Environmental Studies Concentration

Key Documents

Path to the Environmental Studies Concentration (PDF)

Environmental Studies Concentration: Course Catalog

Registrar’s Concentration Declaration Form

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 that inhere in environmental problems and will 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 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. The concentration in Environmental Studies consists of six courses: three core courses and one elective course from each of the three categories below: The Natural World; Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences; and Environmental Policy.  Students with a 5 on the AP Environmental Science exam may substitute a 200-level cross-listed Environmental Science course (with lab) for Introduction to Environmental Science (ENVI 102). 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 ([email protected]) or Associate Director ([email protected]).

  • ENVI 101(F, S) LEC Nature and Society: An Introduction to Environmental Studies

    Environment and society interact on scales from the local to the global. This course explores these interactions and introduces students to the interdisciplinary methods of environmental studies. We will investigate the social, political, and historical aspects of environmental problems -- including environmental racism, species extinction, climate change, massive urbanization -- as well as their possible solutions. Throughout the course, we will ask how unequal distributions of power affect people and environments. Case studies, readings, discussions, and field exercises will help students develop their understanding of how built and unbuilt environments influence and are influenced by human activities. [ more ]

    ENVI 102(S) LEC Introduction to Environmental Science

    Environmental Science is an interdisciplinary field that develops scientific and technical means for assessing and mitigating human impacts on the environment. This course provides an overview of the discipline in the context of the interconnected global earth system: the geosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere. 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. Topics may include: climate change, air and water pollution, resource extraction and management, land use change, and their effects on environmental quality, biodiversity, and human health. During weekly fieldwork and laboratory sessions, students gain hands-on experience in collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data that can be used to make recommendations for addressing local environmental issues. [ more ]

    ENVI 402 / AMST 406(F) CON Environmental Planning Workshop: Community Project Experience

    In this class you apply your education to effect social and environmental change in the Berkshires. Students work in small collaborative groups to address pressing issues facing the region. Class teams partner with community organizations and local & county governments to conduct applied research and to develop solutions. Students will learn experientially and contribute to the community. The field of environmental planning encompasses the built environment (eg: housing, zoning, transportation, renewable energy, waste, neighborhood design), the natural environment (eg: farmland, ecosystems, habitat, natural resources, air and water pollution and climate change), and the social environment (eg: spatial geography, racial zoning, recreation, placemaking, ecojustice, food security, and public health). Skills taught include land use planning, community-based research, basic GIS mapping, developing/conducting surveys, interview technique, project management, public presentations and professional report-writing. The class culminates in presentations to the client organizations. Class hours include time for team project work, client meetings and team meetings with the professor. Recent project topics: https://ces.williams.edu/environmental-planning-papers/ [ more ]

    ENVI 412 / CAOS 412 SEM Senior Seminar: Perspectives on Environmental Studies

    Last offered Spring 2021

    The Environmental Studies and Maritime Studies programs provide students with an opportunity to explore the myriad ways that humans interact with diverse environments at scales ranging from local to global. A capstone course for Environmental Studies and Coastal and Ocean Studies, this seminar brings together students who have specialized in the humanities, social studies and the sciences to exchange ideas across these disciplines. Over the course of the seminar, students will develop a sustained independent research project on a topic of their choice, and they will have opportunities throughout the semester to meet with guest speakers to discuss environmental work outside the academy. [ more ]

    ENVI 460(S) SEM Communicating Climate Change

    Long-term, probabilistic thinking about scary scenarios is hard. When the relevant time frames extend to centuries and millennia, it is really hard. And when the degree of scariness is determined by sciences that few people understand, it is really, really hard. Such is the challenge of climate change communication. No matter what your interests or career paths might be, you will need to be able to communicate effectively about environmental problems, often with people who see them very differently from you. It is difficult to communicate about any problem across social, political, and cultural divides. But environmental problems present special challenges. For one thing, they typically involve complicated, contested science. For another, their effects are often difficult to perceive yet potentially devastating in their consequences, especially for future generations and marginalized people. For yet another, their solutions often seem hopelessly difficult to implement. And for yet another, they are thoroughly entangled with almost every other problem we face, from pandemics to racism to wealth inequality. How do we communicate clearly, persuasively, and responsibly about something so complex? What does climate change really mean? This seminar brings together students with interests in the humanities, arts, social sciences and sciences to seek answers to this fundamental question. Drawing on insights from the qualitative social sciences and environmental humanities, we will develop a theoretical and methodological tool kit that can be applied to concrete, practical problems. Over the course of the semester, each student will pursue a major independent project that allows them to put these tools to use while exploring a topic of personal significance. [ more ]

  • GEOS 100 / CAOS 100 LEC Introduction to Weather and Climate

    Last offered Spring 2024

    How is it that we have such a hard time predicting if it's going to rain next week, but we can be confident in projections of future climate change decades from now? This course will explore how fundamental laws of physics determine why air moves and changes, creating the wind, clouds, precipitation, and extreme events that form our weather. Building off of our understanding of the atmosphere, we'll look at longer time scales to develop an understanding of earth's climate system, global heat and moisture transport, climate change, and the ways that humans can change our planet. We will use weather and climate models to learn how scientists and meteorologists predict future conditions. Labs include benchtop experiments, data analysis projects, and self-scheduled meteorological observations. This course is in the Oceans and Climate group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

    GEOS 101 / ENVI 105(S) LEC The Co-Evolution of Earth and Life

    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 examine the relationship between 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 and learn about the dramatic changes that have occurred throughout the history of our planet. 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 and how did this biological event lead to profound changes in the world's oceans and atmospheres? How and why did animals evolve and what role did environmental change play in the radiation of animal life? How did the rise and spread 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's dynamic history. [ more ]

    GEOS 102(S) LEC An Unfinished Planet

    Earth is an evolving planet. The pace of plate tectonics may be imperceptibly slow but earthquakes and volcanic eruptions caused by shifting plates disrupt civilizations. In a geological time frame, nothing on Earth is permanent: ocean basins open and close, mountains rise and fall, continental masses collide and pull apart. 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 20th 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 and primary sources. This course is in the Solid Earth group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

    GEOS 103 / ENVI 103 LEC Global Warming and Environmental Change

    Last offered Fall 2022

    Earth is the warmest it has been for at least five centuries, and the surface of our planet is responding. From extreme floods and drought to landslides and wildfires, the natural processes that shape Earth's surface are tied to temperature and precipitation. People are beginning to feel the impacts, but in different ways depending on where they call home. In this course, we will investigate how climate change is altering landscapes and the natural processes that support them, highlighting all the ways that people are being affected today. Ultimately, we will develop an understanding of the consequences of climate change that connects physical processes with geography. Specific topics include foundations of the Earth system, plate tectonics and the construction of landscapes, Earth materials, rivers and flooding, hillslope processes, coastal processes, and climate impacts on natural resources such as fresh water and soil. Labs will use local field sites and analytical exercises to evaluate recent cases that reflect an interaction of the landscape and climate. We will also visit and engage with Black communities and community leaders across New England who are grappling with the unjust distribution of resources to mitigate climate impacts and who have been disproportionate bearers of environmental risk. [ more ]

    GEOS 104 / CAOS 104 / ENVI 104(F) LEC Oceanography

    The oceans cover three quarters of Earth's surface, yet oceanography as a modern science is relatively young: the first systematic explorations of the geology, biology, physics and chemistry of the oceans began in the late 19th century. This introduction to ocean science includes the creation and destruction of ocean basins with plate tectonics; the source and transport of seafloor sediments and the archive of Earth history they contain; currents, tides, and waves; photosynthesis and the transfer of energy and matter in ocean food webs; the composition and origin of seawater, and how its chemistry traces biological, physical and geological processes; oceans and climate change; and human impacts. [ more ]

    PHYS 108 / ENVI 108(S) LEC Energy Science and Technology

    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 lighting, and energy storage. Students will learn to compare the efficiencies and environmental impacts of various energy sources and uses. [ more ]

    GEOS 110 / ENVI 109 / CAOS 110 LEC Oceans and Society

    Last offered Fall 2023

    Oceans impact society in many ways: they provide much of our protein, they hide untapped mineral wealth, their circulation regulates global climate, they transport and accumulate our plastic garbage, marine storms batter coastal infrastructure, and sea-level rise threatens communities. However, despite the oceans' importance throughout history--for trade, as a source of food, and because of their unpredictable dangers--we know shockingly little about them. More than 6000 people have reached the summit of Everest, Earth's highest elevation; but only 22 have visited Challenger Deep, the deepest point below the ocean surface. We have mapped the surfaces of Mars and Venus in far more detail than the topography of Earth's ocean basins. New marine organisms are discovered regularly. And we still don't fully understand the complex details of how ocean and atmosphere work together as the planet's climate engine. In this course, you will examine ocean science themes with direct societal relevance that are also at the forefront of scientific investigation. Topics will be selected based on current events, but are likely to include deep sea mining, meridional overturning, sea level rise, atmospheric rivers, and aquaculture. By taking focused dives into a range of subjects you will learn about the evolution and operation of the ocean as a physical and geological system as well as investigating the intersections between ocean functions, climate change, and human societies. Exercises and discussions will foreground active learning. A field trip to the Atlantic coast will integrate experiential investigation of the intersection between coastal change, extreme weather, and communities. The aim is to have energised interdisciplinary discussions about topics of pressing societal relevance, to understand some of the fundamentals of ocean science, to develop expertise in gathering and distilling information by researching new topics, and thereby to improve critical and analytical thinking. [ more ]

    ENVI 134 / CAOS 134 The Tropics: Biology and Social Issues

    Last offered NA

    Biology and Social Issues of the Tropics explores the biological dimensions of social and environmental issues in tropical societies, focusing specifically on the tropics of Africa, Asia, Latin America, Oceania, and the Caribbean. Social issues are inextricably bound to human ecologies and their environmental settings. Each section of the course provides the science behind the issues and ends with options for possible solutions, which are debated by the class. The course highlights differences between the tropics and areas at higher latitudes while also emphasizing global interconnectedness. It begins with a survey of the tropical environment, including a global climate model, variation in tropical climates and the amazing biodiversity of tropical biomes. The next section focuses on human population biology, and emphasizes demography and the role of disease particularly malaria, AIDS and Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2). 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 interaction of humans with their supporting ecological environment, and global climate change. This course fulfills the DPE requirement. Through lectures, debates and readings, students confront social and environmental issues and policies from the perspective of biologists. This builds a framework for lifelong exploration of human diversity in terms of difference, power and equity. [ more ]

    BIOL 203 / ENVI 203(F) LEC Ecology

    This course combines lectures & discussion with field and indoor laboratory activities to explore factors that determine the distribution and abundance of plants and animals in natural systems. The course begins with an overview of global environmental patterns and then builds from the population to ecosystem level. Throughout the course, we will emphasize the connection between basic ecological principles and 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). Laboratory activities are designed to engage students in the natural history of the region and build skills in data analysis and scientific writing. [ more ]

    GEOS 205 / ENVI 207 LEC Economic Geology and Earth Resources

    Last offered Fall 2019

    "If it can't be grown, it must be mined." We depend on the solid Earth for a huge array of 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. This course is in the SOLID EARTH GROUP for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

    GEOS 207 / ENVI 201 LEC The Geoscience of Epidemiology and Public Health

    Last offered Spring 2023

    The Coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the many ways that diseases can be transmitted in the environment. As a society we are becoming aware of the many ways that geological processes and materials and influence human health, in ways both beneficial and dangerous. This course unites geoscience, biomedicine and public health approaches to address a wide range of environmental health problems. These include water-related illnesses (e.g. diarrhea, malaria); minerals and metals, both toxic (e.g. asbestos, arsenic) and essential (e.g. iodine); radioactive poisoning (e.g. radon gas); and the transport of pathogens by water and wind. In many cases, the environmental health problems disproportionately affect marginalised populations, contributing to greater disease and death among poor communities and populations of colour. We will examine the broad array of dynamic connections between human health and the natural world. We will discuss the social justice implications of a range of environmental health problems. And we will examine current research into how coronaviruses, such as the one causing COVID-19, are transported in the environment. This course is in the Sediments and Life group for the Geosciences Major. [ more ]

    Taught by: TBA

    Catalog details

    CAOS 210 / GEOS 210(F, S) LEC Oceanographic Processes

    Part of the Williams-Mystic Coastal and Ocean Studies Program, this course provides an introduction to physical, geological, chemical, and biological oceanography. Using local field sites as well as places visited on field seminars, we will investigate why the Earth has oceans, why they are salty, how they move and flow, reasons for sea level change on both long and short timescales, and how our oceans interact with the atmosphere to control global climate. We will emphasise societal interactions with the ocean, and will consider coastal processes including land loss. We will apply an environmental justice and anti-racist lens to our discussions. Field work will take place on shores in southern New England, as well as during field seminars on the Atlantic ocean, the West Coast and the Mississippi River Delta. This course is in the Oceans and Climate group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

    GEOS 214 / ENVI 214(S) LEC Mastering GIS

    The development of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) has allowed us to investigate incredibly large and spatially complex data sets like never before. From assessing the effects of climate change on alpine glaciers, to identifying ideal habitat ranges for critically endangered species, to determining the vulnerability of coastal communities to storms, GIS has opened the door for important, large-scale environmental analyses. And as these technologies improve, our ability to understand the world grows ever greater. This course will teach you how to use GIS to investigate environmental problems. We will review fundamental principles in geography, the construction and visualization of geospatial datasets, and tools for analyzing geospatial data. Special attention will also be given to analysis of remotely sensed (satellite) imagery and to collection of field data. By the end of the course, you will be able to conduct independent GIS-based research and produce maps and other geospatial imagery of professional quality. [ more ]

    GEOS 215 / CAOS 215 LEC Climate Changes

    Last offered Spring 2023

    Paleoclimatology is the reconstruction of past climate variability and the forces that drove the climate changes. The Earth's climate system is experiencing unprecedented and catastrophic change because of anthropogenic emission of greenhouse gases and land use change. Paleoclimatology allows humans to put modern climate changes into the context of the history of this planet, and shows how and why it is unprecedented and catastrophic. Each climate event we study from Earth's past teaches us lessons on why the climate system responds to anthropogenic perturbations, what climate changes we're committed to in the future, how long-lasting they will be, and what climate consequences we can avoid if we take action and reduce greenhouse gas emissions sooner. In this course, we will discuss the major mechanisms that cause natural climate variability, how climate of the past is reconstructed, and how climate models are used to test mechanisms that drive climate variation. With these tools, you will analyze and interpret data and model simulations from climate events from Earth's history, and apply these findings to anthropogenic climate changes happening now and that are projected to happen in the future. Laboratories and homework will emphasize developing problem solving skills as well as sampling and interpreting geological archives of climate change. This course is in the Oceans and Climate group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

    BIOL 220 / ENVI 220(S) LEC 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 systematics and phylogeny, the cultural and economic uses of plants and how plants shape our world. The course covers the role of plants in ameliorating global climate change, their importance in contributing to sustainable food production and providing solutions to pressing environmental problems. Throughout we emphasize the critical role of biodiversity and its conservation. The labs cover field identification, natural history and the ecology of local species. [ more ]

    GEOS 220 / ENVI 219 TUT Evolution of and on Volcanic Islands

    Last offered Fall 2020

    Plate tectonic theory accounts for the vast majority of volcanic islands in ocean basins. They form above mantle plume hot spots (Hawaiian and Galapagos Islands), subduction zones (Aleutian and Indonesian arcs), and mid-ocean ridges (Azores and Ascension Island). Iceland is unusual because it is located above a hot spot and the mid-Atlantic ridge. Each plate tectonic setting produces chemically distinctive magmas, and the lifespan of volcanic islands varies widely. Islands above hot spots may be geographically remote and emergent for only several million years, but be part of a long-lived sequence of islands that persists for over a hundred million years. In contrast, island arc volcanoes belong to long geographically continuous chains of volcanoes, commonly in close proximity to continents. This tutorial explores the geologic evolution and lifespan of volcanic islands from formation to submergence, and searches for correlations between these characteristics and plate tectonic setting. We will also consider how geographic isolation, areal extent, lifespan, and climate affect biological evolution on volcanic islands.There will be weekly tutorial meetings with pairs of students, and students will alternate writing papers on assigned topics. This course is in the Solid Earth group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

    GEOS 226 / CAOS 225 TUT The Oceans and Climate

    Last offered Spring 2015

    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 Niño-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 Niño-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. This course is in the Oceans and Climate group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

    GEOS 227 / CAOS 226 TUT Climate Data Analysis

    Last offered Spring 2022

    In this tutorial, students will learn how to access and work with the datasets that show how our climate is changing. The course introduces a series of analytical methods used in climate science, and students then apply those 'recipes' to data of their choosing to research parts of the climate system. Over the course of the term, a student might investigate the seasonality of global atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, maps of sea level anomalies, and the impact El Niño patterns have on Western US rainfall. Students will present their findings, and their insights into the particular aspect of the climate system, at weekly tutorial meetings. Analytical approaches covered in the class include climatologies, time series analysis (trends, periodicity, and autocorrelation), anomaly maps, composites, and zonal/meridional averaging. As for regions and climate systems students can explore: the sky is the limit. This course is in the Oceans and Climates group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

    ENVI 240 TUT Conservation and Climate Change

    Last offered Fall 2019

    What does climate change mean for the future of Earth's 8.7 million-or-so species? This tutorial introduces students to an emerging literature on how climate change alters the distributions, behaviors, and interactions of plant and animal species. In it we will pay close attention to how to read a scientific paper and how to write about science from the discipline of environmental studies. Some of the questions we will consider include: How is scientific knowledge produced? What might the biotic world look like in 10, 100, and 1000 years? How are conservation and restoration practitioners responding to climate change? To what extent can local environmental management alter global trends? [ more ]

    GEOS 255 / ENVI 255(F) LEC Environmental Observation

    To study the environment, we need to observe and measure it. We collect data--numbers that represent system states--and analyze them to create understanding of the world we live in. Advances in technology create more opportunities to discover how the planet works. Through a survey of observational approaches (including weather stations, direct sampling, remote sensing, community-based monitoring, and other techniques), this course will investigate the process of turning a physical property in the environment into a number on a computer and then into meaningful information. We will explore both direct field measurements and remote sensing techniques, diving into how to choose the appropriate sensor for a scientific question, how sensors work, analysis approaches and statistical methods, and how to interpret the resulting data. We will also learn how to mitigate measurement bias through a combination of lab experiments and field work and how to make interpretations of measurements that accurately reflect what is being measured. The course will focus on the near-surface environment, including the atmosphere, water, and biosphere. Students will carry out a research project using observation techniques covered in class to explore a scientific question of interest. This course is in the Oceans and Climate group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

    GEOS 301 / ENVI 331(S) LEC Geomorphology

    Geomorphology is the study of landforms, the processes that shape them, and the rates at which these processes change the landscape in which we live. The course is designed for Geosciences majors and for environmental studies students interested in the evolution of Earth's surface and the ways our activities are changing the planet. We will examine the ways in which climatic, tectonic, and volcanic forces drive landscape evolution over relatively short periods of geologic time, generally thousands to a few millions of years. More recently, the impacts of human activity in reshaping landscapes, determining the movement of water, and changing climate could not be clearer. We will also examine how these impacts are affecting communities, including causes and possible solutions to environmental injustice. We will explore local case studies of geomorphology, such as the impact of ice-age glaciation on landscapes in the northeastern United States and the legacy of deforestation and river damming during the colonial era. We will learn a range of practical skills for describing physical environments and for predicting how they change, including field surveys, GIS analysis, and numerical modelling. This course is in the Sediments and Life group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

    BIOL 302 / ENVI 312 LEC Communities and Ecosystems

    Last offered Fall 2019

    An advanced ecology course that examines how species interact with each other and their environment and how communities are assembled. 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 invasibility and 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 as well as "big-data" analyses using existing data sets.The laboratory component of the course will culminate with a self-designed independent or group project. [ more ]

    GEOS 309 / CAOS 309 LEC Modern Climate

    Last offered Fall 2023

    What will happen to the Earth's climate in the next century? What is contributing to sea level rise? Is Arctic sea ice doomed? In this course we will study the components of the climate system (atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere, biosphere and land surface) and the processes through which they interact. Greenhouse gas emission scenarios will form the basis for investigating how these systems might respond to human activity. This course will explore how heat and mass are moved around the atmosphere and ocean to demonstrate how the geographic patterns of climate change arise. We will also focus on climate feedback effects--like the albedo feedback associated with sea ice and glacier loss--and how these processes can accelerate climate change. In labs we will learn MATLAB to use process and full-scale climate models to investigate the behavior of these systems in response to increasing greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. This course is in the Oceans and Climate group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

    CAOS 311 / BIOL 231(F, S) LEC Marine Ecology

    We have explored only a fraction of the ocean, with about 10% of marine species classified and 20% of the ocean mapped. Many discoveries remain to be made, and marine ecology is one technique to uncover new insights. The field of marine ecology, rooted in the theory of evolution, describes the mechanisms and processes that drive the diversity, abundance, and distribution of marine organisms. The goal is to document natural patterns and make predictions about how species will respond to environmental changes by investigating the relationship between the abiotic environment and biotic interactions. This course will take a deep dive into the unique challenges to life in the ocean. You will compare and contrast different marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs, kelp forests, and the deep sea. You will also practice a marine ecologist's skillset as you design, carry out, and analyze your own research project, which will improve your scientific writing, data analysis, and communication skills. Importantly, you will connect your research and course topics to larger marine conservation issues and broader societal impacts. [ more ]

    BIOL 320 / ENVI 320 / GEOS 320(S) LEC Ecosystem ecology in the Anthropocene

    Ecosystem ecology provides a framework for understanding the multidirectional interactions between biological organisms and their physical environments, and provides critical insight into our approaches for managing resource use in an era of anthropogenic change. In this class, we will explore the biological and biogeochemical underpinnings of ecosystem carbon and nutrient cycling. Topics will include interactions between species composition and ecosystem function, nutrient use efficiency, resource transformations, ecosystem management and restoration, and feedbacks to global change. Lecture content will be supported by regular discussions of the primary literature. Labs will introduce students to field and laboratory techniques to study resource and energy flow in local ecosystems, as well as approaches to project design, hypothesis development, data collection, and analysis. The laboratory program will culminate with a multi-week independent project. [ more ]

    GEOS 327 / CAOS 327 / ENVI 327(F) LEC Coastal Processes and Geomorphology

    Can people live safely along the coast? Recent events like SuperStorm Sandy and the Tohoku Tsunami have shown us how the ocean can rise up suddenly and wreak havoc on our lives and coastal infrastructure. Only educated geoscientists can evaluate the risks and define informed strategies to prevent future coastal catastrophes. Currently almost half the global population lives within 100 km of the coast, with a large percent of those living in densely populated cities (e.g., New York, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Cape Town, Sydney, Mumbai). Despite the growing risks and challenges associated with climate change and rising sea levels, the coastal population continues to grow rapidly. To help ensure these growing populations can live safely along the coast requires a detailed understanding of the processes that shape the coastal zone. These processes act across a variety of scales, from deep-time geologic processes that dictate coastal shape and structure, to decadal-scale processes that determine shoreline position and evolution, to weekly and daily processes such as storms and tides. This course will provide an in-depth look at the forces--wind, waves, storms, and people--that shape the coastal zone, as well as the geologic formations--sandy beaches, rocky cliffs, barrier islands, deltas, and coral reefs--that are acted upon and resist these forces. Coastal dynamics are strongly affected by human interventions, such as seawalls, dredged channels, and sand dune removal, as well as by sea level rise and changes in storm frequency and magnitude associated with climate change. Finally, the course will provide students with a perspective on how the U.S. seeks to manage its coastal zone, focusing on sea level rise and coastal development. This class will include a quantitative lab that will use MATLAB software to model and evaluate various coastal processes. Students will gain a basic understanding of MATLAB functionality, and will be asked to independently apply what they have learned to various data sets provided by the instructor. [ more ]

    BIOL 329 / ENVI 339 LEC Conservation Biology

    Last offered Fall 2023

    Conservation Biology focuses on protection of the Earth's biodiversity. This course starts with an overview of biodiversity including patterns of species richness, causes of species loss (extinction), and the critical contributions of biodiversity to ecosystem function and human welfare. Then we analyze ways to conserve biodiversity at the genetic, population, species and community/ecosystem levels. Labs are field oriented, and focus on local New England communities and ecosystems. Labs emphasize knowing the dominant species in each system; they also stress how to collect and analyze the field data on ecological community structure and function that are critical to test hypotheses that relate to different conservation goals. [ more ]

    CHEM 363 / ENVI 363(F) LEC Environmental Fate of Organic Chemicals

    This course introduces students to the methods used to assess the risks posed by organic chemicals to human, animal, and ecosystem health. Our goal is to develop a quantitative understanding for how specific features of organic molecular structure directly dictate a given molecule's environmental fate. We will begin by using thermodynamic principles to estimate the salient physiochemical properties of molecules (e.g., vapor pressure, solubility, charging behavior, etc.) that impact the distribution, or partitioning, of organic chemicals between air, water, soils, and biota. Then, using quantitative structure activity relationships, we will predict the degradation kinetics resulting from natural nucleophilic, photochemical, and biological processes that determine chemical lifetime in the environment. [ more ]

    CHEM 364 / ENVI 364 LEC Instrumental Methods of Analysis

    Last offered Spring 2024

    Instrumental methods of analysis provide scientists with different lenses to observe and elucidate fundamental chemical phenomena and to measure parameters and properties at the atomic, molecular, and bulk scales. This course introduces a framework for learning about a variety of instrumental techniques that typically include chromatography, mass spectrometry, thermal methods, atomic and molecular absorption and emission spectroscopy, X-ray diffraction, and optical and electron microscopies. Students complete laboratory projects and gain hands-on experience and project planning skills to study molecules and materials of interest. This practical experience is complemented by lectures that cover the theory and broader applications of these techniques. Students also explore the primary literature and highlight recent advances in instrumental methods that address today's analytical questions. The skills learned are useful in a wide variety of scientific areas and will prepare you well for research endeavors. [ more ]

    GEOS 405 / ENVI 405 SEM Geochemistry: Understanding Earth's Environment

    Last offered Fall 2017

    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 and ecosystems. Students will explore these topics through lecture; reading and discussing articles from the scientific literature; and collecting, analyzing and interpreting data from environmental samples. This course is in the Oceans and Climate group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

    GEOS 410 / CAOS 410 / ENVI 410(S) LEC The Cryosphere

    The Earth's climate system is often described in terms of its spheres, including the atmosphere, biosphere, lithosphere, oceans, and the cryosphere. The cryosphere is the naturally occurring ice on Earth in all its many forms: snow, glaciers, ice sheets, sea ice, frozen lakes and rivers, and permafrost (frozen soil). These parts of the climate system may seem remote, but have implications for climate and weather around the world. Melting glaciers and ice sheets have already contributed to sea level rise, and are projected to do so even more in the future. This course will explore the cryosphere, including snow, sea ice, permafrost, and glaciers through lectures, hands-on and data analysis labs, reading journal articles, and a final project. As a 400-level seminar, this capstone course is intended to build on and extend knowledge and skills students have developed during previous courses in the major. [ more ]

    MATH 410 / BIOL 214 TUT Mathematical Ecology

    Last offered Spring 2016

    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 413 / ENVI 423 SEM Global Change Ecology

    Last offered Fall 2019

    Plants and animals are increasingly faced with rapid environmental change driven by human activities across the globe. How do they cope with challenges imposed by climate change, altered nutrient cycling, biological invasions, and increased urbanization? What are the impacts of organismal responses at the population and community level? This course uses an integrative approach to understand the impacts of global change at multiple levels of biological organization in both aquatic and terrestrial environments. We examine how global-scale environmental changes affect the distribution and abundance of species and alter community organization. We also consider the physiological and behavioural mechanisms underlying species responses and the role of acclimation versus adaptation in coping with rapid environmental change. Finally, we learn the analytical tools used to predict future responses to global change. Class discussions will focus on readings drawn from the primary literature. [ more ]

  • ENVI 110 TUT The Anthropocene: Nature and Culture in the Human Age

    Last offered Spring 2018

    In 2016, a group of scientists appointed by the International Commission on Stratigraphy, the body that keeps the official timetable of earth's history, argued that the planet has entered a new age known as the Anthropocene. Their questions were epochal: Has humanity become a geological force as powerful as those that have shaped the planet's deep past, such as ice sheets and asteroids? Have we truly entered "the human age," and if so, when did it begin and what does it all mean? This course will ask how researchers from different fields have sought to answer these questions. Just as important, it will ask how they became questions in the first place. Where did the idea of the Anthropocene come from? What are its social, political, and ethical implications? How we have arrived at this new understanding of our planet and ourselves? And what can this major intellectual shift-a shift that has already begun to send waves far beyond the academy into the worlds of art, literature, politics, and religion-tell us about the construction of environmental knowledge in the twenty-first century? Readings will come primarily from the environmental social sciences and humanities, including works by nineteenth and early twentieth-century environmental thinkers, but will be supplemented with material from the natural and environmental sciences. Topics will include climate change, mass extinction, urbanization, and deforestation. Our focus throughout will remain on ways of knowing, imagining, and representing global environmental change in an era of ever-expanding human influence. [ more ]

    ARAB 209 / ENVI 208 / COMP 234(S) SEM Saharan Imaginations

    Deconstructing reductive Saharanism, which the course conceptualizes as a universalizing discourse about deserts, this course seeks to critically examine the myriad assumptions that are projected upon deserts across times and cultures. In addition to their depiction as dead and empty, deserts have become a canvas for the demonstration of religiosity, resilience, heroism and athleticism. Cultural production, particularly literature and film, do, however, furnish a critical space in which important questions can be raised about deserts' fundamental importance to different cultures and societies. Drawing on novels, films, and secondary scholarship, the course will help students understand how myth, memory, history, coloniality/postcoloniality, and a strong sense of ethics are deeply intertwined in the desert sub-genre of African, Euro-American, and Middle Eastern literatures. Whether grappling with transcontinental issues of climate change, cannibalization of biodiversity or overexploitation of natural resources, desert-focused cultural production invites us to interrogate the politics of space and place as well as mobility and spatial control as they relate to this supposedly dead nature. [ more ]

    AFR 211 / AMST 211 / ENVI 211 / SOC 211 LEC Race, Environment, and the Body

    Last offered Spring 2023

    This course is organized around three distinct, but overlapping, concerns. The first concern is how polluting facilities like landfills, industrial sites, and sewage treatment plants are disproportionately located in communities of color. The second concern is the underlying, racist rationales for how corporations, in collaboration with state agencies, plot manufacturers of pollution. The final concern is how the environmental crises outlined in the first two sections of the course are experienced in the body. In reviewing a range of Black cultural productions--like literature, scholarship, music, and film--we will not only consider how environmental disparities physically affect human bodies, but also how embodiments of eco-crises lend to imaginaries of the relationship between the self and the natural world. [ more ]

    Taught by: TBA

    Catalog details

    ANTH 214 / ENVI 224 LEC The Rise and Fall of Civilizations

    Last offered Fall 2023

    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 ]

    RLSP 214 / ENVI 218 SEM "Ecologismo": Literature, Culture and the Environment in Latin America

    Last offered Spring 2019

    How have Latin American authors and artists responded to environmental concerns, from the logging and rubber booms that threatened the Amazon in the early 20th century to contemporary global warming? How do the realities of Latin American societies--including massive disparities of wealth and poverty; the cultural and political impacts of the region's indigenous populations; and the complex histories of colonialism, dependency and neoliberalism--inform Latin American responses to environmental issues? How does Latin America's environmental imaginary differ from those of the U.S. and Europe? In this course we will explore these issues and more through literature and other cultural texts from Latin America. We will consider short stories and novellas by authors including Horacio Quiroga (Uruguay), Luis Sepúlveda (Chile), Mempo Giardinelli (Argentina), and Ana Cristina Rossi (Costa Rica); poetry by Esthela Calderón (Nicaragua), Juan Carlos Galeano (Colombia), Homero Aridjis (Mexico); the paintings of Tomás Sánchez (Cuba); and feature films as well as shorter documentaries. In Spanish. [ more ]

    PHIL 216 / ENVI 216 SEM Philosophy of Animals

    Last offered Spring 2021

    Animals are and always have been part of human life. To name just a few ways: We treat animals as companions, as food, as objects of wonder in the wild, as resources to be harvested, as testing grounds for science, and as religious sacrifice. The abstract philosophical question before us is, what are animals such that they can be all these things? In this course we aim to engage that abstract question through two more focused projects. Firstly, we will try to understand the mental lives of non-human animals. Secondly, we will try to make sense of the moral dimensions of our relationship to animals. Throughout we will aim to fuse a rigorous scientific perspective with more humanistic themes and philosophical inquiry. Topics include sentience, animal cognition, language in non-human animals, empathy and evolution, the history of domestication, animal rights, cross-cultural views on animals, arguments against and for vegetarianism and veganism, the morality of zoos, hunting and fishing, and pets and happiness. [ more ]

    RLSP 216 / ENVI 233 SEM Latin American Environmental Literature and Cultural Production

    Last offered Spring 2021

    This foundational course explores a wide array of ecocultural texts from Latin America, ranging from accounts of Europeans' first arrival to the crisis of mass extinction and anthropogenic climate change today. In between we consider an eclectic mix of styles and genres, including poetry, essays, prose fiction and speeches produced by a varied group of cultural agents. We read classic texts by canonical figures (José Martí's "Our América," the Popol vuh), which take on new meaning in the current context, as well as some little-known gems of ecological consciousness. Readings and discussion trace connections between environmental thought and the region's long and multi-layered history of colonialism, and students are encouraged to develop their own positions by responding to some of the leading theoretical discourses that animate the field of Latin American ecocriticism: decolonial and creole ecologies, ecofeminism, transcultural materialism, and postdevelopment. Conducted in English. [ more ]

    ARTS 222 / ENVI 202(F) STU Critical Practice of Architecture: Theories, Methods, and Techniques 

    In this course, students will transform an architectural or urban space through design interventions that contribute to reorienting public perception, imagination, and politics. Skills taught include methods and techniques for critical architecture practice, including architecture drawing, 2D graphic design, and 3D modeling (digital and physical). Students will also build on design strategies (e.g., spatial hijacking and détournement), community architecture, and visual techniques to rethink normative understandings of space and time. Through selected readings and discussions, we will examine key ideas that have inspired design thinking and activism. The class culminates in a presentation to external reviewers and a final exhibition. [ more ]

    ENVI 229 / HIST 264 SEM Environmental History

    Last offered Fall 2023

    This course is an introduction to Environmental History: the study of how people have shaped environments, how environments have shaped human histories, and how cultural change and material change are intertwined. As such, it challenges traditional divides between the humanities and the sciences. Taking U.S. environmental history as our focus, we will strive to understand the historical roots of contemporary environmental problems, such as species extinction, pollution, and climate change. We will take field trips to learn to read landscapes for their histories and to examine how past environments are represented in museum exhibits, digital projects, and physical landscapes. And we will develop original arguments and essays based on archival research. It is imperative that we understand this history if we are to make informed and ethical environmental decisions at the local, national, and global scale. [ more ]

    LATS 230 / AMST 247 / ENVI 257(S) LEC Cities, Suburbs, and Rural Places

    Long associated with cities in the scholarly and popular imagination, transnational migrants have increasingly settled in U.S. suburbs and rural localities and have made these places home. Through the lens of new destinations for im/migrants, this course introduces spatial methods, perspectives, and concepts to understand cities, suburbs, and rural places. We ask how geographically specific forces and actors shape migrants' living conditions, as well as consider the spatially uneven outcomes of complex processes like globalization. We analyze how different actors discursively and materially demarcate who belongs and who does not, and how these boundaries shape migrants' everyday practices. This interdisciplinary course highlights the legal, economic, political, environmental, social, and cultural dimensions of how transnational migrants become part of and create homes in new destinations. Through a range of textual materials (academic, literary, popular, visual), we explore the construction of landscapes, how people shape space at local and regional scales, and where people do life's work and come together to build cultural space. Rooted in critical race geographies, case studies are comparative across different racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. West, South, Midwest, and Northeast. This course will be mostly discussion-based, grading based on participation, short writing exercises, four assignments, and a final project. [ more ]

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

    The ocean, and human relationships with it, have been central features of literatures and cultures around the world for more than a thousand years. But since literary study is typically based around authors' homelands, careful examination of the oceanic experience is often pushed to the periphery--an "empty space" to be crossed between nations, a "vast darkness" antithetical to human life, or a mirror for land-borne concerns. Increasingly, however, scholars and readers are centering the sea and stories about it as a means stepping outside human frameworks of space and time, situating the complex emotions and narratives inspired by the ocean into a complex network of geologic history and teeming other-than-human life. This course examines a wide range of texts and perspectives on the ocean and human relationships with it. Doing so will help us consider how literature both plays into and subverts dominant viewpoints of the ocean. Through texts that consider 19th-century whaling, the Middle Passage, the postcolonial Caribbean, and islands throughout the Pacific Ocean, we will explore a range of questions, including: What can we learn from examining efforts to write about the ocean? How do ocean stories help individuals understand themselves, their communities, and their place in global environments? What can the range of cultural and literary perspectives on our "single, global ocean" reveal about the ways different people are both connected with and profoundly distant from each other? Most importantly, we will practice, as a classroom community, different strategies for carefully reading texts while connecting them to cultural traditions, surrounding environments, and personal experiences. [ more ]

    Taught by: Ned Schaumberg

    Catalog details

    ENVI 231 / AFR 231 / STS 231 SEM Africa and the Anthropocene

    Last offered Spring 2024

    Despite its low contributions to global carbon emissions, the continent of Africa is predicted to experience some of the worst effects of climate change. This interdisciplinary course investigates the causes and consequences of this troubling contradiction. It positions the African continent as an important site for understanding how legacies of empire, racial and gendered inequality, resource extraction, and capital accumulation impact contemporary global environmental politics. Students will engage theoretical texts, reports from international organizations, films, novels, and web-based content. Topics include: humanism/post-humanism; migration and displacement; representations of conflict; and sustainable development. [ more ]

    Taught by: TBA

    Catalog details

    CLAS 235 / ENVI 232 / COMP 235 / REL 235 SEM The Garden in the Ancient World

    Last offered Spring 2022

    Drawing on the literature, art, and archaeology of ancient gardens and on real gardens of the present day, this course examines the very nature and experience of the garden and the act of gardening. Using a multi-disciplinary approach, we will explore the garden as a paradise; as a locus for philosophical discussion and religious encounter; as a site of labor, conquest, and resistance; and as a place for solace, inspiration, and desire. This course will be grounded in crucial readings from antiquity, such as the Hebrew Bible, Homer, Sappho, Cicero, Lucretius, Vergil, Horace, Columella, and Augustine, and in the perspectives of more modern writers, from Jane Austen and Tom Stoppard to contemporary cultural historian George McKay. Ultimately, our goal is to analyze conceptions and expressions of beauty, power, and love-in the garden. All readings are in translation. [ more ]

    PSCI 235 / ENVI 235 SEM Survival and Resistance: Environmental Political Theory

    Last offered Spring 2022

    Contemporary struggles to reverse environmental destruction and establish sustainable communities have prompted some political theorists to rethink longstanding assumptions about politics and its relationship to nature. Does the environment have "rights"? What, if anything, is the difference between an ecosystem and a political community? Is democracy dangerous to the planet's health? Are environmental protections compatible with political freedom? How is the domination or conquest of nature connected with domination and conquest within human societies? What does justice demand in an age of climate change? In this class, we will consider the promise and limits of political theory to illuminate present day environmental crises and foster movements to overcome them. We will engage classic texts that helped to establish political theory's traditional view of nature as a resource, as well as contemporary texts that offer alternative, ecological understandings of nature and its entwinements with politics. Class will be driven primarily by discussion. Students will have significant responsibility for setting the agenda for discussions through informal writing submitted prior to class. As a writing intensive course, attention to the writing process and developing an authorial voice will be a recurrent focus of our work inside and outside the classroom. [ more ]

    ENVI 240 TUT Conservation and Climate Change

    Last offered Fall 2019

    What does climate change mean for the future of Earth's 8.7 million-or-so species? This tutorial introduces students to an emerging literature on how climate change alters the distributions, behaviors, and interactions of plant and animal species. In it we will pay close attention to how to read a scientific paper and how to write about science from the discipline of environmental studies. Some of the questions we will consider include: How is scientific knowledge produced? What might the biotic world look like in 10, 100, and 1000 years? How are conservation and restoration practitioners responding to climate change? To what extent can local environmental management alter global trends? [ more ]

    CLAS 242 / ANTH 242 / ENVI 242 SEM The Country and the City in the Classical World

    Last offered Spring 2020

    A growing urban-rural divide is defining political discourse around the world. The interrelation and tension between "city" and "countryside" are not new, however, but date back to the time when cities first began. How do cities occupy and transform, interact with and displace rural landscapes? What are the values, stereotypes, and ideals--as well as artistic, literary, and architectural forms--associated with the city and the countryside? What role does one play in the political, social, and economic life of the other? With a focus on ancient Greece and, especially, Rome, this course will combine archaeological evidence and contemporary scholarship with primary sources ranging from Hesiod, Theocritus, Vergil, and Propertius to Cato the Elder, Varro, Vitruvius, and Pliny the Elder, to examine an array of topics including land surveying and colonization; agrarian legislation; the urban food supply; rustic religion in the city; urban parks and gardens; and the concept of the pastoral. Together, we will explore the city and the countryside - not just as places, but also as states of mind. All readings are in translation. [ more ]

    ENVI 243 / ANTH 243(S) TUT Reimagining Rivers

    In the era of climate change and widening inequality, how we live with rivers will help define who we are. Rivers are the circulatory systems of civilization, yet for much of modern history they have been treated as little more than sewers, roads, and sources of power. Today they are in crisis. Rivers and the people who rely on them face a multitude of problems, including increased flooding, drought, pollution, and ill-conceived dams. These problems will threaten human rights, public health, political stability, and ecological resilience far into the future unless we learn to manage rivers more justly and sustainably. Can we reimagine rivers before it is too late? This course will pursue this question by examining the social, cultural, and political dimensions of conflict over rivers in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Drawing on scholarship from a wide range of social science and humanities disciplines and focusing on case studies in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas, it will explore a diverse array of sources: film, fiction, ethnography, history, journalism, and more. [ more ]

    ENVI 244 / PHIL 244(S) TUT Environmental Ethics

    What ethical standards should guide our individual and societal choices when those choices affect current and future environmental conditions? This course will introduce students to fundamental concepts, methods, and issues in environmental ethics. Initial tutorial meetings will focus on theoretical materials that will background later discussions and will include classic readings from the environmental ethics literature, among others. Most sessions will pair readings about key concepts with specific cases that raise complex ethical issues, including the concept of moral standing and, e.g., people who do not yet exist, non-human individuals, species, and complex living systems; the concept of moral responsibility and complicity in environmentally damaging practices; the legitimacy of cost-benefit analysis as an environmental policy tool; and the valuation of human lives. [ more ]

    ENVI 250 / STS 250 SEM Environmental Justice

    Last offered Fall 2021

    How are local and global environmental problems distributed unevenly according to race, gender, and class? What are the historical, social and economic structures that create unequal exposures to environmental risks and benefits? And how does inequity shape the construction and distribution of environmental knowledge? These are some of the questions we will take up in this course, which will be reading and discussion intensive. Through readings, discussions, and case studies, we will explore EJ in both senses. Potential topics include: toxics exposure, food justice, urban planning, e-waste, unnatural hazards, nuclearism in the U.S. West, natural resources and war, and climate refugees. Occasionally, community leaders, organizers, academics, and government officials will join the class to discuss current issues. [ more ]

    ANTH 254 / ENVI 254 / STS 254 TUT Food, Forests, & Fungi: Environmental Health in the Anthropocene

    Last offered Spring 2024

    This tutorial will examine the impacts of the climate crisis on human, environmental, and planetary health via the lens of food systems & plant medicines in the Anthropocene. We use anthropological, environmental, evolutionary, & ecological approaches to explore the ecosystems connecting humans, plants, animals, and fungi that have been massively disrupted by systems of industrial agriculture, industrial forestry, corporate food systems, and corporate biomedicine. We will dwell on the growing signs of our climate catastrophe including the sharp rise of global temperatures, floods, hurricanes, alongside declining freshwater reserves, melting cryosphere, and falling crop yields, that are helping produce a growing wave of hunger and climate refugees in every world region. Along the way, we will hear from and read about youthful climate activists from Extinction Rebellion, Ende Gelände, Fridays for the Future, 350.org, and the Sunrise Movement who are designing and implementing innovative, local, and sustainable solutions to inaction, apathy, and inertia even as situations of internal migration or displacement, food scarcity, food sovereignty, water shortages, and other climate-related disruptions are increasing in both developing and developed parts of our globe. We learn how activist narratives intersect with wider movements to promote more local and circular economies of regenerative agriculture and forestry, ethically produced and sourced organic food, wild & cultivated botanicals, and complementary medicines that are healing both humans and the planet. [ more ]

    AFR 255 / SOC 255 / ENVI 256 / AMST 257(F) LEC Race, Environment, and the Body

    This course examines the relationship between structural racism and racial/ethnic health disparities. Through class discussions of readings and media images, we will explore three topics: 1) how racism intersects with classism, sexism, and xenophobia to govern the implementation of local, state and federal health care policies; 2) how the uneven enforcement of health care policies ultimately produces differences in mortality, morbidity, and quality of life among various populations; and 3) anti-racist public health scholarship that offers strategies for creating racial health equity. [ more ]

    ENVI 260 / ARTS 261 SEM Design and Environmental Justice

    Last offered Spring 2024

    This seminar/digital art studio offers key literature to examine the relationship between design and environmental justice. It will help build a vocabulary to study the environment as disputed terrain between technological fixes and issues of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, and colonial status. Students will develop textual/graphic projects about a chosen case study aiming to reorient public perception and imagination around environmental justice. Case studies include contemporary issues like "natural" disasters, eco-cities, and urbanization in the Global South and North. Skills taught include design-thinking and collaborative design, digital art (Photoshop), and participation in collective reviews and public presentations. The class culminates in a presentation to external reviewers and a final exhibition. [ more ]

    ENVI 261 / STS 261 TUT Science and Militarism in the Modern World

    Last offered Spring 2024

    In 1961, United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned about the global dangers of what he called the "military-industrial complex." In this course, we will interrogate the military-scientific complex, or the imbrication of militarism and scientific knowledge. Surveying conflicts from World War II through to the present-day War on Terror, this course will consider how empire, networks of expert knowledge, resource extraction, environmental contamination, and land degradation have shaped the modern world. Students will engage a range of textual materials including books, films, photographs, and news reports. Course requirements include weekly writing assignments and participation in small group discussions. [ more ]

    ANTH 272 / WGSS 272 SEM Sex and the Reproduction of Society

    Last offered Fall 2014

    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 ]

    THEA 272 / ENVI 271 STU Theatre & Environment: Site, Nature, Ecoperformance, Utopia

    Last offered Spring 2022

    What is theatre's relation to the environment, whether natural or social? How does the site, place, or ecology of a performance change its meaning and reception? What role can live performance play in grassroots campaigns for climate action or environmental justice? How can we use theatre to, in the words of adrienne maree brown, "practice, in every possible way, the world we want to see?" In this combined seminar/studio course, participants will work collaboratively to create a series of mini-performances based on four categories: site, nature/ecology, ecoperformance, and utopia. Acknowledging the deep inequities (racial, gendered, ethnic, class-based) that constitute all human and environmental interaction, we will work to understand how art's relationship to the environment is itself shaped by the historical legacies of empire and global capitalism. As a contribution to the work of the studio, each student will share independent research on an artist, activist movement, or collective of their choice, such as: Hito Steyerl, Ellie Ga, Marta Rosler, Joan Jonas, Paul Chan, Theaster Gates, Bread and Puppet, Punch Drunk, En Garde Arts, Artichoke Dance, Talking Birds, Extinction Rebellion, Greenpeace, and others. As a special project in the class, we will collaborate with The Zilkha Center to create performances that engage directly with topics relevant to the campus and surrounding community. This is a seminar and maker's course that invites students to create, develop, perform, and share their work with each other and, in some cases, public audiences. [ more ]

    ENVI 285 SEM Writing About Science and Nature

    Last offered Spring 2016

    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 ]

    ENVI 288 / GBST 288(F) SEM Environmental Security: Policy Dilemmas and Solutions

    Water wars. Climate refugees. Scarcity-induced conflict. These and other challenges shape collective discourses about the climate change present and future. This course explores the relationship between environmental and security issues. It surveys the emergence of environmental security as a field of study and a policy arena. Students will engage a range of materials, including policy documents from the United Nations, international non-governmental organizations, global think tanks, the United States Department of Defense, and other security agencies. Students will also explore critical scholarship on the possibilities and limitations of environmental security as a leading policy paradigm. [ more ]

    ENVI 291 / REL 291 / SOC 291(F) TUT Religion and Ecology in America

    This course examines the relationship between religious and environmental thought in American cultural history. Exploring a broad range of practices, stories, and beliefs, we will examine the spiritual roots and branches of modern environmentalism. Rather than survey the formal teachings of organized religious groups, we will explore the creation and contestation of environmental meaning in the public sphere through literature, art, philosophy, and popular culture. How have religious writers, thinkers, and artists shaped the way we think about nature? How have they shaped the way we think about politics, science, and social justice? In pursuit of these questions, we will consider a diverse array of topics and cases, including struggles to protect Native American sacred places, the role of Black churches in fighting environmental racism, Protestant outdoorsmanship, Catholic climate activism, Jewish eco-mysticism, atheist biological theory, Buddhist eco-spirituality, and more. [ more ]

    ENVI 298(F) SEM Cultural Geography

    Why do things happen where they do? What is the relationship between place and identity? How do history and politics shape the way people conceptualize space? What can landscapes tell us about the values, beliefs, and ideas of the people who inhabit them? Questions like these drive the vibrant field of cultural geography. Cultural geographers study how humans shape, experience, and imagine the material world. They explore the relationship between humans and their environment at scales ranging from the global to the local, and they ask how we may better understand ourselves and others by examining the places and landscapes we create. Drawing on case studies from around the world and exploring our local area, this class will survey the major theoretical, methodological, and empirical themes that have preoccupied modern geographers. Along the way, students will acquire some useful tools for making a world that is more beautiful, sustainable, and just. [ more ]

    ENVI 303 / SOC 303 SEM Cultures of Climate Change

    Last offered Spring 2023

    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 what climate change means? How does something as complex as climate change become a "problem" in the first place? And what can its many proposed "solutions" tell us about the role of culture in environmental policy, politics, and decision-making. This course will explore a broad array of factors, from religion to race, class to colonialism. Emphasizing ethnographic and historical accounts of climate change as lived experience, it will apply a range of theories from the social sciences and humanities to case studies from around the world. [ more ]

    Taught by: TBA

    Catalog details

    HIST 304 / ENVI 304 / GBST 304 / AFR 335(S) SEM Sacred Custodians: Environmental Conservation in Africa

    In this seminar we will explore environmental conservation in Africa. In particular we will look at African ideas, ethics, and approaches to environmental conservation. Are there African ideas, ethics, and activities that are uniquely conservationist in nature? We will explore well-known African leaders to understand what spurred them to become conservationists, how they interpreted and communicated environmental crises. For example, Wangari Maathai is a world-renowned female scientist who established the Green Belt Movement in Kenya. This movement focuses on addressing the problem of de-forestation. Ken Saro-Wiwa was an activist in Nigeria who fought for and alongside local communities against multinational oil corporations. We will examine these and other African conservation practices alongside popular images of environmental crisis that place blame for environmental degradation on Africans. Students will be invited to critically study histories of environmental management on the continent and the emergence, development, and impact of the idea of conservation. We will unpack the rich histories of conservation efforts in Africa, such as resource extraction, game parks, desertification, wildlife and hunting, traditional practices, and climate change. [ more ]

    RLSP 304 / COMP 311 / ENVI 311 SEM Environmental Literature and Film in Latin America

    Last offered Spring 2024

    What use are aesthetics when the world is (literally) on fire? We will take up this question and others in a critical engagement with Latin American cultural production of the twentieth and twentieth centuries, especially works of literature and film that directly or indirectly engage with environmental crisis. Students can expect to explore a variety of media, forms and genres, including works that range from (more or less) mainstream to cutting edge. Our examinations of literature and film will be supported by theoretical writings produced in the Americas and other places. Writers and directors whose work may be considered include, but are not limited to: Lucrecia Martel, Ciro Guerra, Rafael Barrett, Samanta Schweblin, Ernesto Cardenal, Juan Rulfo, María Luisa Bombal, Eduardo Gudynas, Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Isabelle Stengers. [ more ]

    Taught by: TBA

    Catalog details

    SOC 315 SEM Culture, Consumption and Modernity

    Last offered Fall 2017

    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 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. We 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 consequences that these patterns have for the larger social order. [ more ]

    ENVI 316 / ARTS 316(F) SEM Governing Cities by Design: the Built Environment as a Technology of Space

    Like in the classic era, cities of the 19th century were metaphors for government: good government could not exist without good governance of the city. This creative seminar charts the transformation of the built environment (architecture and urbanism) as a technology of space to govern cities and citizens from the mid-19th century until the present. Through debates and case studies across geographies and historical timeframes, we will analyze how regimes of government shape and are shaped by the built environment. The seminar has a studio component that consists of an urban project where students will apply theories and approaches to a real case study using digital art (2D and 3D modeling). [ more ]

    ANTH 322 / ENVI 322 / GBST 322(F) SEM Waste and Value

    What is trash and what is treasure? In what ways does value depend upon and necessitate waste, and how is the dialectic between the two inflected by culture? When we 'throw away' things at Williams College, where exactly do they go, and who handles them 'down the line'? What are the local and global economies of waste in which we are all embedded and how are they structured by class, race, caste, gender and nation? In this seminar we critically examine the production of waste - both as material and as category - and its role in the production of value, meaning, hierarchy and the environment. Readings include ethnographic accounts of sanitation labor and social hierarchy; studies of the political and environmental consequences of systems of waste management in the colonial period and the present; and theoretical inquiries into the relation between filth and culture, including work by Mary Douglas, Dipesh Chakrabarty and Karl Marx. Geographically the foci are South Asia and North America. There is also a fieldwork component to the course. In fieldtrips we follow the waste streams flowing out of Williams - to an incinerator, a sewage treatment plant, recycling and composting facilities and other sites - and students explore in individual, participant-observation-based research projects the everyday social life of waste in our communities. [ more ]

    PSYC 346 / ENVI 346 SEM Environmental Psychology

    Last offered Fall 2022

    This is a course on contemporary social psychology as it pertains to the natural environment. Our two primary questions in this course are: (1) how can research and theory in social psychology help us understand the ways in which people engage with threats to the natural environment?, and (2) how can social psychology help us encourage environmentally responsible behavior and sustainable practices? 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 environmental solutions. [ more ]

    ENVI 348 / AMST 347 SEM Beyond Cli-Fi: Climate Change Histories & the Arts of Resilience

    Last offered Spring 2020

    This interdisciplinary environmental humanities seminar begins with the premise that our present climate crisis is a political project of globalization propelled by capitalism and its cultural logic. Causes and consequences of climate change can only be understood by examining the historical trajectories of carbon-based economic, political, and cultural systems since the 19th century. We trace the intellectual genealogy of modern climate science, consider the politics of indigenous knowledge as related to extractivism, and examine literary and artistic engagements with the natural world. We pay particular attention to the narrative strategies that scientists and policymakers use to talk about climate, and we develop creative critiques of the dominant discourses. We use historical and cultural analysis to study social movement strategy and tactics among advocates for climate mitigation, adaptation, and resilience. We begin and end with creative responses to climate crisis, always asking: How can we move beyond dystopia and defeatism? How might history inform social movements for climate resilience? How can the arts, theater, and literary production articulate a new politics of survival? What narrative forms enable and inspire climate action? [ more ]

    CAOS 352 / HIST 352(F, S) SEM American Maritime History

    This course explores themes in American maritime history from the colonial era to the 21st century. We will consider the dynamic relationship between the sea and American life, and the broad influence that each has had on the other. This relationship led to interactions with the water as a highway for the transportation of not just people and goods, but powerful new forces and ideas. The water creates a unique space for the formation of new communities and identities, while also acting as an important, and often exploited, resource. We will sample from different fields of inquiry including labor, environmental, cultural, and political history to gain a deeper understanding of diverse people's complex interactions with the oceans and seas. [ more ]

    ENVI 352 / ENGL 351 SEM After Nature: Writing About Science and The Environment

    Last offered Spring 2018

    Over the last few decades, the nature of nature has changed and so, by necessity, has nature writing. In this course we will read some of the classic works of nature writing as well as essays and articles by contemporary authors. The emphasis will be on producing our own work. The class will include workshop sessions and group discussions. There will be frequent short exercises and a long final project. [ more ]

    ENVI 354 SEM Drugs, Empire, & Environment in Historical Perspective

    Last offered Fall 2021

    This course considers the political economy & environmental impacts of licit & illicit drugs. We begin with the premise that drugs are commodities that gained global significance in the context of liberalism & empire. Imperial nations--notably Britain--consolidated political & economic power in the 19th century by promoting the opium trade against the wishes of Chinese & Indian officials. Most illicit drugs originated as plants--cannabis, poppies, & coca. The production of these internationally traded agricultural commodities helped transform rural livelihoods & landscapes in the 19th century; attempts at suppressing drug crops in the 20th century have also had environmental impacts. After the turn of the 20th century, the United States led an international movement to end the opium trade. Since then, the War on Drugs has expanded as a means for the United States to exercise domestic & global power. Our focus is primarily illicit drugs, but historical shifts in the categories of licit/illicit are a key theme. Other themes include race & racism in drug policy, imperialism, agriculture, & debates over toxicity. The course is divided into four units, stretching from the 19th century through the present. First, we discuss British colonialism in India & China through the lens of the opium trade. Next, we study the emerging drug control regime, focusing on coca, cocaine, & Indigenous producers in the Andes in the 1940s & 1950s. The third unit looks at environmental justice activists who oppose pharmaceutical companies' waste disposal in Puerto Rico. Finally, we evaluate the environmental impacts of the recent cannabis boom. We ask whether the legal architecture on which the industry is built can overcome the colonial & racist legacies of drug control. Readings include works by historians, novelists, anthropologists, & public policy experts. [ more ]

    ANTH 371 / STS 370 / WGSS 371 SEM Campus and Community Health in Disruptive Times

    Last offered Spring 2024

    We study and seek "campuses where students feel enabled to develop their life projects, building a sense of self-efficacy and respecting others, in community spaces that work to diminish rather than augment power asymmetries." --Sexual Citizens (Hirsch and Khan, 2020). Students will design and pursue innovative ethnographic projects that explore campus or community health. We will learn ethnographic techniques such as observant participation, interviewing, focus groups, qualitative surveys, as well as design thinking and data visualization skills. We use and critique the methods of medical anthropology and medical sociology in order to hone our skills in participatory research. Every week, we collaborate with and share our research with our participants and peers both inside and outside class through a variety of innovative exercises. We attend to the parallel roles of narrative and listening in both medicine and ethnography, as we contrast the discourse of providers & patients along with researchers & participants. We aim to understand the strengths and limits of ethnographic inquiry while privileging marginalized voices and attending to power and identity within our participatory research framework. We recognize that our campus health projects are always already shaped by power and privilege, as we examine the ways that daily life, individual practices, and collective institutions shape health on and off campus. Our ethnographic case studies explore how systemic inequalities of wealth, race, gender, sex, ethnicity, and citizenship shape landscapes of pediatric care, mental health, maternity care, and campus sexual assault in the US and elsewhere. We consider how lived practices shape health access & outcomes as well as well-being in our communities and on our campus. [ more ]

    ENVI 380 / STS 379 SEM Animals and Society

    Last offered Fall 2023

    How do humans and animals shape each other's lives? People encounter animals in farms, laboratories, zoos, wildernesses, and backyards, on purpose and by chance. They treat animals as family members, entertainment, food, vectors of disease, and objects of scientific wonder. Drawing on the works of biologists, philosophers, and feminist science and technology studies scholars, this seminar will examine our relationships with animals and help clarify our responsibilities to them. We will ask: What are the social and environmental consequences of consuming animals? Should humans swim with dolphins, feed manatees, use gene-editing to create species that can survive climate change? Should moral standing depend upon the ability to communicate or the ability to experience emotions like grief and joy? What can animal models tell us about human health and society, and when is animal otherness too large a gap to bridge? What might human violence toward animals tell us about sexism, racism, or capitalism, and what will human-animal relationships look like in the future? [ more ]

    ENGL 394 / ENVI 390(F) SEM The Nature of Nature

    "Nature" is one of the commonest words in English. And yet what does it mean? Is it primarily descriptive (all living things), or normative ("natural" foods, "human nature")? This course will consider the richly incoherent ways we think about the living world, paying particular attention to the difficulty of narrating processes that are too big, too small, too quick, or too slow for direct human apprehension. We'll explore the way popular nature writing mingles scientific reporting with implicit and explicit judgments about human identity, and take up the insoluble problem of our proper relation to animals. Considerable attention will be paid to the ethical dimensions of contemporary environmental consciousness and unconsciousness. Writers studied will include Elizabeth Kolbert, Descartes, William Cronon, and Charles Darwin. [ more ]

    RLSP 401 / ENVI 301 SEM Climate Changes (Latin America): Aesthetics, Politics, Science

    Last offered Fall 2019

    In her 2007 book, In Catastrophic Times: Resisting the Coming Barbarism, philosopher Isabelle Stengers offers a chilling observation: "we are more badly equipped than ever for putting to work the solutions defined as necessary" to avoid the most devastating effects of global warming--the extinction of 25 to 75% of existing species; an increase in sea levels that will drown island nations and coastal cities; the breakdown of agricultural systems, leading to widespread famine; and the recurrence of powerful hurricanes and other so-called "natural" disasters. All of this, as Stengers and others point out, will create human upheaval, conflict and suffering on an unprecedented scale. This senior seminar examines works of literature, art and film that Latin Americans have produced in response to the catastrophic times in which we live. We will discuss the political, economic, and cultural histories that have led to our present moment, including neoliberalism, dictatorship, and the rise and fall of the leftwing Pink Tide. Through works of new and experimental fiction, poetry, film, performance and visual art, we will consider the lives and work of environmental activists, including Berta Cáceres and others who were murdered because of their outspoken opposition to extractive capitalism, examine the struggle for the decolonization of environmental knowledge, an epistemological battle increasingly waged on behalf of all living things, and experience the politics of mourning for the hundreds of thousands of life-forms disappearing from the planet. Cultural texts to be explored throughout the semester may include: La vorágine (José Eustasio Rivera, Colombia, 1924); Distancia de rescate (Samanta Schweblin, Argentina, 2014); Lo que soño Sebastián (Rodrigo Rey Rosa, Guatemala, 1995); Serras da desordem (Andrea Tonacci, Brazil, 2006); Boi Neón (Gabriel Mascaro, Brazil, 2015); American Fork (George Handley, USA, 2018). [ more ]

    ENVI 402 / AMST 406(F) CON Environmental Planning Workshop: Community Project Experience

    In this class you apply your education to effect social and environmental change in the Berkshires. Students work in small collaborative groups to address pressing issues facing the region. Class teams partner with community organizations and local & county governments to conduct applied research and to develop solutions. Students will learn experientially and contribute to the community. The field of environmental planning encompasses the built environment (eg: housing, zoning, transportation, renewable energy, waste, neighborhood design), the natural environment (eg: farmland, ecosystems, habitat, natural resources, air and water pollution and climate change), and the social environment (eg: spatial geography, racial zoning, recreation, placemaking, ecojustice, food security, and public health). Skills taught include land use planning, community-based research, basic GIS mapping, developing/conducting surveys, interview technique, project management, public presentations and professional report-writing. The class culminates in presentations to the client organizations. Class hours include time for team project work, client meetings and team meetings with the professor. Recent project topics: https://ces.williams.edu/environmental-planning-papers/ [ more ]

    ARTH 420 / ENVI 420 / GBST 420 SEM Architecture and Sustainability in a Global World

    Last offered Fall 2020

    What does it mean to create a sustainable built environment? What do such environments look like? Do they look the same for different people across different times and spaces? This course takes these questions as starting points in exploring the concept of architectural sustainability, defined as "minimizing the negative impact of built form on the surrounding landscape," and how this concept can be interpreted not only from an environmental point of view, but from cultural, political, and social perspectives as well. Over the course of the class, students will explore different conceptualizations of sustainability and how these conceptualizations take form in built environments in response to the cultural identities, political agendas, social norms, gender roles, and religious values circulating in society at any given moment. In recognizing the relationship between the way things are constructed (technique of assembly, technology, materials, process) and the deeper meanings behind the structural languages deployed, students will come to understand sustainability as a fundamentally context-specific ideal, and its manifestation within the architectural environment as a mode of producing dialogues about the anticipated futures of both cultural and architectural worlds. [ more ]

    LATS 421(F) SEM Latinx Geographies

    This research seminar examines the history, framework, and scholarship of the growing field of Latinx Geographies within the context of interdisciplinary Latine Studies. This course explores the perspectives, experiences, spatial politics, and place-making practices of Latines to consider their relationship to the built environment. We will examine recent theories regarding space, place, and race; explore them through various Latinx positionalities, such as gender, sexuality, class, and citizenship status; and apply them to literary and media representations of Latine spaces and places, such as the US-Mexico borderlands, barrios, and rural fields. We will consider how undocumented queer and trans migrants have become prominent political actors in social movements, how migration, race, and the environment interact in pollution and activism, how undocumented women negotiate motherhood, how non-profit organizations market Latinidad for infrastructural development, and more. In this interdisciplinary and comparative course, students will be exposed to the genealogy of Latinx Geography, which finds its genesis embedded in Black Geography, Queer (Women) of Color Critique, Latinx Studies, and Ethnic Studies. Students will learn a geographical vernacular to think and articulate spatially in the social sciences and humanities, as they develop their own research projects. Collectively, we will interrogate case studies of Latines in the built environment to make visible how race and space are fundamental tenets of a Latinx geographical analysis. Students will select a research topic and develop their own research project independently and through coursework. Evaluation will be based on class participation, leading discussion, presentations, research proposal, annotated bibliography, short writing assignments, writing workshop participation, and a final 20-page research paper. [ more ]

    AMST 430 / AFR 390 / ENVI 430 SEM Race, Identity, Nature

    Last offered Spring 2021

    From 18th-century claims that climate determined character to the 21st-century proliferation of DNA tests underwriting claims to Indigenous ancestry, race, colonialism, identity, and "nature" operate as interconnected terrains of power. Anchored in the contexts of U.S. colonialisms, racialization, and accumulation, this course aims to expose students to the cultural politics of "nature" as a way of "doing" American Studies. Specifically, this course investigates formations of and struggles against U.S. colonialisms, racialization, and accumulation via the many symbolic and material iterations, negotiations, and contestations of the contingent relations between and among human and non-human natures. Organized around a significant research paper and weekly written responses, this course ultimately aims to foster students' critical writing, reading, analytical thinking, and comparative inquiry skills across such contexts and sites of contestation, and across texts of different genres and media. We will work with a wide range of primary sources, including published fiction and poetry, legal documents, newspaper articles, speeches, recorded songs, and films, photos, paintings and other visual culture. By the end of this course, students should be able to describe the historical foundations of dominant ideas, attitudes, and practices toward non-human natures, as well as analyze how ideas of "nature" mediate the ways in which colonial, racial, gender, and sexual categories and structures inform and are (re)produced by U.S. institutions and in public areas such as the law, public policy, and property. Finally, students should be able to interpret how racialized and colonized peoples' visions, representations, and practices of liberation with regard to relations with non-human natures and the materiality of land precede, contend with, and exceed normative political, economic, and social categories of governance and systems of dispossession and exploitation. [ more ]

    ECON 477 / ENVI 376 / CAOS 477(F) SEM Economics of Environmental Behavior

    A community maintains a fishery; a firm decides whether to get a green certification; you choose to fly home or stay here for spring break: behaviors of people and firms determine our impact on the environment. We'll use economics to model environmental behavior and to assess how policies can help or hurt the environment. Topics we may study include: common pool resources, voluntary conservation, social norms and nudges, discrimination and justice, rationality, firm responses to mandatory and voluntary regulation, voting and public opinion, and international environmental agreements. We'll also build familiarity with the main methodologies of modern economic research: theoretical modeling, empirical analysis of observational data, and experiments. [ more ]

    HIST 478 / AMST 478 / ENVI 478(S) SEM Cold War Landscapes

    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 nations across the globe. We will begin this seminar by exploring several distinct "Cold War landscapes" in the United States and North America. We will then move on to examining others in Europe and the Soviet Union. Our approach to our topics will be interdisciplinary throughout the semester, with the additional goal of helping students frame their final projects. Students are encouraged to write their research papers on any geographical area of the world that interests them. [ more ]

    HIST 491 / AMST 490 / ENVI 491(S) TUT The Suburbs

    The suburbs transformed the United States. At the broadest level, they profoundly altered spatial residential geography (especially in terms of race), consumer expectations and behavior, governmental policies, cultural norms and assumptions, societal connections, and Americans' relationship to nature. More specifically, the different waves of post-World War II suburban development have both reflected large-scale shifts in how power and money have operated in the American political economy; and set in motion deep-seated changes in electoral politics, in Americans' understandings of how their income should be used, and in how the built landscape should be re-imagined. This tutorial will explore the rich historical literature that has emerged over the last twenty years to provide students with a history of the suburbs, to see the suburbs as more than simply collections of houses that drew individual homeowners who wanted to leave urban areas. We will focus most of our attention on the period from 1945 through the 1980s. Some of the questions we will consider will include: how did the first wave of suburban development bring together postwar racial and Cold War ideologies? Is it possible, as one historian has argued, that suburbs actually created the environmental movement of the 1960s? And how have historians understood the role that suburbs played in America's conservative political turn, leading to the election of Ronald Reagan? [ more ]

  • ECON 204 / ENVI 234 / ECON 507 LEC Global Poverty and Economic Development

    Last offered Spring 2023

    Why are some nations rich while other nations are poor, and what can be done to end global poverty and promote shared prosperity? This course explores the historical determinants of global poverty and inequality, and analyzes the range of policy options available to promote economic development and equalize opportunities. Drawing on research in development economics, development studies, political science, and anthropology, we seek to understand the factors that shaped the global economy and contributed to the cross-country income disparities observed today. In addition, we'll use the tools of modern empirical microeconomics to assess the possibilities for eliminating global poverty and underdevelopment in the future. Undergraduate students will receive 200-level credit and should not register at the 500-level. [ more ]

    ENVI 206 SEM Global Environmental Politics

    Last offered Spring 2021

    This course examines the history and current status of international environmental cooperation and conflict. We will consider the interactions of nation-states, multilateral international organizations, non-governmental organizations, and social movements in the formation of transnational environmental policy and treaties. We will also examine non-state approaches to global environmental challenges. After reviewing competing explanations for the causes of global environmental problems and diverse disciplinary approaches to studying those issues, we will read case studies covering a range of topics. These include fresh water conflict, fisheries and oceans, climate change, waste and pollution, agriculture, pesticides, population and development, wildlife, forestry, and consumerism. The reading assignments are drawn from the fields of environmental and foreign policy history, political science, international relations, geography, and anthropology in order to develop an interdisciplinary approach to international policy analysis. The written assignments are a series of policy briefs. You will also be responsible for two oral presentations during the semester, related to the policy briefs. [ more ]

    ECON 213 / CAOS 213 / ENVI 213(S) LEC Introduction to Environmental and Natural Resource Economics

    We'll use economics to provide one perspective on reasons humans harm the environment and overuse natural resources, and what we can do about it. We'll study climate change, pollution in general, cost benefit analysis, environmental justice, natural resources (like fisheries, forests, and fossil fuels), and energy. We'll talk about how economists put a dollar value on nature and ecosystem services (as well as human health and life!), and the concerns people may have about doing so. We will take an economic approach to global sustainability, and study the relationship between the environment and economic growth. Consideration of justice and equity will be woven throughout the whole semester. [ more ]

    ECON 214 / ENVI 212 TUT The Economics and Ethics of CO2 Offsets

    Last offered Fall 2022

    Some electric utilities and other CO2 emission polluters are allowed to purchase carbon offsets to achieve a portion of their mandated emissions cuts, in effect, to pay others to reduce carbon emissions in their stead. Some individuals, college and universities, and for-profit and non-profit institutions have chosen voluntarily to purchase carbon offsets as a way of reducing their carbon footprint. But do offsets actually succeed in reducing carbon emissions? What separates a legitimate offset from one that is not? How should we measure the true impact of an offset? How do carbon offsets compare to other policies for reducing carbon emissions in terms of efficiency, equity, and justice? Is there something inherently wrong about "commodifying" the atmosphere? Is there something inherently wrong about selling or buying the right to pollute? Should colleges and universities be using the purchase of offsets to achieve "carbon neutrality?" [ more ]

    Taught by: Ralph Bradburd

    Catalog details

    GEOS 221 / LEAD 221 / ENVI 222 TUT Examining Inconvenient Truths: Climate Science meets U.S. Senate Politics

    Last offered Fall 2020

    Former President Barack Obama once said: "There's one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other, and that is the urgent threat of a changing climate." While consensus regarding the causes and impacts of climate change has been growing steadily among scientists and researchers (and to some extent, the general public) over the past two decades, the U.S. has yet to confront this issue in a manner consistent with its urgency. This lack of action in the U.S. is at least partly due to the fact that science provides necessary but insufficient information towards crafting effective climate change legislation and the unfortunate fact that climate change has become a highly partisan issue. The primary objective of this tutorial will be to help students develop a greater understanding of the difficulties associated with crafting climate change legislation, with an emphasis on the role of science and politics within the legislative process. To this end, the tutorial will address how the underlying scientific complexities embedded in most climate policies (e.g., offsets, carbon capture and sequestration, uncertainty and complexity of the climate system, leakage) must be balanced by and blended with the different operational value systems (e.g., economic, social, cultural, religious) that underlie U.S. politics. Over the course of this tutorial, students will develop a nuanced sense of how and when science can support the development of comprehensive national climate change legislation within the current partisan climate. This course will take a practical approach, where students will craft weekly policy oriented documents (e.g., policy memos, action memos, research briefs) targeted to selected members of the current U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, the committee that has historically held jurisdiction over a majority of the major climate change bills that have moved through the legislative process. This course is in the Oceans and Climate group for the Geosciences major. [ more ]

    PSCI 229 LEC Global Political Economy

    Last offered Spring 2023

    This course offers a broad introduction to the contemporary global political economy, emphasizing the inherent and inseparable intertwining of politics and economics, power and wealth, the state and the market. The core of the course is made up of analyses of global trade, global finance, natural resources, and migration, with special attention to subjects such as free trade, currency wars, and border walls. Four class debates will focus general concepts on a specific topic: the global implications of the Russo-Ukrainian War. We conclude the course with a look toward the future of global capitalism and of the liberal world order. [ more ]

    ECON 238 / ENVI 238 LEC Sustainable Economic Growth

    Last offered Fall 2021

    Is it possible to have infinite economic growth on a finite planet? This question has sparked a great deal of inquiry across the social sciences. Some argue that we need to slow or even end economic growth to prevent environmental catastrophe. Others argue that market forces, especially changing prices and improved technology, will ensure that growth can continue unabated without significant negative consequences. Still others argue that government intervention is necessary to limit negative consequences of economic progress, but that effective interventions are still compatible with sustained economic growth. In this class, we will explore the insights that economics has to offer on this important question. We will start by considering the importance of finite inputs used in production, including fossil fuels, minerals, and land, among others. Then, we will consider whether undesirable byproducts of economic growth will prevent sustained growth. This second part of class will place a lot of emphasis on climate change. Throughout the class, we will pay special attention to the role that government intervention can or cannot play in promoting sustainable economic growth. This class will reinforce important concepts taught in introductory microeconomics and introductory macroeconomics. [ more ]

    ENVI 269 / CAOS 269(F) LEC Environmental Law and Policy

    America's environmental statutes, regulations, legal precedents, and policies have grown in complexity over the last 75 years. These bi-partisan, broadly supported laws also shaped environmental laws and policies in the European Union, China, the Middle East, and countries in the Global South. Yet in 2024, America is no longer a global leader in climate mitigation or environmental protection. As legal and policy solutions to environmental problems continue to evolve based on values, science, market dynamics, and increasing climate change impacts, it is important to study this complex legal landscape to understand where opportunities lie for more ambitious and just solutions to complex environmental problems. This class surveys major environmental laws and policies by looking at cases of current, complex environmental problems. This course will focus not only on the hallmark American environmental laws, regulations, and policies but also on the interplay of state and tribal law, food, water, mineral, energy, tax, and animal rights law issues, and international treaties and climate agreements. By the completion of the semester, students will understand both the successes and failures of modern environmental law. In addition to learning about the substantive legal issues covered in the course, students will develop legal research skills associated with researching statutes and regulations and interpreting judicial decisions. This course will help students interested in future work in law or policy understand how to analyze cases, regulations, and policy, and see opportunities for future solutions. [ more ]

    PSCI 270 / ENVI 241 SEM The Politics of Waste

    Last offered Spring 2020

    Waste is not just a fact of life, it is a political practice. To create and maintain political order requires devising collective means to pile up, bury, burn, or otherwise dispose of stuff deemed dirty or disorderly: waste management is regime management. In turn, our feelings of disgust for anything deemed waste shape political deliberation and action on environmental policy, immigration, food production, economic distribution, and much more. The very effort to define "waste" raises thorny political questions: What (or who) is disposable? Why do we find the visible presence of certain kinds of things or persons to be unbearably noxious? How should we respond to the fact that these unbearable beings persist in existing, despite our best efforts to eliminate them? What is our individual and collective responsibility for creating and disposing of waste? Serious inquiry into waste is rare in political theory and political science--perhaps understandably, given that the study of politics is shaped by the same taboos that shape politics. In this seminar we will openly discuss unmentionable topics and get our hands dirty (sometimes literally) examining the politics of waste. We will take notice of the erasure of waste in traditional political theory and work together to fill these gaps. To do so, we will draw on work in anthropology, critical theory, history, urban studies, and waste management science; representations of waste in popular culture; and experiences with waste in our lives. This course is part of a joint program between Williams' Center for Learning in Action and the Berkshire County Jail in Pittsfield, MA. The class will be composed equally of nine Williams students and nine inmates and will be held at the jail. An important goal of the course is to encourage students from different backgrounds to think together about issues of common human concern. Transportation will be provided by the college. *Please note the atypical class hours, Wed 4:45-8:30 pm* [ more ]

    ENVI 275 / STS 275 SEM Environmental Science, Policy, and Justice

    Last offered Spring 2024

    Environmental science is much more than collecting data. Scientific experts are often called upon--and often position themselves--to guide environmental governance, which means that science has (some) power over public life. What is, and what should be, the relationship between science, on the one hand, and the creation and implementation of environmental policy, on the other? In this seminar we will study how science shapes governance and how science itself is governed. We will explore how legislatures, agencies, and courts respond to scientific information and uncertainty. And we will learn about how communities facing environmental racism and injustice collect data and use it in their advocacy. Along the way, we will challenge the idea of a unified "scientific method," and we will think about how Western scientific knowledge relates to other ways of knowing, including non-Western sciences, embodied knowledge, and traditional knowledge. Topics include: international climate negotiation, chemical exposure, the regulation of biotechnology, agricultural policy, pandemic responses, and plastics and electronics waste. [ more ]

    ENVI 288 / GBST 288(F) SEM Environmental Security: Policy Dilemmas and Solutions

    Water wars. Climate refugees. Scarcity-induced conflict. These and other challenges shape collective discourses about the climate change present and future. This course explores the relationship between environmental and security issues. It surveys the emergence of environmental security as a field of study and a policy arena. Students will engage a range of materials, including policy documents from the United Nations, international non-governmental organizations, global think tanks, the United States Department of Defense, and other security agencies. Students will also explore critical scholarship on the possibilities and limitations of environmental security as a leading policy paradigm. [ more ]

    ENVI 297 / GBST 287 SEM Global Sustainable Development

    Last offered Fall 2022

    In 2015, the United Nations launched the Sustainable Development Goals, an ambitious multi-pronged effort to eliminate poverty, improve health outcomes, advance clean energy, address the effects of climate change, and support more equitable forms of life on earth. This course explores the historical antecedents and contemporary manifestations of global sustainable development, a constellation of ideas and a set of policy imperatives. This course will ask: what is sustainability and how did it emerge as a key paradigm in the present? Relatedly, how have different organizations and actors worked to address entrenched global challenges? Students will engage a range of materials, including policy documents from the United Nations, World Bank, and international non-governmental organizations. Students will also explore critical scholarship on the possibilities and limitations of global development. Together we will grapple with ways to build more sustainable futures. [ more ]

    ENVI 308 SEM Science and Politics in Environmental Decision Making

    Last offered Spring 2018

    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 319(S) LEC The Law and Policy of Climate Change

    This course explores the legal frameworks that guide climate change mitigation efforts and adaptation strategies. This course builds on knowledge gained in the fall semester Environmental Law and Policy course, but will also refresh the basic tenets of environmental law. After a brief introduction to climate change and its projected impacts, we review the legal framework of international climate change law, including the evolution of climate change-related laws in the United States and related litigation. This analysis focuses on the federal level but also considers the separate authority of states and municipalities to take action. Massachusetts and Boston are the primary case studies for the course, but other state examples will inform our classes on non-federal policy-making. In addition to learning about the substantive legal issues covered in the course, students develop or practice legal research skills associated with researching statutes and regulations and interpreting judicial decisions. Students gain experience with activities relevant to designing and implementing climate change policy by writing comments on regulations, drafting statutory or regulatory language, and writing corporate climate change statements. [ more ]

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

    Coastal communities are home to nearly 40% of the U.S. population, but occupy only a small percentage of our country's total land area. Intense population density, critical transportation infrastructure, significant economic productivity, and rich cultural and historic value mark our coastal regions as nationally significant. But, coastal and ocean-based climate-induced impacts such as sea level rise, ocean warming and acidification pose extraordinary challenges to our coastal communities, and are not borne equally by all communities. This seminar considers our relationship with our ocean and coastal environments and the foundational role our oceans and coasts play in our Nation's environmental and economic sustainability as well as ocean and coastal climate resiliency. Through the lens of coastal and ocean governance and policy-making, we critically examine conflict of use issues relative to climate change, climate justice, coastal zone management, fisheries, ocean and coastal pollution and marine biodiversity. [ more ]

    ECON 386 / ENVI 386 / ECON 518 SEM Environmental and Natural Resource Policy

    Last offered Spring 2016

    People all over the world depend on the environment and natural resources in countless ways, but human activities can degrade these resources in ways that reduce our wellbeing and that of future generations. In this class, we will use economics to reflect on how this harm comes about and how policy can help. The focus will be international, including developed and developing countries, and applied, building from examples of actual problems and policies. Economics brings useful tools to these conversations because we think carefully about modeling incentives, tradeoffs, and the (sometimes unexpected) consequences of our actions, and because of the empirical analysis on which modern economics relies. This class will primarily use microeconomics to understand how individuals, firms, and governments make decisions that affect the environment and resources, though some topics, like sustainable use of resources across generations and "green growth" measures, will be more macroeconomic in nature. Topics include pollution, climate change, cost benefit analysis, different ways of regulating environmental damage, renewable resources (e.g., forests) and nonrenewable resources (e.g., oil, land), the "natural resource curse," energy, and the relationship between economic growth and environmental quality. Throughout, we will think not only about efficiency of policies, but also about equity and justice, and about their practical applicability in contexts including developing countries. [ more ]

    ENVI 387 / CAOS 387 / ECON 522 Economics of Climate Change

    Last offered NA

    This course introduces the economic view of climate change, including both theory and empirical evidence. Given the substantial changes implied by the current stock of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere, we will begin by looking at impacts on agriculture, health, income, and migration. We will consider the distribution of climate damages across poor and wealthy people, both within and across countries. Next we will study adaptation, including capital investments and behavioral changes. We will examine the sources of climate change, especially electricity generation and transportation, and think about optimal policies. Throughout the course we will discuss the limits of the economic approach, pointing out normative questions on which economic theory provides little guidance. [ more ]

    ENVI 402 / AMST 406(F) CON Environmental Planning Workshop: Community Project Experience

    In this class you apply your education to effect social and environmental change in the Berkshires. Students work in small collaborative groups to address pressing issues facing the region. Class teams partner with community organizations and local & county governments to conduct applied research and to develop solutions. Students will learn experientially and contribute to the community. The field of environmental planning encompasses the built environment (eg: housing, zoning, transportation, renewable energy, waste, neighborhood design), the natural environment (eg: farmland, ecosystems, habitat, natural resources, air and water pollution and climate change), and the social environment (eg: spatial geography, racial zoning, recreation, placemaking, ecojustice, food security, and public health). Skills taught include land use planning, community-based research, basic GIS mapping, developing/conducting surveys, interview technique, project management, public presentations and professional report-writing. The class culminates in presentations to the client organizations. Class hours include time for team project work, client meetings and team meetings with the professor. Recent project topics: https://ces.williams.edu/environmental-planning-papers/ [ more ]

    ENVI 450(F) SEM Senior Seminar: Environmental Ethnography

    A key question orients this course: What can the embodied, place-based, and detailed approach of ethnographic study bring to our understandings of the environment? This upper-level seminar will explore this question through classroom discussions and a semester-length research project. Students will engage different styles of environmental ethnography while undertaking their own ethnographic projects involving the Williams College community and surrounding areas. Students will learn to work across different kinds of evidence as they draft fieldnotes, code fieldwork data, extrapolate key ideas from their fieldwork materials, and discover new ways of building environmental knowledge. Students will use these materials to collectively assemble an edited volume of ethnographic snapshots to be presented to the wider Environmental Studies community at Williams. [ more ]

    ECON 465 SEM Pollution and Labor Markets

    Last offered Spring 2023

    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 instances 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, we will critically evaluate new empirical research into the impacts of pollution on human capital, labor supply, and productivity. We will also study the impact of pollution regulations on wages and employment. Included papers will cover both developed and developing countries. [ more ]