2013-2014 Environmental Studies Courses
From the painting of prehistoric bestiaries on cave walls in Southern France to the creating of animated, pixilated fantasies of toxic forests by Japanese anime artists, environmental imagining and image-making are fundamental human capacities and activities. Representing nature is a world-making activity. What work does nature-making do at different historical moments? What historical forces precipitate changes in the way that nature and its boundaries with the “human” are imagined? How, for example, did 18th-century English ideas of the pastoral lead to an obsession with making flat, uniform lawns in mid-20th-century America? How was nature imagery used to fashion ideas of German and English nationhood and national character? We examine landscape aesthetics and forest mythology in Nazi Germany and the England of Robin Hood to offer insights into this question. We also investigate how images of the enemy as insect were used during World War II to mobilize campaigns of total “extermination,” and how ideas and images of nature lured into the Alaskan wilderness John Krakauer’s protagonist in Into the Wild. We ask how images of the wild are produced, mediated, and circulated in the films of Hayao Miyazaki, Walt Disney, James Cameron, Youtube videos, and US Air Force animations. The course also explores nature-making as a world-making activity. How are images of the human body, as well as the “nature outside” imagined, and with what consequences? How, for example, are images of the immune system changing, as ideas of park management and ecology permeate medical understandings of the microbial world as well as nature conservation policies? What is distinctive about the garden as a human invention? Meditations on gardens, forests, and farms—from the gardening of forests in Southeast Asia and Latin America to “gardens of the homeless” in New York City—form a path in this itinerary. What are the gardens of the future? And what forms of the wild do we wish to cultivate, create, or conserve?
Strategies of Visibility: Arts of Environmental Resistance and Creativity
Many of the lethal compounds produced by contemporary industry and government-sponsored facilities are not accessible to the senses. Human beings are not biologically equipped to sense the hazards of radioactivity; nor do they perceive, under normal circumstances and levels of contamination, the presence of chemical compounds or radioactive materials that are significant causes of disease, debility, and mortality in human and nonhuman populations. A key problem and challenge for artists, local residents, writers, scientists, and public policy experts, as well as for local, regional and nongovernmental environmental advocacy organizations, is how to render “visible”—or accessible to our senses—the nature and immanence of these toxic and radiological threats. How are individuals and organizations creating and deploying “strategies of visibility” and “tactics of sensibility”—techniques of translation and mediation that engage human capacities to perceive and respond to sensory stimuli—in order to create more fully informed, alert, and engaged publics? How do strategies of visibility create possibilities for awareness and empathy? What possibilities are there for developing strategies of visibility that engage the affections and perceptions of citizens in a world of proliferating threats and images of threat? The aesthetic project is investigated as a tactical and strategic attempt in fashioning sensibilities, making and mobilizing publics, and equipping citizens to respond to environmental issues. Background/course work in social sciences is required.
New Nature: Environmental Design in the 21st Century
This course investigates emerging technologies, philosophies, and practices of environmental design and management in the early 21st century from the level of regional landscapes to the level of cells. What are the values, visions, and assumptions that animate contemporary developments in environmental design? What forms of technological know-how and knowledge production practices enable these developments? What ethical, aesthetic, or political implications might these shifts in the making of environments, organs, and organisms entail? How might we begin to make informed judgments about emerging form(s) of nature, environmental design, and humanity? The course begins with an introduction to debates on the nature of nature and machines in America in the 18th century, grounding discussion through examining changing ideas of environment, ecosystems, and equilibriums. Post-World War II ideologies of design, command, and control of the environment, including nuclear power and developments in chemistry, are examined. We then turn to debates on nature, communities, and conservation from the 1970s through the late 1990s, from the era of “the green planet” and “rain-forest conservation.” Preoccupations with biowarfare, genetic engineering, and human enhancement in the post-September 11 era are key topics. We examine contemporary developments in environmental design in several domains, including landscape architecture; cyborg technology; simulation, mediation, and virtual environments; and biotechnology/biowarfare. The work of bioartists and engineers, genetic engineers working for private industry and the government, as well as the work of environmental networks—including the Critical Art Ensemble, Rhizome, and the New Media Caucus—form part of this itinerary. Attitudes toward pollution are undergoing sea changes as landscape designers remediate toxic sites using natural processes and timescales. Industrial designers and environmental chemists are reconceptualizing the basis for resource extraction, processing, and manufacturing. On a micro level, molecular biologists and nanoengineers are creating emergent forms of tissues and organisms for purposes of medicine, as well as for waging war. On the battlefield, the nature of war is rapidly changing. Robotic armies under “human control” may be the armed forces of the future. Organisms and biochemical processes are being enlisted and drafted into military, as well as medical, service. At the same time, landscape architecture is being reconceptualized as the discipline charged with responsibility for “imagining and saving the Earth.” A marvelous diversity of efforts at innovative sustainable uses of energy, water, and industrial design will be examined through texts, Web sites, films, and speakers from the ES/STS Colloquium Series. Where possible, field trips within the New York City/New York State area will be arranged. In New York City, for example, community gardens, rooftop agriculture and botanical gardens, waste treatment, and innovative urban installations may be visited. What will constitute our planetary home in a world of emerging, new nature(s)? What forms of energy, water, and toxic management are being imagined, designed, and implemented? How are engineers, artists, architects, and agronomists, as well as writers of science fiction and film, contributing to the formation of new nature and human relationships to the environment in the 21st century? Background in social science, in science, technology, and society, or in design is required.