Academic Program

The Environmental Studies Program at Williams College offers a major in Environmental Studies, as well as concentrations in Environmental Studies and Maritime Studies designed to complement a major in a different discipline or subject area.

Critical environmental issues of our time call upon citizens, organizations, and other agencies to grasp complex science concepts, address conflicting human values, and make difficult economic, political and ethical choices. The curricular options in Environmental Studies—our major and our concentration—are designed to prepare students to deal effectively with these issues by integrating perspectives and methodologies from the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the arts and humanities.

We encourage and assist ENVI students to examine environmental issues in the vicinity of Berkshire County, other regions of the US, and the world. Many of our courses also include an experiential component so that students can learn the complexities of environmental issues first-hand.  The Center for Environmental Studies (CES) manages the 2600-acre Hopkins Memorial Forest and the Environmental Analysis Laboratory in the Morley Science Laboratory, both of which afford great opportunities for hands-on environmental lab experience and fieldwork. CES also sponsors a wide range of environmentally-themed activities, events, and programs, including the Friday noon Log Lunch speaker series and an extensive program of generous support for summer internships relating to environmental issues.

Incoming students with an interest in Environmental Studies should consider taking ENVI 101: Nature and Society during their first year at Williams. This gateway course is required for the major and the concentration and provides an intellectual framework for critical, interdisciplinary environmental inquiry in the social sciences and humanities while surveying the most pressing environmental problems of our time. In the spring, many first-year students also take ENVI 102: Introduction to Environmental Science, which provides an overview of the discipline in the context of the interconnected global earth system: the geosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere. In this class, students are introduced to scientific methods from physics, chemistry, geology, and biology that are used to examine real-world case studies at global and local scales.

While ENVI 101 is a recommended starting point for both the major and the concentration, many students come to Environmental Studies through an interest in applying a specific discipline to environmental problems. Students with strong interests in more traditional disciplines such as biology, chemistry, geosciences or economics are advised to begin the introductory course sequence for those subjects in their first semester as well. These students have two main options: a major in a traditional discipline with a concentration in Environmental Studies–a popular choice for students who wish to attend graduate school in the so-called “hard sciences”–or a double major.

The Environmental Studies Program also serves as the on-campus base for the Williams-Mystic Program, an extraordinary maritime studies program housed at Williams Mystic Campus on the Atlantic coast in Connecticut.  Students who wish to pursue a concentration in Maritime Studies combine a one-semester course of study at the Williams-Mystic campus with core courses and elective courses as described in the college catalog.  Students may spend a semester at the Mystic campus in either the sophomore, junior, or senior year; choosing which semester to spend at Mystic should be done in consultation with a member of the Environmental Studies faculty.

Students interested in the Environmental Studies major or concentration or in the maritime Studies concentration are encouraged to consult with members of the Environmental Studies Program and to contact the Environmental Studies Director or Associate Director.