Undergraduate Courses

We are actively seeking titles and descriptions of relevent undergraduate courses from professors and instructors at the University of Minnesota for dissemination among interested faculty and graduate students. Please submit course descriptions for upcoming semesters here.

Upcoming courses include:

Spring 2020

AMES 3920 Topics in Asian Culture - End Times: Narrating Extinction and Apocalypse

Stories of the end of the world are nothing new; in classical times they ranged from the various versions of the judgment day in monotheistic religions to the periodic dissolution and regeneration of the universe conceived in Hinduism. While these narratives are still with us, many new visions of the end times have emerged in the context of the specific dangers and anxieties of modernity: nuclear war, famine from overpopulation, take-over by robots or artificial intelligence, or just generalized existential despair caused by the loss of meaning and community grounded in tradition. In the 21st century, such fears and narratives have increasingly focused on various scenarios of how climate chaos already is speeding the world’s sixth mass extinction of living species—meaning there are countless mini-apocalypses happening all around us from the perspective of the Earth’s biosphere as a whole—while also threatening the possible extinction of our own species. This course will explore narratives of extinction and apocalypse from a global, comparative perspective. Each week we will watch a feature film—including films from both East and West—and we will accompany them with diverse types of readings—from dystopic sci-fi novels to nonfiction bestsellers to academic studies of how the threat of extinction plays out in other primate species besides humans. We will ask how such narratives articulate specific fears and anxieties and discuss whether and how they make a cultural intervention that could actually change human behavior to make extinction less (or more) likely. What exactly does it mean to envision the extinction of our species or the collapse of human society, and why do people seek out such narratives and presumably derive some pleasure from them?
Grading measures: participation and attendance, a course journal, final paper

AMES 3820 (001) MIDDLE EAST PETROFICTIONS: WEALTH, WASTE, AND WAR     

“Oil is a fairytale, and like every fairytale a bit of a lie,” wrote Ryszard Kapuscinski. Oil is everywhere, shaping every aspect of our lives: our technology, relationships, politics, wars. Fossil fuel energy connects distant regions through uneven production, extraction, and exploitation of resources and populations. How does contemporary Middle Eastern culture tell the story of petromodernity – of our petroleum energy dependence? What can petrofictions – literary and cinematic works concerned with oil – tell us about the “slow violence” of environmental change, oil imperialism and its erosion of democracy, or new forms of environmental activism? Throughout the course we will examine how novels, films, and visual art help us realize the networked reality of an oil-addicted world, as well as think about new, speculative forms of energy futures in a “post oil” epoch.

Hist1101w

Sweep of history, from first prehistoric societies to dawn of modern world circa 1500. Forces that pushed humans to continually explore new environments and develop higher levels of social organization and cross-cultural interaction.

prereq: Fr or soph or non-hist major   

Historical Perspectives, Environment, Writing Intensive

Hist 1364

This introductory course focuses on human environment interaction and the role of environmental factors in shaping of world history from the early medieval period, roughly 1000 C.E, to the present day. Beginning with the idea of environmental history and its broad themes, including climate, volcanic eruptions, landscape, plants, crops, animals, insects, disease, pestilence, energy, and technology, the course will enable students not only to understand the complex relationship between human societies and non-human species but also the changing nature and structure of this relationship throughout history.

Historical Perspectives, Environment

Fall 2019

GCC 3025 (Living the Good Life at the End of the World: Sustainability in the Anthropocene), with Jessica Hellman and Dan Philippon

What does it mean to live "the good life" in a time of rapid climate changes, mass extinction of plant and animal species, and the increasing pollution of our oceans, atmosphere, and soils? Is it possible to live sustainably, as individuals and societies, in what scientists are calling the Anthropocene, or this new epoch of human influence over the planet? Will sustainability require that we sacrifice the gains humanity has made in our quality of life? Or can we find a way to create a good Anthropocene? This course will attempt to answer these questions in four ways:

By providing an overview of sustainability science, both what it says about human and natural systems and how it comes to make these claims

By examining various conceptions of the good life, both individual and social, and how they intersect with the findings of sustainability science 

By exploring the conflicts that exist within and between differing visions of sustainability and the good life through case studies in energy, water, and food

By pursuing collaborative research projects that will help students apply their knowledge and skills to current problems in sustainability studies

We will read widely in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities to understand a range of historical and contemporary perspectives on these questions, and in doing so we will put abstract ethical principles into conversation with a diversity of specific cultures and environments. By the end of the course, students will have examined their own assumptions about personal and professional happiness, considered how these align with and diverge from societal visions and values, and explored innovative solutions to help sustain our productive economy and our planet.

GCC 3027/5027 (Power Systems Journey: Making the Invisible Visible and Actionable), with Paul Imbertson and Jonee Kulman Brigham

An energy revolution is underway, and needs to accelerate to support climate and economic goals. But the general citizenry does not understand our current energy systems, particularly the seemingly invisible phenomena of electricity, and its generation, distribution, and use. Technical knowledge is only half the solution, however. It is through human decisions and behaviors that technical solutions get applied and adopted, and the importance of communication and storytelling is being recognized for its relevance to making change. How can science literacy and behavior-motivating engagement and storytelling be combined to help make systemic change? This course explores the integration of science-based environmental education, with art-led, place-based exploration of landscapes and creative map-making to address this challenge. How do we make electricity visible, understandable, and interesting -- so we can engage citizens in energy conservation with basic literacy about the electric power system so that they can be informed voters, policy advocates, and consumers. In this class, you will take on this challenge, first learning about the electric power systems you use, their cultural and technical history, systems thinking, design thinking, and prior examples of communication and education efforts. With this foundation, you will then apply your learning to create a public education project delivered via online GIS Story maps that use a combination of data, art, and story to help others understand, and act on the power journey we are all on. All will share the common exploration of power systems through field trips, and contribute to a multi-faceted story of power, presented in a group map and individual GIS Story maps. No prior knowledge of GIS story maps or electricity issues is needed. The study of power systems can be a model for learning and communicating about other topics that explore the interaction of technology and society toward sustainability. **NOTE: Environmental Humanities Students encouraged to come. Final projects can be creative works, historical studies, or other ways humanities can shed light on understanding our electric grid. See more at http://gcc.umn.edu/gcc-courses/gcc-30275027

GER 3651/5651 (Environmental Thinking: Green Culture, German Literature, and Global Debates), with Charlotte Melin

Known as the country of poets and thinkers, Germany today has a reputation for leading in environmental innovation. But how did that happen? This course (taught in English, with assignments in German for students who know the language) looks at how sustainability became mainstream in Europe. We will explore how literary and non-fiction writing, film, and the arts shaped German environmental thinking. Public concern about environmental issues is driving social, political, and cultural change in German-speaking countries—Green party successes, renewable energy initiatives, and cradle-to-cradle design have deep historical roots. Romantic writers found inspiration in nature and German scientists pioneered principles of ecology. However, after 1945, nationalistic glorification of nature was suspect, due to the legacy of National Socialism. This course explores how the involvement of writers and other public intellectuals in critiquing the past changed attitudes to revive environmentalism. Frequent comparisons will be made with global developments and the U.S. Our starting point will be Faust (by Goethe) and a contemporary novel by Daniel Kehlmann about the early scientist Alexander von Humboldt. Other works will include a novella about the Chernobyl, a comic book, and examples in other media. Assignments include an extended simulation project related to renewable energy; graduate students will be asked to pursue additional research.

HSCI 3244/5244 (Nature's History: Science, Humans, and the Environment) with Susan D. Jones

This course examines the history of environmental ideas, sustainability, conservation history; critique of the human impact on nature; empire and power in the Anthropocene; how the science of ecology has developed; and history of modern environmental movements around the globe.

 

Spring 2019

ALL 3468 (Environment, Technology and Culture in Modern Japan / Environmental Theme), with Christine Marran

This course raises environmental issues of major significance including debates about nuclear power versus other sources of power for a the country that has experience nuclear meltdown; use of natural resources in wartime and imperial conquest; whaling by a nation in the IWC; robots and their uses; and other global environmental issues for which Japan has been the driving force in a global debate about power, resource use, and innovation. The course gives explicit attention to interrelationships between the natural environment and human society. In it we will discuss the role of culture in determining how natural resources are used generally, how nature is used to define cultural values, and the impact of cultural production on how generations have articulated ideas about the environment. The course introduces the underlying scientific principles behind the environmental issues being examined including bioaccumulation, biomagnification, evolutionary biology; cumulative pollution; geothermal power and nuclear power systems; invasion ecology research, among others. In the course, we also examine question of perspective. How does the environment change depending on cultural, representational and/or disciplinary perspectives?

CLA 3500 (Paradise Project), with Natalia Vargas Márquez

Welcome to Paradise! Or is it? Paradise is an idea that has captured the imaginations of peoples and cultures around the globe and throughout history. It has been the source of both magnificent beauty and horrifying violence. This multidisciplinary course is designed to explore the concept of paradise through lectures, discussions, and workshops with faculty experts from across the arts and humanities. From Persian paradaida-gardens to Afrofuturist scenarios, we’ll seek to balance critical analysis with creativity as we attempt to understand how the concept of paradise has both inspired and oppressed. We will also pay special attention to how the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota has been imagined and shaped as a paradise over its 150-year history. The course will culminate with a collaborative public project organized by the students who will engage in the challenges of creating paradise.

GCC 3027/5027 (Power Systems Journey: Making the Invisible Visible and Actionable), with Paul Imbertson and Jonee Kulman Brigham

An energy revolution is underway, and needs to accelerate to support climate and economic goals. But the general citizenry does not understand our current energy systems, particularly the seemingly invisible phenomena of electricity, and its generation, distribution, and use. Technical knowledge is only half the solution, however. It is through human decisions and behaviors that technical solutions get applied and adopted, and the importance of communication and storytelling is being recognized for its relevance to making change. How can science literacy and behavior-motivating engagement and storytelling be combined to help make systemic change? This course explores the integration of science-based environmental education, with art-led, place-based exploration of landscapes and creative map-making to address this challenge. How do we make electricity visible, understandable, and interesting -- so we can engage citizens in energy conservation with basic literacy about the electric power system so that they can be informed voters, policy advocates, and consumers. In this class, you will take on this challenge, first learning about the electric power systems you use, their cultural and technical history, systems thinking, design thinking, and prior examples of communication and education efforts. With this foundation, you will then apply your learning to create a public education project delivered via online GIS Story maps that use a combination of data, art, and story to help others understand, and act on the power journey we are all on. All will share the common exploration of power systems through field trips, and contribute to a multi-faceted story of power, presented in a group map and individual GIS Story maps. No prior knowledge of GIS story maps or electricity issues is needed. The study of power systems can be a model for learning and communicating about other topics that explore the interaction of technology and society toward sustainability. **NOTE: Environmental Humanities Students encouraged to come. Final projects can be creative works, historical studies, or other ways humanities can shed light on understanding our electric grid. See more at http://gcc.umn.edu/gcc-courses/gcc-30275027

GER 3651/5651 (Environmental Thinking: Green Culture, German Literature, and Global Debates), with Charlotte Melin

This course looks at how sustainability became part of mainstream culture in Europe. Known as the country of poets and thinkers, German artists and thinkers today have a reputation for being integral to Germany’s role in environmental innovation. We will explore how literary and non-fiction writing, film, and the arts have shaped German and European environmental thinking since the Enlightenment and Romanticism. Our starting point is Faust (by Goethe) and a contemporary novel about the early scientist Alexander von Humboldt. Other texts include a novella about Chernobyl, a graphic-format pamphlet, and media works. There are no prerequisites for the course: it is taught in English, with assignments in German for students who know the language.

HIST 1362/3362 (Global History of WWII), with Hiromi Mizuno

[Half of this class will be devoted to the environmental history of the war]

HIST 1364 (Introduction to Global Environmental History), with Zozan Pehlivan

This introductory course focuses on human environment interaction and the role of environmental factors in shaping of world history from the early medieval period, roughly 1000 C.E, to the present day. Beginning with the idea of environmental history and its broad themes, including climate, volcanic eruptions, landscape, plants, crops, animals, insects, disease, pestilence, energy, and technology, the course will enable students not only to understand the complex relationship between human societies and non-human species but also the changing nature and structure of this relationship throughout history.

HIST 3514 (Environmental History of the Middle East and North Africa), with Zozan Pehlivan

This course is designed to enable students to think critical about the role of the environment and climate in historical change in the Middle East and North Africa region. Through it, students will gain an appreciation of environmental history as a rich sub-discipline that raises important questions about world history, as well as engage in conceptual and historiographic debates about agency, social structure, culture and economics.

HSEM 2540H (Understanding the Russian Land), with Anna Graber

Encompassing more than 6.5 million square miles, Russia is an immense and ecologically diverse country. The environment of the frigid and heavily forested heartland of early Russian civilization, as well as that of the “wild field” (the Eurasian steppe) on its border, have posed a series of challenges to Russians and have left an indelible mark on modern Russian culture. In this interdisciplinary seminar, we will study how Russians have conceived of and used nature from the medieval period to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Articulating a particular approach to nature has been integral to several ideological and cultural projects in Russian history, including the formation of a literary tradition, the establishment of a multi-ethnic empire encompassing several biomes, and the development of a vision of Soviet science conquering and reshaping nature—and the world. In the period we will study—the fifteenth century to 1991—Russia underwent several profound epistemological shifts, and a particular focus of this course will be how the ways Russians created natural knowledge changed over time. Knowledge is power, and we will study how natural knowledge was used to strengthen and expand the state in the medieval, imperial, and Soviet periods. Another major focus of this course is the ravages that nature and humankind have inflicted on one another, and we will study how the environment influenced the development of Russia’s form of agricultural slavery, serfdom, as well as the history of environmental degradation, including deforestation, the establishment of heavy industry, and nuclear disaster.

SUST 3017 (Environmental Justice), with Michelle Garvey

This course investigates the ways nonhuman nature has been deployed to solidify or create social inequalities, especially among races, genders, classes, nations, and species. It asks which kinds of people and places are unduly affected by pollution, displacements, and other environmental ills, as well as how those communities resist such oppressions. It also asks which kinds of sustainability measures are most effective at combatting environmental injustices. Answers to these questions and more are sought through large group discussion, small group collaborative projects, immersive community experience, and project-based scholarship.

TH 3120 (Performance with(in) the Ecological), with Chris Bell

In an era of an ever-accelerating human impact on the planet, how might performance re-imagine what it means to return “back-to-earth”? This course is an exploration of the relationship between performance and ecology and a consideration of the ways in which performance art, community-based theatre, and practices of everyday life imagine alternate futures on Earth. Our learning community will reflect upon the degradation of ecosystems and environmental justice to address and envision modes of performance that emerge from the ruins (Tsing) to respond to the question: In the face of climate change and the degradation of ecosystems, how might performance offer an inventive opening to not yet thought modes of thinking and being?

TH3120 has a pre-requisite of TH1101, but this can be bypassed with instructor approval. E-mail Chris Bell (bell0259@umn.edu) to express your interest and to request a permission number.

Past Courses:

Fall 2018

CSCL 3222 (Visions of Nature), with Erin Trapp

This course explores literary, artistic, scientific, and theoretical writing on the problem of human exploitation of the environment. In particular, it takes as its starting point ideas about nature founded in a colonial worldview and considers the continued influence of European political and philosophical ideas of nature and human nature. In developing our consideration of nature and human nature, we will read a wide range of texts in order to survey and sample various understandings of this relationship and of the imagination of “nature”—including what is often acknowledged as the “first” work of literature, The Epic of Gilgamesh; the Middle English dream vision, The Vision of Piers Plowman and its imagination of both the locus amoenus (a beautiful natural place) and the hortus conclusus (enclosed garden); understandings of nature in European political philosophy (Aristotle, Hobbes) and American poetry (Emily Dickinson); and various contemporary works on nature and the environment, including (but not limited to) those by Linda Hogan, Otobong Nkanga (Luster and Lucre), Sylvia Wynter, Denise Ferreira da Silva, Walter Mignolo, Donna Haraway, Stacey Alaimo, Eva Hayward, Susanne Antonetta, Rachel Carson, Eli Clare, Anne-Lise François, and Lynn Nottage. 

GCC 3025 (Living the Good Life at the End of the World: Sustainability in the Anthropocene), with Jessica Hellman and Dan Philippon

What does it mean to live "the good life" in a time of rapid climate changes, mass extinction of plant and animal species, and the increasing pollution of our oceans, atmosphere, and soils? Is it possible to live sustainably, as individuals and societies, in what scientists are calling the Anthropocene, or this new epoch of human influence over the planet? Will sustainability require that we sacrifice the gains humanity has made in our quality of life? Or can we find a way to create a good Anthropocene? This course will attempt to answer these questions in four ways:

By providing an overview of sustainability science, both what it says about human and natural systems and how it comes to make these claims

By examining various conceptions of the good life, both individual and social, and how they intersect with the findings of sustainability science 

By exploring the conflicts that exist within and between differing visions of sustainability and the good life through case studies in energy, water, and food

By pursuing collaborative research projects that will help students apply their knowledge and skills to current problems in sustainability studies

We will read widely in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities to understand a range of historical and contemporary perspectives on these questions, and in doing so we will put abstract ethical principles into conversation with a diversity of specific cultures and environments. By the end of the course, students will have examined their own assumptions about personal and professional happiness, considered how these align with and diverge from societal visions and values, and explored innovative solutions to help sustain our productive economy and our planet.

GER 3104W (Reading and Analysis of German Literature), with Charlotte Melin and Kiley Kost

This course (taught in German) provides an introduction to the study of German literature through texts involving environmental perspectives. The connection between a sense of nature and cultural identity has a long and fascinating history in German-speaking countries that predates contemporary environmental awareness and is interlinked with the development of modern literary genres and ecocritism. Works to be read include drama, fiction, and poetry describing the beauty of the natural landscapes, the impact of culture on nature, and the ethical dilemmas that arise when humans interact with the environment. Texts are by E.T.A. Hofmann, Buechner, Droste-Hülshoff, Thomas Mann, Brecht, Dürrenmatt, and others. The course concludes with discussion of Christa Wolf’s novella about the Chernobyl nuclear accident, Störfall: Nachrichten eines Tages.

Spring 2018

ALL 8002 (Ecocriticism and Posthumanism), with Christine Marran

COMM 4250 (Environmental Communication), with Mark Pedelty

HSCI 1212 (Life on Earth), with Tulley Long

LA 3514/5514 (Making the Mississippi), Spring 2018, with Matthew Tucker

The course examines the complex socio-cultural values that are symbolized by and encoded within, the Mississippi River. Through a combination of critical analysis and precedent studies, we will explore historical and contemporary ways this dynamic river landscape has been shaped through geological, hydrological and cultural processes.  In doing so, we will consider how varying cultural and ecological perspectives have shaped our cultural imagination of the river as well as the policies, ecologies and physical forms of the river across time.  Throughout this examination, we will consider the explicit and implied ethical positions encoded in varying perspectives and their impact on the people and places throughout the length of the river.  Finally, we will speculate on potential future scenarios on how the emerging Anthropocene paradigm and other factors may shape and “make” the future Mississippi River. 

SUST 3017 (Environmental Justice), with Michelle Garvey

 

Fall 2017

ALL 3468 Environment, Technology and Culture in Japan, with Christine Marran

GER 3651/5610 (Environmental Thinking), Fall 2017, with Charlotte Melin

GWSS 3590 (Feminist Environmentalisms), Fall 2017, with Michelle Garvey

HSCI 3244/5244 (Nature's History: Science, Humans and the Environment), Fall 2017 with Sally Gregory Kohlstedt

 

Summer 2017

LA 5705 (Regreening Minds, Cities, and Regions), Summer 2017, with Laura Musacchio

 

If you will be teaching a graduate course in 2017-18 that you wish to publicize among members of the EHI, please share it with us at envhum@umn.edu.