Environmental Studies Concentration

CONCENTRATION IN ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES

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.

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

  • Core Courses

    ENVI 101(F)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 historical development of environmental problems -- including pollution, land grabbing, and species extinction -- and their possible solutions. We will survey policy-making and activism in a variety of contexts and will examine art, literature, film, music, maps, advertisements, and other cultural objects. 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 how natural systems influence and are influenced by human activities. [ more ]

    ENVI 102(S)Introduction to Environmental Science

    Environmental Science is the study of how the global earth system functions within the context of its four distinct yet interconnected "spheres," the geosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere. This course introduces students to scientific methods from physics, chemistry, geology and biology that are applied to understanding both how these spheres interact and how we as scientists can interpret and assess human impacts. Discussions are accompanied by in-depth examinations of real-world case studies at the local and global scale. Topics may include: anthropogenic carbon dioxide, the ozone hole, groundwater contamination, resource sustainability, and loss of biodiversity. In weekly fieldwork and laboratory sessions students collect and analyze environmental samples, and interpret and write about these datasets. In addition to these group projects, students design, complete and present independent projects on a topic of their choice. [ more ]

    BIOL 203 / ENVI 203(F)Ecology

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

    ENVI 411 / AMST 302(F)Environmental planning workshop: community-based environmental problem solving

    This interdisciplinary, experiential workshop course introduces students to the field of planning through community-based projects. Environmental Planning encompasses many fields pertaining to the natural and built landscape such as city planning, sustainable design, natural resource planning, landscape design, agricultural planning, climate planning, transportation planning, and community development. Students will get out of the classroom and gain direct experience working on the planning process in the Berkshire region. The class is organized into two parts. Part 1focuses on reading and discussion of the planning literature: history, theory, policy, ethics, and legal framework. Part 2 focuses on project work in which students apply concepts learned to tackle an actual community problem. Small teams of students, working in conjunction with a client in the region and under supervision of the instructor, conduct a planning project using all the tools of a planner, including research, interviews, survey research, mapping, and site design. The project work draws on students' academic training and extracurricular activities, and applies creative, design thinking techniques to solve thorny problems. The midterm assignment is a creative landscape/site design project. The lab sections include field trips, GIS mapping labs, project-related workshop sessions, public meetings, and team project work. The course includes several class presentations and students will gain skills in public speaking, preparing presentations, interviewing, survey research, hands-on design, and team work. The class culminates in a public presentation of each team's planning study. [ more ]

  • Distribution Courses in the Natural World

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

    Not offered this year

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

    GEOS 102(S)An Unfinished Planet

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

    GEOS 103 / ENVI 103(F)Global Warming and the Reshaping of Landscapes

    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 soil erosion, the natural processes that shape the Earth's surface are tied to temperature and precipitation, and as those change, the landscape reacts. People are beginning to feel the impacts, but in different ways depending on where we call home. Our ability to cope with the changes also depends are where we are, with low-income nations the least able to implement costly adaptive strategies. In this course, we will take a tour of the planet, investigating how climate change is altering landscapes and the natural processes that support them. Ultimately, we will develop an understanding of the consequences of climate change that connects physical processes with the geography of place. 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 freshwater and soil. Labs will use local field sites and analytical exercises to evaluate recent cases that reflect an interaction of the landscape and climate. [ more ]

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

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

    PHYS 108 / ENVI 108(F)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 building lighting. Students will learn to compare the efficiencies and environmental impacts of various energy sources and uses. [ more ]

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

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

    GEOS 201 / ENVI 205(F)Geomorphology

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

    BIOL 203 / ENVI 203(F)Ecology

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

    GEOS 205 / ENVI 207(F)Earth Resources

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

    Taught by: TBA

    Catalog details

    GEOS 206 / ENVI 206(F)Renewable Energy and the Sustainable Campus

    Fluctuating oil prices and rising electricity costs disrupt the economy and help fuel regional and global insecurity. Extraction and combustion of fossil fuels degrades the environment. Modern understanding of how fossil-fuel consumption contributes to global climate change and new technologies are increasing the demand for renewable sources of energy and for more sustainable campus environments. What sources of energy will supply Williams College and nearby areas in the mid-21st century? How will campus buildings, old and new, continue to be attractive spaces while making much more efficient use of heat and light? How can the College's operations and campus life become more sustainable? This course is a practical introduction to renewable sources of energy and principles of sustainability and to their application in the campus environment. Topics covered include: solar energy and energy efficiency, wind energy, biological sources of energy (biomass, biogas, liquid fuels), geothermal energy, and the environmental impacts of energy, water and food consumption. Lectures, field trips and individual projects emphasize examples from the campus and nearby area. [ more ]

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

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

    GEOS 214 / ENVI 214(S)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 tools have 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 tools 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 / ENVI 215(S)Climate Changes

    In recent years, there has been a growing public and scientific interest in the Earth's climate and its variability. This interest reflects both concern over future climate changes resulting from anthropogenic increases in atmospheric greenhouse gases and growing recognition of the economic impact of "natural" climate variability (for example, El Ni?o events), especially in the developing world. Efforts to understand the Earth's climate system and predict future climate changes require both study of parameters controlling present day climate and detailed studies of climate changes in the past. In this course, we will review the processes that control the Earth's climate, like solar radiation, the greenhouse effect, ocean circulation, configuration of continents, and positive and negative feedbacks. At the same time, we will review the geological record of climate changes in the past, examining their causes. Laboratories and problem sets will emphasize developing problem solving skills as well as sampling and interpreting geological archives of climate change. [ more ]

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

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

    GEOS 220 T / ENVI 219(S)Evolution of and on Volcanic Islands

    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. [ more ]

    BIOL 302 / ENVI 312Communities and Ecosystems

    Not offered this year

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

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

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

    Taught by: Tim Pusack

    Catalog details

    CHEM 341 / ENVI 341(S)Toxicology and Cancer

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

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

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

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

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

    MATH 410 T / BIOL 214Mathematical Ecology

    Not offered this year

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

    BIOL 422 / ENVI 422Ecology of Sustainable Agriculture

    Not offered this year

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

  • Distribution Courses in Humanities, Arts & Social Sciences

    ANTH 214 / ENVI 224The Rise and Fall of Civilizations

    Not offered this year

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

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

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

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

    Not offered this year

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

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

    Taking advantage of our maritime museum, coastal setting, and three field seminars, we study canonical and lesser-known novelists, short-story writers, dramatists, and poets who set their works in the watery world, often in the exact places where we travel as a class. We read, for example--depending on fall or spring semester--Ernest Hemingway when sailing on the Straits of Florida, John Steinbeck when exploring Cannery Row on Monterey Bay, and Mark Twain on a steamboat on the Mississippi. We read Kate Chopin on the sands of the Gulf of Mexico, Rudyard Kipling out on Georges Bank, and Herman Melville's masterpiece Moby-Dick aboard Mystic Seaport's historic whaleship, the Charles W. Morgan, a vessel nearly identical to the vessel he climbed aboard at age twenty-one. In the classroom we examine these works through a mixture of lecture, small-group discussion, and writing. To further appreciation and analysis, this interdisciplinary course uses students' emerging knowledge of maritime history and marine science. [ more ]

    Taught by: Mary Bercaw Edwards

    Catalog details

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

    Not offered this year

    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 ]

    REL 247 / AMST 247 / ENVI 247 / LATS 247Race and Religion in the American West

    Not offered this year

    From the "Land of Enchantment" of New Mexico in the far reaches of the desert to the sacred temples on the West Coast that overlook Pacific Ocean, this course examines the peoples and the "sacroscapes" of the American West. Historian Patricia Limerick regards this region as an extraordinary site of convergence and one of "the greatest meeting places on the planet." The region is a site of cultural complexity where Penitentes maintained a sacred order, Pentecostals attracted a global audience, Native Americans forged legal/protected definitions of "religion," and Asian immigrants built the first Buddhist and Sikh temples. Until recently, standard surveys of religious history in North America have devoted minimal attention to the distinctive role of religion in the American West. They have focused on religious history in the flow of events westward from the Plymouth Rock landing and Puritan establishment while generally overlooking the Pueblo Revolt in modern-day New Mexico which occurred in that same century and marked the temporary suspension of Spanish encroachment. How do scholars of religion and history account for these renditions between the past and present? Most mainstream religious histories treat religious experience and identity in the U.S. West as additive rather than complementary to or constitutive of its mainstream narratives. Contemporary historians of religion note the need for new "sights," "cites," and "sites" in order to deconstruct and reconstruct this incomplete meta-narrative, taking into account such factors as migration, gender, region, and the environment. In this EDI course we will use tools of critical theory and historicism to examine this region, compare religious cultures, and interrogate ways in which religious practices (de)construct notions of race. [ more ]

    ENVI 250(S)Environmental Justice

    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? What do we learn about race, gender, and class by studying the patterns of exposure and creative resistance of different communities to environmental hazards? These are some of the questions we will take up in this course, which will be reading and discussion intensive. Environmental Justice is both a social movement and a mode of scholarship. 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 ]

    ENVI 252(F)Biodiversity and Climate Change

    What are the likely ecological effects of anthropogenic climate change? And what are the most promising proposals for mitigating negative consequences for Earth's 8.7 million-or-so species? This course will examine the impacts of climate change on the distributions, behaviors, and interactions of plants and animal species. It will also explore the challenges that climate change poses for traditional conservation and restoration practices. The course's major themes include the tensions among different visions of the planet's ecological future; the consideration of multiple scales of change (both temporal and spatial); the complexity of biotic interactions; and human responsibility for ecological and climate change. Readings will draw from the disciplines of ecology, science and technology studies (STS), and the environmental humanities. [ more ]

    ENVI 259 / HIST 259(S)New England Environmental History

    Have you ever wondered why there are few old-growth forests in New England? What Williamstown looked like before Williams was founded? How agricultural communities can promote scenic and ecological preservation? These are some of the questions we will explore in this course, which introduces the discipline of Environmental History through New England examples. During the semester we will: (1) read and discuss scholarship on the environmental history of New England; (2) use case studies and field trips to examine how visions of past environments are expressed in museum exhibits, in digital projects, in other media, and in physical landscapes; (3) Develop a collaborative interpretive project. Projects vary from year to year, depending on student interests and community needs. [ more ]

    ANTH 272 / WGSS 272Sex and the Reproduction of Society

    Not offered this year

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

    ENVI 285Writing About Science and Nature

    Not offered this year

    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 ]

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

    Not offered this year

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

    ENVI 291 / REL 291 / SOC 291Religion and the American Environmental Imagination

    Not offered this year

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

    ENVI 303 / SOC 303Cultures of Climate Change

    Not offered this year

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

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

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

    SOC 315(F)Culture, Consumption and Modernity

    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 ]

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

    Not offered this year

    Crosslisting Between Paradise and Hell, between environmental disaster and agricultural wonderland, between Reagan and Berkeley, between a land of all nations and a land of multiracial enmity, a diversity of myths have been inscribed onto and pursued within the space we call California. How did certain narratives of California come to be, who has imagined California in certain ways, and why? What is the relationship between certain myths, the peoples who have imagined them, and the other peoples who have shared California dreams? In this course, we will examine some of the myths that surround California by looking at a few specific moments of interaction between the peoples who have come to make California home and the specific places in which they have interacted with each other. Of special interest will be imaginations of the Spanish missions, the Gold Rush, agricultural California, wilderness California, California as "sprawling multicultural dystopia," and California as "west of the west." [ more ]

    ARTS 329(F)Architectural Design II

    A continuation and expansion of ideas and skills learned in Architectural Design I. There will be four to six design projects requiring drawings and models, each of which will emphasize particular aspects of architectural theory and design. One project will be built full-scale by the students in the class. [ more ]

    ENGL 331(F)Romantic Culture

    The Romantic period--1780 to 1830, roughly--is one of the great watershed moments in western culture. Romantic writers obsessed over the same things we do: the profit and power resident in human interactions with the natural world, for instance, or the spiritual significance of our inner lives, or the terrors and exhilaration of political and social activism. Romantic writing is durably relevant and, frequently, durably and interestingly weird. We will read a lot of poetry, and paintings and other examples of Romantic expressive culture will comprise a significant part of the course materials. [ more ]

    PSCI 331Knowledge and Politics

    Not offered this year

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

    PSYC 346 / ENVI 346Environmental Psychology

    Not offered this year

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

    MAST 352 / HIST 352(F, S)Americans and the Maritime Environment

    This course examines the impact of the maritime environment (both salt water and fresh) on human affairs from the age of European expansion to the opening decades of the 21st century. Taught using the collections of Mystic Seaport Museum and on several distant field seminars, Americans and the Maritime Environment examines en situ such things as race, gender, revolution, and humankind's changing relationship with the world's oceans. Readings in primary sources and secondary works on the social, economic, and technological implications of maritime activities culminate in an original research paper. [ more ]

    SOC 368 / ENVI 368(F)Technology and Modern Society

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

    ENGL 378 / ENVI 378(F)Nature/Writing

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

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

    Not offered this year

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

  • Distribution Courses in Environmental Policy

    PSCI 229(F)Global Political Economy

    Thirty years ago the production, distribution, consumption and accumulation of goods, services and capital were predominantly national, organized by nation-states and within national territories. Today they all are increasingly global in scope, and nation-states find themselves more and more the subjects than the masters of mobile transnational corporations, international trade tribunals, global currency markets and natural resources cartels. All of these developments have direct and far-reaching effects on the power of states, the wealth of societies, and the life chances of billions of people around the world. This course offers a broad introduction to contemporary global capitalism, emphasizing the inherent and inseparable intertwining of politics and economics, power and wealth, the state and the market. It begins with an overview of the recent history of globalization. The core of the course is made up of a broad analysis of global trade, global finance, and development, with special attention to subjects such as free trade, foreign aid, industrial policy, currency wars, and financial crisis. We conclude the course with a close look at current global financial instabilities and the implications for the future of global capitalism. [ more ]

    ENVI 233The Industrial Animal

    Not offered this year

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

    ENVI 307 / PSCI 317(F)Environmental Law

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

    ENGL 331(F)Romantic Culture

    The Romantic period--1780 to 1830, roughly--is one of the great watershed moments in western culture. Romantic writers obsessed over the same things we do: the profit and power resident in human interactions with the natural world, for instance, or the spiritual significance of our inner lives, or the terrors and exhilaration of political and social activism. Romantic writing is durably relevant and, frequently, durably and interestingly weird. We will read a lot of poetry, and paintings and other examples of Romantic expressive culture will comprise a significant part of the course materials. [ more ]

    ENVI 340 / PSCI 343Climate Change Law

    Not offered this year

    Climate change is an inescapable component not just of environmental law and policy but of all law and all policy (as well as everything else). This course looks at mechanisms for mitigating as well as adapting to climate change from both the international and domestic legal perspectives. We will study the role of treaties, national legislation and regulation, sub-national responses, and the ongoing role of litigation. And we will examine the role of the lawyer and the legal community in addressing climate change. [ more ]

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

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

    ECON 386 / ENVI 386Environmental and Natural Resource Policy

    Not offered this year

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

    Taught by: TBA

    Catalog details

    ECON 387 / ENVI 387Economics of Climate Change

    Not offered this year

    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 in both poor and wealthy 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. What is the socially optimal amount of climate change? Why have countries had such a hard time agreeing on GHG emissions reductions, and how might we overcome such difficulties? We will consider the growing body of evidence from attempts to regulate GHGs, including China's pilot cap-and-trade programs, the EU ETS, and the US Clean Power Plan. We will pay particular attention to the political economy of regulation and ways in which policy results have departed from theoretical predictions. Throughout the course we will discuss the limits of the economic approach to climate change, pointing out questions on which economic theory provides little guidance. [ more ]

    ECON 465(S)Pollution and the Labor Market

    If your home town has polluted air, does that reduce your wage? Do you work less? Are you less likely to finish high school? These are specific versions of an important general question: how does pollution affect labor market outcomes? The answer matters for individual decisions (where to live) and government policies (air pollution regulations). This seminar begins from theories of optimizing worker behavior in the presence of pollution. Building on this foundation, 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 ]

    ECON 477 / ENVI 376Economics of Environmental Behavior

    Not offered this year

    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 consider how policies can help or hurt the environment. Topics we'll study include: voluntary conservation, social norms and nudges, firm responses to mandatory and voluntary programs, and boycotts and divestment. [ more ]