Fall 2023

Encounters with Nature

Listed in: First Year Seminar, as FYSE-110


Nicola Courtright (Section 01)


What is our place in nature? How do we feel about natural spaces we encountered growing upand how do we view the environment of Amherst College and its setting in New England? How did people in the past think about nature and how did they change their environments as a consequence? Did different races experience and alter nature in different ways? How have the ideas and experiences of the past affected us today? And how do we imagine the future of the natural world? Has the current pandemic permanently changed how we think about nature?

This course will explore how our ideas of nature have changed over time. We will give particular attention to the ways we have recreated particular kinds of natural spaces and how we have depicted nature in images. We begin with walks in the nearby wildlife sanctuary, discussions of our past encounters with nature, a study of the Amherst Campus, and, while the weather is still warm, a hike or two. During these excursions we will discuss what we see, take visual notes on the landscape through drawing (no expertise necessary), and discuss and write about how our experience with the land might differ from how people experienced it in the past. We then will explore New England further, discuss ideas about wilderness in the United States, and look closely at American landscape painting. Where do our deeply held assumptions come from? To find out, we will look at poetry, philosophy, Western painting traditions, and scientific illustration. We also will think about why people collect and draw natural specimens, and how they mapped their environments from the Renaissance through the Aztec empire to the current day.

The course will provide an introduction to liberal studies by helping students learn how to read and comprehend complex texts and images, respond to them in sophisticated ways, and engage in critical reasoning. We expect students to be active participants in class discussions. Students will write brief abstracts every week about the readings and every other week or so perform close readings of texts, art, maps, and even gardens and landscapes.

Fall semester. Professor Courtright. 

How to handle overenrollment: First Year students only

Students who enroll in this course will likely encounter and be expected to engage in the following intellectual skills, modes of learning, and assessment: Intellectual skills and modes of learning: student gains the skill of close looking to gain visual understanding; considers how art, science and their cultures are intertwined; develops critical reading skills to analyze points of view and discover evidence for them; writes analytically; learns collaboratively with classmates; practices public speaking. Assessment based on: ungraded, 1-paragraph abstracts of all readings; discussion; five short analytical papers; 1 oral presentation.

FYSE 110 - LEC

Section 01
Tu 11:30 AM - 12:50 PM CONV 308
Th 11:30 AM - 12:50 PM CONV 308


Other years: Offered in Fall 2022, Fall 2023