Introduction to Cultural Geography: Reading the Cultural Landscape
Geography 114/214 CP Coggins
Cultural geography is the interdisciplinary study of spatial practices through which individuals and sociocultural groups create meaningful environments and ascribe order to landscapes, nature, and the terrestrial realm as a whole. Drawing from the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences, the discipline examines the ways in which humans experience, define, delimit, and shape spaces and places through time. This course is a hands-on introduction to major themes of cultural geography, with regular project work and several field trips. Independent studies and several group excursions in a variety of wild, agricultural, small town, and urban landscapes in the Berkshires and beyond will provide practice in research techniques including field journal writing; the use of narratives, oral histories, archives, and literary sources; map reading and interpretation; and basic cartography. Themes covered in the course include space, place, and power; property and public/private space; psychoanalytic perspectives on the body, space, and territory; national identity and cultural landscapes; the spatialization of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality; critical perspectives on urban and regional development and planning; and geographies of globalization and empire.
This course is generally offered once every two years. Last taught S10.
Critical Geography of Nature Conservation
Geography 205 Coggins
A well-known conservation theorist has noted that “Nature protection is more a process of politics, of human organization, than of ecology,” and that “although ecological perspectives are vital, nature protection is a complex social enterprise…it is the sociopolitical realm that enhances or diminishes conservation efforts.” This course examines both the “sociopolitical realm” and the ecologies in which it seeks its moorings by focusing on the origins of modern Western conceptions of nature, wilderness, conservation, preservation, biodiversity, land ownership, and protected area management. Focusing first on ideas of wilderness that gave rise to the “Yellowstone Model” of national park development, we discuss critical turns in conservation theory and notions of sustainable development that have led to a diverse international system of protected area management and to enduring questions regarding its efficacy. Case studies on the social and cultural dimensions of conservation in critical ecosystems within each of the Earth’s major biomes describe local and regional environmental histories; rural subsistence and commercial land-use patterns; indigenous knowledge systems; local resource management practices; the making of environmental subjects (and subjectivities); and how these socio-ecological factors often render conventional preservation schemes inappropriate or even dysfunctional. As students of spatial theory and practice we also examine emerging protected area, corridor, and buffer management systems; regional conservation schemes; and theories of humans and nature that redefine the connection between biodiversity, justice, and culture. No prerequisites. [Also offered as Environmental Studies 205.]
This course is generally offered once every three or four years. Last taught F09.
Global Political Ecologies: Resource Hegemony, Resistance, and Environmentality
Geography 213/313 Coggins
Political ecology is the study of the political, economic, and social forces that infuse human-environment relations at scales ranging from the planetary to the individual body. The field has roots in both cultural ecology and neo-Marxist political economy, and since the 1970s its practitioners have analyzed how political and economic forces affect the utilization of natural resources in the world’s most powerful “core” areas and in the geographically and socially marginalized “peripheries.” Since the 1990s, political ecology has incorporated post-Marxist frameworks, including perspectives from poststructuralism, postcolonialism, feminist theory, and urban studies. Through the works of Antonio Gramsci, Michel Foucault, Eric Wolf, James C. Scott, Arturo Escobar, Dianne Rocheleau, Lakshman Yapa, Piers Blaikie, Harold Brookfield, Arun Agrawal, Paul Robbins, Judith Carney, Tim Ingold, and others, we focus first upon the contested terrains where industrialization, commoditization, and capitalism articulate with rural, preindustrial modes of resource management and indigenous systems of environmental knowledge and adaptation. Given the great variation in modes of resource governance, ecological imperialism, and adaption to them, we cannot settle comfortably within a narrative of cascading cultural and ecological extinctions; through the study of competing environmental ontologies, epistemologies, and practices, we search for alternative visions of “development,” “urban-rural,” “core-periphery,” “stewardship,” and “sustainability.” Prerequisite: Previous course work in social studies or environmental studies.
This course is generally offered once every two years. Last taught S11.
The Agricultural World: Land, Food, Sustainability
Geography 215m Coggins
Crop cultivation and the rearing of domesticated animals to produce food, fiber, feed, and drink have been humankind’s primary enterprises through most of history. Today, agriculture remains the most important economic activity, occupying 45 percent of the laboring population and covering the greater part of the Earth’s land surface. A diverse array of cropping and herding systems have altered terrestrial biomes on a massive scale, and most of the world’s cultural landscapes are still agricultural. While all of us depend upon the food surpluses generated by farmers and herders for our daily sustenance, there is tremendous geographic variation in the political, economic, and cultural significance of agriculture in daily life. In urban-industrial societies like the United States, less than two percent of the population is engaged in agriculture, while in many parts of Asia and Africa, over 80 percent of the population consists of farmers and herders. This course examines the history of agriculture, processes of plant and animal domestication, and the spread of agricultural techniques and products worldwide. We will also focus on a diffusion of agricultural techniques and products worldwide. We will also focus on a wide range of pre-industrial and modern agricultural practices in relation to other aspects of environment and culture, including climate, terrain, demographic conditions, settlement patterns, political systems, social structure, and environmental perception. After comparing how traditional and modern agricultural practices have shaped landscapes and ecosystems through time, we will analyze current issues of agricultural production, including bioengineering, the dominance of agribusiness, new definitions of sustainability, community supported agriculture, and the relationships between agriculture and sense of place. No prerequisites.
This course is generally offered once every three or four years. Last taught S07.
The Path: Trails, Pilgrimage, and Place
Geography 221 Coggins
This course combines walking, hiking, backpacking, trail building, or some combination of the above with intellectual excursions into the vast and varied literature on paths, trails, and pilgrimage. Students engage in trail building and maintenance projects on campus and short trips on the Appalachian Trail and other mountain routes in Berkshire County in order to place the history of trails and path-making in historical and cultural context. Readings range from the philosophical to the strictly practical, and include works by Tim Ingold, Bill Bryson, Victor Turner, Aldo Leopold, Martin Heidegger, Henry David Thoreau, Bash, and Laozi. An important component of this course will consist of the building and long-term maintenance of trails on our campus. More than half of the campus is wooded and undeveloped, comprising a diverse array of wetland, streamside, and upland habitats for wild plants and animals. This mosaic of forests, glades, brooks, marshes, and swamps also provides unique opportunities for nature observation, contemplation, and recreation. The woods also hold cultural features suggesting the complexities of human-environment relations through time, including dams, cisterns, stone walls, boundary markers, an active maple sugaring operation, and a large, mysterious rock from which the College gets its name. Students participate in the ongoing conception, design, and construction of the campus trail system, a network of footpaths that facilitate environmentally sustainable educational and recreational activities for all members of the College. Readings, discussion, hikes, and physical labor provide grounding in the art, philosophy, and science of landscape appreciation and nature interpretation, as well as new perspectives on how trails figure in the social construction of nature. An eight-step trail process includes deciding the trail’s purpose; making an inventory of the wooded parts of the campus; designing the trail; scouting existing and potential trail corridors; clearing the trails; constructing the trail surface; marking the trail; and writing interpretive materials. This work, along with the maintenance of the trail, the signposts, and the interpretive materials, provides an ongoing opportunity for students to work with staff and faculty in contributing to the general well-being and the sense of place that build community. No prerequisites.
This course is offered when there is sufficient student interest. Last taught F07.
Projects in Political Ecology
Geography 316 Coggins
This series of courses is an introduction to the theory and practice of political ecology through applied work that focuses on particular topics. Political ecology, a growing discipline with roots in the fields of cultural ecology and political economy, is the study of how political and economic forces affect the utilization of natural resources in the world’s most powerful “core” areas and in the geographically and often politically marginalized “peripheries.” In this course the instructor and the students engage in collaborative research and writing. All participate in a group field research program composed of individual projects. Students design the program and its constitutive projects, gather and analyze data, and write individual chapters or essays that are compiled and edited to take the final form of a book, monograph, report, or weblog. The topic for the first project focuses on the theme of fossil fuel depletion, how it is represented through facts and narratives by state and non-state actors, and how it is emerging as an issue within a variety of communities and social networks. After a series of introductory readings, documentaries, lectures, and discussions, students will design and carry out interviews with specialists in the field of fossil fuel depletion and with non-specialists as well. The final product should be exemplary of the goals of collaborative social science. Since this course focuses on a different topic each time it is offered, students may take the class more than once. Prerequisites: One 200-level course in social studies and one 200-level course in natural science, or permission of the instructor.
This course is offered when there is sufficient student interest. Last taught F08.
Modern China from the Margins: Class, Gender, Ethnicity, and the Nation State
Geography 225/326 Coggins
This course examines the making of Chinese modernity through the construction and contestation of spaces delineating class, gender, ethnicity, and nationhood. Our project is to explore relationships between space and time in narratives on identity dating from the Opium War of the mid-19th century to the era of globalization in the early 21st. Materials for study include scholarly works, political tracts, fiction, essays, documentaries, administrative maps, landscapes, technologies, and more. Our dialogue revolves around the following questions: First, is the concept of the modern nation-state applicable to China? Is the Chinese nation-state strictly a modern phenomenon? Second, how have cultural others—the non-Han peoples—contributed to the idea of “Zhongguo,” the “Central Kingdom,” as opposed to “waiguo,” outside ethno-political entities, through time? What justifications and social controls have been used to facilitate the incorporation of non-Han territories into the Chinese realm and how is this process continuing in the 21st century? Third, how has the concept of socioeconomic class been conceived by modern political theorists, and upon which varieties of pre-modern social networks and cultural relations were these ideologies cast? How have class-relations developed over the course of the 20th century and into the present day? Fourth, how have gender relations and sexuality served as catalysts for political revolution and social change since the early 20th century? How have they informed Chinese Communist Party policy since 1949 and how are they changing in the post-reform period of economic liberalization and the hollowing out of the state? Fifth, how has space been defined in regard to the nation, the individual, the body, labor, sexuality, gender, ethnicity, the urban, the rural, and national boundaries in a “globalizing world?” Sixth, how have Chinese intellectuals engaged with these issues and the question of China’s position in the global community in the post-Mao period, particularly within the engagement between “patriotic worrying,” post-modern theory, and the prospect of an end to the country’s geopolitical marginalization? Prerequisites: One 200-level course in Asian studies and one 200-level course in social studies, or permission of the instructor.
This course is generally offered once every two years. Last taught S12.
Agon, Victus, Territoriu: Spaces of War, Combat, and Territoriality
Geography 330 Coggins
The English word territory is probably derived from the Latin territorium—land around a town, domain, or district—but does territorium itself come from terra (earth, land) and –orium (a suffix denoting place), or was it derived from “terrere” (to frighten), indicating a place or area from which outsiders are driven or repelled by fear? Linguists may fight over the origins of “territory,” but all humans continue to inhabit a world in which the territorial precedes the terrestrial in the ordering of everyday life and the common play of power. This course focuses upon the powers and rituals that animate agon—the contests and struggles for victory over territory—and victus—the multiform practices of living, providing, sustaining, conquering, subduing, and being subdued. Following the linkages between institutional constructions of imagined communities, national boundaries, and individuals willing to fight and die for them, we explore the spatiality of territorial conflict known as war. By foregrounding spatial perspectives in social theory and readily crossing disciplinary borders, we consider heroism, masculinity, aggression, the “nature” of violence, wars and frontiers, the clash of civilizations, “wars on terror,” and the ties that bind us to markets and techno-industrial production systems that raise specters of warfare as inevitable competition for nonrenewable resources and combat as a game for warrior-androids. Is there an end in sight, or will humans decide that a world without a cause for which to die is no world in which to live? Prerequisites: Completion of at least one 200-level social studies course and completion of Sophomore Seminar or permission of the instructor.
This course is generally offered once every three or four years. Last taught S11.