Seminar Details

Yellowstone Hot Spring

The seminar uses a mixture of presentations, discussions, activities, and field trips to engage participants in a range of group and individual learning experiences. There is ample opportunity for critical inquiry, reflection, and sharing of plans and ideas for the classroom. Each day’s curriculum centers on a new primary source, accompanying critical scholarship, and a presentation and discussion led by one of the project co-directors or a featured scholar. For the daily seminar schedule and an outline of readings click here.

The themes of the seminar are:

Introduction: A Failure of Imagination? 

An examination of the role the humanities can play in discussions about nature and the environment, paying particular attention to the relationship between the humanities and natural sciences. Informing our discussion is Wendell Berry's suggestion that our discussions of nature are plagued by a "failure of imagination" which precludes our having proper "affection" for nature and which the huamanities can remedy. 

Theme One: Exploring Origins

An examination of the power origin stories have to determine how we understand our place in nature and the affection we have for it. We look specifically to the biblical creation stories in Genesis and their reception, various origin stories from Native American oral traditions, and an early Darwinian account to explore the implications origin stories have for our relationship to nature.  

Theme Two: Defining Nature 

Having explored stories of our origins, we consider what is at stake in various conceptions of nature. We look at how a range of authors and communities have navigated the tension between viewing nature as somehow "other" than the human and viewing nature as bound up with the human experience (what we might call the human "environment"). We analyze what it means to view nature as resource, as wilderness,  and as medium for self-understanding. We stress the need to evaluate our conceptions of nature to determine whether and what kind of affection we should have for it.  

Theme Three: Imagining a Way Forward

Returning to Berry's claim regarding our "failure of imagination," we ask whether our consideration of various humanities disciplines has put us in better position to "imagine" new possibilities for living together among competing conceptions of nature. To aid our discussion, we visit a small Montana community to see how it has balanced its competing desire to benefit from and care for nature. We will also explore how strategies employed in philosophical dialogue and in cinematic storytelling can aid us in figuring out what proper "affection" for nature should be.  

Theme Four: Bringing It All Together in Yellowstone National Park 

The third week of the seminar is held at the Yellowstone Studies Center in West Yellowstone, MT, and in Yellowstone National Park.  During this time participants will tour the park with an environmental scientist as well as a Native American educator to explore the ecology of Yellowstone National Park, its relationship with the surrounding communities, and the impact of the park’s founding on the Native relationship with the land it contains. Our time in Yellowstone is a case study for the ideas and themes discussed throughout the seminar, drawing together our examinations of origin stories, of competing conceptions of commercial and untrammeled nature, and of how we imagine a future in a time of increased economic pressure and growing ecological awareness.