Through immersive, multi-sensory, embodied and land-based courses and workshops, I encourage my students to engage in new ways with their minds, bodies, habitats and communities. We draw on a wide range of texts and different kinds of knowledge — historical, scientific, culinary, agricultural, and spiritual — to build new narratives about who, and how, we want to be in the world.
In this fourth-year English seminar, we read key works of ecocritical theory, as well poetry and narrative non-fiction, in order to explore the different ways in which we tell stories about – and imagine the human relationship to — the environment around and within us. In most theory courses, students use a theoretical approach as a lens through which to read literary texts. In this course we instead use ecocritical theory to tell stories about two pieces of land on the University of Toronto campus: the Back Campus and Philosopher’s Walk. Each class we spend part of our time outdoors, learning stories about the land, and connecting them to the reading for the week. Students develop these stories into final projects that create a layered ecocritical history of a site at the very centre of our campus.
The classical pastoral mode, as illustrated in Shakespeare comedies such as As You Like It, involves the movement of urban characters from the city to a rural retreat. In the bosom of nature, they are transformed and return to the city revitalized. In this course, students experience and critique the broad environmental implications of the urban “use” of nature -- whether for art, criticism, or personal rejuvenation -- by engaging with pastoral texts while physically enacting the movement from urban to rural and back again. We begin with two class meetings on campus. Then we head to Bela Farm for five nights and six days. At the farm, we have eight formal class sessions as well as experiential modules designed to connect the readings to the life of the farm (beekeeping, foraging walks, vegetable gardening, tending chickens, and workshops on pastoral poetry or landscape painting). In the final week, students return to the city to reflect on their farm experience in their final projects.
If, as Brillat-Savarin so famously said, “you are what you eat”, then what are we? What do our food choices reveal about who we are and what we value? What story does the food we eat tell about our relationship to the world around us? In this Environmental Humanities class, we examine all kinds of stories about growing, preparing, and eating food in order to understand how culture shapes the choices we make about the food we eat. But we don’t stop there: through cooking and eating together, we begin to tell new stories about our food and our relationship to the planet that provides it. Co-taught with professional chef-activist Joshna Maharaj, this course combines literary analysis with hands-on cooking classes, multi-sensory presentations, and food-oriented field trips.
In this introduction to the field of the Environmental Humanities, students explore the stories we tell about the natural world around and within us. We engage with a wide variety of written texts, physical experiences, and material landscapes and objects in order to better understand how and why we enjoy, use and abuse the natural world. We confront the hard facts about many of the stories we tell: that they have led us to the brink of environmental catastrophe. Then, through a personal journal and an interactive group final project, we begin the exciting project of writing new stories, imagining a new and healthier relationship between humanity and the earth which sustains us. At the heart of the course is a full-class final creative project, a two-hour celebration of spring complete with appropriate menu, decorations, performances, costumes, music as well as rituals to mourn our losses over the winter and celebrate the coming of the new season.
Exile and Wandering Home
(with Shoresh at Bela Farm)
Day-long workshops at Bela Farm that re-imagine the Jewish relationship to place in light of environmental crisis. We use text study, farm chores, art workshops, and communally-designed meals to explore the challenging topics of diaspora, indigeneity, gender, and Jewish theological approaches to land and non-human nature.