I encourage my students to engage with not only their minds, but also their bodies, habitats and communities. We draw on a wide range of texts and different kinds of knowledge — literary, historical, scientific, culinary, agricultural, and spiritual — to build new narratives about who, and how, we want to be in the world.
"I suddenly realized: there’s another way to learn. You don’t have to tell people everything. They can learn it by experiencing."
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.
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"I have never had such an opportunity to synthesize what I was studying with my own life, and it seems to me a more effective way of learning and a more honest way of living: to admit that these two activities are and ought to be influencing each other."
American Pastoral Student 2019
"We read Beloved, a text about a ghost who emerges from the water. The students presenting decided we needed to recreate that experience by jumping into the pond fully clothed to feel the weight of grief and memory. We were just… immersed. There was another world that emerged."
Cook the Books
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.
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"Cook the Books is a course in more ways than one– it is as nourishing as any meal I have ever had."
Cook the Books Student 2020
The Environmental Imagination
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 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.
"A student took out a cooler and removed a snowball, which melted as it was passed around. Inside the snowball was an egg. Inside the egg was a scroll. And on the scroll were the first lines of the story they had written to begin the ceremony. You could’ve heard a pin drop.
Magic was in the room."
Ecocriticism and the Environmental Humanities
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. The class takes place almost entirely outdoors, listening for the stories the land has to tell, 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.
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"This seminar completely changed my relationship to the land, and I am now a more intimate member of the animate world. I have a new family of trees that I love on campus!"
Ecocriticism Student 2020
Delving into the complex intersections of gender and land in Judaism, I designed and led two immersive workshops for Jewish women thought leaders at Bela Farm. Co-sponsored by Shoresh and the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto, “Exile and Wandering Home” used text study, farm chores, art workshops, and communally-designed meals to open an ongoing conversation about diaspora, indigeneity and gender in contemporary Jewish thought.
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"What an amazing and thought-provoking day! My head was buzzing by the end of it, and I find myself continuing the conversation between Skywoman and Eve in my mind."
"The meals were amazing. I savoured all the food! The sessions were all fascinating in their own way, and I enjoyed how different each one was — there was an opportunity to experience the farm from all sorts of different vantage points."