Starting this semester, the Environmental Studies (ENVS) program at Tufts is offering a new track to students called environmental humanities. The track focuses on how ideologies have influenced humans’ interactions with the environment, according to the program’s website.
Harriet H. Fay Professor of Literature Elizabeth Ammons, who was part of a core group of faculty members working to create this track, explained that the environmental humanities track was created due to a need for it in the ENVS program.
“[Environmental humanities] is really filling a gap in our environmental studies offering of tracks,” she said. “Thinking about the environment from a science point of view is important [and] thinking about it from a policy view is important, but it’s equally important asking what the humanities and what the products of the human imagination yields for us if we think about the environment.”
The track was also created in part due to appeals from the faculty working in the ENVS program as well as interest from students, ENVS Professor Ninian Stein said.
“There’s a lot of demand on the faculty perspective, and I understand from folks who’ve been here longer than me … that there is demand from the student perspective,” Stein said. “There’s definitely faculty demand; there’s a number of faculty members who are very seriously committed to and excited about this program.”
The new track is now one of six options offered to students in the ENVS major, according to Ammons.
“Environmental science gives us a lot of data and information, but environmental humanities is interested in the values and belief systems, [and] the ideologies that shape and actually determine human beings’ attitudes toward the earth,” Ammons said.
Stein, who teaches the introductory course for environmental humanities, explained that this new track prepares students, particularly those looking to go to graduate school and work in universities, for many different careers.
“I would say [to] someone who’s thinking about going on in academia, this is actually a really hot field and has very good prospects,” Stein said. “I also think that going on in other areas, having an understanding in history, archaeology, literature, justice issues and sort of all of these lenses can be invaluable in a range of fields.”
Environmental communication is another track offered by the ENVS program pertaining more to the humanities; however, the environmental humanities track aims to be broader by incorporating many different departments and fields of study, according to Stein.
“The task of environmental communications is to impart, to disseminate, to distribute the research and information that other people come up with [and] the most effective ways of communicating that,” Ammons said.
Ammons added that environmental humanities is unique in that it allows people to create their own knowledge in exploring environmental information from a humanities perspective, rather than just looking at information.
“[Environmental humanities] is a lot broader and very appropriate for folks who really want to have a solid grounding in critical thinking skills and writing skills,” Stein added.
A unique way that environmental humanities stands out among other tracks is the way it can incorporate arts into its program, according to Stein.
“In my view, the environmental humanities welcomes arts as well and … I’m certainly someone who leans on the side of fields of the arts as part of environmental humanities,” Stein said. “Sometimes, an image is a really great way to get an idea across … it can speak in different ways. I really see this as a way of giving recognition to what I’ve always thought is an important career pathway in environmental studies,” Stein said.
Response to the program has seemed good so far, according to both faculty members and students themselves.
Sophomore Eco-Representative Louisa Kimmell explained how she sees the environmental humanities track as a necessary addition to the ENVS program. She explained how this track enables people who are passionate about the environment to still be involved in this field of study, even if they do not want to take the science or policy path.
“A lot of people are more interested in the human aspect,” Kimmell said.
While this is the first time the track is available, Kimmell said that she has heard of student interest in the area of study.
“Among the Eco-Reps, our coordinator brought it up in one of our meetings…and I’ve heard people talk about it, and I think people generally know about it or have heard about it and it sounds like people are into it,” she said.
Interim Director of the ENVS program Professor Ujjayant Chakravorty explained that students have expressed interest in the environmental humanities, but that the program plans to advertise it more in hope of garnering more interest.
“There’s clearly an intersection between humanities and the environment … so there’s clearly students in the humanities who I think might be interested in the environmental humanities track,” Chakravorty said.