The Stream

Posts under ‘Understanding “place”’

Understanding Place reflection #4

Over the last two weeks, we’ve explored place in light of temporal time scales and land use, for example through GIS exercises and readings from Foley et al., Matson et al., and Wendell Berry’s ‘Let the Farm Judge’. For this week’s reflection (due Wednesday at noon) please choose a place and describe its dominant historical and current land use(s). Based on local and global land-use trends, what do you think the future of land use in that place might be over the next 100 years (e.g., suburban development, agriculture, urbanization, industry, conservation, etc.)? What do you suggest might be the most suitable future land use(s) in that place in light of ecology, society, and economy?

Understanding Place reflection #3

For the last three weeks we have been building up our ‘toolkit’ for understanding place, with a special focus on agriculture. Please share how you envision your contribution to the final group project – the recipe book. Please include specific details including the kind of contribution you’d like to create or share, what disciplinary or life-experience background(s) you could contribute through your work, and what ‘tools’ for understanding place might be expressed through your contribution. Finally, please briefly note how your proposed contribution applies to our shared place at the SoE or to a place that is special to you, and also how it can be applied to any place.

Your answers to this reflection are not set in stone, and you are free to change your contributions to the final project as we progress through the second half of the semester. This is simply a forum for you to brainstorm, be creative, and share your ideas with your peers.

Provide your reflections as a comment to this post, and remember that your comments are public.

Understanding Place reflection #2

Many of our discussions and experiences this week revolved around justice and action. Use a concrete example to explain how a better understanding of place can enhance social and environmental justice.

Provide your reflections as a comment to this post, and remember that your comments are public.

Understanding Place reflection #1

Welcome, all students, to the 2015 SoE!  We shared a great hike up Snake Mountain and a beautiful, moving opening ceremony last weekend, and we are all very excited about the next six weeks. Now it’s time to dive into our work!

We have been exploring definitions, perceptions, and perspectives of ‘place’ this week in the Understanding Place course. Please describe two concepts or experiences you have discovered this week, and how they have contributed to your understanding of place. Also, share one still unanswered question or concern that this week’s classes and/or readings have raised for you.

Provide your reflections as a comment to this post, and remember that your comments are public.




Faculty for 2015

I am extremely happy to introduce three of the faculty who will join the Middlebury School of the Environment this coming summer.  Each will participate in the core courses, either in the introductory track or the intermediate/advanced track, and each will offer an elective in their area of specialization.  I want to introduce each of them here briefly, and provide links to their full bios and course descriptions on the SoE web site.

Holly_PetersonDr. Holly Peterson joins the SoE as an Assistant Professor of Environmental Science.  She is on the faculty of Guilford College in North Carolina in the Department of Geology and Environmental Studies.  With a specialization in hydrogeology, she is particularly interested in water quality and encouraging people to view their lives and societies through the lens of the watershed in which they live.  At the SoE this summer, she will teach an elective on Environmental Pollution (which will involve a mix of field, lab, and computer-based work) as well as team-teach the core course on Understanding Place, our interdisciplinary course the brings together the ecological and cultural narratives that are needed to understand the environmental present and potential futures of any place.

Joe WittDr. Joseph Witt will be the new Assistant Professor of Environmental Humanities.  Joe comes to us from the faculty of the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Mississippi State University, where he offers a curriculum that focuses on religion and nature.  His research includes the study of the place of religions in the Appalachian anti-mountaintop removal movement of the early 21st century.  He will join Holly Peterson in teaching Understanding Place and will offer his own elective on Religion, Nature, and Justice.

Curt GervichDr. Curt Gervich, from the Center for Earth and Environmental Science at SUNY Plattsburgh, joins us as the new Assistant Professor in Environmental Social Science.  At SUNY Plattsburgh, Curt teaches courses in environmental leadership, law and policy, and sustainability, and he is trained as an environmental planner, with expertise in decision-making and leadership.  This summer, he will teach the Systems Thinking Practicum and an elective on Wicked Environmental Problems.

We’re not done yet, however.  We plan on adding one more person to the faculty whose specialization is in the realm of the environmental arts.  Stay tuned for updates on this position!

Gregory Rosenthal, instructor in environmental humanities

Gregory RosenthalI am pleased to announce that Gregory Rosenthal, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History at SUNY Stony Brook, will join the faculty in the School of the Environment, as an instructor in environmental humanities.  Gregory will teach a course entitled “Environmentalism and the Poor: Class-Conscious Histories of Globalization,” which he describes as follows:

Environmentalism used to be understood as the privilege of affluent “first worlders,” an exercise in protecting nature from those too uncivilized or too ignorant to care for it by themselves. But this is no longer the case. In the past several decades, environmentalists—and environmental historians who study the history of human-nature relationships—have begun to acknowledge and account for the diverse “environmentalisms” that are practiced by both “first worlders” and “third worlders,” by both rich and poor, by both workers and capitalists, between the global north and the global south as well as within small-town communities, villages, and cities across the world. That class is one of the key determinants in how different people experience and care for the environment is gaining acceptance among social scientists and is inspiring exciting new research in the field of environmental history. This course will explore the relationships among environmentalism, class, and power in human history, as well as the consequences of these relationships for poor and working class peoples. A class-conscious history of globalization—in which “globalization” is understood as the rise of a globallyinterwoven capitalist economy over the past two centuries—reveals the various ways in which “environmentalism” has served the powerful while impacting the less powerful. At the same time, we will examine the resistance strategies of working class peoples the world over, to see how environments can be reclaimed by and for the poor. We will work collectively in this class towards developing a “poor people’s environmentalism”: a blueprint for thinking about global nature and the responsibilities of the powerful and privileged in alleviating poverty and supporting poor people’s rights to, and in, the environment.

Gregory will also co-teach the course on “Interdisciplinary Understanding of Place: Lake Champlain,” bringing to this class his unique perspective on how historical perspectives on culture diversity and identity help illuminate the narratives that frame a comprehensive understanding of a landscape and its possible environmental futures.

We are  excited to have Gregory join us for the inaugural summer for the School of the Environment.  He specializes in global environmental history with a focus on migrant labor, indigenous peoples, and human-environment relations in historical perspective. At SUNY Stony Brook his Ph.D. research examines the history of Native Hawaiian migrant labor in the nineteenth-century global economy. He has published in Environmental History and World History Bulletin and received grants and fellowships from the American Historical Association, the Huntington Library, and the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. In college, Gregory studied traditional Chinese music and indigenous ethnomusicology (and even attended Middlebury’s Chinese Language School). He holds a Masters degree in Public History from SUNY Albany and formerly served as Education Coordinator at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in upstate New York. He also previously worked as a Park Ranger in New York City, and when not at Middlebury, Gregory continues to lead historic walking tours of Manhattan’s streets while also enjoying hiking, birding, swimming, and clamming in the city’s urban forests and coastal waters.

Gregory joins Steve Trombulak and Cat Ashcraft as a member of the full-time faculty in the School of the Environment, and will participate throughout the six-week session in creating the full immersion program we have planned.


Social identity and the future of Montana

Today’s New York Times reports on an effort currently underway by a non-profit organization to create a 3-million acre reserve in the grasslands of Montana.  The American Prairie Reserve is buying ranches that are for sale and slowly stitching together a landscape in which bison can roam freely and in which ecological conditions akin to those present 200 years ago can flourish.

This project is admirable in its scope and goals.  Bison, as the largest native herbivore in North America since the time of the post-Pleistocene mass extinction, were powerful ecological engineers, and their loss — brought about primarily by overhunting — has had widespread consequences on the biological integrity of this continent’s prairies.  Coupled with subsequent land-use changes that have largely involved ranching, with its associated fencing and cattle, the loss of bison herds is one of the biggest wildlife transformations anywhere in North America.

Which makes the work of the American Prairie Reserve one of the biggest wildlife conservation stories today.

What I find interesting about this story, however, is not what they are trying to achieve.  Rather it is the social environment within which they are trying to achieve it.  This story does not involve government intervention, eminent domain, or an Eastern Establishment driving up property values.  Fair-market value is paid to willing sellers who are approached after they put their ranches up for sale.

Yet as reported by the New York Times, this conservation effort faces opposition from some ranchers in the area because … it does not conform to their vision of how the land ought to be used: cattle ranching.

This reminds me of similar conflicts that emerged in New England in the 1990s over logging and timber lands.  All such stories about the “legitimate” uses for large landscapes seems to involve similar questions.

Are there limits to private property rights that would allow neighbors to say to someone, “You cannot sell your land to this other person because they aren’t going to use it the way I think they should”?  It is easy to understand why one would not want to allow a new neighbor to build something that was destructive or dangerous on their land, but should rancher be able to say that a conservation group should not own land because they are practicing conservation?  Or a snowmobiler be able to say that a new landowner cannot post their land against snowmobiling?

On what basis can those who believe in a particular cultural narrative of place claim that their narrative is the most important?  It’s understandable that ranchers who want to continue ranching should expect to be able to continue ranching on their land.  But what gives ranching primacy over other cultural narratives, such as those held by Native Americans who lived there before the ranchers?

And what constitutes the “place” being considered?  An individual ranch?  A single valley? A 20-million acre prairie?  As spatial scale increases, so too does the opportunity for and challenges of diverse cultural narratives to come together —  woven together either collaboratively or in conflict.

This really isn’t just a story about Montana or ranching or bison.  It’s a story about landscape-scale conservation planning everywhere and the role of social identity in shaping the cultural narrative that is used to describe a place.  How we learn — or don’t learn — to unpackage those issues will determine how successful conservation will be in the 21st century and beyond.

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