Yale Environmental Humanities expands its reach with new graduate certificate

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To address the need for interdisciplinary scholarship that can help illuminate the complex ways that nature and culture are intertwined, the Yale Environmental Humanities Initiative has developed a new graduate certificate program to strengthen student training and support.

The Graduate Certificate in the Environmental Humanities, which will be offered beginning in the fall of 2019, is open to doctoral students at any stage of their graduate training. It will have three components. The first is coursework: Students are required to take three graduate classes related to the environmental humanities, and they also will participate in a yearlong workshop that meets six times a semester at which they will share their work and discuss the field of environmental humanities. The second is a research requirement where students will present their scholarship in an interdisciplinary setting that includes students from literature, history, anthropology, history of art, and other programs. The third is a teaching element for students who will serve as teaching fellows for a course related to environmental humanities, and who also will be asked to develop a syllabus for a course that they would like to teach in the future.

The Yale Environmental Humanities Initiative has received two grants from the 320 York Humanities Programming Endowment as well as funding from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES). It also has been supported by grants from the Whitney Humanities Center and the MacMillan Center’s Kempf Fund. During the 2018-2019 academic year, the initiative is particularly emphasizing “Energy and the Humanities.”

The rapid expansion of environmental humanities and environmental studies programs in the United States and in Europe in recent years played an important role in the organizers’ decision to create this new graduate certificate at Yale. “Many of these programs are advertising for scholars in the environmental humanities, so the certificate will prepare our students to participate in and contribute to such programs where they might go after graduation from Yale,” says Kalyanakrishnan Sivaramakrishnan, the first director of graduate studies for the certificate.

The graduate certificate will benefit students at several points in their careers, explains Paul Sabin, lead faculty coordinator of the Yale Environmental Humanities Initiative and professor of history and American studies: The certificate will attract students to Yale because they would see it as a “dynamic community that they want to join,” and then while they are here it will provide them with community training, support, and guidance in a structured way. Students leaving Yale would have evidence of interdisciplinary collaboration, and demonstrate what they accomplished in the growing field of environmental humanities, notes Sabin. This track record will help them in the future while searching for jobs.

Part of the impetus for the certificate comes from the students themselves, says Sivaramakrishnan, the Dinakar Singh Professor of Anthropology, and professor of forestry and environmental studies, who adds that several students helped to design the certificate. “They’ve been so involved and energetic and have played a major role in the programming for the initiative, including as members of the steering committee and organizing two successful graduate student symposia.”

This certificate systemizes the learning and training for graduate students, and will be a tangible demonstration of their participation in the program, and would give them a credential that they can cite when applying for advertised positions, notes Sivaramakrishnan.

Sabin says that the certificate model allows students to develop and excel within their individual discipline, while also adding new skills and abilities in an interdisciplinary setting. This combination of disciplinary and interdisciplinary training, he says, is important for success within the cross-disciplinary programs that are increasingly common in higher education.

The time we live in challenges us to action, but it is difficult to know how to act effectively and wisely solely with the knowledge structures that define our individual academic disciplines, which were shaped in a world that is radically different than the one we inhabit today,” says Samara Brock ’22, a graduate student in F&ES whose research focuses on organizations that are trying to transform the future of the global food system. Brock helped to design the new certificate.

The Environmental Humanities graduate certificate will create a space for greatly needed dialogue — not just between scholars in closely related disciplines — but between scholars with fundamentally different ways of thinking and understanding the world,” she continues. “I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to be part of the lively and engaged community that has come together under the umbrella of Environmental Humanities at Yale. This graduate certificate will enable this vital dialogue to build momentum and, ideally, inspire critical inquiry and action.”

Environmental issues, Sabin says, often are thought about in purely technical and economic terms. One of the aims of the Environmental Humanities program “is to bring the humanities forward as an equal partner with the sciences and the social sciences in discussions about approaches to environmental issues.

The challenges that we face in solving environmental problems often are humanistic; they are ethical, social, and cultural, with deep roots in our history,” says Sabin. “The reason why we haven’t addressed the climate problem in the past several decades is not, ultimately, technical; it is the challenge of society coming together to make decisions. The humanities have a crucial role to play there.”

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Bess Connolly: elizabeth.connolly@yale.edu, 203-432-1324