Eugene S Hunn
Introduction to human/environment interactions from various anthropological perspectives. Intellectual history of anthropological approaches to environment, emphasizing the mutual interconnectedness of people and nature. Survey of evolutionary models; cultural ecology; systems approaches; indigenous knowledge; ethnoecology; nature and the state; political ecology; ecofeminism; and environmentalism.
Anthropology is the study of the human condition, not just human society, history, psychology, politics, economics, or religion, law, art, and literature, but the whole ball of wax, from a wholistic perspective.
Environmental Anthropology considers the human condition in ecological context. How does humanity fit within the biosphere, past, present, and future. Environmental Anthropology is also about evolution, biocultural evolution as who we are and how we live is informed by a complex interplay of our genes, our ideas, and our natural and social environment.
We will examine contemporary case studies that illustrate major human adaptive strategies that have sustained human communities for many millennia, such as hunting and gathering, fishing, farming, commerce, and industry, meeting the challenges of survival in every earth habitat, whether desert, tropical forest, arctic tundra, island, or city.
We will consider the fundamental dichotomy between two ways of living in the world, that of small-scale, locally-rooted, subsistence-based societies, on the one hand, and that of our largely urban, global-market-dependent mega-society, on the other. In this context, we will consider our current global predicament, how in “mastering nature” we balance on the brink of catastrophe. What hopeful perspective might environmental anthropology offer going forward?
This course will address roughly in order several key themes:
1) Biocultural Evolution: We will need a foundation of concepts from evolution, ecology, and anthropology to understand and compare how species and cultures evolve? Where have we humans come from and where might we be headed? Has culture derailed Darwinian evolution? Does human nature dictate the destruction of all but human life on earth? Can we learn useful lessons from “primitive peoples”? Is Earth our mother? Will Science save us?
2) TEK, or “Traditional Environmental Knowledge”: We start with the idea that we humans everywhere must first construct an image of the environment in which we live, before we can live in it. For example, we learn that certain plants, animals, and natural forces (each with a name) exist “out there” and that each may be by turns dangerous, edible, cute, or awesome; that each affects our lives in certain predictable ways. The human role in the global ecosystem is the sum of such individual interactions.
3) A Sense of Place: We will consider several case studies of indigenous societies, examples of how humans lived with nature without the benefit of our modern global economy. Our cases will include the Tlingit, native peoples of southeastern Alaska, Columbia River Indians native to our own Pacific Northwest interior, and Zapotec farmers of Oaxaca, Mexico. In each case their lives are now profoundly challenged by their historic encounters with colonialism and, more recently, global capitalism.
4) Environmental Justice: Environmental anthropology offers a distinctive and valuable perspective on the global environmental crisis. Can we simultaneously conserve biodiversity and play fair with the world’s least wealthy and powerful people? Who benefits and who pays the costs of “progress,” and how do the decisions of our world leaders affect the lives of local communities. A powerful example comes from the Marshall Islands, a tiny, tropical Pacific nation that hosted nuclear weapons tests after World War II and now must deal with rising sea levels consequent to global warming.
We will consider these issues in our texts, readings, lectures, and class discussions.
Student learning goals
Environmental Anthropology: To appreciate how people engage the "natural" environment through thought, feeling, and action. To better appreciate the human side of environmental conservation.
Biocultural Evolution: We build on a foundation of concepts from evolution, ecology, and anthropology to understand and compare how species and cultures evolve?
TEK, or “Traditional Environmental Knowledge”: Humans everywhere must first construct an image of the environment in which we live, before we can live in it.
A Sense of Place: How have humans lived with nature without the benefit of our modern global economy. Our cases will include the Tlingit, native peoples of southeastern Alaska, Columbia River Indians native to our own Pacific Northwest interior, and Zapotec farmers of Oaxaca, Mexico.
Environmental Justice: Environmental anthropology offers a distinctive and valuable perspective on the global environmental crisis. Can we simultaneously conserve biodiversity and play fair with the world’s least wealthy and powerful people? Who benefits and who pays the costs of “progress,” and how do the decisions of our world leaders affect the lives of local communities.
Tie it al together.
General method of instruction
This course is about ideas. So it makes little sense for the professor to lecture day in and day out. The course demands your active participation in formulating questions and debating issues. This is obviously difficult in such a large class. Yet we need to make the effort. Hunn will lecture approximately twice each week, to introduce concepts or issues. We will see films or have guests approximately once a week and reserve one day a week for discussion and debate of controversial issues, based on questions submitted by yourselves.
You will meet in the more cozy confines of discussion sections each Tuesday. The TA’s task in sections will be to get everyone talking and to make sure that the conversation is not monopolized by the few. The section project will involve a mini local environmental/historical ethnography. This assignment is designed to encourage you to adopt an anthropological perspective on local environmental issues.
There are no prerequisites but an interest in better understanding your biological AND sociocultural environment.
Class assignments and grading
Weekly questions/comments: You can’t be expected to participate actively in your own education if you fall behind in the readings. To motivate you all to keep current you will be required to submit a question or comment based on your reading each week. We will collate these questions and use the most penetrating as a basis for class discussion. These will be due each Monday morning. You may bring them to class or submit them by e-mail; but they must be received by class time Monday to count.
Class Project: Students will work in small teams to research the environmental history and cultural ecology of a single township in the Seattle area. A township is approximately a square of 6 miles on a side. Township boundaries are routinely marked on topographical maps. For example, the University of Washington is located in the township designated T25N R4E. If you selected this township as your study site, your team would need to consult maps (at the Suzzallo library map room) to familiarize yourselves with the basic hydrology and contemporary human settlement patterns of that area. You will need to explore the area by car or on foot, then describe the dominant flora and fauna, including the human population. To make your study anthropological you will need to learn some basic facts about how local families subsist, that is, where do their food (a visit to a local market or P-patch might be interesting), water (trace the pipes), fuel (what are the primary sources of non-food energy), and other basic material necessities (building materials, medicines) come from and how are their waste products recycled? How are local resources managed? What is the state of Local Environmental Knowledge (hint: interview local residents about their knowledge of local flora, fauna, and ecological relationships). These analyses will need to be placed in historic context. How have these basic cultural ecological features changed through time? Are present relationships sustainable? Obviously you will have time for just a brief sketch and will need to divide the work amongst your team. At the conclusion of the quarter you will be expected to share your insights and compare your results with the other teams.
Quizes: Quizes emphasize the special terminology of the field. Learning environmental anthropology is learning to TALK environmental anthropology, that is, learning the language peculiar to this field. In these quizes you will be asked to define and characterize a set of terms selected from a review list handed out ahead of time. You will be limited to 100 or 150 words per term.
Final Exam: The final is a take-home, open-book, essay style exam. You will have a choice between several complex questions that will require that you review a range of sources from the class (books, readings, films, lectures, discussions) and integrate what you have learned in composing your answer. You will write two essays of ca. 600 words each.
Weekly questions/comments: 1 point per week for 10 points total; Class project: 30 points total; Quizes (2 short, in-class quizzes): 15 points each for 30 points total; Final Exam (a take-home, essay-style final exam): 30 points total.