You are here

Environmental Humanities Course Expands Internationally

February 15, 2016

University of Minnesota Professor Charlotte Melin (chair; German, Scandinavian, & Dutch) and Professor Dan Philippon (English), in partnership with the Rachel Carson Center (RCC) and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) brought graduate students from seven different areas of study together to explore interdisciplinary practices of ecocriticism in the seminar course Transatlantic Environmental Humanities. This new course was made possible with support from CLA’s Center for German & European Studies, the German Academic Exchange Service, and the U’s Institute for Advanced Study. “This funding has allowed us to invite several internationally known speakers on food and climate change to give public talks and meet with our students,” says Professor Philippon.

Seminar participants were asked to creatively produce a project that represented a public or publishable example of theory and/or practice related to the Transatlantic Environmental Humanities. Beyond their individual projects, Melin and Philippon encouraged the students to interact with scholars and peers from other countries and cultures, creating a learning environment that thrived on diversity of thought. The students asked questions, reviewed research, and participated in conversations that inspired new ideas and new scholarship that could shed light on environmental issues from a humanities perspective. The course reflected the Department of German, Scandinavian & Dutch's (GSD) commitment to creating dynamic and interdisciplinary seminars that offer graduate students exposure to current scholarly discussions and experience in pursuing original research.

Group photo of students who participated in the Transatlantic Environmental Humanities course
Students and faculty of the transatlantic environmental humanities seminar

Environmental humanities is an interdisciplinary field of study that brings scholars together to examine historical, cultural and philosophical dimensions of environmental awareness using the critical tools of humanities disciplines. This course offered an opportunity for U of M graduate students to work with faculty and other graduate students from across the US and abroad. Together they examined environmental aspects of literature, philosophy, and culture through case studies. Professor Philippon noted, “As part of the course, the students were in regular contact with students and faculty at LMU through common texts, invited speakers, and video chats. The program also hosted a student exchange for four LMU students to visit the University of Minnesota campus and meet with students here.”

During the course, graduate students from the U and LMU had the opportunity to present on a panel at University of Minnesota-Duluth for Environmental Humanities day. This panel was coordinated by Assistant Professor Seth Peabody (Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at UMD) and facilitated by UMN GSD graduate student Kiley Kost. This panel was another opportunity for the students to present current research and engage with faculty and others in the field with a shared desire to integrate environmental topics into foreign language topics.

In addition, students of the course were invited to the Rachel Carson Center in Munich. The center hosts leading scholars in the field of environmental humanities and the graduates were given the opportunity to have conversations and discuss emerging research in their field of interest and to present their work. While in Munich, the students prepared meals in a volunteer kitchen for over 200 refugees. Students also visited “Welcome to the Anthropocene” at the Deutsches Museum, where they spoke with the exhibit’s co-curator. Melin notes, “The seminar was a transformative experience for participants—it built international partnerships, launched new interdisciplinary research projects, and brought graduate students into dialogue with the larger community of scholars in ways that will decisively shape their future careers.”

Throughout the fall, the course continued to promote a discussion based on review of scholarship, shared experiences, and individual concentration that would continue throughout and beyond the student’s semester. Graduate student and course participant Kiley Kost notes, “I had the opportunity to have conversations with people whose work I study and admire. Environmental issues are global issues, so it was important for us to have these conversations with colleagues from all around the world as well as from different disciplines.” This seminar showcased GSD’s commitment to an interdisciplinary approach to learning, enabling students to cultivate new research and develop ideas in a collaborative environment.