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Help Wanted: Must Be Environmentally Literate

Professor of English Doug Richards’ goal is to get an environmental studies program—“be it a concentration, minor or major”—started at Keuka.

That’s why he “spent five months in the Middlebury (Vt.) College library—which has one of the leading programs in environmental studies in the country—and in the woods, learning more about my home ground” during his sabbatical last semester.

“Environmental studies are a multi-disciplinary approach to the study of environment,” said Richards. “There would be some focus on literature, some on environmental science, and some on social policy/law/economics. It’s an opportunity for different disciplines to talk to each other.”

Richards attended the second annual Environmental Studies Summit in Syracuse in June along with Associate Professor of Criminology/Criminal Justice and Sociology Regi Teasley. Associate Professor of Biology Kasey Kingensmith, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion Mike McKenzie and Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Science Tim Sellers have also expressed an interest in an establishing an environmental studies program at Keuka.

“We are going to see an explosion of careers requiring people to be environmentally literate,” said Richards. “People in public relations for business and industry will have to answer, ‘What is the impact of what you are doing?’ Schools, government, law, and social advocacy groups will all be trying to figure out how to fix the problem and they will need people with expertise in environmental studies.”

Richards also sought to deepen his knowledge of ecocritical approaches to literature during his sabbatical.

“Environmental studies started with scientists and social scientists looking at how the sciences can help us to better understand the environment,” said Richards. “The humanities involvement is about exploring how, in art, we can represent our relationship with the environment. It’s about identifying what questions get raised, what questions we should explore, and what those questions have to do with the environment.”

In addition to reading “a lot” of books and writing papers, Richards “started looking at how I wanted to operate in the world [of ecocriticism], how I could contribute to the effort of trying to explore the relationship between environmental concern and literature.”

Since much of the ecocriticism he’s come across is “American literature-centered,” the College’s Shakespeare expert thought it only natural that he focus on British literature and Shakespeare, specifically.

He presented a paper he wrote, “‘Though the Seas Threaten’: An Ecocrtitical Reading of Shakespeare’s The Tempest,” at the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment conference at Rawford College (S.C.) in mid-June. This marked the fourth time in the past several years that Richards has participated in the conference.

Between his research and networking with others interested in ecocriticism, many of whom he met at the conference, Richards “learned a lot and had so many good ideas to bring back to the classroom.”

One of those ideas was for students in his English 110 class.

“I had them observe various objects found in nature such as leaves, flowers, plants, bird nests,” said Richards. “I asked them to describe what they saw and what the significance is as a jumping off place for the first assignment: writing an observation/reflection paper.

“Engaging the world is going to be the broader thematic pull throughout the course,” added Richards, who said students will also be asked to write a comparison paper and mini-research paper, which might cover such topics as “nature deficit, climate change, sustainability, and energy alternatives.”

Environmental concerns will also play a roll in his English 112 class in the spring. Never Cry Wolf, The Laramie Project, and An Enemy of the People are on the list of readings.

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