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Grant number like: AQ-50782-12

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University of Maine, Machias (Machias, ME 04654-1329)
Elizabeth Randall Kindleberger (Project Director: September 2011 to September 2015)
Tora Johnson (Co Project Director: May 2016 to September 2015)

Enduring Questions: Pilot Course Grants
Education Programs

$24,960 (approved)
$24,960 (awarded)

Grant period:
6/1/2012 – 5/31/2015

NEH Enduring Questions Course on "What is Nature?"

The development of a capstone seminar on the question, What is nature?

Two faculty members, an ecologist and a historian, develop a capstone seminar for the Environmental Liberal Arts curriculum at University of Maine, Machias, on the question, What is nature? Grounded in the proposition that "nature is not just one idea; [but] a set of complex ideas," they organize the course into five thematic modules where readings and assignments provide a broad introduction to the ways diverse conceptions of nature shape worldviews. The course considers the following questions: What is at stake in humanity's changing conceptions of nature? How have people used and valued animals? What patterns do people perceive in nature? How do humans see, care for, and value the landscape? and How do people consider and respond to the changing condition of nature today? Primary and secondary readings cover Aristotle to Darwin and Melville to Atwood. These include, for example, selections from Aristotle's Physics and Politics, Tora Johnson's Entanglements: The Intertwined Fates of Whales and Fishermen, Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species, and Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake. Additional sources include creation stories, films, and art works from Asian, Native American, and Judeo-Christian traditions. The material thereby allows students to explore how different cultures across time and space have viewed nature. Intended as a required seminar for the primarily non-traditional and first-generation students at this rural institution, the course also fosters the development of critical academic skills. Readings build in length and sophistication as the semester proceeds; the study of art, film, and local landscapes help elucidate the text-based sources; and support structures for any required remedial help are available. Finally, a carefully structured assignment at the end of each module asks students to write about a local issue in light of the conceptions of nature under study. In the third module, for example, students read material on humans' relationship with animals. They then turn to excerpts from Moby Dick and an article about the portrayal of the environment in the novel. They close the module by assessing how the local problem of whales becoming entangled in fishing gear elicits different views of human-animal relationships. As part of the fourth module, the class visits Native American petroglyph sites and the Farnsworth Art Museum.