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.
Christy Tidwell is Associate Professor of English & Humanities. You can learn more about her research and teaching at her website.
What’s your area of expertise? What do you primarily research and/or teach? And what drew you to this field?
I typically research and write about speculative fiction, environment, and gender. My dissertation was about feminist science fiction and feminist science, for instance, and since then I’ve co-edited and written for two books on speculative fiction and the environment: Gender and Environment in Science Fiction and Fear and Nature: Ecohorror Studies in the Anthropocene. I have an ongoing interest in dinosaurs in popular culture, especially as dinosaur stories relate to ideas about extinction, and I also sometimes write about Black film/media and disability.
In my work on science fiction – whether related to environmental issues, gender, race, or disability – I look at how we respond to the problems in the present and how we might imagine different possibilities in the future. In my work on horror – again, no matter which of these issues I’m addressing – I look at how our fears (for instance, fears of the natural world or fears for the natural world) shape our lives.
I often teach a general education Humanities course (HUM 200, officially titled Connections: Humanities and Technology) on the topic of “Automatic Art.” As a Humanities class, we study representative elements from the entire range of arts and letters:
Those are representative examples of the coursework – but what is “Automatic Art”? The term doesn’t actually have much reality outside of my course. (Frustrated students will often turn to the surrealist technique of Automatic Writing, which does exist, but has little bearing on the collection of objects we study.) I like to tell students that “automatic art” is equivalent to “taking the human out of art,” but what does that actually mean?
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.