January 23, 2018
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UMM Receives NEH Grant to Examine Humans and Nature

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Randall Kindleberger, associate professor of history, and Tora Johnson, director of the Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Service Center at the University of Maine at Machias.

MACHIAS, Maine – The University of Maine at Machias has been awarded a $25,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Enduring Questions Program to develop a course exploring the relationship between humans and nature.

“Increasing threats to the natural environment have inspired many in the contemporary world to think about nature and how to protect it,” said Randall Kindleberger, associate professor of history. “But, of course humans have always depended upon nature and sought to understand it. This course is about the amazing variety of ways societies have represented and valued nature. It’s an attempt to put our current concerns into a much wider perspective, while engaging students in the exploration of works of art, science, culture, economics, and more.”

Part of UMM’s Environmental Liberal Arts (ELA) core curriculum, the course, titled Humans and Nature, will be required of all academic majors and will serve as the capstone for the University’s ELA core seminars, collectively called The Maine Coastal Odyssey. The other core seminars are Recreation and Wellness, Natural Environments, and Community and Place.

Five two- to three-week modules will consider different aspects of the question: “What is nature?” Students will work with a collection of readings, artwork, and other media from an array of historical eras and cultural traditions including Aboriginal Australian and Native American, ancient Greece and China, nineteenth-century Europe and America, and the contemporary world. Students will go on field excursions to Native American petroglyph sites, iconic Maine landscapes, and the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland. The goal is for students to reflect on the sources of contemporary ideas abut nature and how they shape environmental attitudes and discourse.

Tora Johnson, director of UMM’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Service Center, noted, “Our graduates will be grappling with really complex and vitally important environmental issues when they enter the workforce. In this course, they’ll integrate the skills and ideas they’ve learned in science, history, and the other ELA courses to dig deeper. They’ll examine how these issues can be influenced by everything from technology to pop culture to the scientific method. It’s gratifying to know that the National Endowment for the Humanities recognized the importance and potential of this integrated approach to liberal arts education”

Kindleberger and Johnson collaborated on the grant proposal and will serve as co-directors for the project. Each will teach a section of the course beginning this fall.

UMM also plans to offer an online version of the course to satisfy the core requirements of students enrolled in one of the University’s online degree programs. The online section will incorporate synchronous small group discussions, sharing via online forums, and streaming video lectures.

The Enduring Questions Program was established by NEH to support the development of courses that foster intellectual community through the study of enduring questions. The program encourages undergraduates and teachers to grapple with a fundamental question addressed by the humanities, and to join together in a deep and sustained program of reading in order to encounter influential thinkers over the centuries and into the present day.