The Syllabus Project

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Has anyone else noticed how often environmental history syllabi largely omit women and scholars of colour?

A colleague’s initial Twitter query about good sources for an environmental syllabus was followed by dozens of excellent suggestions—but none of those suggested sources were written by women and few were by scholars of colour. Dolly Jørgensen  commented on this lack of diversity, and a lively Twitter discussion ensued about the structural reasons for underrepresentation.  A discussion on the Women’s Environmental History Network (WEHN) email list occurred simultaneously, while the #WomenAlsoKnowHistory hashtag and website https://womenalsoknowhistory.com/ were  in development.

David Fouser collated the numerous excellent suggestions offered by our fellow #twitterstorians and Nancy Langston created a collaborative website  (www.TheSyllabusProject.weebly.com) and group Zotero library (https://www.zotero.org/groups/2170789/the_syllabus_project). Anna Zeide tagged the many contributions in the Zotero library to make them more useful for scholars.  The Zotero library is intentionally collaborative, so anyone can join, add citations, and tag and annotate sources.  We then integrated the WEHN suggestions and invited other scholars to contribute. Currently, the Zotero group library has 53 active members who are collaborating to expand the list, and non-members are free to use the sources and citations.

Within a week, our starting list of 40 sources expanded to 502 sources by women, scholars of colour, and scholars working on global environmental histories. The response suggests that our colleagues have a great deal of interest in reaching beyond the standard canon.

We have proposed a roundtable for the ASEH 2019 conference in Columbus Ohio to discuss the structural reasons that have led many historians to design syllabi that lack diversity. We will also offer data on diversity within existing syllabi available online. We will explore the collaborative Zotero group library and encourage participants to practice using and adding to the library. We will save at least 45 minutes for audience discussion of  best practices  for diversifying environmental history syllabi. Participants include Nancy Langston, Sarah Elkind, David Fouser, Mary Mendoza, Sara Pritchard, Brinda Sarathy, and Anna Zeide.

Our goal with The Syllabus Project is to provide concrete strategies so that we can all diversify our syllabi to strengthen our teaching, our scholarship, and our field.  We call on all environmental historians to diversify our syllabi (and our conference panels, books, workshops, and papers). Diversity can only strengthen our teaching, our scholarship, and our field.

 

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Nancy Langston is an environmental historian who explores the connections between toxics, environmental health, and industrial changes in Lake Superior and other boreal watersheds.

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