Faculty Seminar Spins an Epic Tale of Humans and Nature over Time
Published: October 17, 2012
Volcanic eruptions and floods, monumental works of art, and the remnants of a mighty empire, with a setting of historic cities and the gorgeous countryside of sunny Italy as a backdrop, and presented under the majestic name of the Mediterranean Trivium. Could this be an epic series on premium cable?
Sanjaya Thakur in Pompeii with Mt. Vesuvius in the background, sites that faculty will visit during The Mediterranean Trivium.
Perhaps. But in this case, it's something even better (at least for the intended audience) – an engaging, year-long faculty seminar, punctuated by ten days onsite in Italy next summer and aimed at creating multi-disciplinary curricula for college juniors and seniors.
Led by a geologist, an historian, and a classicist, all from Colorado College, Mediterranean Trivium: Earth, Sea, and Culture will be the second of the ACM-Mellon Seminars in Advanced Interdisciplinary Learning (SAIL).
The ACM has issued a call for participants, seeking a dozen other ACM faculty to join the seminar's leadership team in exploring the interplay between humans and the natural world over time.
Even though this is a serious, academic seminar and not the pitch for a cable series, the leaders said they came up with the idea while hanging out at "Club Med."
"All three of us have been involved in a Mediterranean Studies program [at Colorado College]," said Professor of History Susan Ashley, one of the seminar leaders. "We have had informal meetings over the years, which we familiarly labeled 'Club Med.'"
Over the past several years, the "Club Med" faculty at Colorado have developed an interdisciplinary Mediterranean Studies minor and a semester-length off-campus study program. Ashley and her SAIL seminar co-leaders, Professor of Geology Christine Siddoway and Assistant Professor of Classics Sanjaya Thakur, have been among the faculty involved in the effort, and all three have designed and taught courses in Mediterranean Studies.
For example, Thakur teaches a summer course entitled Rome, Naples, and Sicily: Crossroads of the Ancient Mediterranean that takes students to some of the same places that will be part of the SAIL seminar itinerary. Siddoway offered a course on Rocks and Ruins: National Catastrophes and Mediterranean Culture this year, and Ashley has been visiting faculty for the Florence and London & Florence programs three times.
Supported by a generous grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, SAIL is sponsoring a series of five annual faculty seminars in which faculty develop innovative curricular approaches to a topic. Overall, three seminars will be held in the U.S. and two at international locations.
The first, on the topic Considering Animals, included onsite field trips in Washington, DC this past summer. Faculty in that seminar will continue their work on multi-disciplinary curricular projects throughout the current academic year and beyond.
In the collaborative spirit of the SAIL seminars, Ashley, Siddoway, and Thakur clearly see themselves as participants, as well as leaders, of The Mediterranean Trivium.
"I'm looking forward to it because when I'm climbing Mt. Vesuvius [with the summer class], I always say, 'It would be nice if I had Christine here to explain all of this,' and we're going to have that," said Thakur. "In Florence, there's no better guide than Susan – she's taught there before for the Florence Program and knows the city inside and out. I think one of the really exciting things is that we're going to be drawing on each other's knowledge, and also from the people in the group. I'm looking forward to seeing what they can contribute in terms of their own interests, their own specialties."
View of Florence and the River Arno.
Photo courtesy of Sarah Klooster
The travel part of the seminar on June 24-July 4, 2013 will be based in Florence, site of the fall semester Florence: Arts, Humanities, & Culture program and London & Florence: Arts in Context during the winter and spring. The group will also spend a couple of nights in Rome and take a variety of day trips.
The basic outline and syllabus for the site visits have been drawn up by the leadership team. Local specialists will be tapped to contribute to the curriculum at several of the sessions. Much of the onsite portion of the seminar – such as readings and content of the daily sessions – will be adjusted in the months ahead based on the interests and expertise of the faculty participants.
"I'm expecting a very collegial encounter with these [sites that we visit] in terms of questions, in terms of contributions, and connections that people will be increasingly making among disciplines and between places," said Ashley. "If people haven't been there, they'll have a certain range of questions. If they know Florence and Italy and Rome very well, then what's going to activate questions is the encounter with disciplines which are not their own. I don't see us teaching as much as facilitating, because we will be creating the occasion for engagement."
Visitors at Pompeii.
Photo courtesy of Sandy Corliss
While onsite in Italy, the seminar will focus on the Mediterranean region during three time periods – Classical, Renaissance, and modern. Within that framework, Ashley, Siddoway, and Thakur plan to examine several main questions: How do natural phenomena affect societies? How do societies manage the environment? How do people think about and imagine nature?
Since the topic explores thought and imagination, politics, trade and production, and the natural world, the leadership team said they hope to draw participants in a range of fields, such as archaeology, biology, environmental science, geology, economics, political science, history, literature, art history, and philosophy. Faculty will be selected in groups of three from each of four ACM colleges. The application deadline is October 29, and application materials are available on the SAIL webpage.
Mediterranean Trivium participants will visit sites that offer a diverse set of problems and case studies for the group to approach from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. At each location, according to the leaders, the goal will be to examine the interrelation between natural and cultural environments, and to see how the specific conditions in the locations have inspired efforts to shape, alter, and manipulate the surroundings.
The itinerary, in sequence, includes:
- Pompeii, Mt. Vesuvius, and Herculanium to view the disruptive effects of nature;
- Rome, with visits to sites from the Classical to Renaissance periods;
- Florence, for tours concentrating on the high medieval and Renaissance periods, as well as visits to the Uffizi and Archaeological Museums;
The Forum in Rome.
Photo courtesy of Samantha Stelmack
- A trip to the Tuscan countryside and Pisa, examining ecology, urban development, and agriculture; and
- Ending in Rome to span the Baroque to the contemporary through visits to St. Peter's Basilica and E.U.R., a new and planned city.
Within the schedule, the leaders are intentionally leaving time for seminar participants to branch out, on their own or in small groups, if they want to explore other sites of particular interest to them individually.
"I think there will be quite a bit of time around the edges to explore," Ashley said. "We hope that we will have an intermediate space between the organized activities and complete free time, when [faculty] can ask to see something which is not on the list."
The overall objective of the SAIL seminars is to strengthen multi-disciplinary curricula for upper-level students at ACM colleges, thus helping them make connections across disciplines and cultures and synthesize the work of their disciplinary majors.
Piazza della Repubblica in Florence.
Photo courtesy of Holly Doyle
Participants, including the leadership team, will begin developing curricular resources before and during the trip to Italy and will continue their work throughout the 2013-14 academic year. In building the syllabus around visits to various sites, the leaders aim to provide concrete examples that faculty can shape and use in lectures, assignments, and course modules.
Siddoway plans to build on her colleagues' expertise to reinforce the historical and archeological dimensions of her Rocks and Ruins course, and may develop a course for geology majors about the Mediterranean that she would teach in Italy. Both Ashley and Thakur expect to incorporate geological perspectives presented at the seminar into modules for classes they teach, among other projects.
The focus on creating curricular materials, Thakur noted, means that tangible benefits of the seminar will continue to be felt on the participants’ campuses as faculty introduce new modules and courses to their students over the next couple of years.
"Once people go back to their own institutions [following the trip to Italy], we really want to keep up that sort of collaborative community and effort," he said. "This is a lot different than a seminar that people have for a weekend or a week – this is a far greater commitment. For me, what's exciting is that the rewards from that can be far richer than something you can do in a weekend."
And more rewarding than watching a series on cable (at least for the intended audience).
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