Courses

 

Environmental Studies Courses

ENVI 100(S)Introduction to Weather and Climate

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 the atmosphere and how air moves and changes, understanding the wind, clouds, precipitation, and extreme events (including thunderstorms, hurricanes, and tornados) that form our weather. Building off of our understanding of the atmosphere, we'll look at longer time scales to develop a basic understanding of earth's climate, global heat and moisture transport, climate change, and the ways that oceans and glaciers interact with the climate. We will look at weather and climate models to learn how to scientists and meteorologists predict future conditions. Labs will include local field trips, bench top experiments, and learning how to run a climate model on a computer. [ more ]

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 ]

ENVI 103(F)Global Warming and Environmental Change

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 ]

ENVI 104Oceanography

Last offered Spring 2018

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 ]

ENVI 105(F)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 consider the inter-related nature of Earth and the life that inhabits it, starting with the first living organisms and progressing to the interaction of our own species with the Earth today. Students will investigate the dynamic nature of the Earth-life system, examine many of its feedbacks, and learn about the dramatic changes that have occurred throughout the history of the Earth. We will ask questions such as: How did the Earth facilitate biologic evolution, and what effects did those biologic events have on the physical Earth? When did photosynthesis evolve, how can we detect that in the rock record, and how did this biological event lead to profound changes in the environment? How and why did animals evolve and what role did environmental change play in the radiation of animal life? How did the rise and radiation of land plants affect world climate? How do plate tectonics, glaciation, and volcanism influence biodiversity and evolutionary innovation? What caused mass extinctions in the past and what can that teach us about our current extinction crisis? Labs will involve hands-on analysis of rocks, fossils, and real-world data as well as conceptual and analytical exercises; field trips will contextualize major events in Earth history and will help students learn to read the rock record. Through these investigations, the class will provide a comprehensive overview of Earth history, with special attention paid to the geological and paleontological history of the northeastern United States. [ more ]

ENVI 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 ]

ENVI 110 TThe 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 ]

ENVI 134The Tropics: Biology and Social Issues

Last offered Spring 2018

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. [ more ]

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 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 ]

ENVI 207Earth Resources

Last offered Fall 2017

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

ENVI 208(S)Saharan Imaginations

Literary representations of the Sahara challenge facile assumptions about this undertheorized place. Literature furnishes a unique opportunity to gain more awareness of the organization of life in the desert and the ways in which its inhabitants have found harmony between their humanity and the Sahara's biodiversity. This course offers students the opportunity to engage in close readings of novels through the theme of the Sahara and Saharan space. Reading through the ethics of human mobility and actions in the desert will help students to understand how myth, memory, history, coloniality/postcoloniality, and a strong sense of ethics are deeply intertwined in the Sahara sub-genre of Maghrebi and Middle Eastern literature. Whether grappling with transcontinental issues of climate change, biodiversity cannibalization or overexploitation of natural resources, the Saharan novel invites us to think critically about the politics of space and place as well as mobility and spatial control as they relate to this supposedly dead nature. Students will be initiated to the ecocritical dimension of Maghrebi and Arabic literature and the discourses underlying it through the prism of the Sahara. [ more ]

ENVI 211(F)Race and the Environment

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

ENVI 213(S)Introduction to Environmental and Natural Resource Economics

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

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 ]

ENVI 215(F)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 Niño 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 ]

ENVI 216Philosophy of Animals

Last offered Spring 2018

Animals are and always have been part of human life. To name just a few: 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 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 ]

ENVI 217(F)Landscape, Place and Power

How does culture shape the way we imagine, use, and experience the physical environment, and how does the physical environment shape culture in turn? What can landscapes tell us about the values, beliefs, and ideas of the people who make them? What is the relationship between place and social power? 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 place and landscape in the Americas from the time of European colonization to the present, it will examine key works from fields such as cultural geography, environmental history, ecocriticism, environmental philosophy, and anthropology, and it will survey the major methodological and theoretical commitments that unite these fields. [ more ]

ENVI 218(S)"Ecologismo": Literature, Culture and the Environment in Latin America

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 ]

ENVI 219 TEvolution of and on Volcanic Islands

Last offered Spring 2018

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 ]

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 ]

ENVI 221Introduction to Urban Studies: Shaping and Living the City

Last offered Fall 2017

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

ENVI 222 T(F)Examining Inconvenient Truths: Climate Science meets U.S. Senate Politics

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. [ more ]

ENVI 223 TColonial Landscapes: Latin America's Contemporary Environmental Literature

Last offered Fall 2014

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

ENVI 224(F)The Rise and Fall of Civilizations

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

ENVI 225 T(F)Sustainable Food & Agriculture

A tutorial course investigating patterns, processes, and stability in human-dominated, food production systems. The course will examine sustainable food and agriculture from an ecological perspective. Topics will include: changes in diversity, concentration, and scale, flows of energy, circulation (or not) of fertilizer nutrients, carbon balances in soils, and stability of food production, processing, and distribution ecosystems. A day-long field experience will take place on a local farm. [ more ]

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

ENVI 227Utopias and Americas

Last offered Spring 2012

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 ]

ENVI 228 TWater as a Scarce Resource

Last offered Fall 2017

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

ENVI 232(S)The Garden in the Ancient World

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 ]

ENVI 234(F)Economics of Developing Countries

The leaders of poor countries almost universally proclaim "economic development" to be their eventual destination, but it is not easy to visualize the journey. Is rapid economic growth sufficient to generate development, or do governments need to pro-actively invest in health and education? Can agriculture support incomes and provide jobs, or is urban industrial development a prerequisite? How do households in poor countries insure themselves against adverse outcomes? Can policies enable entrepreneurship and innovation in such economies? Is it true that corruption is major obstacle? Has the climate crisis upended our traditional models to the point where we need to rethink the notion of development? The class will introduce these and other issues, as analyzed by economists. [ more ]

ENVI 235(S)Survival and Resistance: Environmental Political Theory

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 236Demigods: Nature, Social Theory, and Visual Imagination in Art and Literature, Ancient to Modern

Last offered Spring 2016

Embodied in satyrs, centaurs, nymphs, and other demigods is a vision of an alternative evolutionary and cultural history. In it, humans and animals live together. The distinction between nature and culture is not meaningful. Male and female are equal. The industrial revolution never happens. This course traces the history of demigods from its origins in ancient Greek art and poetry until today. We pay special attention to three points: the relationship between mythology of demigods and ancient political theory about primitive life; evolving conceptions of the environment, and the capacity of the visual arts to create mythology that has a limited literary counterpart. The first half of the course examines the origins and character of the demigods, in works of ancient art, e.g. the François vase and the Parthenon, as well as ancient texts, including Hesiod's Theogony and Ovid's Metamorphoses. We examine relevant cultural practices, intellectual history, and conceptions of nature, in texts such as Euripides and Lucretius. The second half of the course investigates the post-classical survival of demigods. We consider the "rediscovery" of demigods in the work of Renaissance artists such as Botticelli, Michelangelo, Dürer, and Titian. We consider in detail the important role played by demigods in the formation of Modernism in art and literature. Key texts include Schiller, "Naive and sentimental poetry," Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy, Mallermé, "L'Apres midi d'une faun,"Aby Warburg, and Stoppard's Arcadia. Problems include the relationship between nymphs and prostitutes in Manet, and the meaning of fauns and the Minotaur in Picasso. We conclude with demigods in popular culture such as the Narnia chronicles or Hunger Games. [ more ]

ENVI 238(F)Sustainable Economic Growth

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, land, water and food, 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, but we will also discuss other forms of environmental degradation. 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 core economic concepts taught in introductory microeconomics and introductory macroeconomics. [ more ]

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

Last offered Fall 2010

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

ENVI 240 T(F)Conservation and Climate Change

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 ]

ENVI 242The Country and the City in the Classical World

Last offered Spring 2018

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(F)Reimagining Rivers

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 climate change, pollution, unsustainable agriculture, and ill-conceived dams. These problems will threaten human rights, public health, political stability, and cultural identities 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. Combining approaches 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, legal texts, and more. [ more ]

ENVI 244 T(S)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 (e.g., Leopold, Taylor, Rolston). Subsequent 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 247Race and Religion in the American West

Last offered Spring 2017

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. [ more ]

ENVI 248 T(S)"Our Response Will Define Our Future": Climate Change Policy Analysis

In 2014, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared: climate change is "the defining issue of our age. It is defining our present. Our response will define our future." In this tutorial, we will examine a broad range of proposed, and currently implemented, policy responses to this grand challenge. We will employ policy analysis to evaluate these strategies' effectiveness and viability. This tutorial will consider approaches at varied scales (ranging from university campuses to coordinated global action) and addressing different sectors (including transportation, energy generation, and food production). [ 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? 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 ]

ENVI 255(F)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, LIDAR/RADAR, 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, biosphere, and erosion processes. Students will carry out a research project using observation techniques covered in class to explore a part of the local environment. [ more ]

ENVI 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 ideas about environmental preservation have changed over time? These are some of the questions we will explore in this course, which introduces students to 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 and the world; (2) use case studies and field trips to examine how past environments are represented in museum exhibits,digital projects, and physical landscapes; (3) Develop a research paper based on original archival research [ more ]

ENVI 270Environmental Problems: Social Causes, Consequences, and Policy Solutions

Last offered Spring 2018

This course will provide an overview of the social causes and consequences of environmental problems, especially within the US context. Special attention will be paid to the variety of actors that shape environmental outcomes, including legislators, administrators, the science community, civil society and the private sector. We will examine different proposed solutions to environmental problems and models of environmental policy-making, including at the local, state and federal level. This course will focus on several case studies, including air and water pollution, agricultural runoff, climate change and endangered species protection. [ more ]

ENVI 273(F)Politics without Humans?

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

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

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

Since consumers were first introduced to the promise of "better living through chemistry," society has had to wrestle with the impacts, often far removed in place and time, resulting from a rapid proliferation of hazardous chemicals and wastes. Policy responses, be they at the local, national or global scale, are often limited to reactionary efforts to counter releases into the environment, are constrained by the prevalent use of the technologies in question, and further bring to the fore key challenges of environmental justice and risk management. How then are we to regulate DDT without adversely affecting our fight against mosquito-borne malaria? How might we preserve the ozone layer while still maintaining the benefits of food preservation through refrigeration? How can we reap the benefits of the electronic age without condoning the steady flow of electronic waste affecting workers' health and environments in developing countries? Emphasis will be placed on understanding the politics that bring about, and allow us to address, these problems.We will be examining in particular novel policy responses, including the US' revised legislation on chemicals passed in 2016 and citizen science initiatives such as those that brought attention to the crisis of lead-contaminated water in Flint, MI. [ more ]

ENVI 285Writing 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 287The Dynamics of Globalization: Society, Religion and the Environment

Last offered Spring 2010

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 291Religion and the American Environmental Imagination

Last offered Spring 2018

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. Rather than survey the environmental teachings of organized religious groups, our focus throughout will be on ambiguous, eclectic, and fascinating traditions of ¿eco-spirituality¿ and popular ¿nature religion.¿ Where do these traditions come from? What is their relationship to science, to secularism, to politics, and to the search for environmental justice? Starting with the Transcendentalist movement of the 19th century, we will trace a roughly chronological line to the present, taking long detours into several modern religious trends and movements, including the revitalization and contestation of Native American religions, Wicca and neo-pagan ecofeminism, and evangelical Creation Care. Focusing on the writings of activists and radicals from a variety of religious backgrounds, our overarching question throughout the semester is one of the most critical we face in modern environmental thought: what is the relationship between spirituality and the just, sustainable society? [ more ]

ENVI 303(S)Cultures of Climate Change

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

ENVI 307(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 ]

ENVI 308Science 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 312Communities and Ecosystems

Last offered Fall 2016

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 ]

ENVI 313Chicago

Last offered Spring 2018

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

ENVI 318California: Myths, Peoples, Places

Last offered Fall 2016

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 ]

ENVI 322Trash

Last offered Fall 2017

What is waste? What is filth? Why do titles or categories of sanitation workers--"garbage man," for instance--bear such charged social and sometimes moral significance in many societies? In this seminar we will critically examine the production of waste and its role in the production of value, meaning, hierarchy, and the environment. Readings will be of three types. First we will consider theoretical inquiries into the relations between filth and culture. Second, we will examine studies of the political and environmental consequences of systems of waste management historically and in the present, with a focus on South Asia and the United States. Third, we will read ethnographies of sanitation labor and social hierarchy with the same regional focus - work on Dhaka and Delhi, Chicago and New York. There is also a fieldwork component to this class. In groups, students will conduct ethnographic micro-studies of elements of the systems of waste production and management in Berkshire County (e.g., cafeterias, retail outlets, homes, dorms, recycling facilities, sewage treatment plants). Students will post field notes to a class blog, and each group will present its findings in the form of a short film, multimedia presentation, or paper. [ more ]

ENVI 324(S)Corals and Sea Level

In coastal communities, increasing flood damage from storm surges and chronic inundation by seawater are already happening as a result of sea level rise. How do we know what contributes to the observed change in sea level in the last century? What does the geological record teach us about what controls the natural variation in sea level on short and long timescales? How can we use this information to separate anthropogenic effects from natural change in modern systems? And how does this inform us on what to expect through the 21st century and beyond? In this course, we will examine how sea level is reconstructed using geological archives and how coral-based sea level data led to breakthroughs in our understanding of the long-term evolution of the ocean and climate, the controls in the timing of ice age cycles, the singularity of modern climate change, and how high the future seas will rise. During Spring Break, the class will travel to Barbados, a renowned locality for Quaternary sea level reconstruction, to observe modern and ancient reefs, and collect samples that will be the basis of individual or group projects in the second half of the semester. Participation in the Spring Break trip is not required for successful completion of the course, but course enrollment is necessary to attend the trip. [ more ]

ENVI 328Global Environmental Politics

Last offered Fall 2017

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

ENVI 329(S)Our Planet's Plastic Plight

#stopsucking, #gotopless, #foodinthenude: these rallying calls to #rethinkplastic and ban plastic straws, coffee cups, and excessive food packaging are just the latest consumer-driven campaigns to combat the scourge of plastic proliferation. Indeed, over the past century, plastic has become ubiquitous in our societies. Durability, affordability and versatility, the very characteristics that explain this success, have heightened the pollution challenge we face today. Yet, we also rely on plastic for a variety of life-saving devices and implements. In this course, we will examine the chemistry and history of plastic and understand how its uses have impacted diverse systems including our oceans. As we undertake this semester-long lifecycle analysis of plastic in our daily lives, we will explore how additives, often toxic, complicate efforts to recycle plastic goods. We will also study international flows of this material, notably following China's decision in 2017 to constrain its imports of plastics for recycling. Finally, we will evaluate novel efforts to regulate plastic from the local to the global scale. [ more ]

ENVI 339(F)Conservation Biology

Conservation biology is an interdisciplinary field that develops scientific and technical means for the protection, maintenance, and restoration of diversity at all levels of biological organization. This course provides an overview of the discipline including the causes and consequences of biodiversity loss as well as approaches and strategies used to combat biodiversity threats such climate change, habitat fragmentation, and invasive species. Particular emphasis is placed on the ecological dimension of conservation and the application of biological principles (derived from physiological and behavioral ecology, population genetics, population ecology, community ecology, and systematics) to the conservation of biodiversity.The course combines lectures, readings, in-class discussion, and a laboratory that includes both field and lab projects. [ more ]

ENVI 341Toxicology and Cancer

Last offered Spring 2018

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 ]

ENVI 346Environmental Psychology

Last offered Fall 2016

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 ]

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 ]

ENVI 352After 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 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 ]

ENVI 368Technology and Modern Society

Last offered Fall 2017

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 ]

ENVI 376(S)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 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 rules, and boycotts and divestment. [ more ]

ENVI 378Nature/Writing

Last offered Fall 2017

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 ]

ENVI 386Environmental and Natural Resource Policy

Last offered Spring 2016

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

ENVI 387Economics of Climate Change

Last offered Spring 2017

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 ]

ENVI 388Urbanization and Development

Last offered Spring 2014

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

ENVI 397(F)Independent Study of Environmental Problems

Individuals or groups of students may undertake a study of a particular environmental problem. The project may involve either pure or applied research, policy analysis, laboratory or field studies, or may be a creative writing or photography project dealing with the environment. A variety of nearby sites are available for the study of natural systems. Ongoing projects in the College-owned Hopkins Forest include ecological studies, animal behavior, and acid rain effects on soils, plants, and animals. Students may also choose to work on local, national, or international policy or planning issues, and opportunities to work with town and regional planning officials are available. Projects are unrestricted as to disciplinary focus. Students should consult with faculty well before the start of the semester in which they plan to carry out their project. [ more ]

ENVI 398(S)Independent Study of Environmental Problems

Individuals or groups of students may undertake a study of a particular environmental problem. The project may involve either pure or applied research, policy analysis, laboratory or field studies, or may be a creative writing or photography project dealing with the environment. A variety of nearby sites are available for the study of natural systems. Ongoing projects in the College-owned Hopkins Forest include ecological studies, animal behavior, and acid rain effects on soils, plants, and animals. Students may also choose to work on local, national, or international policy or planning issues, and opportunities to work with town and regional planning officials are available. Projects are unrestricted as to disciplinary focus. Students should consult with faculty well before the start of the semester in which they plan to carry out their project. [ more ]

ENVI 404(S)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 ]

ENVI 405Geochemistry: 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. 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 ]

ENVI 411(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 greater Berkshire region. The class is organized into two parts. Part 1 focuses 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 the 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 ]

ENVI 412(S)Senior Seminar: Perspectives on Environmental Studies

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. The capstone course for Environmental Studies and Maritime Studies, this seminar brings together students who have specialized in the humanities, social studies and/or 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. [ more ]

ENVI 419Going to Ground: Considering Earth in the Arts of Africa

Last offered Fall 2015

Drawing its inspiration from the landmark exhibition Earth Matters: Land as Material and Metaphor in the Arts of Africa (National Museum of African Art, 2013), this seminar explores how earth has been conceptualized and integrated into African artistic thought as material, metaphor, geography, environment, and intervention, and how this interpretive flexibility has allowed it to become a symbol of power and presence in African art-making from prehistory to the present. The seminar will also focus on the ways in which earth has been used in contemporary art towards addressing the growing problems of pollution, unsustainable development, and the widespread depletion of earth-based natural resources in Africa. Over the course of this seminar, students will develop a knowledge base of earth-related issues that have been addressed in African artistic production, and engage with various cross-disciplinary methodologies to critically analyze the conceptual and aesthetic strategies deployed in these works. Students will also have the opportunity to interact with specialists from diverse disciplines and fields towards fleshing out their knowledge base. [ more ]

ENVI 420(S)Architecture and Sustainability in a Global World

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. Students will also travel to South Africa during Spring Break to participate in a township sustainability project. 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 ]

ENVI 421Latinx Ecologies

Last offered Fall 2017

An August 2015 Latino Decisions poll found that Latinxs, more than other ethnic groups in the U.S.A., are deeply concerned about climate change and the "environment". How and why might some Latinxs be disproportionately impacted by climate change? How have a few distinct Latinx theorists and activists imagined and constructed ecology? How are struggles for environmental justice related to broader Latinx concerns with and constructions of place? This seminar will examine a few moments in distinct Latinx histories and geographies such as California migrant farmworkers and the struggle over pesticides, urban movements over waste management such as the Young Lords' garbage offensive, food justice movements and urban gardening, as well as literary and theological representations of affective and sacred ecologies such as Helena María Viramontes' Their Dogs Came With Them and Ecuadoran-U.S. ecofeminist Jeanette Rodríguez's theological texts. Evaluation will be based on class participation, presentations, annotated bibliography, short writing assignments, writing workshop participation, and a final 20-page research paper. [ more ]

ENVI 422(F)Ecology of Sustainable Agriculture

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

Taught by: TBA

Catalog details

ENVI 423(S)Global Change Ecology

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 behavioral 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 445(F)World's End: Literary Ecologies of the Limit

Consciousness of the world's finitude in a time of environmental degradation and headlong global capitalism prompts restraint, a harboring of resources. But beyond the economic logic of conservation and expenditure, might imagining the world from the vantage point of its limit provoke a more profound rethinking of ourselves and the things of the world? Does it change what it means to possess, or even what an experience of the world is? Does it change human relationship? This course explores these questions in part by reaching back to the early modern period, when the boundedness of nations and worlds first comes to view in a meaningful way. But the course will have a long arc, from Shakespeare to Sinha's Animal's People. Primary works will include: Shakespeare, As You Like It; Marvell, "Upon Appleton House"; Ovid, Metamorphosis; Browne, Urn Burial; Titian, Wordsworth, McCarthy, The Road; Alice Oswald; photography (Struth, Hutte), video installations (Pipilotti Rist). Theoretical texts include: Nixon, Slow Violence; Agamben, The Time that Remains; Heidegger, "Question Concerning Technology"; Latour, "An Inquiry into Modes of Existence"; Nancy, After Fukushima; Derrida, The animal that therefore I am and Beast and the Sovereign. [ more ]

ENVI 478Cold War Landscapes

Last offered Fall 2016

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

ENVI 491 T(S)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 ]