As human beings, we explore and define our relation to nature in various ways…but one of the oldest and still most influential is through stories, factual or fictional, traditional or new. Even science, an avowedly objective enterprise, travels in this form. This class will examine how science circulates across societies, particularly how scientific information and theory gets packaged and delivered as stories, and what issues are at stake in formulating it in narrative terms. The scientific enterprise has enormous effect in the modern world across all sectors of life; how citizens and non-scientists in a given country understand its nature and purposes (as framed by the stories it tells) is crucial for the impact that it has. We will be looking at texts oriented toward a wide popular audience, primarily in the U.S., and across several different areas of science—from Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (chemicals) and Stephen Weart’s The Discovery of Global Warming (climate) to Devra Davis’s When Smoke Ran Like Rain (epidemiology) and Terry Tempest Williams’ Refuge (ornithology, pollution), as well as dipping back in time to look at portions of Darwin’s Origin of Species and the topic of evolution. Class work will include frequent, ungraded low-stakes journal writing and e-responses, plus several short (1200-1500) analytical essays. Course provides VLPA and W-credit. In-class attendance is expected.
“Nature”: from the Latin word “nacio” “to be born.” So nature is that which has been born, has come into existence. Organic life, in short. Yet we use the word “nature” to mean all things in existence, organic and inorganic alike, rocks and air and sea as much as living things—logically enough, since all these things are part of a deeply interconnected, unified system (or set of systems).