"It seems to me that the emergence of preserving biodiversity as a unifying concept for biologists and the public is the present culmination of a trail that reaches back to Darwin's underlying theory of evolution--i.e. the preservation of biodiversity retains the optimum cultural medium in which the ongoing process of evolution thrives best."
In this graduate seminar we will explore the rhetoric of biological diversity in North America, looking in particular at the interaction of ethical perspectives, aesthetic representations, and scientific explanations of the nonhuman environment. Our two major questions will be: (1) how has the discourse of biodiversity conservation and species extinction evolved over time, and (2) what is its relationship to the larger ecology of environmental discourses in which it participates?
In the first part of the course, we will survey the social construction of the concept of "biodiversity," the growth of the discipline of conservation biology, the most recent defense of biodiversity put forward by E. O. Wilson (in The Future of Life), and the variety of ways that biodiversity has been both criticized and valued. In Part II, we will investigate the history of attempts to understand, represent, and conserve biodiversity since the eighteenth century, looking in detail at the writings of Charles Darwin (Voyage of the Beagle and Origin of Species), Henry David Thoreau (natural history essays), Aldo Leopold (Sand County Almanac), and Rachel Carson (Silent Spring). Finally, in Part III, we will explore three of the many issues facing biodiversity conservation in the twenty-first century: the connection between sustainability and cultural diversity (Gary Paul Nabhan, Cultures of Habitat), the growing interest in the ecological restoration of urban environments, and the interaction of reason and emotion in human responses to biodiversity loss (Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer). We will also take one or more field trips and screen a film.
Requirements include attendance and participation, weekly email responses, leading discussion, several brief literature reviews, and a final project. For more information, contact Dr. Dan Philippon via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 624-4209.
Last Modified: 29 August 2003