Posted: January 30, 2009
How have human activities such as migration, colonization, and land use depended on or impacted the natural world? How have different cultural perceptions of, and attitudes toward, the environment shifted through time and helped to reshape the American landscape? These are questions raised by professor of environmental studies Lauret Savoy in Perspectives on American Environmental History, a course she’s teaching this spring semester.
In her first semester back since completing a sabbatical, Savoy will include in her seminar case studies of ecological histories of Native America and Euro-America, slavery and land use, questions of wilderness vs. civilization, land ethics and conservation, and environmental racism and social justice. In addition to this seminar, she will coteach a course with English professor John Lemly titled Reading and Writing in the World, an introduction to reading and writing about nature.
During her leave, Savoy delved into her interests in identity and sense of place, writing for literary journals like Orion Magazine (Jan/Feb '09 issue), the Georgia Review, Ecotone, and the online journal Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built and Natural Environments. Savoy was also a contributing writer for the September 2008 book, A Voice for Earth: Writers Respond to the Earth Charter, published by University of Georgia Press. Her forthcoming book will be a sequel to The Colors of Nature: Culture, Identity, and the Natural World (Milkweed Editions, 2002), which Savoy coedited with poet Alison Deming. Another book, Bedrock: Writers on the Wonders of Geology (Trinity University Press, 2006), was listed among the best five science books by the Wall Street Journal that year.
Savoy’s interest in human environmental history has led her to dissect distinctly held perspectives on what it means to belong to a place, to be from a place, and to document the blurred lines between family lineage and landscapes of homeland.
As she writes in one piece for the Terrain.org online journal: “We all carry history within us, the past(s) becoming present in what we think and do, in who we are. Ecological interdependence between human beings and the land is framed by this history, which informs our senses of place and our connections with each other. Deeply rooted values and economic norms have institutionalized exploiting and manipulating the natural world--by fragmenting ecosystems, threatening biological diversity, and changing the atmosphere’s nature through fossil-fuel burning. And few honest self-reflections have yet considered how the roots of these “democratic” values and institutions link to sanctioned violence for power and profit, to class conflict, to the exclusion of peoples of color in a still deeply racialized America.” Read Savoy’s new regular column “A Stone’s Throw” in the issues of Terrain.
Recipient of the Faculty Award for Teaching in 2003, Savoy continues to inspire, making her a favorite among MHC students. As one student wrote, "You don't just take a class with Lauret, you live it!" In 2005, Savoy became the director of Mount Holyoke College’s Center for the Environment (CE) and broadened its mission to include new approaches to learning that engaged students more actively in the scientific, social/human, and global dimensions of environmental study and developed an interdisciplinary education program embedded in the broader College curriculum. Her directorship summed up the purpose of the CE: “Connecting People, Community, and the Earth."
Currently cochair of the board of directors for Center for Whole Communities, Savoy continues to explore the relationships between cultural diversity, environmental history, and the written word. She raises the bar and expectations with her students on what they believe, what they’ve learned, and what they think they know to be true. As one senior summed up, “This class impacted me deeply at a personal level and has greatly enriched my experience at Mount Holyoke . . . the issues dealt with are essential and ones I will continue to grapple with for the rest of my life.”