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Aug. 5, 2010

 

Environmental Literature

Fellow at Trinity University looks at ‘green’ science as a humanities expert   

 

Greg Hazleton, right, chats with Trinity anthropology professor Jennifer Mathews and Brett Werner from Centre College during a break at an environmental conference.

SAN ANTONIO – Greg Hazleton, an environmental Fellow who views the ecologic world through the lens of literature, was stunned by a comment from a Trinity University colleague. When biology professor Kelly Lyons said scientists are hindered by language, Hazleton thought, “In my world, language is limitless.”

 

A postdoctoral Fellow in the English department, Hazleton has completed the first of a two-year appointment through the Associated Colleges of the South (ACS) Environmental Fellows program made possible by a grant from the Mellon Foundation.

 

He teaches classes that introduce first-year students to environmental inquiry and upper division students to more complex ways of considering how sciences such as biology can inform humanities such as poetry. In all his courses, Hazleton relies upon interdisciplinary approaches to blur the lines between the sciences and humanities.

 

“American literature and nature go hand in hand. The field of eco-criticism has been around for about 20 years,” he said, adding that poets have been sharing observations about the environment for centuries. The new twist is that he and other eco-critics examine sciences such as biology and physics and social sciences such as philosophy and history as humanists.

  

“We come to different answers,” he said. “I see scientists doing great things with numbers, data, and charts. They have all this great information, but it is terrifying because they can’t express it. This calls for an interdisciplinary approach so that the numbers people and the words people can understand each other’s practices.”

 

Earlier this summer, Hazleton was one of about a dozen ACS Fellows who attended a conference at Trinity along with their mentor professors. The group evaluated the first year of the program and tackled topics such as how to involve the off-campus community in what they teach. For example, an ethnographer in Maryland recruited a colleague to capture oral histories of families living on the Chesapeake Bay amid evidence of watershed degradation.

 

In San Antonio, Hazleton said he has been integrating sustainability concepts into his Trinity courses. He has asked students to consider how recycling works or how energy use can be curtailed on and off campus. “I tell them, ‘Be broad. Think broadly.’”     

 

Trinity’s First Year Seminar is a great place to introduce environmental inquiry, Hazleton said. Students may not go on to major in environmental studies, but he feels successful if he plants a seed that could shape a graduate’s future career to include questions about how business practices might affect the eco-systems of a community or even the entire planet.

 

He also encourages students to think of Trinity and San Antonio as eco-systems. He asks questions such as: “Do you have to go beyond Loop 1604 to get to nature?” or “Is it around us on campus?”

 

This fall, Hazleton will teach a class for either biology or English majors in which biology will be used to teach poetry. “It’s right up my alley,” he said, adding that students in the course will visit Edward O. Wilson, the Harvard biologist who has won two Pulitzer Prizes for fiction and will be the DeCoursey Lecture speaker on Monday, Oct. 25. 

 

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