This is the gateway to a set of blogs set up for the course “Environmental Ethics in the Anthropocene” (PHIL 3293) taught during spring, 2014 at the University of Oklahoma. In the sidebar on the right are links to three blogs students used to post work during the term (the class was divided into six groups, and each blog was shared by two groups), as well as links to the groups’ final projects: anthologies of brief essays by their members. In addition, there is a link to the blog for a graduate seminar that ran parallel to this class.

The course was designed to introduce students to the Anthropocene concept, and to give them the chance to explore the ethical challenges it confronts us with–in what we do, and also in how we think about what counts as ethical action. (Click to see the syllabus.)

The class was one of OU’s “Presidential Dream Courses” for the spring, 2014 semester. I received special funding to invite noted scholars to visit the class, and also to give public lectures. Because I see the Anthropocene as an inherently interdisciplinary topic, and because I think our ethical responses must be informed by as broad an understanding of the phenomena involved in it, the class consisted of four units, each organized around a visit by a scholar from a different field (including Geology, Ecology, Anthropology, and  Geography). The visitors suggested the main readings (by themselves and/or others), and students’ work involved preparing to hear them, and then responding to what they have said. (Click for the poster for the lecture series.)

During the semester students used the blogs for three main things.

  • I asked them to develop curated lists of links to internet sources on the fields represented by the visitors. Individual students brought two possible sources to their discussion groups; the groups then selected the most useful, and posted them with comments.
  • After each visit the students did posts reflecting on the ethical implications of an aspect of the Anthropocene raised by the visitor’s field.
  • The last set of posts (so the first ones to be seen on the blog) were analyses/interpretations of works of art students viewed at OU’s Fred Jones, Jr. Museum of Art.

During the final weeks of the term students in each group worked together to assemble anthologies of short essays they wrote on various aspects of the Anthropocene. Each individual essay examined the ethical significance of the chosen feature of the Anthropocene, considering the views presented in four sources. Each group then developed a joint introduction, in which group members explained the conceptual linkages among the chapters of their anthology. 

I asked the students to present their work in the public setting of a blog because I wanted them to think of their discussions in the classroom as part of their engagement in the world. I wanted them to offer their views with the sense of responsibility that comes with the prospect of being listened to, and potentially commented on. And I wanted them to think of their experience in the class as a preparation for the kind of conversation that will, hopefully, be at the core of our society’s response to the Anthropocene. (Here is a Prezi that presents an overview of my thinking about the course.)

I hope you might find the lists of sources on the Anthropocene useful, and the students’ ideas stimulating.

Zev Trachtenberg
Department of Philosophy
University of Oklahoma


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