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Sylla-ship: Changing Our Story, Fall 2015

Anne Dalke's picture

Changing Our Story: Shifting Identities, Altering Environments
Sections # 25 & 26 of the Emily Balch Seminars, offered by
Jody Cohen (Taylor G) and Anne Dalke (Taylor F),
Bryn Mawr College
, Fall 2015

"There is no distant place anymore …. gone [is]… the very notion of objectivity ... totally subverted by the presence of humans in the phenomena to be described .…The many important nuances between facts, news, stories, alarms, warmings, norms, and duties are all mixed up….those new emotions with which the Earth is now agitated …. through the highly complex workings of many enmeshed living organisms .… Gaia, a very ticklish sort of goddess … now become an agent of history … of our common geostory. The problem for all of us ... how do we tell such a story?" (Bruno Latour, "Agency at the Time of the Anthropocene," Winter, 2014)

Image taken by Caleb Eckert, HC'17, @ the People's Climate March (September 21, 2014)

Grounding ourselves in the domains of identity matters and ecological studies, we ask how different dimensions of human identity (such as race, class, gender, sexuality and religion) affect our ability to act and interact in the social and natural worlds. We look simultaneously at how these spaces shape and re-shape our identities and actions, individually and collectively. Our cross-disciplinary approach re-examines personal experiences through the differing orientations of the humanities, social sciences and sciences. Seeking fresh understandings, we consider Cheryl Strayed's memoir, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail; Ruth Ozeki's novel, All Over Creation; Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway's sci-fi "view from the future," The Collapse of Western Civilization; short stories by Ursula LeGuin and Octavia Butler; and essays by community activists, educators, and journalists, including Teju Cole, Paulo Freire, Van Jones and Elizabeth Kolbert.

Accommodations (expanded version of the syllabus statement from Access Services): it is likely that each of us will need some space--extra time and/or extra attention--@ some point during the course of the semester.  To accommodate this, our shared responsibility involves both letting others know if we can't meet an obligation, and making alternative arrangements.  For example, if you need to miss a posting, let Anne or Jody know ahead of time. If you need to miss class, also let us know; if you're in Anne's section, read her course notes; for either section, do an extra posting reflecting on "what you might have said," had you been here.

Syllaship ("because a bus isn't big enough")

There are a number of good on-line references that cover grammar and mechanics, as well as citation and documentation formats; you might want to consult either A Writer's Reference or A Pocket Style Manual (both are available for purchase in the Bryn Mawr Bookshop). Writing With Sources covers the rationale behind citation practices, explaining why it's important to acknowledge your sources; the Balch Seminar Program is giving each of you a copy of this text, along with Cheryl Strayed's memoir, Wild. We also ask you to buy or borrow a copy both of Ozeki's novel and of Oreskes and Conway's science fiction tale (which are on reserve, too, @ Canaday Library); the remainder of our texts are available either on the internet or in our protected reading file. Please bring an annotated copy of each text to class on the day it is assigned; you can do this by printing it out and marking on the text as you read; if you prefer to do your reading on-line, you should bring the electronic copy with you to class, and also familiarize yourself with a digital annotation tool such as Evernote.

Week One: Where are We? Who are We?
Day 1, Tues, 9/1:
"reading" the classroom: what does our environment invite us to do? how does it invite us to be?

By 5 p.m. Wed, 9/2: first short (paragraph-long) posting:
register yourself on Serendip, create a public profile with an avatar, and introduce yourself on-line by explaining the image

Day 2, Thurs, 9/3:
June Jordan, Report from the Bahamas, 1982, Meridians 3, 2 (2003): 6-16.

By 5 p.m. Fri, 9/4: first 3 pp. on-line essay (or "web-event'),  reflecting on your identity, and its relationship to others'. Start by thinking about Jordan's description of the surprising connections and disconnections amongst us, about where self ends and others begin. Actually begin the essay with a quote from Jordan: find a passage that has "heat" or "energy" for you--that is evocative, resonant, or challenging in terms of your own feelings about your identity, in relationship with others. You can use whatever form for this paper that best allows you to say what you have to say: it can be a personal meditation, a dialogue with Jordan, a response to something that someone said in class today; you can write it as a more formal essay, citing other readings…and/but be clear about what ARGUMENT your STORY is making. Post this the same way you posted your introduction last night, but also tag it "web paper or special event"--AND e-mail a copy to your instructor.

Week Two: Encountering Others

By 5 p.m. Mon, 9/7: second short posting, describing a "contact" you've had with someone "other" than yourself.

Day 3, Tues, 9/8:
Mary Louise Pratt, Arts of the Contact Zone. Profession (1991): 33-40.
--along with two short video examples:
Attenborough: the amazing lyrebird sings like a chainsaw!
Israeli attacks on Palestinean olive trees

Day 4, Thurs, 9/10:

Ursula LeGuin, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas. The Wind's Twelve Quarters. New York: Harper & Row, 1975.

Octavia Butler, Bloodchild. Bloodchild and Other Stories. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2005.
[see also a musical contribution from one of last year's ESem'ers: !]

By 5 p.m. Fri, 9/11: second 3-pp. "web-event," in which you go back and analyze
the  encounter in the “contact zone” you described in your short posting on Monday,
in light of ONE of the three texts we are discussing this week.  How does LeGuin's, Butler's OR
Pratt’s text alter your understanding of your own experience? OR: in what ways might your
experience expand or revise our understanding of one of these texts?

By 5 p.m. Mon, 9/14: post a response to any part of the second essay below. DO NOT DO THIS ON SERENDIP, BUT ON THE WORDPRESS SITE WHERE THE ESSAY IS HOSTED. There are two ways to do this--on the side, in response to any particular passage, or @ the bottom, in a more 'summation' mode. Chose one or both and help us figure out what's working/what's not/what's helpful/what's confusing in this chapter. We are very eager for your feedback. You can mark a spot that has "heat" for you, or identify the argument, or share how this essay intersects with (argues against? confirms? complicates?) what you know experientially...."talk back" to us! 

Week Three: Exploring Environment, Exploring History
Day 5, Tues, 9/15: 
Crafting the Educational Environment: A New Architecture. Candid Campus: The Lesser-Known Narratives of Bryn Mawr College. The Alfred M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women's Education. 2014.

Anne Dalke, "Slipping into Something More (Un)Comfortable: Untangling Identity, Unsettling Community." DRAFT chapter for Steal This Classroom: Teaching and Learning Unbound, book manuscript by Anne Dalke and Jody Cohen, forthcoming with punctum press, Summer 2016. Note: this is NOT on Serendip, but on Wordpress, and you will need to sign in to comment using your twitter, facebook or e-mail account. You are part of our 'soft launch,' as we try out the web dimension of our project!

During class, we will take the Black at Bryn Mawr tour. MEET IN FRONT OF THOMAS @ 11:25.

Day 6, Thurs, 9/17:
No new reading; come to class with a paragraph or some notes toward your next web-event

By 5 p.m. Fri, 9/18: third  3-pp. "web event," using the notion of “slippage” from "Slipping into Something More (Un)Comfortable” to go back and re-read one of the earlier texts we’ve discussed, or the tour we’ve just taken: how can you re-interpret Jordan, Pratt, LeGuin, Butler OR Pusey & Mercado’s history of Bryn Mawr [choose just one of these!] through the lens of this new concept? You may want to begin with a description of your understanding of what “slippage” is.

Weeks Four-Five: Exploring play, as a particular mode of encountering ourselves, others, and our environment

By 5 p.m. Mon, 9/21: fourth short posting, describing your childhood experience of play.

Day 7, Tues, 9/22:
  Robin Henig, Taking Play Seriously, New York Times (Feb. 17, 2008).

Stuart Brown, "Play, Spirit, and Character"

Molly Knefel, "Kid Stuff," The New Inquiry (July, 2015).

Day 8, Thurs, 9/24:  Review all your classmates' postings on their childhood experiences of play. Come to class having selected one of these (not your own), which you will be interpreting for your next paper.

Tim Edensor, Bethan Evans, Julian Holloway, Steve Millington and Jon Binnie. Playing in Industrial Ruins: Interrogating Teleological Understandings of Play in Spaces of Material Alterity and Low Surveillance. Urban Wildscapes. Ed. Anna Jorgensen and Richard Keenan. New York: Routledge, 2011. 65-79.

By 5 p.m. Fri, 9/25: fourth 3-pp. "web event," using concepts drawn from the essays theorizing play (by Henig, Brown, Edensor et. al) to re-read a posting by one of your classmates on their childhood experience of play.

By 5 p.m. Mon, 9/28: fifth short posting reflecting on a way in which play might be problematic.

Day 9, Tues, 9/29:
Deborah Bird Rose, Stuart Cooke and Thom Van Dooren. "Ravens at Play." Cultural Studies Review 17, 2 (September 2011), 326-43.

Day 10, Thurs, 10/1: Teju Cole, The White-Savior Industrial Complex. The Atlantic. March 21, 2012.

Bring with you to Thursday’s class THREE COPIES of the essay you plan to write, or the draft you've been working on; one of these can be electronic, but you will need TWO HARD COPIES to share with your writing partners.

By 5 p.m. Fri, 10/2: fifth 3-pp. web-event, revising one of your earlier papers, by focusing on how your claim relates to, intersects with, clarifies, supports, challenges, complexifies, weaves into-or-beyond one of the texts we’ve read. You are looking for some kind of tension, some “crack,” some difference that you might use to work the texts against-or-with one another.

Week Six: Straying, Going Wild

By 5 p.m. Mon,
10/5: sixth short posting on your initial reactions to Strayed's memoir.

Day 11, Tues, 10/6: Cheryl Strayed, Parts One, Two & Three. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail.  New York: Alfred K. Knopf, 2012. 1-176.
Look out for keywords. Come to class having selected one of them: brainstorm (and record) your thoughts about what it means; then do a simple etymological search for the history of the word (the on-line version of the Oxford English Dictionary, available through Canaday Library, is GREAT for this, but there are many other sources, including Urban Dictionary...); then begin to take some notes about how Strayed uses the term....We'll take some time in class to work w/ each other on generating a paper topic out of these materials. The focus here is on working closely with the text, quoting from it, analyzing it...

Day 12, Thurs, 10/8:  Cheryl Strayed, Parts Four, Five & Six. Wild. 177-312.

7:30 p.m., Thurs, 10/8, McPherson Auditorium, Goodhart Hall: Cheryl Strayed, Emily Balch Speaker--followed by a dessert reception in Thomas Great Hall

By 5 p.m. Fri, 10/9: sixth 3-pp. web-event, analyzing Wild through the lens of a keyword.

10/9-10/18 FALL BREAK

Weeks Seven-Eight-Nine: Expanding Our Contact Zones

By 5 p.m. Mon, 10/19: seventh short posting -- a paragraph suggesting an idea you want to pursue for your six-week-long project; we'll use these postings to structure our class discussion (and to locate partners for doing your research). For some possible directions you might pursue, see below...

By the same deadline, please give us some feedback on the form, usability and accessibility of the
web version of our chapter about "slipping," by completing
--with many thanks!

Day 13, Tues, 10/20:  Jenny Cameron, Stephen Healy, and J.K. Gibson-Graham. Chapter 4: "Take Back the Market: Encountering Others." Take Back the Economy: An Ethical Guide to Transforming our Communities (University of Minnesota, 2013. 85-123.

Bryn Mawr is a contact zone, where we "meet, clash and grapple" (or don't!) with one another and other dimensions of our environment. During class, we will work together in pairs to design six-week-long projects focusing on some extension of this contact zone. These might include projects like those described in "Take Back the Market," documenting y/our activities of consumption; they could also include archival work or interviews, contributing to the development of more histories of Bryn Mawr.

Day 14, Thurs, 10/22: Ruth Ozeki. Parts I-III. All Over Creation. Penguin, 2004, pp. 1-168.

By 5 pm. Fri, 10/23: your seventh 3-pp. web-event (written in pairs), describing the six-week project you plan to pursue. How will you trace and reflect on your "encounters" with others?

By 5 p.m. Mon, 10/26: eighth short posting, quoting three passages from All Over Creation that interest you, and that speak to the relationship between identity and environment

Day 15, Tues, 10/27:  Ruth Ozeki. Parts IV-V. All Over Creation, pp. 169-309.

Day 16, Thurs, 10/29:  Ruth Ozeki. Part VI. All Over Creation, pp. 311-417.

By 5 p.m. Fri, 10/30: eighth 3-pp. web-event, the first stage in a 2-week writing project, taking initial steps towards a paper about the relationship between identity and the environment in All Over Creation. We'll be expecting a rough draft, with lots of quotes and some writing towards a shape, an argument...

No Monday posting this week!

Day 17, Tues, 11/3:  finish discussing All Over Creation

Day 18, Thurs, 11/5:  Elizabeth Kolbert, Prologue, Chapters 1, 5 & 13, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. New York: Henry Holt, 2014. 1-22, 92-110, 259-269.

7 p.m. Thurs, 11/5 in Carpenter 21: poet Camille Dungy speaking, "On writing questions when
we are looking for answers," as part of the Provost's Office "Earth at the Brink" programming.

By 5 p.m. Fri, 11/6: ninth 3-pp. web-event, on the relationship between identity and environment in All Over Creation.

Weeks Ten-Eleven: Encountering Extinction: An End to Identities, or....?

By 5 p.m. Mon., 11/9: ninth short posting on your initial reactions to Kolbert's history or Oreskes/Conway's sci-fi tale.

Day 19, Tues, 11/10: Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, The Collapse of Civilization: A View from the Future. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014. ix-52.

Day 20, Thurs, 11/12: "Lexicon of Archaic Terms" and "Interview with the Authors," The Collapse of Civilization, 53-89.
Also, do some research and bring to class a news article about (any) governmental intervention in response to
climate change
.  Come to class prepared to give us the lede (= main idea) in no more than three sentences.

4:30 Thursday, 11/12 in Thomas 110: Public Talk by David J. Vázquez, University of Oregon:
“Fueling the Agribusiness Engine: Helena María Viramontes’s Under
the Feet of Jesus and the Cross-Currents of U.S. Environmentalism”

By 5 p.m. Fri, 11/13: tenth 3-pp. web-event, gathering material to compare Kolbert and Oreskes/Conway, either in terms of their key ideas, their impact, and/or the different ways they tell their stories.  This is in preparation for developing the claim that you’ll articulate in next week's web event.

Week Eleven
By 5 p.m. Mon, 11/16: tenth short posting, either reporting on Vázquez's talk, or responding to Van Jones' call in the voice of a character we've met, or author we've read, this semester.

Day 21, Tues, 11/17: Elizabeth Kolbert, Greening the Ghetto: Can a Remedy Serve for both Global Warming and Poverty? The New Yorker (January 12, 2009).

Day 22, Thurs, 11/19: Paulo Freire, The Importance of the Act of Reading. Trans. Loretta Slover. Brazilian Congress of Reading, Campinas, Brazil. November 1981. Rpt. Journal of Education 165, 1 (Winter 1983): 5-11.

Review for discussion in class: instructions for your final Portfolio & Checklist

By 5 p.m. Fri, 11/20: eleventh 3-pp. web-event, a comparative essay focusing on Kolbert and/or Oreskes/Conway (or perhaps on reading one of them "through the lens" of another texts, from another class?)

Weeks Twelve-Thirteen: Ecological Intelligence
By 5 p.m. Mon, 11/23: Read Bowers' article; skim the four other short selections we've linked to below, and choose one to read more carefully. Then post on what you'd like us to talk about, and what questions you have about the material that you'd like us to address in class.

Day 23, Tues, 11/24: C.E. Bowers, Steps to the Recovery of Ecological Intelligence." OMETECA 43: 14-15.

Your Own Personal Ecosystem

The Human Microbiome project

Sandy Bauers, “About the world within us,” The Philadelphia Inquirer ( October 25, 2015).

Larval Subjects (Levi R. Bryant), Stacy Alaimo: Porous Bodies and Trans-Corporeality (May 24, 2012).

Thurs, 11/26: Thanksgiving


Weeks of 12/1 and 12/8: Last Round of Writing Conferences: come having reviewed
your writing portfolio, and ready to suggest one paper for revision

Day 24, Tues, 12/1:
 Ursula LeGuin. Vaster than Empires, and More Slow. The Wind's Twelve Quarters: Short Stories.  New York: Harper and Row, 1975. 148-178.

By 5 p.m. Wed, 12/2: eleventh short posting, listing 3 main ideas that you see Latour offering, and one question his essay raises for you.

Day 25, Thurs, 12/3: Bruno Latour. Agency at the Time of the Anthropocene. New Literary History 45, 1 (Winter 2014): 1-18.
Naomi Klein, What’s really at stake at the Paris climate conference now marches are banned, The Guardian (November 20, 2015).

By 5 p.m. Sun 12/6: twelfth 3-pp. essay, drawing on our recent readings (Van Jones, Friere, Bowers, LeGuin, Latour, those 4 essays on the microbiome) to reflect on what constitutes "ecological intelligence" (or: what intelligences do we need to think ecologically?). What does that concept mean, and how should it be learned/taught? Apply this concept to some concrete experiences of your own in BMC classrooms.

Week Fourteen
By 5 p.m. Mon, 12/7: twelfth posting, archiving the information that you have gathered during your 6-week project

Before classtime on Tuesday, and again on Thursday: everyone please read through the postings of those who will be presenting

Days 26-27, Tues-Thurs, 12/8-12/10: sharing what we've learned from our 6-week projects
Prepare 5-7 minutes describing what your pair learned in-and-about your "expanded contact zone."  Your task is less to "report" than to teach the class: think pedagogically about you might most effectively share what you've learned; after each presentation,  we'll take a few minutes for reflecting together on what you've shared.

7 p.m. Thurs, 12/10: we'll gather again, with dessert, in the English House Lecture Hall, to finish sharing our teaching projects and talk together about what we learned.

By 5 p.m. Fri, 12/11: thirteenth short posting, reflecting on the implications of your project: how might you carry this forward? With whom else might you share it? What else would you like to know-or-understand about your particular “enlarged contact zone”? Reflect also on what you learned from your peers: how did the range of presentations expand your sense of your contact zone?

By 12:30 p.m. on Fri, 12/18: College-wide deadline for all work, including web-event #13 (a revision of an earlier paper) and your final portfolio

Additional Resources
Anne's Eco-Reading Notes (Summer 2015): /oneworld/changing-our-story-2015/annes-eco-reading-notes-summer-2015

Margaret Atwood, "It's Not Climate Change--It's Everything Change," Matter (July 27, 2015),

Robert Lugg, "Reading Cheryl Strayed's Wild: Towards a 'Basic' Environmentalism" (talk given @ the biennial conference of the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment, Moscow, Idaho, June, 2015).

Sarah Kaplan and Nick Kirkpatrick, "In eerie emptiness of Chernobyl's towns, wildlife flourishing," Washington Post (October 11, 2015):

To use later?? in preparation for your next short posting, read the four short pieces assigned for Wednesday's class discussion. Then take ½ an hour to sit or walk on campus, “reading the environment” in which you find yourself, attending to either its botanical or geological dimensions; take a picture that expresses this. Post the picture and a paragraph describing your experience, and include any questions you have about the site you have been exploring.

Note to selves for next time 'round: require the use of an add'l text in the re-write, to assure that it gets "opened up"...