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Courses

The following information is from the 2018-19 Vassar College Catalogue.

Environmental Studies: I. Introductory

100 Earth Resource Challenges 1

(Same as ESCI 100, ESSC 100, and GEOG 100) This course combines the insights of the natural and social sciences to address a topic of societal concern. Geographers bring spatial analysis of human environmental change, while Earth scientists contribute their knowledge of the diverse natural processes shaping the Earth's surface. Together, these distinctive yet complementary fields contribute to comprehensive understandings of the physical limitations and potentials, uses and misuses of the Earth's natural resources. Each year the topic of the course changes to focus on selected resource problems facing societies and environments around the world. When this course is team-taught by faculty from Earth Science and Geography, it serves as an introduction to both disciplines.

Open only to first-year students; satisfies college requirement for a First-Year Writing Seminar.

Not offered in 2018/19.

Two 75-minute periods.

107 Global Change and Sustainability 1Semester Offered: Spring

This class offers an interdisciplinary introduction to the climate, ecosystem and sustainability principles needed to understand human impact on the natural environment. We discuss the issue of global change prediction and the scientific basis for global change assessments and policy measures. Key topics are the physical climate system and its variability, the carbon cycle and related ecosystem processes, land use issues, nutrient cycles, and the impact of global change on society. Common threads in all of these topics include the use of observations and models, the consideration of multiple scales (temporal and spatial), the interaction of human behaviors and choices with natural systems, and the linkages among aspects of the global change issue. Alison Spodek.

Two 75-minute periods.

124 Essentials of Environmental Science 1Semester Offered: Fall

A lecture/laboratory course in which basic topics in environmental biology, geology, and chemistry are covered with examples from current environmental issues used to illustrate the application and interdisciplinary nature of these fields. This course treats the following topics: energy sources and waste products, atmospheric patterns and climate, biogeochemical cycles, properties of soils and water, and ecological processes. Using these topics as a platform, this course examines the impact humanity has on the environment and discusses strategies to diminish those effects. The laboratory component includes field trips, field investigations, and laboratory exercises. Kirsten Menking.

Two 75-minute periods; one 4-hour laboratory.

125 Environmentalisms in Perspective 1Semester Offered: Fall and Spring

This multidisciplinary course examines significant approaches to the theory and practice of environmentalisms past and present. Students explore possible connections between the ethical, aesthetic, social, economic, historical, and scientific concerns that comprise environmental studies. The methods of inquiry we follow and the environmentalisms we consider vary among sections. Pinar Batur and Mark Andrews.

Required of students concentrating in the program.

Environmental Studies: II. Intermediate

253 Topics in American Literature 1Semester Offered: Fall

The specific focus of the course varies each year, and may center on a literary movement (e.g., Transcendentalism, the Beats, the Black Mountain School), a single work and its milieu (e.g., Moby-Dick and the American novel, Call It Sleep and the rise of ethnic modernism); a historical period (e.g., the Great Awakening, the Civil War), a region (e.g., Southern literature, the literature of the West), or a genre (e.g., the sentimental-domestic novel, American satire, the literature of travel/migration, American autobiography, traditions of reportage, American environmentalist writing).

Topic for 2018/19a: American Environmentalism: Literature & Ecology. (Same as ENGL 253) This course examines the development of environmental literature, from the classic "nature writing" of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to the emergence of contemporary ecological texts and various theories of ecocriticism. Readings draw from multiple disciplines and feature a wide range of writers, such as Henry David Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Edward Abbey, Leslie Silko, Terry Tempest Williams, Bill McKibben and others. Some local field trips included. Paul Kane.

 

 

Two 75-minute periods.

254 Environmental Science in the Field 1

(Same as GEOG 254) The environment consists of complex and often elegant interactions between various constituents so that an interdisciplinary approach is required to understand how human interactions may affect it. In this course, we study a variety of aspects of a specific environment by considering how biological, chemical, geological, and human factors interact. We observe these interactions first hand during a weeklong field trip. Some of the questions we may consider are: How does a coral polyp create an environment that not only suits its particular species, but also helps regulate the global climate? How has human development and associated water demands in the desert Southwest changed the landscape, fire ecology, and even estuary and fisheries' health as far away as the Gulf of California? How have a variety of species (humans included) managed to survive on an island with the harsh environment of the exposed mid-ocean ridge of Iceland? The course is offered every other year, and topics vary with expertise of the faculty teaching the course.

 

Prerequisite(s): permission of the instructor.

Not offered in 2018/19.

Two 75-minute periods.

258 Environment and Culture in the Caribbean 1

(Same as AFRS 258) The ecology of the islands of the Caribbean has undergone profound change since the arrival of Europeans to the region in 1492. The course traces the history of the relationship between ecology and culture from pre-Columbian civilizations to the economies of tourism. Among the specific topics of discussion are: Arawak and Carib notions of nature and conservation of natural resources; the impact of deforestation and changes in climate; the plantation economy as an ecological revolution; the political implications of the tensions between the economy of the plot and that of the plantation; the development of environmental conservation and its impact on notions of nationhood; the ecological impact of resort tourism; the development of eco-tourism. These topics are examined through a variety of materials: historical documents, essays, art, literature, music, and film. Lisa Paravisini.

Not offered in 2018/19.

Two 75-minute periods.

260 Issues in Environmental Studies 1

The purpose of this course is to examine in depth an issue, problem, or set of issues and problems in environmental studies, to explore the various ways in which environmental issues are embedded in multiple contexts and may be understood from multiple perspectives. The course topic changes from year to year.

Not offered in 2018/19.

Two 75-minute periods.

261 "The Nuclear Cage": Environmental Theory and Nuclear Power 1

(Same as SOCI 261 and INTL 261) The central aim of this course is to explore debates about the interaction between beings, including humans, animals, plants and the earth within the context of advanced capitalism by concentrating on the production, distribution, consumption, and disposal of nuclear power. The first question concerning the class is how does Environmental Theory approach nuclear power and its impact on the environment. The second question deals with how this construction interacts with other forms of debate regarding nuclear power, especially concentrating on the relation between science, market and the state in dealing with nature, and how citizens formulate and articulate their understanding of nuclear power through social movements. Pinar Batur.

Not offered in 2018/19.

266 Racism, Waste and Resistance 1Semester Offered: Fall

(Same as SOCI 266) The 21st century will be defined in the dramatic consequences of the current events and movements regarding our waste: global climate change, pollution, resource depletion, contamination and extinction. One of the most striking and consistent observations is that racism plays a major role in placing waste in close proximity to those racially distinct, economically exploited and politically oppressed. This class examines the destructive global dynamics of environmental racism and resistance, as struggles against it. Pinar Batur.

Two 75-minute periods.

270 Topics in Environmental Studies 1Semester Offered: Spring

The purpose of this course is to take up topics relevant to environmental studies, and examine them through the perspectives of the humanities and the natural or social sciences.

Topic for 2018/19b: It's Only Natural: Contemplation in the American Landscape. This course examines the ways in which Americans have approached the natural world as both a source of revelation and an object of contemplation. Drawing on a wide range of literary, environmental and religious texts, we explore the dynamic relations between concepts of the natural, the human, and the divine in American and Native American experience. We also consider the American landscape tradition in painting and photography, as well as certain forms of folk music. We take field trips to local sites, including parks, farms, museums and monasteries, and host class visits from educators and artists. Techniques of contemplation play a role in the course. Paul Kane.

Prerequisite(s): permission of the instructor.

One 2-hour period plus one 4-hour lab.

271 Literature and the American Environment 1

This course considers the representations of nature and the environment in American literature, from the nineteenth century to the present, with special emphasis on contemporary experience and perception. Topics will include: the importance of sense of place (and displacement); multiple cultural discourses about nature; the rise of modern ecocriticism; indigenous understandings of the natural world; and the role of literature in environmental movements. Readings will be drawn from such authors as H. D. Thoreau, Mary Austin, Jean Toomer, Aldo Leopold, Gary Snyder, Barry Lopez, Leslie Silko, John Edgar Wideman, Annie Dillard, Mary Oliver, and Terry Tempest Williams, as well as from critical and scholarly sources. Paul Kane.

(Not available to students who have taken ENST 270.)

Not offered in 2018/19.

Two 75-minute periods.

276 Plants and Plant Communities of the Hudson Valley 0.5

(Same as BIOL 276) Plants are the most conspicuous components of terrestrial ecosystems. In this course, you learn how to observe and describe variation in plant form so you can recognize locally common plant species and determine their scientific names. You also learn to recognize the characteristic plant communities of the Hudson Valley. This course is structured around weekly field trips to local natural areas. Locations are chosen to illustrate the typical plant species and communities of the region, the ecosystem services provided by plants, environmental concerns, and conservation efforts. This course is appropriate for students interested in biology, environmental science, and environmental studies, and anyone wishing to learn more about our natural environment. Mark Schlessman.

Environmental Studies majors may take this course instead of ENST 291. First 6-week course.

Not offered in 2018/19.

Two 75-minute periods; one 4-hour laboratory.

290 Field Work 0.5 to 1Semester Offered: Fall or Spring

Individual or group field projects or internships. Prior approval of advisor and instructor supervising the work are required. May be taken during the academic year or during the summer. Participating faculty.

291 Field Experiences in the Hudson Valley 0.5Semester Offered: Fall

The course emphasizes project-based learning that, rather than beginning with established divisions or disciplines, focuses on problems or questions to which students can bring all the resources of their previous classes in a truly multidisciplinary fashion. April Beisaw.

Special permission required.

Required for Environmental Studies majors. ENST 276 can be taken instead if 291 is not being offered.

First 6-weeks of fall semester.

Two 75-minute periods.

298 Independent Research 0.5 to 1Semester Offered: Fall or Spring

Individual or group project or study. Prior approval of advisor and instructor supervising the work are required. May be taken during the academic year or during the summer. Participating faculty.

Environmental Studies: III. Advanced

300 Senior Project/Thesis 1Semester Offered: Spring

Recognizing the diverse interests and course programs of students in Environmental Studies, the program entertains many models for a senior project/thesis. Depending on their disciplinary concentration and interests, students may conduct laboratory or field studies, literary and historical analyses, or policy studies. Senior project/thesis proposals must be approved by the steering committee.

301 Senior Seminar 1Semester Offered: Fall

In the Senior Seminar, Environmental Studies majors bring their disciplinary concentration and their courses in the program to bear on a problem or set of problems in environmental studies. Intended to be an integration of theory and practice, and serving as a capstone course for the major, the seminar changes its focus from year to year.

Required of students concentrating in the program. Open to other students by permission of the director and as space permits.

303 Thesis 0.5Semester Offered: Fall

Yearlong course 303-ENST 304.

304 Thesis 0.5Semester Offered: Spring

Yearlong course ENST 303-304.

321 Advanced Topics in Environmental Geology 1

(Same as ESCI 321) This course investigates fundamental geologic controls on environmental issues such as resource distribution and use, ground and surface water pollution, and atmospheric pollution. A specific topic is selected each year, and work in the class includes a survey of relevant literature, field visits to local sites, and development of a group project.

Prerequisite(s): ESCI 151 or ENST 124.

Not offered in 2018/19.

One 4-hour period.

331 Topics in Archaeological Theory and Method 1Semester Offered: Fall

The theoretical underpinnings of anthropological archaeology and the use of theory in studying particular bodies of data. The focus ranges from examination of published data covering topics such as architecture and society, the origin of complex society, the relationship between technology and ecology to more laboratory-oriented examination of such topics as archaeometry, archaeozoology, or lithic technology.

May be repeated for credit if the topic has changed.

Topic for 2018/19aDisaster Archaeology. (Same as ANTH 331) When did humans first experience disaster? Since their earliest manifestations, towns and cities have suffered dramatic disasters such as super storms, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes - which often led to their abandonment. Slower disasters, such as droughts and plagues, caused groups to reorganize in response to loss of resources, including their most vulnerable community members. Natural processes become cultural disasters when people get caught in them, and have to make decisions about risks to lives, livelihoods, and property. Newer forms of cultural disasters include nuclear events, sunken ships, and crashed planes, but these too can be studied through archaeology. Disasters have their own histories as they are often the result of processes set in motion long before there is a clear toll. Despite their cause, disasters often leave us wondering why the event happened and how we can better prepare against future threats. Archaeological methods allow us to learn from what remains, to piece together the events that led up to a disaster, the events that unfolded during it, and the decisions that were made after it. This course surveys the archaeological record of environmental and cultural threats, including El Niños, volcanic eruptions, and the release of nuclear radiation. April Beisaw.

Prerequisites: previous coursework in Anthropology or Environmental Studies, or permission of the instructor.

May be repeated for credit if the topic has changed.

One 2-hour period plus one 4-hour lab.

335 Paleoclimatology: Earth's History of Climate Change 1

(Same as ESCI 335) In recent decades, record high temperatures and extreme weather events have led scientists and policy makers to grapple with the fact that human activities are affecting the climate system. At the same time, scientists have come to realize that climate is capable of dramatic shifts in the absence of human intervention. The science of paleoclimatology seeks to understand the extent and causes of natural climatic variability in order to establish the baseline on top of which anthropogenic changes are occurring. In this course we examine the structure and properties of the oceans and atmosphere and how the general circulation of these systems redistributes heat throughout the globe; study how cycles in Earth's orbital parameters, plate tectonics, changes in ocean circulation, and the evolution of plants have affected climate; and explore the different lines of evidence used to reconstruct climate history. Weekly laboratory projects introduce students to paleoclimatic methods and to records of climatic change from the Paleozoic through the Little Ice Age. Kirsten Menking.

Prerequisite(s): 200-level work in Earth Science or permission of the instructor.

Not offered in 2018/19.

One 4-hour classroom/laboratory/field period.

352 Conservation Biology 1Semester Offered: Spring

(Same as BIOL 352) Conservation Biology uses a multidisciplinary approach to study how to best maintain the earth's biodiversity and functioning ecosystems. We examine human impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem function and discuss how to develop practical approaches for mitigating those impacts. We start the semester by assessing the current human footprint on global resources, asking questions about what we are trying to preserve, why we are trying to preserve it, and how we can accomplish our goals. We critically examine the assumptions made by conservation biologists throughout, using case studies from around the world to explore a range of perspectives. Discussion topics include conservation in an agricultural context, the efficacy of marine protected areas, the impact of climate change on individual species and preserve design, restoration ecology, the consequences of small population sizes, conservation genetics, the impacts of habitat fragmentation and invasive species, and urban ecology. Margaret Ronsheim.

Prerequisites: two units of 200-level biology or one unit of 200-level biology and one of the following: ESCI 221, ESCI 361, GEOG 224, GEOG 260, or GEOG 356.

356 Environment and Land-Use Planning 1Semester Offered: Fall

(Same as GEOG 356 and URBS 356) This seminar focuses on land-use issues such as open-space planning, urban design, transportation planning, and the social and environmental effects of planning and land use policies. The focus of the course this year is impacts of planning policies (such as transportation, zoning, or growth boundaries) on environmental quality, including open space preservation, farmland conservation, and environmental services. We begin with global and regional examples and then apply ideas in the context of Dutchess County's trajectory of land use change and planning policies. Susan Blickstein.

Prerequisite(s): one 200-level course in Geography, Urban Studies or Environmental Studies.

One 3-hour period.

361 Modeling the Earth 1Semester Offered: Spring

(Same as ESCI 361) Computer models are powerful tools in the Earth and Environmental Sciences for generating and testing hypotheses about how the Earth system functions and for allowing simulation of processes in places inaccessible to humans (e.g. Earth's deep interior), too slow to permit observation (e.g., erosion driven uplift of mountains ranges), or too large to facilitate construction of physical models (e.g., Earth's climate system). Taking readings from the scientific literature, we create and then perform experiments with simple computer models, using the STELLA iconographic box-modeling software package. Topics include the global phosphorus cycle, Earth's radiative balance with the sun and resulting temperature, the flow of ice in glaciers, and the role of life in moderating Earth's climate. Toward the end of the semester, students apply the skills they have acquired to a modeling project of their own devising. Kirsten Menking.

Prerequisite(s): one 200-level course in the natural sciences.

Satisfies the college requirement for quantitative reasoning.

One 4-hour classroom/laboratory period.

368 Toxic Futures: From Social Theory to Environmental Theory 1

(Same as INTL 368 and SOCI 368) The central aim of this class is to examine the foundations of the discourse on society and nature in social theory and environmental theory to explore two questions. The first question is how does social theory approach the construction of the future, and the second question is how has this construction informed the present debates on the impact of industrialization, urbanization, state-building and collective movements on the environment? In this context, the class focuses on how social theory informs different articulations of Environmental Thought and its political and epistemological fragmentation and the limits of praxis, as well as its contemporary construction of alternative futures. Pinar Batur.

Not offered in 2018/19.

370 Feminist Perspectives on Environmentalism 1

(Same as ESSC 370 and WMST 370) In this seminar we explore some basic concepts and approaches within feminist environmental analysis paying particular attention to feminist theory and its relevance to environmental issues. We examine a range of feminist research and analysis in 'environmental studies' that is connected by the recognition that gender subordination and environmental destruction are related phenomena. That is, they are the linked outcomes of forms of interactions with nature that are shaped by hierarchy and dominance, and they have global relevance. The course helps students discover the expansive contributions of feminist analysis and action to environmental research and advocacy; it provides the chance for students to apply the contributions of a feminist perspective to their own specific environmental interests. Jill Schneiderman.

Prerequisite(s): permission of the instructor; WMST 130 recommended.

Not offered in 2018/19.

One 2-hour period.

375 Aquatic Chemistry 0.5 or 1Semester Offered: Spring

(Same as CHEM 375) This course explores the fundamentals of aqueous chemistry as applied to natural waters. The global water cycle and major water resources are introduced. Principles explored include: kinetics and thermodynamics, atmosphere-water interactions, rock-water interactions, precipitation and dissolution, acids and bases, oxidation and reduction, and nutrient and trace metal cycling. Alison Spodek.

Prerequisite(s): CHEM 245; PHYS 113, PHYS 114; MATH 121, MATH 126 and MATH 127 or the equivalent; or permission of the instructor.

381 Topics in Ecosystem Ecology - Ecosystem Structure and Function 1

(Same as BIOL 381) Ecosystems are complex systems, where biotic and abiotic factors interact to create the world we see around us. Understanding the nature of ecosystems is fundamental to understanding how disturbance and change in a dynamic world will influence ecosystem stability. This is especially critical as we enter the Anthropocene; a time in our planets history where one species, modern humans, dominate. Major changes brought about by increased human activity include changing climate regimes, invasive species spread and biodiversity loss. This course explores how ecosystems, both aquatic and terrestrial, are assembled (structured) and how different ecosystems process energy and matter (function). We use our understanding of structure and function to explore how different ecosystems respond to changes in the environment (including climate change, invasive species introductions, loss of biodiversity and pollution). A class project will explore an ecosystem scale problem, and students will develop a plan for effectively communicating the scientific understanding of the problem to multiple stakeholders. Lynn Christenson.

Prerequisite(s): BIOL 241.

Not offered in 2018/19.

383 Dissent at the End of the Anthropocene 1

(Same as INTL 383 and SOCI 383) Thomas Jefferson famously argued, "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism." The hallmarks of globalization---financial oligarchies, resource depletion, environmental pollution, global climate change, profound inequality---have given us the most convincing evidence to date that the ideals of progress, optimism, and humanism that have grew out of the Enlightenment are not fulfilling their promise. Perhaps these concepts became corrupted, or perhaps this is because these thought-systems have not paid adequate attention to the ethical dimensions of our economic, geopolitical, and social development, and counter cultural movements. On the other hand, movements of dissent have grown up around these ideals since at least the eighteenth century and some argue that if the Anthropocene, "the age of humankind," is to continue, we will have to fundamentally change our thinking. This course addresses the legacy of progressive "counter-Enlightenment" movements to develop an understanding of their discourse. Pinar Batur.

Not offered in 2018/19.

One 3-hour period.

385 Technology, Ecology, and Society 1

(Same as STS 385) Examines the interactions between human beings and their environment as mediated by technology, focusing on the period from the earliest evidence of toolmaking approximately up to the Industrial Revolution. Student research projects often bring the course up to the present. Includes experimentation with ancient technologies and field trips to local markets and craft workshops.

Prerequisite(s): previous coursework in Anthropology, Environmental Studies, or Science, Technology, and Society, or permission of the instructor.

Not offered in 2018/19.

One 2-hour period; plus 4 hour lab.

389 From the Natural History Museum to Ecotourism:The Collection of Nature 1

(Same as AMST 389) From the rise of the Natural History Museum, the Bureau of Ethnology, and early endeavors to create a national literature, the appropriation of American Indian lands and Amerian Indians (as natural objects) offered Euro-Americans a means to realize their new national identity. Today, the American consumer-collector goes beyond the boundaries of the museum, national park, and zoo and into ecotourism, which claims to make a low impact on the environment and local culture, while helping to generate money, jobs, and the conservation of wildlife and vegetation. This course investigates historical and current trends in the way North Americans recover, appropriate, and represent non-western cultures, 'exotic' animals, and natural environments from theoretical and ideological perspectives. Course readings draw from the fields of anthropology, archaeology, museology, literature, and environmental studies.

Not offered in 2018/19.

One 2-hour period.

399 Senior Independent Research 0.5 to 1Semester Offered: Fall or Spring

Individual or group project or study. Prior approval of advisor and instructor supervising the work are required. May be taken during the academic year or during the summer. Participating faculty.