Wild Lives and Earth Art

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Wild Lives and Earth Art

Interdisciplinary approaches enrich the complex field of environmental studies.

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By Bill Giduz


The new Environmental Studies major, unanimously approved by the faculty last May, takes an interdisciplinary approach to a complex field.

Announcing the news, President Tom Ross ’72 said, “The environment offers us some of the world’s most complex problems, so it only makes sense that we should offer a major in the subject.”

Professor of English Annie Ingram, the college’s inaugural Todd and Melissa Thomson Professor of Environmental Studies, serves as the first chair of the department. The gift to establish the professorship from college trustee Todd Thomson ’83 and Melissa McKeithen Thomson ’83 has also funded one-term visiting appointments for nationally recognized specialists in environmental studies.

The new major responds to a call in the college’s Strategic Plan for more interdisciplinary courses of study. The plan states, “The 21st century’s opportunities and challenges in science, the environment, and beyond require the integration of different traditional fields of study,”

Current course offerings in Environmental Studies range from a History Department seminar, America and the Automobile, to the English Department’s Wild Lives—American Environmental Narratives, to Physics of the Environment, and Earth Art in the Art Department.

Ingram noted that momentum toward an Environmental Studies major has been building at Davidson for decades.

“The environment offers us some of the world’s most complex problems, so it only makes sense that we should offer a major in the subject.”

Most recently, the college received an Associated Colleges of the South/Mellon Foundation grant, funding a two-year post-doctoral fellow, Julianne Mills, to teach classes in ecological economics.

Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty Clark Ross said college officials carefully considered this first move into interdisciplinary majors. “This is a significant step because it draws on faculty across disciplines,” he said. “We need to be concerned that we don’t overextend faculty who will now be teaching in two departments.”

Davidson is conducting searches for a faculty member in geology and earth sciences, as well as a joint appointment in Political Science and Environmental Studies. Such appointments have required development of a whole new section of administrative code to clarify the status of interdisciplinary faculty in issues such as search, hiring, evaluation, tenure, and promotion.

Now that Davidson has taken this first step, Ross said it’s likely that other interdisciplinary majors will follow.

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