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Amherst College Courses

Amherst College Courses

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Environmental Studies

Professors Clotfelter, López*, Martini*, Melillo (Chair), Miller, Moore, Sims and Temeles; Associate Professor Holleman; Assistant Professors Hewitt, Ravikumar and Zhang; Senior Lecturer Levin; Visiting Assistant Professor Fame.

For many thousands of years, our ancestors were more shaped by the environment, than they were shapers of it. This began to change, first with hunting and then, roughly ten thousand years ago, with the beginnings of agriculture. Since then, humans have had a steadily increasing impact on the natural world. Environmental Studies explores the complex interactions between humans and their environment. This exploration requires grounding in the natural sciences, the humanities, and the social sciences.

Majors in Environmental Studies take a minimum of eleven courses that collectively reflect the subject’s interdisciplinary nature. The required introductory courses (ENST-110 and ENST-120) and senior seminar (ENST-495) are taught by faculty from the natural sciences, the social sciences, and humanities. The core courses include Ecology (ENST-210), Environmental History (ENST-105, ENST-220 or ENST-265), Economics (ENST-230 or ECON-111), Statistics/Research Methods (many course options), Environmental Policy (ENST-250 or ENST-260), and Environmental Justice (ENST-226 or ENST-272 or ENST-330). Beyond these courses, majors must take two electives, including at least one course from each of two categories (Category I: Natural sciences and Category II: Social sciences and Humanities), which span different fields of environmental inquiry.

Majors are strongly encouraged to complete the introductory course by the end of their second year and the core requirements prior to their senior year. The senior seminar (ENST-495) offered in the fall semester, fulfills the comprehensive requirement.

The honors program in Environmental Studies involves two course credits. Majors electing to complete honors are required to submit a thesis proposal to the Department either in the spring of the junior year (if summer work is required) or at the beginning of the first semester of the senior year. Accepted candidates can take either an honors course in two successive semesters (ENST-498 & ENST-499) or take a double-credit course in the spring semester (ENST-499D).

Students who wish to satisfy a requirement with a Five College course or a course taken away from Amherst College must petition the Department in writing through the Chair and submit a syllabus or description of the course for approval. Students for whom Environmental Studies is a second major can count no more than two courses toward both majors.

* On leave 2023-24†On leave fall semester 2023-24‡On leave spring semester 2023-24

105 Global Environmental History of the Twentieth Century

(See HIST 105)

110 Environmental Science with laboratory

This course provides an introduction to environmental science. Students will gain an understanding of the interactions between the biotic, which is inclusive of people, and the physical components of the Earth system. Through lecture, analysis of scientific literature, and lab we address topics such as biodiversity, agriculture, water resources, atmospheric pollution and climate change, and renewable and non-renewable energy, linking central scientific concepts to local, regional, and global case studies. In discussions, we explore policy applications and evaluate solutions based on scientific knowledge. Through field and laboratory experiences, students are introduced to methods for monitoring environmental quality, approaches for quantitative analysis of datasets, and conventions for reporting scientific findings.

Limited to 16 students. Fall semester. Assitant Professor Hewitt. 

Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

205 Indigenous rights and the politics of deforestation in the Amazon

The Amazon rainforest is sometimes referred to as the “lungs of the Earth” for its tremendous role in regulating the global climate, and its potential to mitigate anthropogenic climate change. It also directly provides food, fiber, and fuel to sustain the livelihoods of millions of local people. Despite its vital importance for its denizens and for all of humanity, deforestation in the Amazon has continued at an alarming pace, and efforts to slow or halt it have yielded mixed results. In this course, we will take stock of the political, economic, cultural, and ideological challenges in slowing deforestation in the Amazon. Early on in the course, through readings and multimedia, we will develop a common understanding of how power and politics in colonial and postcolonial development have made deforestation so persistent. We will then turn our attention towards possible solutions and explore the innovative and imminent approaches to conserving the Amazon rainforest while maintaining the customary land rights of local and indigenous peoples. Students will deploy critical analytical skills to assess the strengths and shortcomings of different approaches to conservation in the Amazon. This course will involve readings from indigenous studies and political ecology. Students will write regular reflections, position papers, and an independent research paper assessing existing initiatives that aim to conserve the Amazon. Through their work, students will provide concrete recommendations for action and/or policy. These products will be tailored to real decision-makers with the power to act on the issues that we discuss. 

Pre-requisite: Background knowledge on climate change, environmental sociology, Latinx or Latin American Studies is recommended. Omitted 2023-24. Limited to 20 students. Professor Ravikumar. 

2024-25: Not offered

207 The Wild and the Cultivated

(See HIST 207)

220 Environmental Issues of the 19th Century

(See HIST 104)

225 Climate Change: science and solutions

Global climate change is one of the defining issues of our time impacting the environment and society. Finding solutions to the challenges posed by climate change requires an integrated systems perspective inclusive of biological and social dimensions that can inform action. This course explores the causes and impacts, and evaluates mitigation and adaptation strategies. Through lecture, discussion, and project work we will assess evidence and advances made within the  scientific community, and emphasize the importance of stakeholders and complementary knowledge systems to our understanding of anthropogenic climate change and potential solutions. Readings draw on current scientific literature and summary reports such as the National Climate Assessment. Through experiential activities we will draw connections between global and local innovations to address climate change and cultivate written, oral and visual science communication skills.
Spring 2024. Assistant Professor Hewitt.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2024

226 Unequal Footprints on the Earth: Understanding the Social Drivers of Ecological Crises and Environmental Inequality

(See SOCI 226)

236 Finding the Humanity in Nature

Over the past three decades, the new field of Environmental Humanities has become a widely recognized area of research and cultural engagement. Bringing together insights and approaches from fields as diverse as history, philosophy, religious studies, anthropology, literature, gender studies, the performing and visual arts, cultural studies, and communication studies, practitioners of the Environmental Humanities have been exploring new ways to understand, evaluate, and address planetary ecological crises and sustainability issues. In this course, we will introduce students to the key concepts and influential texts that animate this exciting sphere of inquiry. In addition to visits from several guest speakers, we will travel to regional museums and outdoor spaces. Students will write throughout the semester, and they will also pursue independent research that explores some aspect of the Environmental Humanities.

Limited to 25 students. Fall semester. Professors Melillo and Moore.

Pending Faculty Approval

Other years: Offered in Fall 2023

250 US Environmental Policy

This course is built around core readings on key policies and agencies of environmental governance in the US. It will provide students with a strong grasp of the most important environmental legislation in the United States (such as the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Clean Air Act). We will explore how existing environmental laws and institutions have provided important environmental protections, and also where they have fallen short. We will also ask how environmental racism and other forms of inequality have been addressed or exacerbated by historical policies, with an eye towards identifying promising alternatives in the future. Students will examine the relationships between local, state, and federal agencies carrying out environmental governance. This class will explore how policy is "political," and how it emerges from the actions of competing interest groups.

Requisite: ENST-120. Fall semester. Assistant Professor Ravikumar.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

253 Principles of Geospatial Inquiry

(See GEOL 253)

260 Global Environmental Politics

The effects of environmental problems, from climate change, to water contamination, to the depletion of fisheries, are felt acutely at the local level. But their underlying causes are often global: coal-burning power plants in China affects sea-level rise near Miami, overfishing by European fleets off the coast of Africa affects bush meat hunting in the Congo Basin, and deforestation in Indonesia creates forest fires that affect all of Southeast Asia’s air quality. Environmental issues are also fundamentally political: that is, they emerge through negotiations between different actors and groups with divergent interests and disparate degrees of power and influence. In this course, we will examine how environmental problems emerge through political processes that transcend national borders. Through foundational readings, in-depth classroom discussions, and team-based analysis of pressing contemporary cases, you will learn the tools of rigorous multi-level political and policy analysis. While we will emphasize that a global and explicitly political analysis is necessary to properly diagnose why environmental problems and conflicts emerge, we will focus on how these diagnoses suggest solutions. Coming out of this course, you will be better equipped to analyze how global politics are linked to local environmental issues, and to understand when different types of solutions – from small changes to policy, to international treaties, to protest and demands for radical systems change – are most likely to move the needle on environmental sustainability and justice.

Requisite: ENST 120. Limited to 35 students. Spring 2024. Professor Ravikumar.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2023, Spring 2024

265 Environmental History of Latin America

(See HIST 265)

272 Climate Justice Now

(Offered as ENST-272and SOCI-272) This community-engaged and experiential learning course takes students off campus to study the work organizations and people are doing to advance climate justice where they live, work, pray, play, learn, and do time in Massachusetts and beyond. Global surveys of public opinion show that majorities across countries want a more equitable and sustainable world and support wide-ranging action to address climate change. Fortunately, empirical research demonstrates that these goals are not only compatible, they are necessarily linked and even synergistic. But, what does effective action toward these goals look like? How can each of us contribute to the larger-scale changes needed to address global warming and work toward climate justice now? This course answers these questions by combining study of the social science of climate change mitigation with community engagement and real-world examples to facilitate a deeper understanding of the many evidence-based ways that people are making the planet a more sustainable, equitable, healthier, and happier place for more of earth’s inhabitants. Limited to 22 students.  Associate Professor Holleman and Assistant Professor Ravikumar

In this course students:
· Gain a sophisticated understanding of the social science of climate change mitigation and develop research and writing skills. Rigorous weekly engagement with the climate justice literature, and independent research, complements and provides context for the experiential and community-engaged components of the course.
· Take 3-5 field trips to local farms, energy production sites, housing developments, and more to learn how communities meet the real needs of everyone in society for energy, shelter, and food while addressing climate change and advancing equality and justice.
· Meet a range of organizers and advocates from different backgrounds working to advance climate justice in areas such as energy, housing, transportation, and food/agriculture in Massachusetts.
· Spend time with local elected officials and discuss how to translate climate justice work into policy/legislation.
· Are empowered with knowledge of how they can work toward climate justice wherever they live, work, play, pray and learn.
2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2023, Fall 2023

300 The Green New Deal

The Green New Deal has gained traction in the United States and around the world as a new approach to environmental policy and to redress structural inequalities linked to income and race. What is the Green New Deal, and how does it seem to transform environmental governance? In this course, we will explore key readings on the Green New Deal, and explore its connection to the original New Deal. We will examine how it relates to relevant literatures, such as environmental economics, political economy, critical race theory, and environmental sociology. We will critically debate the merits of various proposals for the Green New Deal using these frameworks and explore what it might take to translate these proposals into effective legislation. This class will equip students to contribute to a national conversation around these questions.  Students will write weekly reflections, a policy brief or op-ed, and a research paper.

Pre-requisite: Background knowledge on climate change, environmental policy, or economics is recommended (e.g., courses such as ENST 226, 230, 252, 260, 330, 342 or POSC 112, 231, 307). Instructor permission required for students who have not taken ENST 120. Limited to 20 students. Omitted 2023-24. Professor Ravikumar.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2022

301 Hydrogeology

(See GEOL 301)

306 Pandemics and Society: The Socio-Ecological Construction of Infectious Diseases throughout History

(See SOCI 306)

310 Ecosystem Ecology

Ecosystem ecology provides a framework for understanding the organization and function of the biosphere and insights into the critical environmental issues of our time. Through lecture, discussion, and collaborative work, we explore interactions between organisms and the environment from the molecular to the global scale. With a focus on energy and material flow through living and non-living components of the Earth system we take a mechanistic perspective on topics that include the energy and water balances, cycling of carbon and nutrients, plant-soil- microbe interactions, and landscape heterogeneity driven by disturbance regimes. We discuss how ecosystem structure and function relates to applied issues of conservation, sustainability, and climate change. We engage with the scientific process by critically evaluating scientific literature, assessing frontiers in ecological research, and developing written and oral science communication skills.
Requisites: ENST 110 or BIOL 181 or consent of instructor. Spring 2024. Professor Hewitt.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2023, Spring 2024

328 The Pandemic

(See SOCI 328)

330 Environmental Justice

From climate change to water and air pollution, environmental degradation harms some groups of people more than others. Today, communities of color in the global North are disproportionately harmed by environmental contamination. The global South writ large faces far more environmental health issues than the global North. And women face unique harms from environmental degradation across the world. Why do these disparities exist? Should everyone have equal access to the same environmental quality, and whose responsibility is it to ensure this in the United States and globally? In this seminar, we will explore how and why factors like race, gender, colonial histories, and contemporary poverty shape the impacts of environmental problems on different communities. We will critically examine the theories and issues of environmental justice and political ecology. Beginning with a review of the history of the U.S. environmental justice movement, we will examine the social and environmental justice dimensions of U.S. and international case studies of fossil fuel extraction, tropical deforestation, urban industrial production, and agricultural intensification. The course will require students to write position papers, facilitate discussions, and produce a final case study analysis of a contemporary environmental justice issue of choice with recommendations for action.

Requisite: ENST 120 or consent of the instructor. Limited to 18 students.  Professor Ravikumar.

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2024

342 Socio-Ecological Victories and Visions

(See SOCI 342)

371 Climate Change and Social Justice in Puerto Rico

(See SPAN 371)

402 Wine, History and the Environment

(See HIST 402)

430 Seminar on Fisheries

The dependency of many countries on marine organisms for food has resulted in severe population declines in cod, bluefin tuna, swordfish, and abalone, as well as numerous other marine organisms. In this seminar we will examine the sociological, political, and economic impacts of global depletion of fisheries. Questions addressed will be: What is the scope of extinctions or potential extinctions due to over-harvesting of marine organisms? How are fisheries managed, and are some approaches to harvesting better than others? How do fisheries extinctions affect the society and economy of various countries, and ecosystem stability? How do cultural traditions of fishermen influence attempts to manage fisheries? Does aquaculture offer a sustainable alternative to overfishing the seas, and what is aquaculture’s impact on ecosystem stability? Three class hours per week.

Requisite: ENST 120 or BIOL 230/ENST 210. Limited to 15 students. Spring semester. Professor Temeles. 

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2013, Spring 2021, Spring 2023, Spring 2024

464 Seminar: Population Ethics

(See PHIL 464)

474 Population Ethics

(Offered as ENST 474 and PHIL 374) Is our planet overpopulated? And if so, how many of us should live on it? Population raises tricky questions that are both empirical and broadly philosophical: How should we weigh the well-being of future individuals against the lives of those currently living? Should we aim for a future population whose average or whose total level of well-being is maximized—or should we apply some other standard? Even more fundamentally: are we right to think of human life as, on balance, a positive thing? And how might a policy based on answers to such questions be weighed against rights to reproductive choice, and against considerations of justice? In this seminar, we will explore recent work in the emerging and fascinating field of population ethics. We will chart new areas for research, as well as for practical policy-making.

Requisite: At least one course in either ENST or PHIL. Limited to 15 students. Spring 2024. Professor Moore.  

2024-25: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Spring 2023

495 Senior Seminar

The Senior Seminar is the capstone course in the environmental studies major, which serves as the comprehensive requirement, and is taken by all seniors in the fall of their senior year. The diversity of student interests is one of the strengths of the environmental studies department at Amherst and the senior seminar captures this diversity by asking students to explore their own interests through substantial, original research on an environmental topic.  The capstone is designed to be flexible to accommodate diverse interests and cultivate different skills, including finding and making sense of material from a variety of sources, articulating effective arguments, and gaining fluency in the communication of ideas.

Open to seniors. Fall semester. Professor Sims and Levin.

Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2023, Fall 2024

498, 499D Senior Honors

Fall semester. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2024

499 Senior Departmental Honors

Spring semester. The Department.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2024

Core Courses

120 The Resilient (?) Earth: An Introduction to Environmental Studies

What is ‘the environment’ and why does it matter? What are the environmental impacts of “business as usual”? What kinds of environmental futures do we want to work towards and what are the alternatives? In this course, we will explore these and other questions that examine how and why we relate to the environment in the ways that we do and the social, ecological and ethical implications of these relationships. As an Introduction to Environmental Studies, this course seeks to (i) develop a common framework for understanding ‘the environment’ as a tightly coupled socio-natural enterprise, and (ii) familiarize students with several key environmental issues of the 21st century. One lecture and one discussion section per week.

Limited to 50 students. Spring semester. Senior Lecturer R. Levin and Professor Holleman.

Other years: Offered in Spring 2012, Spring 2013, Spring 2014, Spring 2015, Spring 2016, Spring 2017, Spring 2018, Spring 2019, Spring 2020, Spring 2021, Spring 2022, Spring 2023, Spring 2024

Departmental Courses

230 An Introduction to Economics with Environmental Applications

(See ECON 111E)

441 Seminar in Conservation Biology

(See BIOL 440)

Related Courses

- (Course not offered this year.)ANTH-251 Commodifying Nature: An Anthropology of Resource PoliticsSWAG-453 Feminist and Queer EthnographyBIOL-181 Adaptation and the OrganismBIOL-201 Disease Ecology with LabBIOL-280 Animal BehaviorBIOL-281 Animal Behavior with LabBIOL-320 Evolutionary BiologyBIOL-454 Seminar in Tropical BiologyECON-111 An Introduction to EconomicsECON-111 An Introduction to EconomicsECON-210 Environmental and Natural Resource EconomicsECON-223 The Economics of MigrationECON-262 Development EconomicsECON-360 EconometricsECON-360 EconometricsENST-236 Finding the Humanity in NatureENST-250 US Environmental PolicyGEOL-253 Principles of Geospatial InquiryENST-260 Global Environmental PoliticsSOCI-270 Food and the Environment: Towards Global Health, Justice, and Sustainable DevelopmentSOCI-272 Climate Justice NowENST-330 Environmental JusticeENST-430 Seminar on FisheriesGEOL-105 Introduction to OceanographyGEOL-112 Surficial Earth Dynamics: Climate, Environment, and LifeSTAT-135 Introduction to Statistics via ModelingSTAT-135 Introduction to Statistics via ModelingMATH-140 Mathematical ModelingPHYS-109 EnergyPOSC-112 The International Politics of Climate ChangePOSC-231 The Political Economy of Petro States: Venezuela ComparedSWAG-307 States of Extraction: Nature, Women, and World PoliticsPSYC-122 Statistics for Behavioral SciencesPSYC-122 Statistics for Behavioral SciencesPSYC-200 Research MethodsSOCI-316 Social ResearchSTAT-111 Introduction to StatisticsSTAT-136 Exploring Mental Health Inequities via Statistics: Happy Intro StatsSTAT-225 Nonparametric StatisticsSTAT-230 Intermediate StatisticsSTAT-230 Intermediate StatisticsSTAT-231 Data ScienceSTAT-231 Data Science