Food & Fuel: Research Questions at the Base of the Economy

Department Numbers
Department 1: 
Number 1: 

This research seminar takes a two-pronged approach to natural resource problems and research thereof.

Regarding substance, it examines food systems and fossil fuel use via environmental histories across cultures and across time. One premise is that the proximate causes of degradation may be well known (e.g., soil loss, automobile use) but the driving forces (e.g., technological change, economic growth, colonialism, consumerism, materialist values) are less clear. By examining economic and political development across disparate cultural and historical periods, this course attempts to grasp the underlying forces and develop useful lessons. A second premise is that if society is to get on a sustainable path, it will have to do so first in the growing of good food and second by getting off fossil fuels.

Regarding process, the course focuses on the creative side of research. the making of propositions, the formulation of hypotheses, the generation of questions; and ii. observation, the art and science of discerning detail, pattern, causation. It does this via 1) weekly practice writing propositions and iteratively developing a research question, both with regular and mutual feedback; and 2) weekly practice in the fine art (arguably the lost art) of observation. All of this aims at developing the "research question" a set of causal relations and conditions, a sustained argument.

The class format is a mutually supportive, focused discussion aimed at developing the habit of building an argument, observing, and generating insights into economic and political processes, environmental impacts and ethical choices.

This is not a history class. It uses histories (and some contemporary cases) to understand where we are and, most importantly, to stimulate creative thinking about where we can go, about steering humans' material provisioning system (its "economy") onto a sustainable path.

Notice that this is a reading seminar. Readings are lengthy and detailed. Repeat: reading seminar; lots and lots of reading and thinking.

Graduate students with a wide range of personal, professional and academic backgrounds and a desire to engage major questions from diverse perspectives are encouraged to enroll. There are no prerequisites. Enrollment is limited and by permission of instructor (see below). (If the course closes, and you are intensely interested,  still come to the first class.)

 The class meets for 2 hours once a week and is therefore for 2 credits.

Permission     If the substance and process of the seminar, including extensive readings, are of keen interest, please submit a hand-written paragraph (dropped off on Princen's office door, 2506 Dana or via campus or postal mail) that answers the following:

1) why this course is of interest; 2) what relevant experience, work, education, plans for the future and/or cultural perspective or world view you would expect to bring to the class. 


Minimum Credits: 
Maximum Credits: 
Pass/Fail or S/U optional
Graduate Standing.

Terms Offered

Fall Semester: