My Environmental Ethics & STEM class asks big questions about knowledge, values, justice, and responsibility – both individual and systemic – related to environmental issues. Although I try to situate these conversations in specific, real-world examples, they can still sometimes seem abstract or beyond the scale of my students’ reach. They may wonder what they can do to address climate change, for instance, or to change corporate policy.
But they can, of course, make a difference, and we look for ways to identify the actions they can take (again, not just individually but within larger contexts). In the meantime, to help connect us more fully to the environment, this semester I asked my students to plant seeds and to do their best to grow them and keep them alive. It’s my hope that working to protect and nurture one small plant will give the class a personal connection that issues of pollution, plastics, or water rights may not always have.
“Agrarian” is a loaded term. Literature scholar M. Thomas Inge notes that it is most commonly associated with independence and self-sufficiency, as well as long-running tensions between tradition and industry, community, and agriculture as a “positive spiritual good” (xiv). Americans are likely to associate it with Thomas Jefferson’s oft-quoted line from Notes on the State of Virginia: “Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God, if ever he had a chosen people, whose breasts he has made his peculiar deposit for substantial and genuine virtue.”
But the history of agrarianism isn’t all community and virtue. From the Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s to the Tractorcades of the 1970s, farmers in the United States have drawn on agrarian rhetoric to protest commodity prices, foreclosures, corporate control, and more. This line of protest is seen around the world as well, from multiple movements for migrant worker rights to the ongoing farmer protests in India.
In Spring 2022, I am teaching a topics class on Agrarian Protest (ENGL 392) that will examine a broad swath of these protests. Since I’m a rhetorician, we’ll pay particular attention to the communicative and persuasive discourse of these movements, through examination of both primary and secondary sources. Ultimately, I expect that students will be surprised by the sheer diversity of voices in the last century-and-a-half of agrarian protest. It is easy to assume that farmers’ political interests are simple, unified, and consistent across time. The truth is far more complex and – dare I say – radical.
So in the (apocryphal) words of 1880s reformer Mary Elizabeth Lease, “it’s time to raise less corn, and more hell!”
What is nature? What do you imagine when you think of nature? What are the qualities of nature (better yet, of Nature with a capital N)?
Pause now and think about that for a minute.
What is the image of Nature you hold in your mind? Picture it.
Did you imagine something like that? Maybe not that exact image, but something similar? If so, consider this response more fully. What are the qualities of this representation of nature? It’s beautiful. It has lots of elements of the natural world (I know, that seems circular, but stick with me), like trees, mountains, a lake. It’s pure and untouched. It’s wild. Notably, there are no humans in this image.
Today marks the end of the first week back to class for South Dakota Mines, and the STS faculty are hard at work in their classes and enjoying meeting students! We are teaching classes on Environmental Ethics & STEM (HUM 250 with me), Computers in Society (HUM 375 with Dr. Erica Haugtvedt), E-sports (HUM 376 with Dr. John Dreyer), History and Philosophy of Science (PHIL 335 with Dr. Michael Hudgens), Terror & Horror (ENGL 392 with Dr. Laura Kremmel), and Licit and Illicit Drugs (SOC 411 with Dr. Kayla Pritchard) – plus many others! As this list of courses indicates, STS covers a lot of ground. It needs to, given its promise to study science, technology, and society, and there are countless ways to approach the field and the topics it includes.
In addition to Environmental Ethics & STEM (mentioned above), I am also teaching Connections: Humanities & Technology (HUM 200) this semester, which is a great illustration of what the STS major is all about. Since the course description and title are pretty broad, I’ve narrowed things down to focus on the following big questions:
1. How do we communicate with each other? 2. How do we design and build the places we live?
In response to these questions we will explore communication technologies from paper and books to social media, film, and robots, and we will consider urban design issues like curb cuts and plumbing, historical and contemporary ideas about what a home looks like, and what the city of the future could look like.