Global Environmental Humanities: Global Ecologies, Environmental Justice, and Sustainable Permaculture

Duke University: Lit 290/Eng 190/Environ 190
Instructor: Dr. Amanda Starling Gould

How can we seed the humanities with the deep roots of sustainability, environmental awareness, and eco action? What might compost or e-waste have to teach us about global ecologies and environmental justice? How might we use Permaculture—a profoundly interconnected set of ethical design principles that we’ll borrow from natural farming—as a model to initiate more mindful everyday life and scholarly practices? In this class we will examine texts, from novels and news stories to graphic novels and videogames, to explore how global environmental issues are registering differently in cultures around the world. Instead of focusing on post-apocalyptic fiction, we will focus on texts that treat environmental change as radically ordinary. We will trace the patterns, and possible solutions, that emerge when we apply environmental humanities methods to complex ecological issues like sustainability, environmental justice, climate change, waste, energy, global health, and water, and begin thinking ecologically about vital planetary interconnections.

In our hyperlinked digital age, we are more physically connected than we think: the cell phones in our pockets begin in mineral mines in Africa and end as electronic waste in China; the “Cloud” where we save our data now has a carbon footprint that rivals, and will soon pass, that of the aviation industry; the casing of our laptops is made of ocean-polluting petroleum-based plastic. Today more than ever we need models for thinking critically about our own personal responsibilities and ethical commitments as citizens involved in physically-entangled global ecological systems. The culminating assignment will be an interdisciplinary research project that integrates course readings, outside research, and innovative design to meaningfully reflect on our individual connection to the larger world. Projects might include such elements as community eco-partnerships, global social activism, multimedia reflections, speculative design projects, land-based art or performance, written reports, graphic narratives, and collaborations with Sustainable Duke, Duke Farm, the Duke Environmental Arts and Humanities Network, or the Duke Smart Home.

Image source: npr.org