Seminar Details

Yellowstone Hot Spring

The daily format for the seminar employs morning presentations and discussions, afternoon activities, and regular sharing of work (for the daily seminar schedule click here). This structure will engage participants in a range of group and individual learning experiences.  There will be ample opportunity for critical inquiry, reflection, and the development and sharing of plans and ideas for the classroom.  Each day’s curriculum will revolve around a new primary source, accompanying critical scholarship, and a presentation and discussion led by one of the project co-directors or a featured scholar.  The themes of the seminar are as follows.


Introduction: “Living (or not) in the Material World” (Day 1)

This first session introduces the participants to one another and to Carroll College, and enables the co-directors to begin identifying the personal and professional goals of each participant.  It also sets a context for the seminar that invites critical inquiry and collegial dialogue.  Questions to be discussed include:

  • What is the current state of our cultural discourse about the environment?
  • Do you perceive a rift between the humanities and sciences on the topic of the environment?
  • Can or should the humanities inspire affection for the natural world?


Theme One: “Exploring Origins” (Days 2-3)

This theme will explore the participants’ previous understandings of the biblical creation stories and the tensions that emerge between the intentions of their ancient authors and their contemporary use in conversations about the environment and its protection.  Mike Jetty, a local Native American educator will also introduce participants to Native American creation stories.  Comparing and contrasting these two traditions, participants will explore the following questions:

  • What roles can written and oral traditions play in transmitting cultural meaning on the topic of human relationships to the natural world?
  • What are the cultural risks of privileging one form of storytelling over another?


Theme Two: “Nature and Commerce - Literary and Musical Explorations” (Days 4-5)

Having explored stories of our origins, we turn our attention to commerce, arguably the most important factor shaping our ongoing relationship to nature.  We examine Charles Dickens’ use of his Victorian physical environment as a metaphor for the environmental impact of industrialization; we pair the novel Hard Times with a visit to Butte, a former mining capital. We hope to consider how artistic representations of place explore the relationship between nature and forces that seek to use it for commercial ends..  We also listen to a number of musical pieces, most significantly a contemporary percussive symphony by John Luther Adams, in outdoor settings to explore the ways in which art not only represents place, but also creates landscapes in ways that might challenge our understanding of the relationship between nature, artistic production, and commercial success.  Some of the questions that we will explore include:

  • Can a Victorian novel invite its readers into a conversation with contemporary science?
  • Can geography impact the meaning that we draw from music?
  • Can music impact how we define a sense of place?
  • Can commercial interests impact how we think about the role of nature and our relationship to it?


Theme Three: “Wilderness Bounded and Unbounded” (Days 6-7)

In this session the photography of Ansel Adams and the poetry of Melissa Kwasny will serve as catalysts to probe the complexities of what we mean by the term “wilderness” in America. Can there ever be a true wilderness untouched by human contact?  This session will explore this and other questions.  

  • Have photographers like Ansel Adams influenced our perceptions of wilderness?
  • Do the politics of western settlement and race impact how we think about wilderness?
  • Can we protect the wilderness while encouraging tourism at the same time?
  • Can the humanities inspire reflection about how we give meaning to nature and how it gives meaning to us?


Theme Four: “We versus Us” (Days 8-9)

Fiction and film serve as our guides to investigate the tensions between our own consumptive habits and our desires to protect the environment.  Through Jonathan Franzen’s novel Freedom, we will examine urban and rural conceptions of place and space. We will also view the film Princess Mononoke, which treats the impacts of supernatural forces on a mythical landscape, to raise questions about how our cultural settings influence how we think about environmental deterioration.  Further questions will explore the following:

  • Have American notions of Manifest Destiny shaped the way we think about our relationship with nature?  
  • Can human beings have an existential relationship to the environment?
  • What does a visual dimension add to the conversation about our relationship with nature?


Open Inquiry (Day 10)

For this final day on the Carroll College campus participants will have the opportunity to use the Carroll College library and other local research outlets to prepare curricula and lesson plans.  


Bringing It All Together in Yellowstone National Park (Days 11-14)

The remainder of the seminar will take place 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 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.  For the final day, participants will have their own time in the park for reflection and for continuing work on their curricular projects.