reformist ideas of John Stuart Mill, and John Maynard Keynes. The second part considers more recent writings that revise and critique liberalism from a variety of perspectives, and then illustrates the contending perspectives with reference to important policy areas. The historical focus of the course permits you to appreciate the ongoing dialogue between classical and contemporary views of political economy, while classroom discussion involves frequent reference to current public policy issues. [ more ]

AMST 302 / PSCI 335 (F)Public Sphere/Public Space

Not offered this year

The "public sphere," one of the core concepts of modern democratic thought, has taken on renewed significance in intellectual life today. This writing-intensive seminar looks briefly at the evolution of the term, but concentrates on its relevance to contemporary politics. Our investigations will center on the character and meanings of public space. We will look at space both as a key metaphor in political theory and as a medium of everyday practical struggle: that is, we will examine not only some of the most influential conceptions of public life, but also the political forces shaping and shaped by the practical design and use of the built environment. These examinations will combine critical reading and analytical writing with field observations, group work, and oral presentations. Our primary focus will be on the following topics: the relationship between ideas of citizenship and models of the public; the racing, gendering, and class-stratification of spaces (civic, residential, commercial, etc.); urbanity and suburbanization; the kinds of spaces and politics opened and closed by the internet and contemporary mass media; the effects of contemporary processes of globalization on political identity and democratic practices. Likely authors include Arendt, Berman, Davis, Delany, Foucault, Fraser, Gamson, Habermas, Hall, Harvey, Holston, Sennett, Sunstein, Virilio. [ more ]

ANSO 305 (F)Social Theory

An introduction to social theory in anthropology and sociology. The course explores both disciplines' stances toward the puzzles of tradition and modernity through the works of major thinkers such as Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Freud, and others. In particular, the course examines ways in which the two disciplines approach the fundamental problems of human experience: how do men and women in different societies and epochs construct and maintain social order? How do they allocate authority, responsibility, and blame, as well as social prestige, power, and material wealth? How do they regulate sexual relationships and organize work? What systems of beliefs and reinforcing symbols do they fashion to come to grips with evil, misfortune, transgression, and mortality? What epistemological frameworks underpin their worlds? What happens when social worlds fall apart? The course also reconstructs the intellectual trajectories and social histories of both disciplines. [ more ]

SCST 309 / PSCI 301 / ENVI 309 / HSCI 309 (S)Environmental Politics and Policy

This class examines 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. This course will focus on in-depth examination of several case studies, including on the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, climate change, urban sprawl and transportation, endangered species protection for polar bears, acid rain, agricultural runoff and water pollution, logging and wildfire management, wind development, and disaster preparedness. [ more ]

ENVI 313 / AMST 312 / LATS 312 (S)Chicago

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 ]

ENVI 320 / ANTH 320 (S)Cultivating the Local: Place-based Productions of Food and Agriculture

This course explores the relation between ideas and practices relating to nature, food and agriculture, and specific formations of place, locality and region. Through this course we will lay conceptual and theoretical foundations for understanding the productions of place, nature, food and agriculture, and the interconnections among them. How do socially constructed ideas about nature, agrarian landscapes, and even particular environmental qualities such as soil and water, shape the formation of categories such as city, country, and region or even of specific food products? Through what processes do particular food products come to be distinctively place-based? How do we understand the seeming shift to place-based agriculture and food production, in the context of an industrialized and increasingly intricate global food system that has often homogenized and standardized food production? How is locality produced through food and agriculture, and how are food and agriculture produced through claims to locality and place? These interconnections, and the relations of power interlaced in them, are salient in contemporary praxis, and the course builds on grounded, conceptual understandings to explore contemporary phenomena such as the appellation d'origine controlee in France's wine producing regions, the development of Geographic Indication within the World Trade Organization, the formation of "Organic Uttarakhand" that is the subject of my own research, and the affective economies generated through artisanal food production. Through an interdisciplinary approach that brings together scholarship in anthropology, social and cultural history, sociology, and cultural geography, this course aims to foster expansive, grounded and critical understandings about the connections among nature, food, agriculture and place-making. [ more ]

PSCI 327 / ENVI 329 (S)The Global Politics of Development and Underdevelopment

Not offered this year

Consider a photograph taken from space of the Earth at night. What will you see? Great agglomerations of light in some parts of the world (North America, Western Europe, parts of East Asia) contrasted with vast expanses of darkness in others (much of Central and South America, Southeast Asia and nearly all of Africa). This pattern of light and darkness depicts a vastly unequal global distribution of technology, urban infrastructure, capital accumulation--in short, the global patterns of development and underdevelopment. What makes some areas 'light' and some areas 'dark'? More importantly, how are these areas connected--both within and across national boundaries--through trade and capital flows, political authority, violence and the natural environment? What are the relations between development and underdevelopment? This course is an investigation of political, economic and societal growth (or lack thereof) and change in the Global North and Global South through the lenses of Political Economy and Political Ecology. We will focus in particular on the global factors influencing development and underdevelopment, political-economic connections across national borders, and the intersections of power, production and nature. During our course of study we will cover: global patterns of inequality and their history; development strategies; the politics of population control; the intersections of power, violence, and nature; and finally, the prospects of development for all. [ more ]

COMP 328 / AMST 318 / ENVI 318 / LATS 318 / REL 318 (S)California: 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 ]

ENVI 328 / PSCI 328 (S)Global Environmental Politics

Not offered this year

This seminar draws on the last four decades of international efforts to regulate the environmental commons. The process of negotiating and implementing international environmental treaties will be a core focus of the course, yet emphasis will also be placed on emerging non-state means of addressing global environmental challenges. A variety of challenges faced in global environmental policymaking (compliance, participation by civil society and industry, incorporation of science, efficiency.) will be examined through the study of several international regimes, including on climate change, endangered species, biodiversity, biosafety and chemicals management. [ more ]

PSCI 331 (S)Knowledge and Politics

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 ]

PSCI 334 (S)Theorizing Global Justice

While economic exchanges, cultural convergence, and technological innovations have brought people in different parts of the world closer together than ever before, globalization has also amplified differences in material wealth and social inequalities. Ill health, inadequate sanitation, and lack of access to safe drinking water are increasingly common. Yet, more than ever before, the means exist in affluent regions of the world to alleviate the worst forms of suffering and enhance the well-being of the poorest people. How are we to understand this contradiction as a matter of justice? What is the relationship between justice and equality, and what do we owe one another in a deeply divided world? Course readings will engage your thinking on the central debates in moral philosophy, normative approaches to international political economy, and grassroots efforts to secure justice for women and other severely disadvantaged groups. Key theorists include John Rawls, Onora O'Neill, Thomas Pogge, Paul Farmer, Amartya Sen, Martha Nussbaum, Manfred Steger, Saskia Sassen, Susan George, Vandana Shiva, Majid Rahnema and Gustavo Esteva. [ more ]

PSYC 346 / ENVI 346 (S)Environmental Psychology

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 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 ]

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 ]

ENVI 353 / AMST 353 (S)Apocalypse in Post-War America: Environmental Fear From the Atomic Age to Climate Change

One dominant strain of the postwar American environmental imagination has been fear, from diffuse anxiety to paralyzing terror. This course will explore this culture of fear through a variety of topics in postwar American environmental consciousness, including the specter of atomic annihilation, the anti-ecotoxics and environmental justice movements, food security, and climate change. We will also explore issues surrounding the idea of wilderness, the relation of native peoples and other minority groups with the landscape, the natural environment in urban spaces, human labor in the natural environment, and the ways in which a variety of disciplinary perspectives such as law, politics, and public health inform our historical understanding of environmental fear. Key texts will include Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, and Cormac McCarthy's The Road. [ more ]

SOC 368 (S)Technology and Modern Society

Not offered this year

With expanding access to and use of the Internet, 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 in the contemporary United States. [ more ]

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

Not offered this year

Policymakers in developed and developing countries struggle to manage natural resources and to protect the environment from excessive degradation while attending to pressing human needs. Economics has a rich body of advice to help achieve these goals. In this course, we will study environmental policy and natural resource management from a microeconomic (and, to a lesser extent, macroeconomic) perspective. We will explore relevant economic theory, look for empirical evidence in scholarly studies, and study actual policies as they have been implemented. The course is undergirded by concepts like sustainability, welfare within and across generations, market failure, and valuation of environmental assets. We will continually emphasize issues of efficiency and equity. Again and again we will see that the challenges are both technical and ethical, as society is forced to make troubling tradeoffs. Topics in the class will include pollution (with a focus on climate change and on incentive-based policies like tax and "cap-and-trade"), management of nonrenewable and renewable resources (including resources like oil, forests, and fisheries), and energy (with its obvious links to resource use and climate change). We will also examine the relationship between development and the environment, touching on controversial topics such as the "natural resources curse" and the relationship between economic growth and the demand for environmental quality. [ more ]

SCST 401 (F)Senior Seminar: Critical Perspectives on Science and Technology

A research-oriented course designed to give students direct experience in evaluating and assessing scientific and technological issues. Students initially study particular techniques and methodologies by employing a case study approach. They then apply these methods to a major research project. Students may choose topics from fields such as biotechnology, computers, biomedical engineering, energy, and other resource development. Students will apply their background of historical, philosophical, and technological perspectives in carrying out their study. [ 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 ]