Imagining Environmental Justice will analyze the climate crisis largely through the prism of Indigenous literature and artwork. Credit: Joy lee

In the spring of 2021, a new course will examine the effects of capitalism and colonialism on the environment largely through the prism of Indigenous literature.

Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow Rebecca Macklin will teach the course, called Imagining Environmental Justice, which will be offered as part of the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities. The course is listed as ENGL 309, COML 308 and ANTH 339.

Throughout the semester, Macklin will guide his students in analyzing the climate crisis through novels, poetry, films and non-fiction works. Literature and works of art, largely by indigenous creators from North America, South Africa, African American and Palestine, will form the basis of the curriculum.

Since the course is closely related to Macklin’s work on environmental justice and Indigenous literature, she said she was excited to share and discuss texts that she likes, has written before, or that she has written about. plans to publish in the future. Macklin considers his students to be his “co-researchers” and looks forward to hearing their opinions and analysis.

The course can also be used to meet the requirements of the Amerindian and Native Studies minor, because it explores the destructive effects of colonialism on the environment. The material Macklin chose for the course shines a light on Indigenous creators who express their voices and pain through stories, songs and poems. These artists come from a wide variety of backgrounds, including First Nations people in Canada and residents of the Marshall Islands.

The idea of ​​environmental justice, Macklin said, is the need for harmonious relationships between humans, their environment, and animals, where human well-being is not greater than nature. She explained that the structural inequalities that hinder this justice are intersectional.

“A lot of the injustices that we see in terms of the environment relate to the legacy of things like colonialism, dispossession, systemic racism, patriarchy and misogyny. All of these different types of inequalities impact the environment and the way we manage our environments, ”said Macklin.

College junior Rachel Swym echoed those sentiments. She said she had previously studied these inequalities in other courses for her minor in Environmental Humanities and is interested in the diverse approach of the Imagining Environmental Justice course. Swym said that even today, the faces of environmental activism movements often do not represent the black and brown communities most at risk from climate change.

“The face of climate change in the media is very white and young and very forward-looking,” Swym said. “People who participate in [climate marches] are not necessarily the ones who are suffering right now.

Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow Rebecca Macklin will teach the course.

Macklin pointed out that literature and the humanities have the unique power to develop empathy and help people understand environmental crises outside of their own culture.

“I think the arts and the humanities really allow us to conceptualize things that are quite difficult otherwise,” Macklin said. “It is sometimes quite difficult to imagine outside of our own experiences.”

The concept of slow violence – gradual, invisible environmental consequences like air pollution – is one example where Macklin believes literature and art help people understand environmental issues. Slow violence will be discussed in the first unit of the class. Macklin pointed out the Philadelphia Energy Solutions Refinery as an example – it exploded in 2019 but released toxins into the air long before the fire.

Macklin plans to guide his class through the process of creating an online exhibit for the final unit, which focuses on contemporary environmental issues and audience engagement. Students can choose from a variety of forms of content, such as podcasts and visual arts, to tell stories of environmental justice. Macklin stressed the importance of sharing these ideas with the public, especially with people who do not have a background in literature or a college degree.

“Most of the time, in the arts and humanities, we are asked, ‘How does this help someone? “,” Macklin said. “I did a lot of work with the public, with the communities, which really made me realize the need for any research to have a real public impact.”

The class is part of the new PPEH Minor in Environmental Human Sciences, which was introduced in 2019 and encompasses an interdisciplinary mix of courses in the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities.

Mikayla Golub, a staff member at Junior College and Under the Button, which is part of the Environmental Humanities program, believes the emphasis on the humanities allows students who are not STEM-oriented to join the conversation about climate change. Golub said her studies in history gave her a better understanding of the climate crisis.

“I think it’s important to understand how we got here and also how we conceptualize our place in the world in relation to the natural environment,” Golub said.

Macklin hopes his class will attract a variety of students from different academic backgrounds.

“You don’t have to be a pure scientist to be able to help bring about positive change, and neither does science have to be the exclusionary monolith that we sometimes portray as,” Swym said. “Science and climate activism isn’t just for academics, it’s not just for professional activists. It’s for artists. It’s for anthropologists. It’s for all these different people from all these different disciplines that meet.”


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