By Monica Sager
On March 18 A New Earth Conversation (NEC) hosted a climate dialogue campus-wide to bring together students, staff, faculty, and administration to share a common concern for the global climate crisis. During a second round of panels, English professor Steve Levin joined Jessica Bane-Robert, the Director of Prestigious Fellowships and Scholarships, as well as IDCE professor Morgan Ruelle to discuss “Environmental Humanities.”
“I think it’s an important time to explore the importance of the humanities in this field,” Levin said. “
Levin specializes in contemporary British and postcolonial literature, transnational cultural studies, and critical and literary theory. He focuses on conditions of the self and has touted classes around imaging globalization recently.
He mentioned in the talk the founding of the Association for the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment 30 years ago, which he called “one of the most vibrant” studies of the environmental humanities.
Bane-Robert said that she was brought up “close to the earth” and that the topic is important to her because the planet is home to us all, so we must care for it. Ruelle truly agreed with this sentiment.
For Levin, this plays into his study abroad experience in Nepal where he saw connections with nature that he “was already regarding as capitalist modernity.”
“A lot of that year was about maturing in my perspective and becoming dis-amused about that romantic fallacy,” Levin said.
However the three panelists agreed that the way to tell the connections and relationships to the earth go back to the idea of stories.
“I think storytelling and humanities, whether they be reportage or ethnographies or science fiction, can illuminate the human and environment connection and issues that we’re all facing,” Bane-Robert said. “It’s very complex. They can touch us all in a very interesting way. Storytelling can bridge the gaps.”
Ruelle – who studies human ecology, biocultural diversity, food systems, and climate adaptation, among other ecological developments – said that relationships with the earth are material and non-material. They can be understood in the perspectives of humanities and sciences but also from the views of “other ways of knowing.”
“I think the story is so important,” Ruelle said. “It’s actually more important in science than we often think of. It’s a storytelling endeavor.”
For this reason, the three wanted to really bridge the often looming gapping between humanities and science.
“The gap between humanities and science is often not important in many contexts,” Ruelle said. “It’s an artifact of our academic contexts in many ways…We absolutely need perspectives from the sciences and from the humanities but also these other ways of being to tackle these real complex problems.”
Levin has taught a seminar course a few times called “Ecology of Crisis,” in which the students start with the idea of two different spheres of knowledge: humanities and science.
“One key move that we make at the beginning of the course is to explore how that has been rectify and how humanities and sciences have really been regarded as encouraging rather than entirely separate discrete fields of knowledge,” Levin said.
At Clark, many students take multiple disciplines through the Program of Libral Studies (PLS), which encourages them to learn through diverse connections throughout a variety of subjects. Students hopefully gain a more broad understanding of the world and make more connections with their knowledge throughout the practicality of their explorations.
“It’s important for students to take these courses and gain insights from different perspectives,” Ruelle said, “I think another way of thinking about it though is that students that are trained in one set of disciplines can offer something in another discipline. We’re really happy when students in the humanities take our classes in the sciences.”
Levin mentioned how different ways of thinking can make people feel more empowered with their choices.
“It’s important to be mindful of the way we’re using the words like ‘crisis’ and ‘disaster’ without allowing students to think about the world that they do want to live in and how they want to contribute to that,” Bane-Robert said.
Clark’s motto of “challenge convention, change our world” came up in the sense that students would be able to disempower oil industries, for example if they think differently than them by having changed the relationships and understandings to the environments around them.
“It’s not all about students consuming information from different instructors,” Ruelle said. “It’s about students contributing to those classrooms.”