Welcome to EWP 290 Research, Writing, and the Humanities.

In this course, we’ll be using writing to investigate environmental issues. This course has two themes that might seem to be opposite at first glance —

PLACE, NATURE, HOME, THE BODY: Environmental problems are physical; they happen in specific places, with effects that we feel in our bodies. When we talk about environmental issues, we talk about what we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and especially -- where we live. In this course we will be focusing on place. You’ll be choosing a research site that you can actually go to, so that you can experience it with your senses and do some primary research.

THE INTERNET, VIRTUAL SPACES, SOCIAL MEDIA: Environmental solutions in this century will likely come for a community of writers and thinkers, scientists and artists, policy-makers and activists who know how to collaborate, who are creative and playful, who use writing to think through their ideas, who know smart ways of doing research, who communicate clearly in their writing, who connect with other people who are concerned about the same issues, and who think critically. For most of us, the internet is the virtual place that will give us access to that community and a way to participate in that conversation.

Other themes will evolve from our discussions and writing.

Some questions we’ll be asking this semester:
What’s the relationship between place and story?
What’s our relationship to the landscape we live in?
How does where we live shape who we are?
Can caring about place translate into environmental action?
How has the internet affected our relationships to each other, to our communities, to our local landscapes, and to the earth?
How has the internet changed the way we write?
How can writing be used to help solve environmental problems?
What role might the internet play in solving the environmental crisis?

Investigating Place-based Environmental Issues
We’ll be using writing to explore and express the relationship of humans to place, with an emphasis on the environmental issues implicit in that relationship. We’ll be reading a range of essays that explore the way that humans form a relationship with the landscapes they inhabit and the way that place can change who people are.

Sidney Dobrin, the editor of the book Saving Place defines ecological literacy as “a conscious awareness and understanding of the relationships between people, other organisms, and the environments in which they live.” In our readings and classroom discussions, we’ll be looking at both built and natural environments through the lens of ecology. We’ll be looking at the relationship between humans and the environments in which they live, and trying to find patterns that might help us explain, analyze, and solve the environmental crisis.

In addition to reading selections from an anthology, we’ll be taking advantage of current environmental information that can be accessed through the internet, from websites like Orion to TED talks and webcomics like XKCD. Our discussion of place-based environmental issues will be an opportunity for you to use information you’ve learned in your other ESF courses.

Going Online with Our Ideas 
Bill McKibben is a writer and environmental activist who thinks it’s important to spend time “unplugged” – for him, this usually means hiking in the Adirondack Mountains – and yet, he has also argued that the internet can be the tool that saves the human species from destroying the earth, that the internet can be how we connect to each other and how we can educate each other. He’s been using the website 350.org and social media like twitter for grassroots organizing on a global scale. We’ll watching Bill McKibben and talking about the ways environmentalists can use the internet.

We’ll be using the internet to get information, to collaborate with each other and students outside this classroom, to explore topics, and to extend our conversation beyond just our classroom. In fact, the last ten weeks of this course is an experiment, and you will have a chance to help shape this course. I plan to use my network of colleagues who teach at other colleges; we’ll try to connect with their students in other parts of the country and the world. I’m hoping you will all use your networks as well.

Writing Skills and Practice:
EWP 290 is a course that will extend and build on the writing practices that you learned in EWP 190. Learning to write is a recursive practice. It’s like learning to play a sport or a musical instrument. You don’t go to one practice or one lesson and master the skills immediately: you need to practice the skills over and over again, from different teachers and coaches.

You will be analyzing the audience for whom you are writing, analyzing the purpose of a text and how that purpose informs how you write, using writing as a way of learning, brainstorming ideas, pitching your ideas to classmates, choosing a focus, developing ideas, incorporating research into your writing, organizing your ideas, revising your writing after getting feedback from your peers, collaborating with peers, and evaluating the writing of your peers. Writing, is of course, linked to both reading and critical thinking so those are skills that will be emphasized as well.

This course counts as your humanities general education requirement. Consider this definition of humanities from the Ohio Council of Arts: “The humanities are the stories, the ideas, and the words that help us make sense of our lives and our world. The humanities introduce us to people we have never met, places we have never visited, and ideas that may have never crossed our minds. By showing how others have lived and thought about life, the humanities help us decide what is important in our own lives and what we can do to make them better. By connecting us with other people, they point the way to answers about what is right or wrong, or what is true to our heritage and our history. The humanities help us address the challenges we face together in our families, our communities, and as a nation .... As fields of study, the humanities emphasize analysis and exchange of ideas rather than the creative expression of the arts or the quantitative explanation of the sciences …. Literature, Languages, and Linguistics explore how we communicate with each other, and how our ideas and thoughts on the human experience are expressed and interpreted.”

Social media
In this course, we’ll be using twitter and other forms of social media as a way of enlarging the conversation beyond our classroom. Knowing how to use social media is not a prerequisite for the course, so don’t panic if you don’t have a twitter account. You’ll have one soon! We can learn from each other and figure it out as we go along. Your teacher finished graduate school USING A TYPEWRITER so it shouldn’t be too hard to keep ahead of her.

Note: Learning how to use social media (and other digital tools) is a skill that is increasingly valued in today’s workplace. William Ward from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Publication says: "Students with social media certification are getting better jobs and internships. Those who harness social communications are in high demand and have an advantage." (Article here) That’s not why we’re using twitter, but it’s a nice bonus.

The Future of Nature edited by Barry Lopez
We’ll also be using links to online publications and websites throughout the semester. Be sure that you check this blog for assignments.

More on this course
If you’d like to see some of the theory behind the way this course is planned, check here.