Cultivating Environmental Attention: Course Development for Accessible Environmental Humanities Field Methodologies

As part of FEELed Lab doings, Astrida Neimanis is leading an ALT 2040 project (awarded in Program and Learning Experience Enhancement Stream) to develop a third-year undergraduate “methods course” that focuses on accessibility and inclusion in environmental humanities (EH) “attunement” methods and how these can enrich an understanding of “place” for the new Bachelor in Sustainability (BSust) degree at UBC Okanagan.

Project team

This project was conceptualized by Astrida, PhD candidate Madeline Donald, and Professor Greg Garrard in early 2022. The project team currently consists of Astrida, Natalie Forssman (Lecturer, School of Engineering), Emilie Ovenden (MA student), and Daisy Pullman (Ph.D. candidate). This project will address equity, diversity and access as key dimensions of sustainability through universal access, anti-oppressive pedagogies, cultural safety, and access to resources for community members.

Why do we need to cultivate environmental attention?

EH is a new configuration of humanities disciplines, embodied in a concentration of the BSust, that foregrounds ethics, imagination, discourse and aesthetics as key to understanding environmental issues as inseparable from the cultural contexts in which they appear. Place-based conceptual frameworks, sometimes referred to as “the arts of noticing,” are prominent within such approaches, but comprehensive student-centred place-based pedagogies that animate and test these conceptual commitments are still under development. This is in contrast to foundational field-based methods within natural science, social science, and engineering disciplines. Acknowledging the importance of Indigenous-led land-based education, this project will complement but not replace these efforts. The project takes seriously the need for guests (settlers, migrants, and others) to learn to perceive place in accountable, anticolonial, self-reflexive ways that also attend to tensions and connections between local and global environments. Referencing prominent EH scholarship, this project refers to this capacity as cultivating the arts of attention.

We might also call this “presearch” for unlearning what we think we know about place – at least for those of us drenched in colonial, ablist and Western imaginaries.

A wide angle view of a sunny day in front of the two story wood building that is Woodhaven Ecoculture entre. In the foreground three students lean against trees and lie in the grass, writing in their notebooks; one student is walking with notebook under arm. The trees are twice as tall as the building, and a bright sun shines in the background, illuminating the bright green grass and the cyan blue sky.
Working at Woodhaven

Alignment with the FEELed Lab’s commitment to understanding our relationship and obligations to the places in which we do research

The values of this project align with the FEELed Lab’s objectives. This project reflects our commitment to understanding place as a research dimension – that place is always relevant to our research, even when it is “backgrounded.” The workshop that will take place as part of this project will take place at our physical lab space at Woodhaven Ecoculture Centre, and eventually, the developed course will also engage with this specific place as part of its field activities.

In line with FEELed Lab methodologies, this course will also use practice-led and arts-based methods that can open to anticolonial, feminist, queer and accessible considerations of the ways we engage and understand place. Developing a critical understanding of place – one that is critical of colonial understandings of place in general, and of this place (on unceded syilx territory) specifically — is a key objective of both the FEELed Lab and this ALT2040 project.

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