Thoughts on a spring/summer enviro history seminar …

I have the opportunity to teach a fourth-year (Honours) Canadian environmental history seminar during the spring/summer semesters at Carleton University. It meets Monday and Wednesday evenings for 3 hours on both nights from early May to the middle of August – this is the equivalent of an 8-month seminar packed into 4 months. For the last few days, I’ve been hard at work trying to craft the syllabus and select the readings. I’m finding that the course schedule and times provide both unique challenges and unique opportunities.

On the one hand, being able to devote so many hours to the subject of Canadian environmental history is exciting – I have room to include most of the major books, chapters, and articles written on Canadian environmental history, and can cover in some depth most of the major themes. Granted, my preferences definitely run towards the post-Confederation period, and water history in particular. Also, the summer/spring time span is ideal for field trips (i.e. it ain’t cold!) as is the three-hour time slot.

On the other hand, since many students will be working full-time, what can I realistically expect in terms of reading loads? Additionally, as the course is on Mondays and Wednesdays, I probably can’t expect the students – aside of the supremely organized and far-sighted – to read very much for the Wednesday class, given that there is only one day in between.

As a result, Wednesdays will be often used for field trips and presentations; I’m also requiring students to present their book reviews on the day where the theme fits the subject of the review as a way of supplementing the group readings. I’m already planning to take them to the St. Lawrence Seaway (surprise, surprise) as well as the Rideau Canal. I’m also considering Gatineau Park, Arboretum, or Chaudiere Falls/mills area, and looking for other ideas in the Ottawa area.

I am thinking about using an online component for digital discussions, but haven’t definitively decided on that (and am open to suggestions). I am planning to use the new smart phone app on the Rideau Canal put out by Carleton’s Centre for Public History for a field trip of said canal (which conveniently borders the campus) provided that it makes its scheduled May release date!

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  1. This sounds a really interesting course. I’m not sure I understand it (being over the summer – I am British, and we don’t do that kind of thing here) but I like the style. I like the field trips ideas. Presentations are also a good, and different way to engage. I took a topic as a masters student in environmental history in the UK and North America 1800-2000, and we all did a presentation on different aspects of the period – e.g. someone talked on National Parks, someone on Silent Spring, someone on Greenpeace etc. I think the digital component is good too, and innovative, although I’m not sure what aspect you could do. Get your students to take pictures on the field trip and do a montage at the end or maybe get them to talk about the pictures they’ve taken? Sounds good though.


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