Networked Landscapes: Digital Political Ecology and the Nature of Data

David Abernathy

Data mining, server farms, the cloud: quite often we use terminology typically equated with the natural world — and our interaction with it — to describe our increasingly ubiquitous digital world. Yet paradoxically, we tend to treat the internet as ethereal and placeless, an invisible digital atmosphere that has little connection to our physical environment. But as the internet grows and evolves, it is increasingly reshaping the material world. Cyberspace is not detached from physical space — it is actively, often rapidly, reconfiguring it.

This seminar will examine the material realities of the digital and explore the political, economic, and social forces that are shaping these new realities. From cobalt mining in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to e-waste in China, from gentrification in San Francisco to digital redlining in communities across the globe, this course will focus on sustainable development in the digital age. In what can be broadly categorized as “digital political ecology,” the course will examine the transformations occurring at the intersection of sustainability, globalization, and the internet. The class will partner with Owen Middle School’s Natural Impact Initiative, where we will work with students to make digital maps, deploy environmental sensors, and contemplate how the resulting digital data might influence our perceptions of the natural world.

Instructor Bio: Global Studies professor Dr. David Abernathy is fascinated with maps of all kinds, and believes that geography — literally, “earth writing” — is a practice vital for understanding the world around us. He enjoys working with computers, is oddly obsessed with the isthmus of Panama, and once served as a staff writer for a college soap opera.

Forgotten Pollinators

Amy Boyd

We depend on animal pollinators for production of nearly 80 percent of the seeds and fruits that make up the human diet, and yet this essential service has been ignored and often threatened by human activity. In this course, we will study the fascinating and vital relationships between plants and the animals they depend on for reproduction: bees, beetles, bats and many others, some common and familiar, others almost unknown. We will focus on the science of plant reproduction and the ecology of pollination, and will examine the threats to this ecological relationship. We will also work with a local organization to help create and preserve environments that encourage and protect pollinators.

Instructor Bio: Amy Boyd is a plant ecologist and evolutionary biologist who has studied carnivorous plants in New Hampshire bogs, cactus population dynamics in the Sonoran Desert, and pollination of stinky flowers in the Appalachian Mountains. Scientist, educator, artist, and writer, she is happiest when reading a good book in a hammock or wandering trails in wonderful wild places.

Latin America Through Film

Ben Feinberg

This class introduces the history and cultures of Latin America through classic and contemporary films, from Black Orpheus to Roma. We use the films to explore key concepts in cultural anthropology and Latin American history, such as representation, globalization, gender, race, colonialism, migration, and more. In addition, through collaboration with the Center for Conscious Living and Dying, students research the relationship between culture and the experience of death, dying, and memorialization. The class provides opportunities to develop critical skills as well as an appreciation for enjoying film collectively on a big screen. Films and class content include reference to personal and political violence and other intense themes that may not be suitable for some.

Instructor Bio: Ben Feinberg has spent as much time as possible wandering the mountains of rural Mexico, mostly in his research site in the southern state of Oaxaca. He remains obsessed with the anthropological project of making the strange familiar and the familiar strange, and is the author of one book and numerous articles on subjects relating to the politics of identity, religion, shamanism, and the anthropology of tourism.

The Disneyfication of American Culture

Paula Garrett 

This class examines “Disney” and its relationship to American culture. We will use cultural studies methods and theory to think about how Disney has shaped and been shaped by American culture.

The main idea of this course is that Disney represents a major cultural force in the United States, a force that is central to the development of the American way of life since the early 20th Century. Although we know that Disney is an example of Popular or Shared Culture (which it is), the products of Disney and his corporation have impacted and reflected our conceptions of family values, gender, race, childhood, pleasure, entertainment, business, education, architecture, nature, art, travel and leisure, and community. In its role as a major multi-national corporation, it controls and produces a vast array of products including television networks and shows, films, live entertainment and theme parks, material culture, theaters, museums and even communities. These commodities are consumed by hundreds of millions of people on an annual basis around the world and form a significant part of these consumers’ cultural identity. In addition, other commodities, institutions and cultural practices not directly constructed as Disney have been influenced by this cultural force and replicate it to varying degrees.

Instructor Bio:

Paula Garrett teaches American Lit, Queer Lit, Southern Lit; her primary research is in 19th Century American Women writers. She lives close to campus with her wife, who runs the PE program was the College, their teenage son, and their four dogs.

Practicing Playfulness

Rachel Haley Himmelheber

What if pleasure and joy, two fundamental aspects of play, were crucial to your success as a student? Playful experiences and attitudes actually create the conditions in our brains for our most meaningful and engaged learning. Play encourages risk and innovation and teaches us how to move past failure; play (especially in public, especially as adults) can be a revolutionary act.

In this class, we’ll take play seriously as we approach the concept from multiple angles, reading and learning about how playworkers, scholars, scientists, artists, philosophers and others think about play, as well as playing with children at the nearby Verner Center for Learning, an affordable, play-focused daycare. We’ll also make art, hang out in nature, play games, act things out, imagine stories, and be creative collaborators. Throughout the semester we’ll use an iterative, reflective process that will keep us flexible and curious in our thinking. And most importantly, we will be playful in our approach to every idea, every reading, every assignment, and every class session.

Instructor Bio:

Dr. Rachel Haley Himmelheber is a professor of creative writing and a fiction writer who is convinced that having more fun might be the answer to everything. When she’s not teaching, reading, or writing, she is often wandering one of the College’s many trails with her loud and friendly hound dog Jelly.

Pivoting Toward Community Justice & Belonging

Sarah Himmelheber

This course explores the question: How do we contribute to sustainable social change, particularly as new community members? Students will become involved with both campus- and community-based experiential learning projects, and will use the course’s central text, The Four Pivots: Reimagining Justice, Reimagining Ourselves, as a framework for critical reflection. Through their experiences, as well as guest speakers and readings, students will identify and develop skills essential to justice-oriented community work.

Instructor Bio: As an Associate Professor of Social Work and Director of the Field Education Program, Dr. Himmelheber loves bringing together campus and community. Her research interests include green care approaches, and her practice background includes community-based mental health, homeless services, and food justice activism.

Growing Your Inner Scientist

Langdon Martin

All scientists share a curiosity about the world. As Hope Jahren (whose book, Lab Girl, we will read) puts it: “Ask a question. Guess what? You are now a scientist.” And, while science requires an objective eye, scientists themselves are subjective human beings with strengths and flaws. What kind of scientist are you? In this course we will practice being community-engaged scientists in Western NC.

Instructor Bio: Langdon Martin is a chemistry professor with an interest in the interplay between chemistry (particularly organic chemistry), and biology: all of Earth’s life forms are adept at using carbon-based compounds for structure and energy. In addition to teaching, he enjoys cooking and baking, gardening, reading, hiking, and puzzle-solving…some of these things may show up in this course!

Healthy People, Healthy Places: Theories and Practices in Community Health

Jen Mozolic

Are you and your communities healthy? Health is not just the absence of disease; it includes a wide range of factors in our social, natural, and built environments. In this course, we will take an interdisciplinary approach to investigating health, collaborating with community partners to explore issues impacting health outcomes locally, and joining in on work being done to improve quality of life in our community.

Instructor Bio: Professor Jen Mozolic studies a variety of techniques and programs that promote human health and happiness. This includes community-based research to support quality and access in education, mental health, and disability services.

Play, Innovation, and Your Entrepreneurial Spirit

Wendy Seligmann

Remember being a kid? Anything was possible. Ball stuck on the roof? No problem, you’d just fly up there like a superhero. Successful entrepreneurs embrace their inner child, harnessing the power of play and imagination to turn visions into realities and use fresh thinking to solve problems. Play can transport us out of the realm of things we already know and into the realm of things we haven’t yet figured out. We will learn about and use the practice of play to explore possibilities and discover pathways to more innovative ways of being entrepreneurial. In turn, we will partner with middle school students to help them to use these same tools to nurture and develop their own entrepreneurial spirit.

Instructor Bio: As Professor of Practice in Business, Wendy teaches courses that encourage imaginative and creative approaches to solving wicked problems. Wendy’s passion is helping students learn how to use the tools of business to make social change. Whether she eats to exercise or exercises to eat (more!) is debatable but for fun Wendy enjoys experimenting with food, working out and playing with her granddaughter.

The Spirituality of Imperfection

Shannon Spencer

How many of us struggle with perfectionism – the expectation that it has to be perfect for it to matter? In most spiritual traditions we find the foundational truth that to be human is to be flawed. Annual holy days, weekly rituals, personal meditations all can be traced back to a fundamental understanding for our need of compassion, grace, forgiveness. In a culture hell bent on cancelling one another in the name of justice, what does a spirituality of imperfection look like? We will dive into the stories and experiences of both ancient and current teachers, unpacking the wisdom they impart. You will be invited to think about your own story and understanding of “perfection” and the way(s) it shows up and informs your everyday life and relationships.

Instructor Bio: Shannon Spencer is the Chaplain and Spiritual Life Director at Warren-Wilson College. She has served churches all over the US and most recently founded the local non-profit Asheville Poverty Initiative and the 12 Baskets Cafe. She also served as a chaplain at the Women’s Prison in Swannanoa.

Nature Rx: Mindful by Nature

Matt Vosler

Feeling stressed about school? Is life a little overwhelming? Are you interested in learning more about how Nature can improve our mental health? If so, this class is for you! This class is designed to understand the mental health crisis that many students are experiencing in Higher Education and look at how Nature can be a place to understand how we can reduce stress and anxiety through nature based experiences. Nature Rx is a national movement taking place on college campuses using the natural world to better connect with ourselves, our environment, and our campus community.

Instructor Bio: I have been working in the outdoor industry for almost 20 years and specializes in making the world a more compassionate place through strengthening our relationship with nature. I teach in the Department of Outdoor Leadership and Adventure Programs and absolutely love Western North Carolina!

Problem Solving

Gretchen Whipple

Recreational puzzles date back to at least 1600 BCE. They were used to teach arithmetic, algebra, and general problem-solving skills. Through collaborative work, creative exploration, and problem solving, students will hone their critical thinking, problem solving, and algebra skills. Students will explore, and then employ, formal logic, number theory, and graph theory. This course is designed to increase students’ confidence in their mathematical and problem-solving skills. It aims to help students to see that math is an achievable, creative, fun endeavor.

Instructor Bio: Dr. Gretchen W. Whipple has been teaching mathematics for fewer than 6 dog years. She loves to read, to cook, and to play in the dirt: nurture and grow things. An eternal optimist, Gretchen passionately wishes to improve everyone’s attitudes about, as well as understanding of, mathematics. Her research interests include non-Euclidean geometry, ordered algebraic structures, math pedagogy, and math anxiety.

Craft and Material Studies

Melanie Wilder & Ben Blackmar

In this course students will explore craft as an everyday affair of cultures past, present and future, developing a deeper understanding of the materials we use, practices, and theories at work in our fiber arts and fine woodworking studios. During this class the table will become the literal and figurative *container (*focus, *framework, *metaphor..? ) as we explore the question: “what’s on the table?” by working together with a local community partner around food security, and spending time in each craft studio making practical objects for our own dinner tables.

Instructor Bio: Melanie Wilder, fiber arts Instructor, has worked over the past 14 years to build our fiber arts and craft program at Warren Wilson College. She is a weaver, spinner and natural dyer and is interested in exploring how process crosses into our daily living and how intentional choices can help shape our footprint on the future.

Co-Instructor Bio: Ben Blackmar teaches fine woodworking craft, has studied traditional woodworking at Boston’s North Bennett Street School, and served on staff as an editor at Fine Woodworking Magazine. With over 20 years in the industry, he loves sharing his passion and helping to empower the next generation of crafters.

Inspiring Kids as Readers

Julie Wilson

These are interesting times for language arts instruction in public schools: post Covid adjustments, battles over appropriate books and curricula, a return to phonics instruction, new AI tools for writing essays, the list goes on. In the midst of all of this are teachers, their students, and the little worlds they create in an attempt to affect positive change in the greater world. In this class we will join in that hopeful and potentially transformative work, as reading and writing buddies to local first graders and in our own classroom research into the changes facing literacy instruction and where we stand.

Instructor Bio: Dr. Julie Wilson is a lifelong North Carolinian with a PhD in Education from UNC Chapel Hill and 15 years of experience as Warren Wilson’s Writing Studio Director. Her passions include universal literacy, community engaged social change, animals, and the arts.