Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

Knowing This Place: Notes Towards Day 1 (Tues, 1/20/15)

Anne Dalke's picture

I. 2:25-2:35: go outside. be silent. observe. write. return.

II. 2:35-2:55: what was our experience?
what are our words?
go 'round, locate yourself (name, year, major or inclination) and say something about what you noticed...

what did we (not) attend to?

mini-demonstration of our shared project this semester:
observing (=interacting w/) the world...
looking for the words to describe the experience...
reflecting on those words, their effects, how to (re)arrange them...
and then asking how others have done this...

II. 2:55-3:15: read excerpt
4 opening lines from Audre Lorde's poem, “Outside”--> what do we hear?

In the center of a harsh and spectrumed city

all things natural are strange.
I grew up in a genuine confusion
between grass and weeds and flowers
and what coloured meant....

"all things natural are strange"--what's that mean??

break into pairs
(w/ someone you don't know)
and work on defining terms:
what does "natural" mean? what is "unnatural"?
what is "strange"?
"ecological"? "unecological"? (define "ecology"?)
"environmental"? "not environmental"?  (define "environment"?)
what is the difference between "ecological" and "environmental"?
between "ecology" and "environment"?

how can you tell the difference (define the difference)
between an "organism" and its "environment"?
between "inside" and "outside"?
between "country" and "city"?
"home"? "unheimlich"?


In the center of a harsh and spectrumed city
all things natural are strange.
I grew up in a genuine confusion
between grass and weeds and flowers
and what coloured meant....

what is natural? what is strange?
what is the difference between "ecology" and "environment,"
between an "organism" and its "environment"?

what are we learning about these particular definitions?
about the act of defining, more generally....?

one of my foundational assumptions: language is always slippery--
and meant to be: there are precise languages (math, computer languages),
but ordinary language is meant to be ambiguous: its primary function is not
to transmit from sender to receiver, but to elicit information from the receiver,
to find out what the sender doesn't know; so in the gap (between what is said
and heard, and understood) is where we learn--and where we have our work to do;
it's where a conversation/a dialogue/a dialectic is provoked....

IV. 3:15-3:30:

what do we see?
where do you see yourself in relation to this image? (re-introduce yourself in these terms...)
"Boston Basin"--an invitation by Jonathan Wells to contemplate the relation between our everyday world and the earth that is its foundation,
it represents 16 miles of width, 4 /12 miles of depth, centered on Boston's inner harbor, with a focus on the underlying rock formations
(the website explains how the image was constructed)

V. 3:30-4:00: overview of course
I've just given you a taste of (@ least!) four intertwined strands (modules) of this course: it's about
* knowing this place (most college students learn little of the site where they receive their "cosmopolitan" education;
we will start by locating ourselves in the geological, botanical and social history of the college/bi-colleges;
* exploring the role of language--its capacities and limits--in representing this world;
* enlarging the sphere of our imagination beyond this present time-and-place,
envisioning deep time and space, and the experiences of other species; then finally
* re-centering on our own role in responding to and shaping the world.

Our overfull "syllaship" is on-line @
you should bookmark this, and check it in preparation for every class;
it will change as the semester goes on, so be sure to "re-fresh" each time you go back.
I'm going to quickly review some material now that we'll be using, but all of it's available on this homepage.

For instance: you’ll have reading-or-viewing to do for each class;
you should buy/rent/check out/share three book-length works (all ordered-and-on-reserve);
the rest of the material will be available via active on-line links from the syllabus.
Most of the reading will be on-line--and all of your writing will be.
We'll be using a "digital ecosytem" called Serendip, which is on the internet:
this is not Moodle, not closed, but open to, and readable by, the world--
and discussable in class (starting point for many class meetings....).
Learning to be a public intellectual, thinking out loud.

We will be meeting virtually twice each weekend in this inbetween space, our on-line
class forum @ /oneworld/ecological-imaginings-2015

By midnight tomorrow, again by midnight each Friday and Sunday,
you will post a comment in that space, reflecting (in the first) on your experiences outside,
and (in the second) on our readings and/or class discussion
(more deliberate than speaking in class, less formal than written work:
excellent place for showcasing revisionary thinking).

This informal writing is background/preparation/warm-up/frequent source
for four more “formal” 5-pp. writing assignments, which will also
take the form of four "web events," due once/month
You'll also have (@ least) 2 conferences with you about your writing.

What is (probably) distinct about this course is the form of evaluation:
I will not grade any of these individual projects. At the end of the semester,
Serendip will have assembled an e-portfolio of all your work, which you'll
review--and then evaluate yourself. I'll put up guidelines for that process, as well as
a checklist of my expectations, but these are not mysterious and will not surprise you
(it's what everybody asks for!): come prepared to all the classes and conferences,
contribute twice each week in-person and twice each week on-line,
post your web events on time, be responsive to instruction, engaged in the conversation....

N.B.: my belief in education as a collective endeavor,
our shared responsibility for each other's learning,
the selfishness of silence....

If you need to miss a class or be late with an assignment, let me know what's up.
We will all need accomodations @ some point (or several points) during the semester, and
I'm very accomodating, if you stay in touch; without clear communication, I'm not so agreeable.

Immediate assignments:

Tonight you'll get an e-mail with information on how to register for a Serendip account.
You will need to log into this account to access the readings and post your reflections.

By 5 p.m. tomorrow night, log in your Serendip account, select a username and an avatar,
and use the latter to introduce yourself to the rest of us (my own whimsical intro is up already...).
Use the simple "post" option (there are others which we'll play with later in the semester).

Give some time to thinking about how you want to represent yourself in this on-line conversation:
what sort of persona do you want to project w/ your username and your avatar?
What do you want to say about who/how you are in this conversation/this world?
How do you want to picture yourself/symbolize your ways of thinking, habits of being?
How important is ecology in that representation?
How important is imagination?

This can be revised as the semester goes on, but you should think now about whether
you want your words associated w/ your (full/partial/symbolic/pseudo-) name, 
and whether you will want it so associated in 1, 2, 5 years....
the content will remain on-line long after you've left the College.


We'll start Thursday's class by sharing these images-and-stories with one another
(our first order of business is getting to know one another!);
then we'll discuss three short readings about the difference that our individual
"sightlines" (how we are positioned in the world) make in the "sights/sites" we see:
how our particular identities/locations can alter what we see, what we foreground, how we react:
Jamaica Kincaid, "Alien Soil."
Evelyn White, "Black Women and the Wilderness."
Carl Anthony and Renée Soule, "The Multicultural Approach to Ecopsychology."

This is a English (and Env'l Studies, and Gender Studies) class about questions of representation:
of ourselves, others, the world we all share...and how these representations might be re-imagined/altered.

I've divided the course into 4 sections:
the first is called
Locating Ourselves on the Map (and Getting A Little Lost....):
we'll learn about this local space and figure out the sort of pedagogy appropriate to it-and-us
Part II: Invitation into the World Beyond Ourselves,
will include two book-length texts,
a novella with commentary by the South African J.M. Coetzee, The Lives of Animals;
and a long novel by the East Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh, The Hungry Tide;
Part III. Locating Our Language, is about eco-linguistics, asking what words, sentence structures,
genres are most appropriate to expressioning an ecological imagination; and
Part IV. Locating Agency, will take us back to questions of activism: what we can do w/ all we've learned
(third book-length book in that section, Utah Mormon Terry Tempest Williams' An Unspoken Hunger: Stories from the Field).

At the end of each section, you will write a 5-pp. paper;
and each week you will also post a record of your ongoing visits to an on-campus site.
But more on that later....!

Questions about any of these details of "course-keeping"?
reminder that links to all these pages--on-line course forum,
syllabus, instructions for posting, a growing file of my "talking notes"
for class--are available as links from our course home page @