Fall 2022

Witnessing Climate Change (ENGL 20760)

The Earth’s climate is changing faster than expected. Industrialization, fossil fuel use, consumption, and exploitation are radically transforming the planet we live on. In Witnessing Climate Change, we work to make sense of the science behind this planetary crisis and practice writing about it for the public. This is a large, writing-intensive, public-facing course that engages key contemporary issues and core ways of knowing from a values-oriented perspective, through large lectures and small group workshops. Readings include Jeff VanderMeer, Nukariik, Barry Lopez, Aldo Leopold, Wanda Coleman, J.M. Coetzee, and St. Francis, among others. Find out more at

Appalachia: Land and People (HIST 30027)

This course tells the history of Appalachia through humans’ relationships with the natural environment. The class starts in geologic time with the formation of the mountains and spools forward through ebb and flow of Native American homelands, the colonial wars and the fur trade, the American invasion, the growth of an agrarian economy centered on corn, pigs, and whiskey, the arrival of the railroads and the extractive industries of coal and timber, and finally the difficulties wrought by de-industrialization, climate change, and the opioid epidemic. The central characters throughout are the men and women who wrested their living from the mountains and the hollows, and their struggles as a series of political, economic, and ecological transformations dispossessed them. Over time, Appalachia was impoverished and made marginal; in the eyes of many, the place and the people were deemed exploitable and expendable. This class seeks to understand how Appalachia became synonymous with grinding poverty and environmental degradation. The class argues that ecosystems and people advanced and declined in tandem and that history shows neither were destined for impoverishment. This course is intended to give current Notre Dame students who have or who might visit and volunteer in Appalachia the historical perspective they may need to fully appreciate the region’s problems and potential.

Moby-Dick & 19th-Century America (HIST 30637)

“I but put that brow before you,” Herman Melville wrote in his 1851 novel, Moby-Dick, “read it if you can.” Melville was describing the brow of the mighty sperm whale, but his words apply equally to his mighty book. In this seminar, we can and will read Moby-Dick, Melville’s maddening masterpiece. We will read Moby-Dick as an invitation into its multiple historical contexts at the middle of the 19th-century American and wider worlds. We will explore the world of whaling and the age of sail, the ecological and imaginary expanses of the 19th-century ocean, the intellectual and literary culture of the “American Renaissance,” and a nation on a collision course with itself.

American Wilderness (AMST 30174)

How is a national park different from a national wilderness area, a city park, the lakes at Notre Dame, or your back yard? Why are some considered more wild than others, and why is wilderness such an attractive idea? Writers, historians, painters, photographers, and politicians have described American landscapes as wild to great effect, in concert with identities of gender, class, race, and nation. This class will explore how the idea of wilderness – and the places associated with that idea – have developed during the 19th and 20th centuries. We will examine how wilderness has supported the growth of a national identity but largely failed to recognize the diversity of the American people. Course themes include: 1) developing the wilderness idea; 2) national parks and the problem of wilderness; 3) wilderness experience and politics; and 4) wilderness narratives. Readings will range from Henry David Thoreau and John Muir to Edward Abbey and Jon Krakauer, and there will be a strong visual culture component. For their final project students will choose a wild place of their own to interpret.

Our Global Environment (HIST 30998)

“No one under 30 has ever lived through a month of global temperatures below the 20th-century average.” Why bother with history if the future, because of climate change, will be nothing like the past? That’s the central question of this course. Scientists now tell us that the relatively benign epoch of human flourishing designed the “Holocene” is over. The change is so great and so rapid that some scientists have even proposed a new epoch called the “Anthropocene” to designate this irreversible rupture with the previous 11,700 year when human beings first discovered agriculture, created cities, and developed writing systems’ when most of what historians have called “history” occurred. To confront this dilemma, this course asks three questions: (1) What is the “Anthropocene” and what are scientists telling us about this epoch which began by most accounts in the mid-twentieth century with the Great Acceleration in economic activities and population growth? (2) What does history show us about how we arrived at this crisis? Historians have long been interested in political and economic questions about power, state structures, democracy, and development, but have they sufficiently considered the relationship between their own stories of modernity and the dilemmas we now face? (3) Were there political and economic formations in the past more conducive to environmentally sustainable communities and can historians now help by uncovering them? The readings combine scientific debates over the “Anthropocene” with historians’ work on sustainable communities from Victorian England and early modern Japan. We end by reading the famous novelist and anthropologist Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable.

Sustainable Cities: Community Health and the Common Good (CSC 33958)

This one-credit, interdisciplinary course is an exploration of the question: What is the relationship between healthy, sustainable communities and the principle of the Common Good. Beginning with an introduction to basic principles of environmental justice, students will explore how the equitable and culturally appropriate distribution of environmental benefits and burdens serves the aim of community health and the common good. Reflective conversations and community visits will shape how students engage questions about the links between health disparities and disproportionate exposure to environmental pollution. Students will leave this course with a foundation of knowledge to address issues at the intersection of health, poverty, sustainability, and justice. Please note: This course satisfies the pre-requisite requirements for any of the Washington Policy Seminars.

Science, Theology, & Creation (THEO 20888)

This course investigates the Christian understanding of creation and how this doctrine relates to contemporary scientific issues. We will examine the development of the doctrine beginning with Scripture and the Creed and progressing through the early Church period into the Medieval and Scholastic era, focusing on the concepts of creation ex nihilo, creation continua, divine Providence, and divine action in the world. With the rise of the modern era, we will analyze the origin of and principles involved with the purported conflict between science and theology. We will bring the doctrine of creation into dialogue with three contemporary issues in the sciences: cosmology, evolution, and ecology. Integral to this course will be the relationship and response of humankind to God and to creation. This course will have a special appeal to students interested in the intersection of science and theology.

The Commons: tangible, intangible and otherwise (ANTH 60300)

What could environmental anthropology offer to our current debates about climate change, degrowth, and sustainability? The debate on the “commons” has returned to the focus of socio-environmental politics and theorizing in recent debates of the climate crisis. From late 1960s debates about overpopulation and environmental degradation to the present debates about economic degrowth and climate change mitigation, the “commons” has figured as a constant topic of debate and a key symbol for political organizing. The idea of the “commons” of collective management led to its renewal with the discourse on the Internet as a force for positive social change with the circulation of intangible goods of information and knowledge. Most recently, we are back to square one in terms of our debate about the common in the “commons:” its urgency as an alternative for ecological collapse and corporate enclosures of intellectual property and natural resources. In this seminar, we will map out the field to discuss alternatives of the commons based on classic and contemporary references. Our goal will be to cover the literature and examine its contributions for addressing pressing issues of climate change and economic transformation. We welcome advanced undergraduates and graduate students working on climate change and sustainability issues to join the seminar.

Solutions: Science, Politics, and Saving the Planet (POLS 40491)

Studying environmental politics can be a gloomy pursuit. There are a myriad of devastating problems and a seeming scarcity of scientific and technological fixes. Technical fixes aside, there is the even more problematic scarcity of political fixes. Political institutions often seem to obstruct rather than facilitate environmentally sound policies, and the mass public and political leaders often prioritize competing goals and policies. This course is designed to understand whether the pessimism is warranted and to search for the optimism: What are the best opportunities, scientific and political, for saving the planet? What can realistically be accomplished?

Sustainability @ ND/SMC/HCC and in the Holy Cross Charism (THEO 20672)

This course will address sustainability in the context of the local academic community and its institutions. In conversation with the recent papal encyclical, Laudato Si’, On Care for Our Common Home, this course will provide students with interdisciplinary opportunities to explore the challenges of sustainability and develop collaborative strategies for making our common campus homes more sustainable. Students will be invited to examine the course materials in conversation with the mission of the Congregation of Holy Cross through immersion at each of the campuses and encounters with professionals whose work impacts sustainability. Please note: In Fall 2022, this course will involve 20 hours of community-based learning with site placements in the local community.