My English 90 class, “Unnatural Nature: Literature and Ecology,” was intended to be an introduction not just to ecocriticism (the study of literature and the environment), but also to the environmental humanities, in which literature, history, philosophy, and art are considered together. Accordingly, even as my students read widely in environmental literature, they also learned about environmental art in various media, from paintings and photographs to music and film to land art and living sculptures. As the semester drew to a close, students were asked to shift from a critical mode to a creative one: after spending months learning about how cultural artifacts commented on and interacted with environmentalism, they had to themselves create a piece of environmental art, which (at their request) would be displayed in Perkins.
I developed this assignment in the hope that it would let students explore the themes that had struck them over the course of the semester in new ways. The final project was creative and open-ended, but it was nonetheless rigorous, and I warned them that the project would undoubtedly prove more difficult than they expected: they were held to high standards in the project itself, in their preparatory research, and in their critical introductions to their own work. I was impressed by the energetic dedication with which they approached the task, and by the diversity of materials that the class ultimately produced. As I worked with students to refine their projects and to maximize the visual effectiveness of the components they chose for display, I found myself learning a great deal and becoming even more excited about working in such a vibrant field as the environmental humanities.
Thanks are due to Meg Brown, who expertly tutored us on the process of creating a coherent and compelling exhibition; to Michael Daul, for helping to create our online exhibit; to Patrick Dougherty, whose guest lecture informed the class about the broader world of environmental art; and, of course, to the students of “Unnatural Nature,” who made this experience rewarding and memorable.
The exhibit is on display on the Student Wall in Perkins Library during the month of February or visit the exhibit online-including a student created documentary AND student performed and written rap!