Environmental Studies at 50

The study of the environment, either as environmental studies or environmental science, is now so mainstream in higher education that it is difficult to grasp that at one time such studies were not a part of the college or university curriculum. Environmental Studies as a major was born here at Middlebury College 50 years ago this fall, when a small group of visionary faculty led by Howard “Gene” Woodin convinced then-president James Armstrong to approve the creation a major offered by a cross-departmental collaboration among Biology, Chemistry, Geography, and Geology (and soon joined by Economics). This was in 1965. Only three years after the publication of Silent Spring, and five years before Earth Day. It was the first such major in the country.

Now, 50 years later, such programs have emerged in virtually all colleges and universities in response to the growing awareness not only of the importance of such issues for society but of its deep and broad roots within traditional academic discourse.

This year, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of Middlebury’s Environmental Studies Program as well as 50 years of commitment to environmental engagement.

The Middlebury School of the Environment may only be two years old, but it is a product of 50 years of leadership in environmental education, pedagogy, and practice. All of us associated with the School of the Environment owe a great deal to the pioneers who, 50 years ago, had the vision to craft a new emphasis for higher education. And it is my intention to ensure that we follow with the same commitment to envisioning a better environmental future for all.

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