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Sylla-ship: Changing Our Story, Fall 2016

Anne Dalke's picture

Changing Our Story: Shifting Identities, Altering Environments
Sections # 19 & 20 of the Emily Balch Seminars,
offered by Jody Cohen (in Taylor G) and Anne Dalke (in Taylor F)
Tuesdays & Thursdays, 11:25 a.m.-12:45 p.m.
Bryn Mawr College, Fall 2016

"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)

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 two novels--Suzan-Lori Parks' Getting Mother's Body and Ruth Ozeki's All Over Creation; a graphic novel, Derrick Jensen and Stephanie McMillan's As the World Burns; 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. 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 Suzan-Lori Parks' novel, Getting Mother's Body. We also ask you to buy or borrow a copy of three other books: Ozeki's novel, Jensen and McMillan's graphic novel, and Oreskes and Conway's science fiction tale (all of which are on reserve @ 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, Aug. 30:
"reading" the classroom: what does our environment invite us to do? how does it invite us to be?

By 5 p.m. Wed, Aug 31: 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, Sept. 1:
June Jordan, Report from the Bahamas, 1982, Meridians 3, 2 (2003): 6-16.

By 5 p.m. Sun, Sept. 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. Then tell a story about an encounter you had with someone else, which taught you something about who you are, either because you noticed your differences, your similarities, or some interesting combination of both. How does Jordan's essay help you understand your own story? Bring in a quote from her--that is evocative, resonant, or challenging in terms of the story you have told; in other words, put her story into "dialogue" with your own. Post this essay 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

Day 3, Tues, Sept. 6:
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, Sept. 8:
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. on Fri, Sept. 9, your second 3-pp. essay is due. We would like you to go back and analyze the  story you told in your first paper, in light of ONE of the three texts we are discussing this week.  Use LeGuin, Butler OR  Pratt to re-read your account of your own experience: how would one of these writers read your story (for example, in light of power relations)? Alternatively, you could consider  how your experience might expand or revise our understanding of one of these texts.

By 5 p.m. Mon, Sept. 12: second short posting: ON SERENDIP, a response to any part of the essay on "Slipping" listed below. 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, Sept. 13: 
Chapter 8, "Slipping," in Jody Cohen and Anne Dalke, Steal This Classroom: Teaching and Learning Unbound. New York: Punctum Books, forthcoming 2017 (available both in an in-process website version, and as a pdf from our protected reading file).

Take a friend, take an hour, and take the "Black at Bryn Mawr" Digital Tour. Visit several of the sites, such as the servant corridors under Thomas, the Deanery Garden, hallway of the fourth floor of Merion (originally the maids' quarters), and the Harriton Family Cemetery behind English House. Although not included in the digital tour, a great final stop would be the Enid Cook Center.

Day 6, Thurs, Sept. 15: No new reading; come to class with a paragraph or some notes toward your next web-event

By 5 p.m. Fri, Sept. 16: third  3-pp. "web event." Beginning with a description of your understanding of what “slippage” is, using this notion to re-read one of the earlier texts we’ve discussed, or the tour you just took: 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?

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

By 5 p.m. Mon, Sept. 19: third short posting, describing your childhood experience of play.

Day 7, Tues, Sept. 20:
  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, Sept. 22:  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, Sept. 23: 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, Sept. 26: fourth short posting reflecting on a way in which play might be problematic.

Day 9, Tues, Sept. 27:
Deborah Bird Rose, Stuart Cooke and Thom Van Dooren. "Ravens at Play." Cultural Studies Review 17, 2 (September 2011), 326-43.

Day 10, Thurs, Sept. 29: Teju Cole, The White-Savior Industrial Complex. The Atlantic. March 21, 2012.

For Thursday's class, select which essay you plan to revise for Friday's paper, AND WRITE A PARAGRAPH OR A SERIES OF NOTES/ BULLET POINTS about where you might take this. What other author are you bringing into the paper? Bring to class a hard copy of both the original essay and of these notes. [Our writing workshops won't be helpful if you don't do this preparation!]

By 5 p.m. Fri, Sept. 30: fifth 3-pp. web-event, revising one of your earlier papers, by using an additional text to "open it up." Focus 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. This revision is not just editing your earlier paper; it's re-thinking it w/ help from a new text.

Week Six: Expanding Our Contact Zones
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 long-term 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, like the one told in "Black at Bryn Mawr."

By 5 p.m. Mon,
Oct. 3: fifth short posting--a paragraph suggesting an idea you want to pursue for your long project; we'll use these postings to structure our class discussion (and to locate partners for doing your research).

Day 11, Tues, Oct. 4: 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. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2013. 85-123.

Day 12, Thurs, Oct. 6: Elizabeth Kolbert, Prologue, Chapters 1, 5 & 13, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History. New York: Henry Holt, 2014. 1-22, 92-110, 259-269.

By 5 p.m. Fri, 10/9: sixth 3-pp. web-event (written in pairs), describing the long-term project you plan to pursue. How will you trace and reflect on your "encounters" with others?

FALL BREAK Oct. 7-16

Week 7: "The-Drama-of-the-Black-Person-as-an-Integral-Facet-of-the-Universe"

By 5 p.m. Mon, Oct. 17: sixth short posting: initial reactions to Park's writing; and/or formulating a question that you would like to ask her on Thursday night.

Day 13, Tues, Oct. 18: Suzan-Lori Parks, Getting Mother's Body. New York: Random House, 2004. pp. 3 -129.

Day 14, Thurs, Oct. 20: Parks, Getting Mother's Body, pp. 130-257.

7:30 p.m., Thurs, Oct. 20, McPherson Auditorium, Goodhart Hall: Emily Balch Speaker Suzan-Lori Parks-followed by a dessert reception in Thomas Great Hall

By 5 p.m. Fri, Oct. 21, your seventh 3-pp. web-event: this will be the first draft of a two-week project analyzing Parks' novel. We'll be expecting lots of quotes and some writing towards a shape, an argument...You've already begun to think about questions you want to ask S-L Parks. Your assignment for this paper will begin w/ an analytical question you want to ask of the novel, one that will take you into a deeper understanding of the work.

For Thursday's class, come with your question and three places in the novel that you have marked, which you might work with to explore this question. It should be a question you don't know the answer to, but are really curious about. The novel doesn't have to give you a single answer, but you should be able to use it to help you explore the issues/aspects/characters that you are curious about.

No Monday posting this week!

Day 15, Tues, Oct. 25
class cancelled
3-7 p.m. field trip to Norris Square Neighborhood Project: Latino Culture, Youth and Gardening, 2141 N. Howard Street, Philadelphia PA 19122.
Before the trip, please spend some time reviewing the project's web site:

By 5 p.m. Wed, Oct. 26: seventh short posting, describing your experiences at Norris Square (perhaps in the context of our class readings?)

Day 16, Thurs, Oct. 27:
  Ruth Ozeki. Parts I-III. All Over Creation. New York: Penguin, 2004, pp. 1-168.

By 5 p.m. Fri, Oct. 28: eighth 3-pp. web-event, a revised version of paper #7.

By 5 p.m. Mon., Oct. 31: eighth short posting quoting three passages from
All Over Creation that interest you, and that speak to the relationship
between identity and environment

Day 17, Tues, Nov. 1:
  Ruth Ozeki. Parts IV-V. All Over Creation, pp. 169-309.

Day 18, Thurs, Nov. 3:  Ruth Ozeki. All Over Creation, as far as you can get :)

By MIDNIGHT on Fri, Nov. 4: ninth 3-pp. web-event: first or second draft of a paper exploring All Over Creation.

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


Day 19, Tues, Nov. 8: 
Ruth Ozeki. Part VI. All Over Creation, to end

By 5 p.m. Wed., Nov. 9: ninth short posting on your initial reactions to Oreskes and Conway's sci-fi tale.

Day 20, Thurs, Nov. 10:
Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, The Collapse of Civilization: A View from the Future. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014. ix-52.

By MIDNIGHT on Fri, Nov. 11: tenth 3-pp. web-event, final paper on All Over Creation, focusing on "identity and the environment."

Week Eleven
By 5 p.m. Mon, Nov. 14: tenth short posting, reporting on a news article about (any) governmental intervention in response to  climate change.  Give us the lede (= main idea) in no more than three sentences.

Day 21, Tues, Nov. 15: Oreskes and Conway, "Lexicon of Archaic Terms" and "Interview with the Authors," The Collapse of Civilization, 53-89.

Day 22, Thurs, Nov. 17
: Read as much as you can of Derrick Jensen and Stephanie McMillan, As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Stay in Denial (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2007).

Also review for discussion in class: instructions for your final Portfolio & Checklist

By MIDNIGHT on Fri, 11/18: eleventh 3-pp. web-event, gathering material to compare Oreskes/Conway and Jensen/McMillan, 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.

Weeks Twelve-Thirteen: Ecological Intelligence
By 5 p.m. Mon, Nov. 21: eleventh short posting, on what you'd like us to talk about, and what questions you have, about the assigned material that you'd like us to address in class. PLEASE MAKE THIS A "WEBBY" POST. FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS HERE.

Day 23, Tues, Nov. 22: finish reading Jensen and McMillan

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

Thurs, Nov. 24: Thanksgiving


Weeks of Nov. 30 and Dec. 6: Last Round of Writing Conferences: come having reviewed your writing portfolio, and ready to suggest one paper for revision.

Day 24, Tues, Nov. 29:
 Ursula LeGuin, Vaster than Empires, and More Slow.The Wind's Twelve Quarters: Short Stories. New York: Harper and Row, 1975. 148-178.

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

Jonathan Weineraug, "Human Cells Make Up Only Half Our Bodies. A New Book Explains Why." New York Times, August 15, 2016.

By 5 p.m. Wed, Nov. 30: twelfth short posting, listing 3 main ideas that you see Latour offering, and one question his essay raises for you. NOT A WEBBY POST.

Day 25, Thurs, Dec. 1: 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 MIDNIGHT on Sun, Dec. 4: twelfth 3-pp. essay (your almost-last paper) is due. You have a choice: either revise or expand on the comparative piece you wrote on sci-fi and graphic novels;
or draft a new paper analyzing one or more of our recent readings ((Van Jones, LeGuin, Latour, those essays about the microbiome and climate marches). For example, you could anchor the topics of mental health or activisim, which we discussed last week, in several of these texts.

Week Fourteen
By 5 p.m. Mon, Dec. 5: thirteenth Monday posting, this one archiving the information that you have gathered during your 6-week project. BEST TO MAKE THESE PRIVATE, JUST TO BE SURE THAT YOU ARE NOT PUBLICALLY SHARING ANY CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION.

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, Dec. 6-Dec. 8: 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.

7:30 p.m. Thurs, Dec. 8: 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 MIDNIGHT on Fri, Dec. 9: fourteenth 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, Dec. 16: 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):

Oct. 19, 2016:

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.