Graduate Liberal Studies Program

Course Description

GLS 532 - Conservation and Culture

Instructor: Christopher Laursen

Credits: 3

Conservation and Culture provides graduate students with a hands-on learning experience of nature conservation practices. As students gain cultural, ideological, and historical context about the rise of nature conservation through online readings and discussions, they will simultaneously embed themselves in and discuss an active conservation project of their choosing. They may actively volunteer in a conservation project in-person to observe it. Or students may participate in specific online discussions or analyze print or electronic media around conservationism. Either way, each student will orient themselves toward a specific conservation project and interact with some of its advocates and/or critics. The goal is to authentically get a broader and deeper sense of how conservationism works.

This applied learning approach aims to ground students’ scholarly studies in real-world practices, building a bridge between the two worlds. Each week is designed to guide students to develop and complete a successful final project (which may be a scholarly paper, a public education piece, or a creative work) that aims to deepen our understanding of ecological issues, how people think about them, the practices of environmental advocacy, and how to speak on behalf of the natural world.

Course Structure

The course is divided into six parts:

• Introduction: Applying Liberal Studies to Comprehend Conservation and Culture (Jan 9-14), in which we learn the basics about conservation and policy and define how the course will combine scholarly analysis and applied learning.

• Part 1: Early Twentieth-Century Conservation (Jan 15-28), in which we examine the making of North American conservation around the creation of national parks, as each student is guided toward choosing and establishing their project with a conservation practice.

• Part 2: Environmental Crusades (Feb 5-18), in which we consider how the mid-twentieth-century environmental movement emerged, and students relate those movements to their chosen conservation practice.

• Part 3: Dark Green Religion (Feb 19-Mar 2), in which we explore how spirituality and religion provide a language to envision and feel the human connection to the biosphere, and determine the language used by the chosen conservation practice to advocate its cause.

• Part 4: Saving Sentient Beings (Mar 12-25), in which we discuss human-biotic relationships (for example, flora, fauna, and biospheres) and how they result in biotic rights, preservation policies, and projects in relation to each student’s chosen conservation practice.

• Part 5: Student-Directed Readings toward Final Project (Apr 2-15), in which students will choose a book or series of articles to analyze and discuss with their peers, specifically with the goal to advance work on their final project and understanding of the specific conservation practice they are studying.

Students begin units by reading text online that gives context to the topic and week’s readings. Online discussions provide a lively, interactive environment between students and the instructor. The assignments all culminate toward creating a final project.

Required Texts

If you register in this class, please purchase the following three texts:

(1) Andrew Dobson, Environmental Politics: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016). ISBN: 978-0199665570

(2) Rachel Carson, Silent Spring: 40th Anniversary Edition (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2002). ISBN: 978-0618249060

(3) Bron Taylor, Dark Green Religion: Nature, Spirituality and the Planetary Future (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010). ISBN: 978-0520261006

Other materials will be available online, through UNCW’s Randall Library, or Interlibrary Loans. Assigned films can be rented and viewed online.

Reliable internet access is required for online courses.


Updated: March 19, 2019