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ULM English professor publishes article on teaching environmental humanities

Published November 19, 2015

Dr. Jana M. Giles, associate professor of English at the University of Louisiana at Monroe, has had her latest article, “Integrating Ecocriticsm into a New Graduate English Course in a Southern Public Regional University,” published in Kudzu House 5:3 (Autumn Equinox 2015): 64-94, in a cluster dedicated to teaching environmental humanities.

Giles first presented a version of this paper at the Modern Language Association Annual Convention in Chicago in January 2014. Giles invited four former students from the course, now alumni, Kirby Brasher, Adam Breitenbach, Alycia Hodges, and Valerie Upshaw, to collaborate with her in reflecting on the course content and experience, which she integrated into the essay.

The article recounts the experience of teaching an English MA graduate course in environmental humanities for the first time at a public regional university in northeastern Louisiana in 2012. Giles sets the economic, ecological, and demographic contexts of teaching in this region before turning to describe the texts selected for the course and pedagogical strategies undertaken.

Among the issues she raises is the looming natural, and national, disaster of coastal erosion in Louisiana. She also engages in a dialogue with her former students, in their own words, about their responses to the course, finding that while they appreciated the literary texts and theory, their response to the possibility of activism regarding our current environmental crises was muted and pessimistic. However, after the completion of the course, several students went on to implement change both locally and internationally, or reported that their attitude towards nature had been substantially modified. For instance, Valerie Upshaw went on to serve in the Peace Corps as an Environmental Education Volunteer in Nicaragua.

The paper concludes by considering the challenges to graduate education in literary studies regarding the problem of environmental activism, and recommends that prospective educators consider designing curricula which incite agency and engagement to mitigate the sense of helplessness that can arise from such course material. Alison Lacivita, editor of the journal's issue, writes in her introduction:

"This essay is remarkable not only because of Giles’ clear, informative writing, but also because of the input from several of the students who were in that first 'Literature, Environment, Ecocriticism' course. [….] This essay is not strictly a “how-to” of Giles’s M.A. class, however; it is also a clever comment on the difficulties of actually operating in an interdisciplinary fashion in many universities, an insightful exploration of how the location of an educational institution impacts the way in which material must be taught, and a complex inquiry into the role of activism in the classroom. I am thrilled to be able to present her work to the readers of this volume of Kudzu."

The article is available online at the following link: quarterly.kudzuhouse.org/kudzuscholar/5.3/6.

Giles earned her B.A. in Liberal Arts from St. John's College, her M.A. in English (Concentration in Creative Writing) from the University of New Mexico, and her Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Cambridge in Cambridge, United Kingdom. She has taught in the English program at ULM since 2009.