Northeastern Section - 54th Annual Meeting - 2019

Paper No. 44-2
Presentation Time: 8:20 AM


VAN VLIET, Netta, College of the Atlantic, Human Studies, 105 Eden St., Bar Harbor, ME 04609 and HALL, Sarah R., College of the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, ME 04609

The dire warnings about how human-induced changes to the Earth System heralds the potential end of human existence as well as massive numbers of species extinctions, are the backdrop for discussions about “the Anthropocene” both inside and outside the university. Addressing the environmental and political questions posed by these changes to the Earth System requires collaboration between disciplines. In 2018, a geologist and an anthropologist staged an “exercise in translation” across and beyond these two different disciplines through co-teaching an undergraduate course called “The Anthropocene”. This discussion-based course was rooted in close readings of texts in postcolonial studies, literature, anthropology, and Earth and environmental sciences. The course inspired students to contemplate the definition of the human and the concept of agency when considering the notion of the Anthropocene. Classroom activities, such as exercises in stratigraphic mapping and rock identification and interpretation familiarize students with concepts in Earth science important to the process of defining units of geologic time. Given that the definition of the human is necessarily involved in the conversation about when human-induced changes to the Earth System can be observed in the global stratigraphic record, questions raised by humanists become relevant for discussions of defining the Anthropocene. While for geologists, the definition of the human is often defined anatomically in relation to geologic time on a species level: Homo sapiens, in the humanities and social sciences, human history has been defined in contrast to natural history. As postcolonial scholars point out, the concept of the Anthropocene collapses the distinction between human and natural history, thereby raising questions about how to understand the human in terms of concepts of agency, responsibility, and distinctions between subject and object, life and death, individual and species. In addition to presenting on the structure, materials, and activities we employed, we will highlight some of the challenges and opportunities of co-teaching this course. In addition to reflections on our own experiences, we include student feedback on this first attempt to translate between different disciplines through the topic of the Anthropocene.