Undergraduate

We are actively seeking titles and descriptions of relevant 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.


Spring 2022

Spring 2022

CSCL 3322 - Visions of Nature: The Natural World and Political Thought
 - Prof. Tony C. Brown

Our organising focus is the role of nature as a concept in political thought. In addition to defining fundamental terms such as nature, environment and political, topics to be addressed include: the Anthropocene; political naturalism (the human is by nature political, and so by nature lives in a State) and political anti-naturalism (the human is not by nature political, and so the State is an artificial human environment); anarchism, communism and capitalism; violence and political life (whether politics is itself a form of violence or a means to limit a natural human tendency to violence); and natural human rights, and how such rights can be secured or lost politically. In addition, we will look at several locations in the South Pacific (Kiribati, Tuvalu and Aotearoa/New Zealand) as case studies of climate change (Kiribati and Tuvalu being island nations that are currently sinking under rising sea levels), colonial settlement, ecological imperialism and the colonisation of the natural world. Assigned readings draw widely from the history of political theory and from relevant contemporary texts, including, here appropriate, documentary films.

ENGL 3501 - Public Discourse: Coming to Terms with the Environment - Prof. Dan Philippon

This course explores significant environmental issues (such as biodiversity loss, climate change, and pollution) through the analysis of texts from diverse literary genres (such as fiction, memoir, and nonfiction journalism). It focuses as much on issues of language and meaning as it does on the subjects these texts concern. Students examine the formal dimensions of these texts, as well as their social and historical contexts. In addition, students are introduced to the underlying scientific principles, the limitations of technologies, and the public policy aspects of each of these issues, in order to judge what constitutes an appropriate response to them. Students also learn how to identify and evaluate credible information concerning the environment. The course features many active learning components (small group discussions, work in pairs, and debates), as well as formal and informal writing assignments (3-4 page papers, short reading responses, and online discussion forums). This course meets the Literature Core and Environment Theme Liberal Education requirements.

GCC 3025 - Seeking the Good Life at the End of the World: Sustainability in the 21st Century - Profs. Jessica Hellmann 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:

  1. By providing an overview of sustainability science, both what it says about human and natural systems and how it comes to make these claims
  2. By examining various conceptions of the good life, both individual and social, and how they intersect with the findings of sustainability science 
  3. 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
  4. 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.

HSEM 2540H - Understanding the Russian Land - Prof. 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.

Fall 2021

Fall 2021

AMES 1913 - End Times: Narrating Extinction & Apocalypse - Prof. Jason McGrath

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, pandemics, 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 film, often a challenging, experimental one - including films from both East and West - and we will accompany them with diverse types of readings from dystopic sci-fi stories 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 useful ideas from them?

ARTS 3206W - Art + Ecology - Prof. Christine Baeumler

Art + Ecology explores the history, theory, and contemporary practice of artists engaged with the ecological issues of our time. This seminar offers an introduction to the dynamic and emerging field of Environmental Art, focusing on the ways in which artists use creativity to work across disciplines to address ecological concerns. This course investigates the role contemporary artists play as catalysts in relation to a range of concerns, including environmental justice, mass extinction, climate change, and treatment of "waste" as well as issues of the quality of the air, water, soil, and habitat. This seminar also will introduce the notion of artists as agents of change who build communities of ecologically aware practices around interrelated environmental and social issues. Students will be encouraged to see how their creativity and imagination can contribute to finding solutions to pressing environmental problems.

CI 1908W - Children and Other Talking Animals: Animal Tales in (Mostly) Children's Literature - Prof. Marek Oziewicz

This course explores how Animal Tales reflect and shape our relation to the nonhuman world. We'll examine why the majority of Animal Tales are found in children's literature and why Animal Tales matter at the time of climate change, staggering biodiversity loss, and the Sixth Extinction. We'll see how Animal Tales reflect the never-entirely-suppressed memory of our kinship with animals and offer a hope for the future. The theoretical lens is environmental ethics: you’ll be challenged to reflect about what it means to be a person and/or an animal, and you’ll learn to see various genres of animal tales, historic and contemporary, as reflecting the multifaceted evolution of environmental ethics. Starting from ancient myths and beast fables, through folk and fairy tales, and on to modern novels and films, we’ll study stories about talking animals, animal guides, and animal companions as complex ethical and culturally-situated conceptualizations of the human relationship with the natural world. You’ll work individually and in groups on assignments that demonstrate your growing understanding of the role of Animal Tales in the past and the present—both in the context of child’s cognitive-affective development and against the larger background of climate change and other urgencies of the Anthropocene.

COMM 4251 - Environmental Communication - Prof. Mark Pedelty

Historical, cultural, material contexts within which environmental communication takes place. Understand environmental communication as well as develop communication strategies that lead to more sustainable social practices, institutions, and systems.

ENGL 3071 - The American Food Revolution in Literature and Television - Prof. Dan Philipppon

America's relationship with food and eating has changed profoundly over the last fifty years. At the heart of this revolution was a group of charismatic personalities who through writing and television brought first European and then global sensibilities to the American table. They persuaded Americans that food and cooking were not just about nutrition but also forms of pleasure, entertainment, and art; ways of exploring other cultures; and means of declaring, discovering, or creating identity. Their work would eventually transform the American landscape, helping give rise to the organic movement, farmers markets, locavorism, and American cuisine, as well as celebrity chefs, the Food Network, and restaurant reality television. In the meantime, the environmental movement was sending its own shockwaves through American consciousness of food production and consumption. The joining together of these movements—culinary and environmental—has brought a new ethical dimension to the subject that is now at the forefront of current concerns about American food. Insofar as we eat, we necessarily make choices that have profound implications for our health, our communities, the environment, and those who work in the food industry, broadly defined. This class will trace the American food revolution with the intent of understanding how our current system came to be and thinking through the ethical implications of our daily actions. We will read classic literature from the rise of the movement, in varying degrees instructional, personal and documentary, while viewing some seminal television moments for the food culture we now know. We will give particular attention to recent work that focuses on the personal and environmental ethics of food.

GCC 1909 - Introduction to Ecosystem Health: Challenges at the Intersection of Human, Animal, and Environmental - Profs. Barrett Colombo & Dominic Travis

This course will focus on the emerging discipline of Ecosystem Health, and associated approaches and technologies that support solutions to grand challenges of health at the interface of humans, animals, and the environment; introduce a toolset for approaching, defining, and responding to these grand challenges, including systems thinking, complexity science, and integrative leadership; interrogate the conflicts that exist between differing conceptions of health, through the study of several complex cases.

GCC 3005 - Innovation for Changemakers: Design for a Disrupted World - Profs. Megan Voorhees, Andrea Davila, Anthony Loyd, Robert Gradoville

In this project-based course, students will work in interdisciplinary teams to develop entrepreneurial responses to current social and environmental problems while developing the tools, mindsets, and skills that can help them become leaders in addressing any complex grand challenge. This course will focus on seeking ways to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic impact in meaningful ways.

GCC 3027 - Power Systems Journey: Making the Invisible Visible and Actionable - Profs. Jonee Brigham & Paul Imbertson

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.

HSCI 1585 - Mammoths, Minerals, Monoculture: History of Earth and Environmental Science - Prof. Anna Graber

This course investigates the many ways people across the globe have sought to understand the environment and the earth from antiquity to the present.  We will study the context in which the modern earth and environmental sciences emerged, asking throughout the semester what knowledge traditions contributed to the development of the sciences we know today.  We will investigate the historical perspectives that shaped three intersecting themes throughout the semester: the questions of geological time and of change in the study of the earth; human use of natural resources in industry and agriculture; and understandings of the earth and environment as a global system.   We will examine secondary historical scholarship and primary sources from North and South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia in order to better understand the religious and philosophical stakes of earth and environmental science, the role of empire and state building in the development of geoscience, and the interrelationship of science and industry.

HSCI 3244 - Nature's History: Science, Humans, and the Environment - Prof. Susan Jones

We examine environmental ideas, sustainability, and conservation history; the human impact on nature; racism, empire and power; the Anthropocene; how the science of ecology has developed; and modern environmental movements around the globe. Mostly small group work: critically analyzing the history of science “Canon” with the “View” from beyond it (non-Western, diverse gender, cultures, ethnicities); historical analysis & how history informs the present; roots of/solutions to environmental problems; roots, ideas, practices of ecology.

SUST 3003 - Sustainable People, Sustainable Planet - Prof. Jason Hill

Introduction to interdisciplinary Sustainability Studies minor. Scientific, cultural, ethical, and economic concepts that affect environmental sustainability and global economic justice. Key texts. Participatory classroom environment.

SUST 4004 - Sustainable Communities - Prof. Julia Nerbonne

Students synthesize multiple disciplinary perspectives and integrate insights gained from various approaches/methods. Concepts/scholarship related to sustainability. Applying knowledge/experience to real sustainability problems.

SUST 4096 - Sustainability Internship - Prof. Mary Hannemann

Four to ten hour per week internship experience related to a sustainability theme or approach, such as sustainable foods, green building, renewable energy or environmental justice. Intern in a nonprofit, governmental, educational or business organization, from choices provided or approved by instructor. Students will be part of a supportive cohort for developing professional and leadership skills & exploring strategies for leading social change in regards to sustainability through leadership projects and internships. We encourage students with financial need to apply for an Ecolab Scholarship to receive up to $1,750 in funding (depending on credits enrolled) for your internship.

Spring 2021

Spring 2021

HECUA Environmental Sustainability Program - Prof. Michelle Garvey

Environmental Sustainability Program: Apply environmental justice studies to real world case studies and systems thinking. Partner with over 50 experts transforming communities and restoring ecosystems. 16 credits, hybrid online & outdoor education. See https://hecua.org/study-usa/environmental-sustainability/ for more!

ARTS W3206 Art and Ecology - Prof. Sean Connaughty

Ecology is the house we live in. Ecology is creativity. Ecology is complex, adaptable and ever changing. The diverse beauty of our planet was crafted over eons through improvisation and experimentation. We as humans are a part of the web of life that sustains the Earth, but we are also the cause of imminent ecological collapse. Our brief history as a species contains the lessons of human hubris in our belief that we could dominate and control natural systems, not realizing that we were destroying the very web of life needed for our own survival. Human history also contains the example of Indigenous cultures living in balanced reciprocity for millennia. I believe Humans are both the cause and the solution to our conundrum. I believe human creativity is now essential to repairing our fragmented ecology and tattered social fabric. Like ecology, art is an expression of creativity. So here we stand, in this time, at the cusp of great transformations. Art and artists are leading the way to real transformation. Join me, Interdisciplinary artist Sean Connaughty, as we add to our collective knowledge base and imagine new ways to address our conundrum through the practice of art. Hybrid in person and online instruction. We will be adaptive to developing circumstances with utmost care in using safe social distancing practices.

HIST 1365 Global Tourism and the Environment from the Late 18th Century to the Present - Prof. Igor Tchoukarine

Tourism has become a truly global phenomenon, one with far-reaching environmental, social, economic, and cultural impacts, raising complex ethical questions. In HIST 1365, students will investigate these issues through an examination of the history of tourism and its growing importance. We will ask how this “smokeless” industry has impacted the environment and transformed natural landscapes since the late 18th century, and we will examine how and why relationships between people involved with tourism (e.g., tourists, or other figures in the tourism industry, such as entrepreneurs, state planners, doctors, engineers or other scientists) and the environment evolved over time. This class will not be limited to one specific region, although it will primarily focus on seashores, seas, rivers, and other large bodies of water.

SOC 4305 Environment & Society: An Enduring Conflict - Prof. Jeffrey Broadbent

SOC 4305 Environment & Society: An Enduring Conflict. Studies three aspects of the relationship between human society and the ecosystem: the material (environmental/economic issues); the ideal (ideological issues); and the practical (political/movement issues). The interaction of these three aspects explains much about why humans are destroying their environment (with an emphasis on climate change) and what can be done to save it.

GCC 3025 Seeking the Good Life at the End of the World: Sustainability in the 21st Century - Profs. Daniel Philippon & Jessica Hellman

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: 1. By providing an overview of sustainability science, both what it says about about human and natural systems and how it comes to make these claims 2. By examining various conceptions of the good life, both individual and social, and how they intersect with the findings of sustainability science 3. 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 4. 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. This is a Grand Challenge Curriculum course.

ENGL 3501 Public Discourse: Coming to Terms with the Environment - Prof. Daniel Philippon

This course explores significant environmental issues (such as environmental justice, toxic chemicals, climate change) through the analysis of texts from diverse literary genres. It focuses as much on issues of language and meaning as it does on the subjects these texts concern. Students examine the formal dimensions of these texts, as well as their social and historical contexts. In addition, students are introduced to the underlying scientific principles, the limitations of technologies, and the public policy aspects of each of these issues, in order to judge what constitutes an appropriate response to them. Students also learn how to identify and evaluate credible information concerning the environment.

GC 3013 Making Sense of Climate Change: Science, Art, and Agency - Profs. Christine Baeumler & Mike Dockry

Making Sense of Climate Change: Science, Art, and Agency is a course that explores Climate Change issues through the combined approaches of science and art and transformative action. We will also focus on different ways of knowing and a place-based focus. The course will be blended with most classes conducted both synchronous and asynchronous with the hope that there will be several field trip opportunities. The course also meets the LE theme of Civic Life and Ethics. The course is offered at the undergraduate and graduate level. The class will include both creative and academic assignments but no prior experience with art or Climate Science is required to engage successfully with the course.

SCAN 3604W Introduction to Nordic Cinema: Cinematic Ecologies - Prof. Benjamin Bigelow

This course examines cinema from the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sápmi and Sweden), with a particular focus this semester on film as an environmental art. We will examine both how Nordic cultures have traditionally framed themselves within idealized natural landscapes, and how contemporary cinema is grappling with the implications of climate change and other ecological consequences of global industrial development. Watching films from a variety of time periods and in a number of genres, we will pay close attention to the formal qualities of film—cinematography, editing, sound design, etc.—as well as the historical context of each film’s production. As a writing-centered course, students will gain skills in analyzing, critiquing, and writing about moving-image media.

HSCI 1212 Life on Earth: Origins, Evolution, and Ecology - Prof. Susan Jones

This course explores how humans have developed theories and observations over the past 400 years about life on earth. Applying a historical perspective to issues in today's world, we will explore scientific ideas and debates across national boundaries. Specific topics include: origins of life on earth; evolution and natural theology; ecosystems; agricultural and industrial environmental degradation and species regeneration; the Guns, Germs and Steel hypothesis; and disease threats such as avian influenza.

HSCI 1585 Mammoths, Minerals, Monoculture: History of Earth and Environmental Science - Prof. Anna Graber

This course investigates the many ways people across the globe have sought to understand the environment and the earth from antiquity to the present. We will study the context in which the modern earth and environmental sciences emerged, asking throughout the semester what knowledge traditions contributed to the development of the sciences we know today. We will investigate the historical perspectives that shaped three intersecting themes throughout the semester: the questions of geological time and of change in the study of the earth; human use of natural resources in industry and agriculture; and understandings of the earth and environment as a global system. We will examine secondary historical scholarship and primary sources from North and South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia in order to better understand the religious and philosophical stakes of earth and environmental science, the role of empire and state building in the development of geoscience, and the interrelationship of science and industry.

HSEM 2540H Understanding the Russian Land - Prof. 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.

GCC 5501 Knowledge to Impact: Creating Action with your Grand Challenge Project Idea - Prof. Megan Voorhees

Do you want to learn how to design viable solutions to address a complex social or environmental challenge? Are you an undergraduate student interested in taking a course with other motivated students from across the university who care about being changemakers and being mentored by 15 UMN faculty who will be supporting the students in the course? This hands-on course will teach you the skills to take your project to the next level.

COMM 4251 Environmental Communication - Prof. Mark Pedelty

Effective communication helps people create sustainable communities and institutions. Whether you are a citizen concerned about toxins in local lakes, a salesperson marketing biodegradable products, an organizer seeking to combat environmental racism, or a scientist explaining climate change to policy makers, it is essential to know how to communicate clearly, creatively, persuasively, and accurately about environmental issues. 4251 is not just a “how to” course, however, it is also a study of concepts, practices, and theories of environmental communication. Communication is central to functioning ecosystems, communities, and our future. As part of a land grant university, we share a commitment to public lands and clean, safe, just, and biodiverse ecosystems. You will teach us all how to make the University of Minnesota’s land grant rhetoric a lived reality.

COMM 4251 is a field-based and digitally networked learning experience, and was purposefully designed this way, well before COVID-19 hit. Our classroom is a networked collection of field sites chosen by, and explored by, students. Sitting in a classroom would be a step back for this field-based course. You need to be out in the world (or your backyard) to most effectively learn in 4251. You will choose field sites and topics to study and then develop your project in stages with the assistance of the instructor, course readings, a project guide, and help from your classmates. In 4251 you demonstrate that you have learned course concepts and readings by applying them each week creatively, critically, and in the interest of discovery.

To view Institute on the Environment Course Listings, click here.
Fall 2020

Fall 2020

GCC 3027 Power Systems Journey: Making the Invisible Visible and Actionable - Prof. Jonee 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: this class is taught remotely, with optional outdoor field trips (masked, distanced) that will also be available virtually.

CSCL 3322 Visions of Nature: The Natural World and Political Thought - Prof. Tony Brown

As the as sea levels rise, wildfires burn hotter, crops fail and an all-consuming mass extinction threatens, these inescapable environmental problems present fundamental challenges to existing forms of political thought. In the face of climate catastrophe, how will human life and its political forms remain viable? In the first half of this course we will cover (1) the contemporary challenges of climate change and the notion of an Anthropocene, and then survey (2) the ways nature has been conceived in the wider traditions of political thought, from Plato onwards. In the second half, we will expand upon what we have learned by looking closely at (3) the situation of the island nations of Oceania that are disappearing under the waves, and (4) the human’s relation to what it calls nonhuman animals. Join us as we tackle questions of climate change and the environment, political thought and theory, global justice and injustice, and the human and the animal.

GER 3651 Thinking Environment: Green Culture, German Literature and Global Debates - Profs. Charlotte Melin & Ross Etherton

Our relationship to nature is complicated—how can it foster resilience in the face of existential challenges? Can a “two cultures” perspective (humanities + science) help our society envision possible futures? Known as the country of poets and innovative thinkers, Germany now has a reputation for environmentalism. This course (taught in English with German assignments for interested students) explores how literary and non-fiction writing, film, and the arts shapes environmental thinking in German-speaking countries. Across Europe, public concern about well-being is catalyzing social, political, and cultural change. Yet this focus on science, Green party successes, and sustainability has deep historical roots. Romantic writers found inspiration in nature and German scientists pioneered ecology; others, mindful of fascism’s legacies, caution about uncritical glorification of nature. How does this compare with the U.S. and global developments? We’ll start with Faust (a drama by Goethe that begins just after the plague ends), a contemporary novel by Daniel Kehlmann about the early scientist Alexander von Humboldt, and a novella that describes how news of the Chernobyl accident spread. Poetry, a comic book, and current journalism will add to our materials. Assignments include a group project that asks you to translate your learning into real world engagement with environmental issues; graduate students will choose a research path appropriate to their interests.

Spring 2020

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?

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.

HIST 1101W Civilization and the Environment: World History to 1500

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.

HIST 1364 Introduction to Global Environmental History

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

Fall 2019

Fall 2019

GCC 3025 Living the Good Life at the End of the World: Sustainability in the Anthropocene

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 Power Systems Journey: Making the Invisible Visible and Actionable

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. 

GER 3651 Environmental Thinking: Green Culture, German Literature, and Global Debates

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 Nature's History: Science, Humans, and the Environment

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

Spring 2019

ALL 3468 Environment, Technology and Culture in Modern Japan

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

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 Power Systems Journey: Making the Invisible Visible and Actionable

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. 

GER 3651 Environmental Thinking: Green Culture, German Literature, and Global Debates

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

HIST 1364 Introduction to Global Environmental History

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

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

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

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

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