Environmental Studies

Coordinator:       ELIZABETH BOLTON (English Literature)*
                             Cassy Burnett (Administrative Coordinator)
Committee:       Timothy Burke (History)
                           Peter Collings (Physics and Astronomy) 1*
                           Giovanna Di Chiro (Political Science)
                           Erich Carr Everbach (Engineering)
                           Eric Jensen (Physics and Astronomy)
                           José-Luis Machado (Biology)
                           Arthur McGarity (Engineering) *
                           Rachel Merz (Biology) 3
                           Carol Nackenoff (Political Science)
                           Ganapathy Narayanaraj (Environmental Studies)
                           Jennifer Peck (Economics)
                           Christine Schuetze (Sociology and Anthropology) 3
                           Mark Wallace (Religion)


1 Absent on leave, fall 2014.
3 Absent on leave, 2014–2015.
*Member, 2014–2015 Tri-College Environmental Studies Steering Committee.


Profound anthropogenic changes are occurring in the land, water, and air around us, and education needs to respond to these changes. Swarthmore’s heritage of social concern compels us to educate students so that they are well informed about vital, current issues and capable of full political participation. The College has a responsibility to provide means for the study of environmental problems and to encourage students to develop their own perspectives on these problems. The interdisciplinary Environmental Studies Program is one way the College meets these responsibilities.

Environmental studies offers numerous opportunities for rigorous interdisciplinary work, addressing the scientific, engineering, social, political, economic, literary, and philosophical dimensions of environmental topics. The minor helps guide students to the many academic fields that afford a perspective on environmental problems and enables them to explore questions most compelling to them from the vantage point of various disciplines.

The Swarthmore College Environmental Studies Program cooperates with Bryn Mawr and Haverford colleges to offer a tri-college environmental studies interdisciplinary minor, involving departments and faculty from the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities. The tri-college environmental studies program aims to bring students and faculty together to explore the interactions among earth systems, human societies, and local and global environments.

The Academic Program

An interdisciplinary course minor in environmental studies is available to all students, consisting of an integrated program of an introductory course, four additional courses, and a capstone seminar, taken in addition to a regular major.

The expectation is that minors will take the introductory course, Introduction to Environmental Studies, early in their program and before the senior year. Apart from the introductory course and the capstone seminar, there are three categories of courses: environmental science/technology, environmental social science/humanities, and cognate/interdisciplinary. Lists of courses belonging to each of these categories appear in the course catalog and the program’s website. Environmental Studies minors are generally expected to take two courses in environmental science/technology (one of which must be a lab science) and two courses in environmental social science/humanities. In consultation with the program coordinator, however, up to two courses toward the minor may be chosen from the list designated cognate and interdisciplinary courses or courses taken at other institutions (domestic and foreign). Students should regularly check the program’s website for additions and changes to course lists; the website will also have links to qualified and available environmental science, social science, arts and humanities courses at Bryn Mawr and Haverford colleges.

Any student may request credit in environmental studies for interdisciplinary environmental courses taken at other institutions (domestic and foreign). Application forms for credit evaluations are available on the program’s website. Swarthmore College sponsors environmental study abroad programs in Cape Town, South Africa (see www.swarthmore.edu/x20601.xml) and Central Europe (Krakow, Poland and Brno, Czech Republic—see www.swarthmore.edu/x11780.xml).

At least two of the four courses selected for the environmental studies minor must be outside the major and, if it exists, a second minor, so that when the introductory course and capstone seminar are added, the College policy requiring at least four courses outside the major or any other minor will be satisfied.

Swarthmore environmental studies students may also apply for the honors minor, which has similar requirements plus an external examination on an approved topic that links together two of the courses and a senior honors study paper that explores the connections between the two courses (see honors section below).

Swarthmore students must submit their plan of study to the coordinator, usually when they apply for a major, and should inform the coordinator about any changes in their academic programs. Students may petition the Faculty Committee on Environmental Studies to have courses taken at other institutions fulfill some of these requirements. One of the courses may be independent work or a field study (in the U.S. or abroad).

Overview of Curriculum

Introductory Course

Completion of the introductory course, Introduction to Environmental Studies (ENVS 001), will normally be required of all minors and should be taken prior to the senior year. This course will be co-taught by one faculty member from a science or engineering field and by one faculty member from the social sciences or humanities. Focusing on one or two case studies, the course will emphasize basic concepts in environmental studies and explore how environmental challenges are best approached by drawing upon the contributions of more than one academic discipline.

Environmental Courses in Specific Disciplines (normally 4)

The minor in environmental studies generally requires at least two courses from specific disciplines in environmental science/technology, one of which must be a lab science, and two courses from specific disciplines in environmental social science/humanities. These courses are offered by the departments that support the program, and they focus on environmental topics using the methods and perspectives of a specific discipline.

Cognate and Interdisciplinary Courses (maximum of 2)

In consultation with the coordinator, up to two courses toward the environmental studies minor may come from the list of cognate and interdisciplinary courses. These courses cover topics and methods that relate significantly to the environment. Interdisciplinary environmental studies courses, including courses taken abroad at other institutions and study abroad programs, may also be included in this category. Such courses are occasionally offered by the Environmental Studies Program, including independent work or a field study (in the United States or abroad) supervised by a member of the committee (ENVS 090).

Capstone Seminar

In addition to the introductory course and four courses, each student pursuing a minor will participate in the capstone seminar in environmental studies, offered as ENVS 091 at Swarthmore during the spring semester of the senior year. The capstone seminar will involve advanced work on one or more issues or problems in environmental studies. Leadership of the capstone seminar rotates among the members of the Faculty Committee on Environmental Studies. The Bryn Mawr and Haverford Environmental Studies Senior Seminar (ENVS 397) also counts in fulfillment of the capstone requirement, but before students consider enrolling in the capstone seminar at another campus, they must consult with the Swarthmore Environmental Studies coordinator and recognize that the senior seminars all require major time commitments apart from scheduled seminar meeting times.

Honors Minor

An honors minor in environmental studies includes an integrated program of the introductory course, four courses, and the capstone seminar. The course requirements are similar to those of the regular Environmental Studies minor (see above). These six courses are taken in addition to a regular major, and at least four of these courses must be outside the major.

The honors preparation will consist of a combination of two-courses that are related in some way that is suitable for a single honors examination. Both of the courses must be outside the major. The two courses may be selected from a single discipline or from two different, but environmentally related, disciplines. It is also possible for one of the courses to be interdisciplinary. Other two-credit options such as a course with an attachment will not be encouraged, and a two-credit thesis will not be allowed. Student performance in the two designated courses must be at a high enough level to merit honors, as judged by the faculty teaching the courses. Also, approval of the student’s honors application should be obtained from these same faculty since they will be expected to specify prospective honors examiners.

The senior honors study will consist of a small paper that explores the connections between the two courses used for the preparation. This paper will be included with background materials submitted to the honors examiner.

Special Major

Although the Environmental Studies Program does not offer a regularized special major, students who seek a more focused and extensive study of the environment may pursue a self-designed special major drawing on courses across the curriculum. According to College guidelines, a “special major is expected to be integrated in the sense that it specifies a field of learning (not necessarily conventional) or topic or problems for sustained inquiry that crosses departmental boundaries, or it may be treated as a subfield within the normal departmental major.” Special majors consist of at least 10 credits and normally no more than 12 credits, including fulfillment of a comprehensive requirement (such as a thesis, comprehensive examination, or other project approved by the student's faculty advisers).

Students may apply for an environmental studies special major in either the Course or the Honors program. A special major may either be pursued singly or paired with a second major housed in another department or program. All environmental studies special majors must normally complete ENVS 001 and ENVS 091. Interested students should consult as early as possible with the Program Coordinator and other faculty with related interests.

Given the breadth of courses supported by the Environmental Studies Program, it is normal for students to focus special majors either within a particular division (i.e., Humanities, Social Sciences, or Natural Sciences & Engineering), or around an interdepartmental theme (e.g., Environmental Policy, Food Justice & Sustainability, Land Use Planning). Since even a well-planned environmental studies special major is by nature interdisciplinary, pursuing it alongside a traditional departmental major—potentially exploring the intersection of the two through an independent thesis—may serve as a valuable course of study.

Off-Campus Study

Swarthmore's Central European Programs in Brno, Czech Republic and Krakow, Poland

Swarthmore operates closely related environmental study abroad programs in Central Europe hosted by Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic and by the Jagiellonian University and Politechnika Krakowska in Krakow, Poland. Students usually take three environmentally related courses, taught in English, as well as a required language and culture course that includes intensive language instruction in either Czech or Polish. The Brno program, based in Masaryk University’s Department of Environmental Studies, focuses primarily on environmental social sciences and humanities. An internship at one of two environmental NGO’s, supervised by faculty for academic credit, is available at either Hnuti Duha (Czech branch of Friends of the Earth) or the Veronica Sustainability Center. The Krakow program, based in Politechnika Krakowska’s Department of Environmental Engineering, focuses primarily on environmental science and technology. For more information, see the website: www.swarthmore.edu/ceurope/.

Cape Town South Africa Program on Globalization and the Natural Environment

Swarthmore is a member of a consortium with Macalester and Pomona Colleges that sponsors a junior year environmental study abroad program in collaboration with the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Students from the three consortium schools, as well as those schools under consortium agreements with the three schools, may apply. For more information, see the website: www.swarthmore.edu/x20601.xml.


Students should regularly check the program’s website www.swarthmore.edu/envs.xml for additions and changes to the course lists shown below.

ENVS 001. Introduction to Environmental Studies

Built around four case studies, this course provides a broad introduction to the inherently interdisciplinary work of environmental studies by providing historical background and examining options for action using tools from a variety of perspectives, chiefly from the sciences and social sciences. Course themes include tragedy of the commons issues, and rights and environmental justice; sustainable development, including increasing urbanization of humanity, population growth, and Kuznets curve; global climate change science and debate; feedback loops and tipping points; and community adaptation and resilience.
1 credit.
Spring 2015. Jensen, Nackenoff.

ENVS 071. Remote Sensing of the Environment and raster GIS

The overall goal of this course is to provide students with a working knowledge of the principles and applications of satellite remote sensing of the environment. Students will learn the concepts and techniques of satellite remote sensing and image analysis for environmental resource inventory and mapping, land use analysis, and monitoring natural and environmental resources. Lab provides hands-on experience, including a practical/team project, in an introduction to satellite image analysis techniques.
1 credit.
Spring 2015. Narayanaraj.

ENVS 090. Directed Reading in Environmental Studies

0.5 or 1 credit.
Fall 2014 and spring 2015. Staff

ENVS 091. Capstone Seminar

1 credit.
Spring 2015. Everbach.

ENVS 092. Research Project in Environmental Studies

0.5 or 1 credit.
Fall 2014 and spring 2015. Staff

ENVS 093. Thesis

1 credit.
Fall 2014 and spring 2015. Staff.

ENVS 180. Honors Thesis

1 credit.
Fall 2014 and spring 2015. Staff.

Environmental Science/Technology Courses

The environmental science/technology category includes courses that emphasize techniques and methodologies of the sciences and engineering and whose subject is central to environmental studies. Therefore, all students will be familiar with a body of scientific knowledge and scientific approaches to environmental problems.
BIOL 002. Organismal and Population Biology
BIOL 036. Ecology
BIOL 037. Conservation Biology
BIOL 039. Marine Biology
BIOL 137. Biodiversity and Ecosystem Function
CHEM 001. Chemistry in Context: Applying Chemistry to Society
CHEM 103. Topics in Environmental Chemistry
ENGR 004A. Environmental Protection
ENGR 063. Water Quality and Pollution Control
ENGR 066. Environmental Systems
PHYS 024. The Earth’s Climate and Global Warming

Environmental Social Sciences/Humanities Courses

The environmental social science/humanities category includes courses that are central to environmental studies and focus on values, their social contexts, and their implementation in policies. Thus, all students will have studied the social context in which environmental problems are created and can be solved.
ANTH 023C. Anthropological Perspectives on Conservation
CHIN 087. Fresh Water Resources: Policies and Issues, China and the U.S.
CHIN 088. Governance and Environmental Issue in China (Cross-listed as POLS 088)
ECON 003A. Environmental Policy and Economics
ECON 076. Environmental Economics
ENGL 009C. First-Year Seminar: Imagining Natural History
ENGL 070G. Writing Nature
FMST 035. Histories of the Water (Cross-listed as HIST 061)
HIST 061. Histories of the Water (Cross-listed as FMST 035)
HIST 089. Environmental History of Africa
JPNS 035. Narratives of Disaster and Rebuilding in Japan
LITR 086R. Nature and Industry in Russia (Cross-listed as RUSS 086)
PHIL 035. Environmental Ethics
POLS 037. Introduction to GIS for Social and Environmental Analysis (Cross-listed as SOAN 030P)
POLS 043. Environmental Policy and Politics
POLS 043B. Environmental Justice: Theory and Action
POLS 071. Applied Spatial Analysis with GIS
POLS 087. Fresh Water Resources: Policies and Issues, China and the U.S.
POLS 088. Governance and Environmental Issue in China (Cross-listed as CHIN 088)
RELG 022. Religion and Ecology
RUSS 086. Nature and Industry in Russia (Cross-listed as LITR 086R)
SOAN 020M. Race, Gender, and Environment
SOAN 030P. Introduction to GIS for Social and Environmental Analysis (Cross-listed as POLS 037)

Cognate and Interdisciplinary Courses

The following are Swarthmore courses that are either (1) relevant to environmental studies but not central enough to justify their inclusion in the preceding groups or (2) focus primarily on the environment and are interdisciplinary in nature:
ANTH 080B. Anthropological Linguistics: Endangered Languages (Cross-listed as LING 120)
ARTH 035. Pictured Environments: Japanese Landscapes and Cityscapes
BIOL 016. Microbiology
BIOL 017. Microbial Pathogenesis and Immune Response
BIOL 020. Animal Physiology
BIOL 025. Plant Biology
BIOL 026. Invertebrate Biology
BIOL 031. History and Evolution of Human Food
BIOL 034. Evolution
BIOL 115E. Plant Molecular Genetics - Biotechnology
BIOL 116. Microbial Processes and Biotechnology
BIOL 130. Behavioral Ecology
CHEM 043. Analytical Methods and Instrumentation
ECON 032. Operations Research (Cross-listed as ENGR 057)
EDUC 074. Social Problems in Philadelphia (Cross-listed as SOCI 006H)
ENGR 003. Problems in Technology
ENGR 004B. Swarthmore and the Biosphere
ENGR 035. Solar Energy Systems
ENGR 057. Operations Research (Cross-listed as ECON 032)
ENVS 002. Human Nature, Technology, and the Environment
HIST 001N. First-Year Seminar: Oil and Empire
LING 120. Anthropological Linguistics: Endangered Languages (Cross-listed as ANTH 080B)
LITR 022G. Food Revolutions: History, Politics, Culture
MATH 056. Modeling
PHYS 002E. First-Year Seminar: Energy
PHYS 020. Principles of the Earth Sciences
POLS 048. The Politics of Population
SOCI 006H. Social Problems in Philadelphia (Cross-listed as EDUC 074)