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Environmental Studies


Core Faculty:

William Edelglass (Philosophy)

Matt Ollis (Mathematics)

Jenny Ramstetter (Biology)

Todd Smith (Chemistry & Biochemistry)

Jaime Tanner (Biology)


Affiliated Faculty:

Adam Franklin-Lyons (History)

Seth Harter (Asian Studies)

Amer Latif (Religion)

Meg Mott (Political Theory)

Jean O'Hara (Theater)

Kate Ratcliff (American Studies)

Tim Segar (Visual Arts/Sculpture and Ecological Design)

Thomas Toleno (Pyschology)

Additional faculty who have co-sponsored environmental studies Plans:
Gloria Biamonte (Writing and Literature), Cathy Osman (Visual Arts/Painting), Lynette Rummel (Politics, African Studies), John Sheehy (Writing and Literature), John Willis (Photography).

Philosophy and Goals

  1. Perhaps more so than in any other field, students must be broadly trained in all four areas of the liberal arts curriculum as detailed in our Areas of Engagement.
  2. On the advanced level, students can approach environmental studies from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. For example, issues surrounding tropical deforestation include those that are biological, cultural, political and economic. While it is not possible to become expert in all these areas, the trick is to be based broadly enough to spot all the potential concerns and to be based deeply enough in several areas to offer reasonable solutions.
  3. An experiential component is expected to be completed during Plan. While this component may be for varying academic credit, we currently do not have a minimum number of credits. Examples include internships, field research, community engagement or service, and participation in a travel program led by Marlboro faculty.
  4. Students wishing to complete a Plan in environmental studies must have one of the program faculty listed above as the major sponsor. These faculty have agreed to participate in this program to insure that students focus in the junior and particularly the senior years on specific problems using specific analytical methods. Students are strongly encouraged to have more than one Plan sponsor. Many other members of the faculty offer courses and tutorials in direct support of environmental studies Plans, and many topics in environmental studies can be addressed through Plans in other fields.

Students should work closely with faculty advisors and prospective Plan sponsors to choose appropriate courses, especially in the first two years.

Areas of Interest for Plan-level Work:

  • Energy
  • Human-environment interactions: political, ecological and economic
  • Alternative agriculture
  • Landscape design
  • Social issues, environmental conflicts
  • Environmental literature
  • Sculpture and green building
  • Environmental justice

Expected Areas of Engagement

I. Ecological Processes and Principles

Key Competencies: Through studies in this area, students understand the biological foundations of ecological principles and ecosystem processes. The courses in this area will also develop an understanding of scientific methods in the natural sciences, including the collection, analysis and discussion of scientific data.

Sample Courses (not meant to be comprehensive)

    • Ecological sustainability
    • General biology
    • General biology laboratory
    • General chemistry
    • General chemistry laboratory on biofuels
    • Animal behavior
    • Genetic variation
    • General ecology
    • General ecology laboratory

II. Policy, Power and Inequality

Key Competencies: Students learn the persistent social and economic challenges that underpin issues of environmental justice and resource usage. Courses in this area also develop an understanding of methods in the social sciences.

Sample Courses (not meant to be comprehensive)

    • Topics in environmental history
    • China’s Problems Since Mao
    • Food and culture
    • Theories of development
    • Race, class and gender
    • Environmental sociology
    • Inequality and ‘natural’ disasters
    • Gender and globalization
    • Wildlife policy, law and values
    • Environmental economics and policy
    • Perceptions of the environment
    • Who owns the land?
    • Economics for the 99%
    • Food, waste and justice

III. Nature and Culture

Key Competencies: Students study the interplay between culture and nature, civilization and wilderness. An understanding of humanities-based inquiry is developed through research and discussion.

Sample Courses (not meant to be comprehensive)

    • Literature of energy
    • Environmental philosophy
    • History of famine
    • Political theory and environmental crisis
    • History of food
    • Consumer culture in historical perspective
    • Culture and Ecology of the Western U.S. Wilderness
    • Writing like a mountain

IV. Expression and Communication

Key Competencies: Students learn through close observation of place and our relationship to the natural and built environment. Furthermore, courses in this area practice modes of expression ranging from the written word to visual arts.

Sample Courses (not meant to be comprehensive)

    • Public art
    • Landscape painting
    • Site-specific sculpture
    • Science writing
    • Plants of Vermont (Cathy Osman & Jenny Ramstetter)
    • Photo 1
    • Drawing 1
    • Regenerative design
    • Green architecture
    • Water (John Willis)

Starting Points (Basic and Introductory Courses)

This is a foundational course in the environmental studies program and is designed to introduce students to key environmental issues and concepts in a broad and interdisciplinary context. Faculty from across the curriculum will cover topics that include, but are not limited to, land use, ecology, famine, biodiversity, environmental economics, environmental ethics, art and religion. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | 4 credits

In our Environmental Mission Statement we commit to “using energy efficiently and resources wisely.” Do we? How do we know? In this course we critically compare different methods of assessing environmental impact and dig into the data to evaluate our performance. Through a combination of guest speakers and hands-on activities we range across many topics within sustainability at every level of the Marlboro community. These topics include energy, waste, food, transport, forestry and greenhouse gas emissions. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 3

Sustainability is a widely used term suggesting the ability of a system to maintain itself or a process to continue indefinitely. In this course, we will examine the ecological basis of sustainability and explore questions such as: Is sustainable development a contradictory phrase? Can any system that humans use or create be sustainable? How can we evaluate the relative sustainability of systems? We will include topics such as sustainable agriculture and forestry and topics of your choice. Although numerous disciplines study the concept of sustainability, we will approach sustainability from a biological perspective. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4
This course is an introduction to prominent questions and themes in environmental philosophy. We will begin with a study of moral and metaphysical approaches to philosophical questions of animals, nature and the place of human beings in the environment. Then we will consider a number of related issues in environmental philosophy, including questions of place, food and agriculture, biodiversity, technology, consumption, economics, education, ecojustice, wilderness, environmental aesthetics and the role of philosophy in the context of environmental crisis. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

How can non-specialists make sense of today’s revolutionary advances in technology, mobility, food production and more? In this class, we’ll examine how popular science writers such as Michael Pollan and Elizabeth Kolbert “translate” technical information into stories that anybody can understand and find
compelling. We’ll look at a variety of texts that repackage scientific knowledge into accessible, jargon-free narratives, practicing our own hand along the way. Our class is centered on the goal of clear communication driven by curiosity. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

Pursuing Interests (Intermediate and Thematic Courses)

An examination of the changes occurring in the earth’s atmosphere and climate, both short and long term, and due to natural as well as anthropogenic causes. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

In this course, we will survey a number of famines and food shortages from ancient Rome to modern Africa, looking at the changing nature of famines throughout history as well as some persistent similarities. The course will investigate the human and natural causes of famine, the experience of starvation and economic displacement and the attempts by governments and individuals to avoid and ameliorate shocks to the food supply. Particular attention will be paid to economic and social theories of famine and how they affect historical interpretation and modern food aid. Previous coursework in history, economics or political science helpful but not required. Prerequisite: Permission of instructor     Intermediate | Credits: 4

Our engagement with wildlife ranges from visiting Sea World, to hunting deer, to supporting conservation organizations, to caring deeply about rare species we will never see. How can we make sense of the diverse ways in which people value and act toward wildlife? How, through custom, law and policy, can we manage the terms on which wild animals are pursued and protected? This course will address such topics as the U.S. Endangered Species Act, community-based wildlife management, market and non-market valuation and the ecology of environmental organizations. Prerequisite: Permission of instructor     Intermediate | Credits: 4

An exploration of major environmental themes and issues in U.S. History, from colonial times to the present. The inquiry is organized around a series of case studies that address such issues as land and land-use control, water resources, wildlife and the environmental movement. Prerequisite: Sophomore standing or permission of instructor     Intermediate | Credits: 4

This course examines changing ideas about land, competing claims over rights to land and resulting patterns of land use and land-use control, primarily in the U.S. The course offers an historical overview but focuses primarily on topics of contemporary interest: zoning, eminent domain, and land-use planning (examining the case of Marlboro, VT); the “public-private” divide and the “wise use” movement; the tragedy of the commons; patterns of human settlement; and economic geography. Prerequisite: Previous work in social science or environmental studies, or permission of instructor     Intermediate | Credits: 4

This course surveys the current state of the natural environment, develops a conceptual framework for understanding the environmental choices that face us, and examines the policy setting within which those choices are presently made. Although primary focus is on the U.S., considerable attention is paid to global problems and policies. A fifth credit may be earned by preparation of a substantial term paper applying the perspectives of the course to a policy issue. Prerequisite: Previous work in social science or environmental studies, or permission of instructor     Intermediate | Credits: 4

This course includes three distinct but interrelated segments: (1) an examination of how people in different cultures classify plants and animals; (2) a study of contemporary and historical events in the Americas in
which resource consumption, environmental destruction and native land rights are linked; and (3) a brief survey of medical anthropology, the study of medical belief systems within particular cultural contexts. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

An examination of several major factors that contribute to the distribution and abundance of organisms and, hence, to the structure of biotic communities. An emphasis will be placed on the original literature. This course should be taken by all students with a life-science orientation in the environmental sciences. Prerequisite: College-level biology     Intermediate | Credits: 3

In this lab we will take a hands-on approach to learning important concepts discussed in the General Ecology class. You will be introduced to the methods that ecologists use to design, carry out and analyze research. Prerequisite: Concurrent enrollment in General Ecology (NSC140)    Intermediate | Credits: 2

Political theorists often write in times of crisis. When states are at war, when corruption rules supreme, political theorists step back and write down their thoughts. How can we live together? How should we organize our needs? What responsibility do we have to others? From Plato to Foucault, political theorists have wondered how we might better govern ourselves. This class considers the writings of prominent political theorists in the context of our current ecological crisis. The end of cheap oil will require new mechanisms for generating wealth and new arrangements for taking care of our basic needs. But it won’t necessarily require new concepts. The goals for the class are two-fold: one will be to gain familiarity with classic texts in political theory; the other will be to apply those ideas to our current ecological crisis. This class will qualify students to apply for participation in the Certificate in Nonprofit Management course to be offered in Spring 2012. Prerequisite: None  Introductory | Credits: 4

Science is a process, not a collection of facts. In this laboratory we will combine the study of chemistry with the process of science by exploring the production of biofuels. We will begin by developing some basic quantitative skills and familiarity with laboratory techniques. The activities for these early parts of the lab will be fairly structured. As you develop your ability to approach a problem scientifically, the activities will be less structured and you will have more responsibility for designing and conducting your own experiments on the production and analysis of biofuels. Students will work on projects in groups but each student will keep their own laboratory notebook and write their own laboratory reports. Prerequisite: Concurrent enrollment in General Chemistry I     Introductory | Credits: 2

The nonprofit sector includes museums, international aid agencies, colleges, environmental NGOs, foundations, cooperatives, homeless shelters, youth groups, community development organizations, research institutions and health clinics, among others, but not all such organizations. And why these? This course surveys the political economy of nonprofit organizations in the U.S. and around the world, their diversity and scope, reason for being, sources of support and role in policy-making. Course readings will be supplemented by individual research projects. Prerequisite: Permission of instructor
Intermediate | Credits: 4

This course will cover ideas of taste and choices of cuisine as they affected events and cultural change over the last millennium as well as the tools historians have used to study the history of food. European and American history will be the focus, but we will also explore a selection of other global cuisines. Different societies and historical eras all had their own styles and preferences and these brought about trade links, conquests, global reorganizations and shifts in both aesthetic and material culture. We will also ask what the study of “high” culture food can tell us about the cultural life of both the past and our own society. Some cooking will be involved     Intermediate | Credits: 4

The objective of this class is to learn about the biology behind many of today’s social issues, including antibiotic resistance, infectious diseases, stem cell research, environmental land use and climate change. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

Everyone lives someplace, but how people conceive of where they live differs according to particular cultural senses of space and place. In this course we will draw on readings from a number of world areas to consider how spaces may be embodied, engendered, inscribed, torn apart, crossed and drawn together; how people relate to different places experientially and expressively; and how different places reflect and help create—or problematize—people’s identities. An integral part of the class will be student-conducted fieldwork on course-related topics. Prerequisite: Coursework in the social sciences     Intermediate | Credits: 4

A study of the physiology and psychology of perception, the means by which we maintain contact with and obtain knowledge about the environment. Participants will be required to conduct a series of empirical projects throughout the semester. Prerequisite: A year of psychology, sociology or biology, or permission of instructor     Intermediate | Credits: 4

The core of this course will be working outside directly from observation, investigating our perception of the landscape through experimentation with various approaches and materials. Initially we will use drawing materials moving into water-based materials and color. Emphasis will be placed on individual response supported by directed assignments. Periodically we will frame our work towards environmental issues. Prerequisite: None     Intermediate | Credits: 4

“You are what you eat” is a commonly heard phrase, but what are some of the meanings and implications of this statement? How might these be examined cross-culturally? In this class we will consider a range of topics including food practices and gustatory meaning systems, food and the body, the political economy of what people eat, domesticating tastes and food and globalization. Case studies will be drawn from around the world, and the class will provide opportunities for local fieldwork. Prerequisite: None     Introductory | Credits: 4

This course explores the historical development of U.S. consumer cultures from 1890 to the present. Topics to be covered include the development of the department store and the rise of the advertising industry, the democratization of consumption in the post-WWII era, and the impact of consumerism on contemporary urban space. Particular emphasis on the politics of consumption over time and on how consumer cultures shape the social construction of identities. Prerequisite: None     Intermediate | Credits: 4

A course designed to investigate the problem of the rapidly accelerating rate of extinction and habitat destruction. The emphasis will be on how principles in ecology and genetics can be used effectively in conserving biological diversity. Prerequisite: General Biology or permission of instructor     Intermediate | Credits: 4

Sample Tutorial Topics

  • Agriculture, Population and Climate Change
  • Green Politics: from Movement to Party
  • Agroforestry
  • Landscape Design and Drafting
  • Exploring Social-Environmental Conflicts Through Film Discussions
  • Environmental Perspectives in Contemporary American Poetry
  • Green Building Materials, Methods and Meaning