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What Drives Kiley Kost to Study the Connections Between Culture and Environment?

February 15, 2016

As a PhD student in German, Scandinavian & Dutch (GSD), Kiley Kost researches the connections between people and the environment within the field of German studies by using the theory and interpretive practices of ecocriticism to approach and analyze texts. Kost has spent many years developing her interest in this field, both at the University of Minnesota and in German-speaking areas of the world.

While an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota, Kost spent her sophomore year studying in Freiburg, Germany and lived in a sustainable community called Vauban, an area of the city designed to meet high ecological standards while also cultivating a stable and inclusive social community. Living in Vauban was a starting point point for Kost; she began to wonder what was special about the German context that led to the development of a place like Vauban. What is different about how Germans and Americans (or any other group, for that matter) think about “nature” that causes them to act in different ways toward it? Where might those differences come from: Diverse cultural and literary backgrounds? Varying experiences with climate change? Unequal access to information on sustainability or opportunities to make informed choices about it?

After finishing her bachelor of arts in German studies and global studies at the University of Minnesota, Kost knew there was more work to be done connecting environmental studies with culture. She spent two years teaching English in Austria through the Fulbright United States Teaching Assistantship program before beginning graduate school. Kost specifically chose to continue her research in the GSD program at UMN for several reasons. First, the faculty is actively engaged with a diverse range of interests, many of which overlap with her topic. Secondly, the department offered a rigorous graduate program including research and teaching opportunities. Lastly, and perhaps most critically, GSD allows for an interdisciplinary approach to learning, and the opportunity to research and study abroad.

For example, this past fall, Kost participated in an interdisciplinary graduate seminar on transatlantic environmental humanities (GSD 8300), co-taught by Professor Charlotte Melin (Department of German, Scandinavian & Dutch) and Professor Dan Philippon (Department of English) on the University of Minnesota campus in collaboration with Rachel Carson Center in Munich. (Read more about their story.) In this course students were offered the opportunity to connect with prominent scholars to review and discuss current research in environmental humanities abroad. “The center hosts a number of prestigious scholars and I had the opportunity to have conversations with people whose work I study and admire,” Kost says. “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.”

Presently, Kost is starting her dissertation research on a topic related to Austrian and German ecocriticism. “I’m specifically interested in how the concept of the Anthropocene changes the way we think about time, and in what ways the temporal is manifested in literary works,” she says. Kost plans to conduct archival research in Austria and Germany this summer. After finishing her dissertation, she hopes to teach courses in both German studies and environmental humanities.