Spring 2019

URBS-334 / ANTH-344 / CIMS-344

Ben Mendelsohn

Tuesday/Thursday, 10:30 - 11:50 AM

What can video art, experimental documentary, and sensory ethnography teach us about the practice of urban research? This course combines seminar readings on topics such as urban political ecology, gender and public space, and the architectures of racial division with regular screenings on related themes. Throughout the semester, we will survey a range of film and video works about urban phenomena including the production of space, human-environment interaction, and the politics of infrastructure. Taken as a genre, these time-based works provide a powerful model for training scholars’ observational skills, conceptualizing scales of analysis, and engaging broader publics in urban research. We will also complete a series of workshops on photo, video, audio, and postproduction skills so that students may develop and situate their own experimental documentary research projects in dialogue with urban studies scholarship. Suitable for all levels of filmmaking experience. Graduate students welcome.

Documentary Experiments course poster


Spring 2019


Mark Lycett

Kathleen Morrison

Tuesday/Thursday, 1:30 - 3:00 PM

This seminar explores the historical ecology of European colonial expansion in a comparative framework, concentrating on the production of “periphery” and the transformation of incorporated societies and environments. In the first half of the semester, we will consider the theoretical frameworks, sources of evidence, and analytical strategies employed by researchers to address the conjunction of environmental and human history in colonial contexts. During the second half of the course, we will explore the uses of these varied approaches and lines of evidence in relation to specific cases and trajectories of transformation since the sixteenth century.


Spring 2019

History 670-302

Marcy Norton

Wednesday 3:30 - 6:30 PM

This course is designed to explore the way that scholars in the humanities and social sciences grapple with non-human actors and agency when writing about history. We will explore different kinds of methods and theoretical orientations, beginning with the Annales school and proceeding to the overlapping and yet distinct lineages related to U.S. and global environmental history, science and technology studies (STS), new materialism (and its critics), Amazonian ontological studies, critical animal studies, haptic studies and ecocriticism. In the last third of the class, we will proceed in a “case study” fashion and look at concepts and entities such as the Anthropocene, climate, water, forests, and non-human animals. Authors likely to appear on syllabus include Fernand Braudel, Alfred Crosby, William Cronon, Virginia Anderson, Dipesh Chakrabarty, Bruno Latour, Cora Diamond, Vicky Hearne, Donna Haraway, Anna Tsing, Philippe Descola, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Eduardo Kohn, Jane Bennett, Graham Harman, Timothy Morton, and Richard Powers. Students planning (or considering) taking this course are encouraged to get in touch with me (marcy.norton@upenn.sas.edu) beforehand to let me know their particular interests as this will help me decide on final reading selections for syllabus.


Spring 2019


Daniel Barber

Wednesday 9:00 - 11:50 AM

Climate change is upon us. This course discusses the history of thinking about climate in architecture. We confront the geographic and epistemic challenges of climate change and other environmental threats, and reimagine the forces seen to condition the development of modern architecture. This course will explore the history of buildings as mechanisms of climate management, and the theoretical and conceptual frameworks that pertain.

As many of the arguments and innovations in the climate discourse were made through visual means, the images produced by architects and others interested in understanding the relationship between “man” and “climate” will be a central arena of exploration. We will treat these images as evidence of material innovations in energy efficient architectural design technologies and also as evidence of new ways of thinking about ecological, political, cultural, and economic concerns.

These narratives, images, and methods – and the broader understanding of environmental systems that emerged since the immediate post-war period – also suggest a complex relationship to the present. Rather than examine instrumental aspects of these methods and their histories, we will explore different historiographic and conceptual means for the archival analysis of climate, technology, and architecture. Recent texts concerned with theories of historical change, of new ideas about the human, and with the cultural anxieties associated with the Anthropocene will be read closely to this end.

Students will be expected to participate in class discussions, make a seminar presentation, and develop a semester-long research project.

Spring 2019


Kristina Lyons

Wednesday 3:30-6:30 PM

Occupy protestors in the U.S. argued that “Nature is the 99%”; the U.S.-Colombia War on Drugs combats la mata que mata [the plant that kills]; anti-mining protestors block extraction on the basis that mountains have the right to live; New Zealand legislation grants a river “legal personality.”

“That’s the stuff of politics” is a commonly heard phrase that often denotes nothing more than the shady dealings between elected officials, overheated rhetoric, party affiliations, and the negotiations of power between human actors that we may imagine constitutes political life in representational liberal democracies. However, this course follows the proposal to take the “stuff” of politics seriously (Braun and Whatmore 2010) – not as a shorthand phrase for political activity, but to consider instead the constitutive nature of material elements and nonhuman processes and beings in social and political life.  In other words, the way that things of every imaginable kind – what we may be accustomed to thinking of as objects, matter, nature, technology, and bodies – help constitute the dense fabric of relations comprising the worlds in which we live. This course asks: What happens to environmental politics – indeed to the political as a category – if we begin to take this matter seriously? How do notions like political ecology and political economy change when we consider nonhumans as constitutive of how we come to define and practice the political itself? What happens to our understandings of the ‘human’, and diverse struggles over rights, racism, and social justice if we question a modern divide between ‘nature’ and ‘culture’?

Spring 2019


Kristina Lyons

Tuesday 1:30-4:30 PM

This course takes inspiration from conversations and practices occurring at the interfaces of cultural anthropology, the environmental humanities, and feminist science studies.  Anthropologist Stuart McLean (2017) has asked: “What might become of anthropology if it were to suspend its sometime claims to be a social science? What if it were to turn instead to exploring its affinities with art and literature as a mode of engaged creative practice carried forward in a world heterogeneously composed of humans and other than humans?” At the same time, the emergence of the environmental humanities as an academic discipline in the twenty-first century reflects the growing conviction on the part of diverse sectors that “environmental” problems cannot be solved by science and technology alone. Instead, cultivation of experimental methods and alliance building between the arts and social and natural sciences has become ever more important strategy in terms of fomenting public engaged scholarship. In this course, we will not necessarily suspend the social scientific claims of anthropology, and ethnography more specifically, but we will push our methodological premises and conceptual work to experiment with our objects of study, matters of concern, and the diverse materialities that emerge from and participate in our ethnographic work.   

Spring 2019

LARP 780-003

Nicholas Pevzner

Tuesday 10:00 AM - 1:00 PM

What will it take to address climate change? Increasingly, it looks like it will take both a complete overhaul of energy infrastructure, and also a massive amount of carbon sequestration. How will carbon sequestration be depolyed, by whom, and what could it look like? How might future landscapes of carbon sequestration mirror previous patterns of energy extraction, or forge alternative pathways?

Landscapes of energy extraction and carbon sequestration may be located far from one another, yet they are closely connected through the dynamics of the carbon economy, the legacy patterns of territorial power and control, and of the cultural narratives that we tell. This seminar delves into energy infrastructure and its deeply-held cultural narratives, and analyzes some promising carbon sequestration practices and their cultural landscapes. Extraction and sequestration are two sides of an expanded concern with the resource territories required to power the industrialized world, and to deal with its byproducts.

The fist part of the class will look at how the large-scale infrastructure projects built to enable that extraction have long acted as powerful organizers of territory: how energy infrastructure projects have historically been used to project power, extract value, and reshape patterns of labor and settlement — whether it’s the canals that were built to support coal extraction in Pennsylvania, the geography of oil pipelines and oil ports, or emerging kinds of renewable energy that continue to carry old legacy patterns of power.

The second half — landscapes of sequestration — will survey a range of landscape strategies with the potential to “draw down” the atmospheric carbon pool — from new technological approaches, to new kinds of agriculture and forestry management, to coastal mangrove restoration and the farming of coastal “blue carbon.” We will investigate the ecological principles behind these strategies, and critically analyze the spatial and cultural effects that these practices can have.
From carbon markets to carbon capture, these practices are not neutral: this seminar will dig into the contested narratives of how carbon should be managed, and critically interrogates the spatial choices that will underpin the energy system of the future.

Landscapes of Extraction Course


Spring 2019


Oscar Aguirre Mandujano

Tuesday 1:30 - 4:30 PM

Around 8000 years ago, communities in the western part of the Eurasian steppe began to breed and ride horses. This process of domestication made horses central participants in human history. The domestication of the horse transformed military tactics, human mobility and communication, agriculture, and entertainment. Humans have transformed the horse as well, producing about 200 breeds with unique characteristics matched to human goals. This course traces the history of equine-human relations across the globe, using the horse as a focal point to think about animal-human relations in societies ranging from prehistoric Europe to the Spanish conquests of Latin America. Our inquiry will address not only the place of horses in these particular phases of world history, but also by extension the debates about human-animal relations in our society today. The Major or Minor geographic requirement fulfilled by this course will be determined by an individual student’s research paper topic.

Spring 2019

GSWS 492

Jacqueline N. Sadashige

Thursday 7:00 - 9:00 PM, online

In early 2017, animal rights lawyer Steve Wise argued that two of his clients should be afforded the rights of "personhood." The clients in question were chimpanzees. This case suggests that "speciesism" might soon be met with the same degree of suspicion as sexism and racism. This course will explore how such a shift could come about and what it might signal. We will begin by examining the western foundations of binaries such as human-animal and male-female and how such categories have manifested in culture. From here we will explore recent ecofeminist and post-humanist attempts to dismantle these constructs. Finally, we will investigate how our beliefs about who "we" are and what "we" are not can affect everything from the foods we eat to how we vacation. NOTE: a component of this course will involve on cross-cultural analysis with focus on case studies of ecotourism and wildlife management outside the US.

Spring 2019

GRMN 150

Simon Richter

Tuesday/Thursday 1:30 - 3:00 PM

As a result of climate change, the world that will take shape in the course of this century will be decidedly more inundated with water than we're accustomed to. The polar ice caps are melting, glaciers are retreating, ocean levels are rising, polar bear habitat is disappearing, countries are jockeying for control over a new Arctic passage, while low-lying cities and small island nations are confronting the possibility of their own demise. Catastrophic flooding events are increasing in frequency, as are extreme droughts. Hurricane-related storm surges, tsunamis, and raging rivers have devastated regions on a local and global scale. In this course, we will turn to the narratives and images that the human imagination has produced in response to the experience of overwhelming watery invasion, from Noah to New Orleans and beyond. Objects of analysis include mythology, ancient and early modern diluvialism, literature, art, film, and commemorative practice in countries and regions such as the United States, China, India, Thailand, the Middle East, the Netherlands, and Peru. The basic question we'll be asking is: What can we learn from the humanities that will be helpful for confronting the problems and challenges caused by climate change and sea level rise?

Spring 2019