Some larger universities are able to devote abundant resources to programs that encourage interdisciplinary approaches to environmental studies. One example is the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Culture, History, and Environment. At smaller institutions, however, courses related to the environment are more likely to be taught by faculty in a variety of different departments who may not have many opportunities to collaborate with each other or with faculty at other institutions.
At Monmouth College and Knox College, for example, recent or upcoming course offerings include Nature and the Environment in Antiquity, Environmental Anthropology, Environmental Racism, Environmental Ethics, and Early Modern Ecologies, taught by faculty in Classics, Anthropology, Environmental Studies, Philosophy, and English, respectively.
Many students who enroll in these courses are not Environmental Studies majors, and may only take one course that focuses on environmental issues during their undergraduate studies. Conversely, Environmental Studies majors tend to be heavily skewed towards the sciences, and would benefit from taking more courses in the Humanities and Social Sciences in order to gain a more holistic understanding of the subject.
Courses with an interdisciplinary approach bring together both types of students and encourage them to contribute their own skill sets and knowledge to class, resulting in more meaningful connections to environmental issues. Our symposium will provide those of us who teach these courses (or plan to in the future) the chance to better serve our students by facilitating much needed collaboration and communication across disciplines with our peers at other ACM campuses.
Collaboration and innovation among faculty
We aim to bring together both faculty who want to teach a course with an environmental focus but haven’t had the chance as well as those who already teach such a course but want to develop it further or make it more interdisciplinary.
The value of coming together face-to-face across disciplinary lines has already yielded benefits to people involved in this project even at the early planning stages: during a brainstorming meeting, we discovered that Roya Biggie (English at Knox) and Adrienne Hagen (Classics at Monmouth) have both considered the connections between colonization and botany in the literature they study, but in two different time periods and cultures. We look forward to additional conversations about this topic.
Collaboration between those of us who look at various historical periods and those who examine contemporary issues will help us all grapple with the long view of environmental problems in human history and work towards solutions to these problems.
Reducing institutional costs, demonstrating value of high-quality liberal arts education
By taking part in the symposium and subsequent sharing processes, participants will demonstrate that faculty at liberal arts colleges are teacher-scholars who continually seek to make our courses richer in content and more pedagogically effective.
The new syllabi that we design during this process will make us more flexible in terms of the courses we offer, and our departments will be more efficient in our use of faculty resources as a result. Students are curious about environmental issues, and our symposium will help our campuses respond to this demand for environmental courses using existing faculty members in a variety of departments instead of opening new hiring lines.
Our interdisciplinary approach will help our students develop critical thinking skills that will enable them to engage with the world in more meaningful and impactful ways, and will ultimately yield more socially-minded and environmentally aware citizens.