Finding a course that was devoted to EH was a big moment for me . I could finally write about what I’ve wanted to write about for a long time – Ben Theyerl ’20
Environmental Humanities Courses taken: EN/ES 283: Environmental Humanities: Stories of Crisis and Resilience- Walker; AY297: Of Beasts, Pets and Wildlife: What Animals Mean to Humans- Menair; ES/EN337: Climate Fiction – Walker
Summer Research Assistant: worked on the Climate Fiction Database with Chris Walker.
How did you get into Environmental Humanities?
I grew up in northern Wisconsin, in a family that was outdoorsy. We liked to go hiking and skiing. My competitive sports I did outside, and also my dad and I spent a lot of time fishing and hunting together. I grew up familiar with that and also I had family with farms. So this thinking of the environment has always been on my mind.
When I was in high school, I was in an english literature class where we were supposed to read Thoreau’s Walden, and I went home and read it in one night. It was what I had always been looking for in terms of thinking about humans and our relationship to nature.
When I got to Colby I started to pursue English as a topic of study. I just sort of happened to come at the right time when this Environmental Humanities Initiative was going which is where I was interested in literary studies in the first place. So finding a course that was specifically devoted to that was a big moment for me in terms of where my academic growth has gone since then. I could finally write about what I’ve wanted to write about for a long time and think about what I’ve wanted to think about.
Ever since then a lot of my thinking and time spent reading has been in this subdiscipline, that’s also kind of exciting because it is a newer discipline. Eco criticism is not that old so I’ve been able to immerse myself in this.
Why I’ve been drawn to it is , one, its a personal interest of mine and, two, I’m interested in the issues that it comments on in our world. Climate change is to me the biggest challenge we is as a whole species face into the next century, so thinking about how we can co-opt the humanities with the science that’s going on, with the policy that’s going on, is really important to see any real change in the issues, like climate change, its not going to be how we can discover things with science that is going to change our society’s view on the topic, it’s going to be: “How can we change the underlying ideology that’s underneath the issue of climate change?” Where I see the environmental humanities fitting in to the larger world is to think of strategies for that.
The essay I presented at CLAS is now sort of series of essays I’ve done on relating my own ontological relationship with nature to where I grew up. To me it’s like that home is where you’re seeing your relationship to nature where it’s most prominent. How can we create narratives in culture that focus on a real deep attention to our impacts on the environment and what or relationship to the environment is. I think If we can do that and get it into the hands of people who are making decisions about climate change policy or making decisions on environmental policy is a good step in the right direction of actually changing the underlying ideas of our relationship to nature.
If you look at where climate change came from from an intellectual history standpoint, it very much came about with the rise of industrialism and capitalism and this idea that we are separate from nature comes from that idea. How do we counteract that with the realization that we are really a species that exists within an environment and ecosystem and that we owe everything to not only the environment but the other things in that ecosystem, so not only physical environment but the living things as well. That means everything from a deer you see walking in the woods to the corn that we’re farming in the middle of the midwest.
Where do you see yourself going with EH?
I can see a very big application of the work we have been doing here at Colby with trying to get these topics brought into the classroom and public education. I think it would be an important to have kids thinking about their relationship with nature, especially since our not thinking about that for so long has caused a lot of damage to the environment. In other sectors, it’s obviously a very powerful thing to have in the back of your mind when you’re trying to create policy when you’re looking at laws that concern the environment.
There’s lots of different applications of the work that Colby has been doing in the Environmental Humanities that stretch across disciplines that I think will be useful in whatever I go into and my hope is that other Colby kids will benefit from that as well.
I know some of the most engaged enlightening conversations I’ve had while I’ve been at Colby are the ones I have right after I’ve walked out of [Environmental Humanities Post-doctoral Fellow] Chris Walker’s English class and talking with somebody who has maybe a strong opinion that maybe isn’t the same as mine and we go to the dining hall and talk about nature and life for hours.