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Fall 2017 Seminar

Nature and Culture in the Metropolis

The fall 2017 seminar theme explores the themes of nature and culture within the context of Chicago. Whether you're studying anthropology, geography, environmental history, or another subject in the liberal arts, you will gain valuable research experience while growing as a writer.

Nature vs. Civilization

“Nature” vs. “Civilization” represents one of the fundamental dichotomies of the Western tradition, at least since the time of Homer’s Odyssey, appearing through the years with many variations. In the 18th century, Rousseau gives these concepts a modern twist by insisting that inequality was “almost non-existent in the state of nature,” that it “derives its force and its growth from the development of our faculties and the progress of the human mind, and finally becomes fixed and legitimate through the institution of property and laws.”

In this way inequality, and its myriad attendant ills, become equated with civilization, while the state of nature becomes a scene of inherent unity and fairness. Artifice vs. nature; sophisticated vs. primitive; the city vs. the country: these are only a few variations of the basic dichotomy that have arisen over the past few centuries.

In America, the rise of urbanity and the industrial revolution only increased the tension between these dichotomous concepts. No city better exemplifies the American version of the struggle between nature and polis, pasture and skyscraper, than Chicago. The concepts of nature and culture are fundamental to the Western condition. In most cultural settings around the globe, nature and culture mean very different things to different peoples. Cities, however, are now universal to humanity even as we cope with their meaning for our relationship to or with nature.

Explore Chicago and the Newberry Library

While the fall 2017 Newberry seminar will pivot on the period between 1800 and the 1960s, it will draw on other places, authors, and periods for comparative purposes. For instance, what can past ideas, histories, and geographies of urbanized human natures tell us about how to make cities sustainable in the 21st century?

The seminar will explore nature, culture, and the metropolis to foster rich, challenging seminar discussions using the Newberry’s collections and Chicago’s setting. Newberry core collections will serve as examples during the seminar alongside core readings. Participants will then engage in independent exploration of these themes and produce individual research papers later in the semester.

Students will use the Newberry’s collections and Chicago’s setting as they examine these broad themes, develop their skills as researchers within a community of scholars, and complete a substantial written paper.


Faculty

William Davis

William Davis

Faculty Co-Director, Fall 2017

German and Comparative Literature

Colorado College

Eric Perramond

Eric Perramond

Faculty Co-Director, Fall 2017

Environmental and Southwest Studies

Colorado College