Bringing Interdisciplinary Sources to the Table: Urban College Writers Meet Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac

By Susan Jacobs, DePaul University

As a writing instructor at DePaul University, I find Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac an excellent tool for interdisciplinary learning. Most of our students live and study in Chicago’s gritty/glittering urban setting. We have access to innovative conservation efforts within multiple disciplines. In the midst of Daniel Burnham’s 19th century concrete grid, we have urban farms, environmentally-oriented social media, and multiple green architectural and commercial efforts.


Chicago City Grid

Some scholars would argue that interdisciplinary studies creates thinkers with broad awareness but shallow comprehension. I would argue that interdisciplinarity creates adaptable, innovative members of thinking communities.

I’ve taught the Almanac several times, and I’ve learned that finding primary resources in our urban setting demonstrates that everything is connected. As students learn about their urban biotic community, they open up to Leopold’s key ideas. I take shameless advantage of new sources that pop up—cultural exhibits, social media, organic food trucks, no-waste restaurants, and vertical gardens. Pairing urban resources with Leopold helps me keep up with students’ quickly shifting interests.


A rooftop herb garden supplies a local bakery.

A typical freshman writing class will have a mix of majors including English, Computer Science, Digital Media, History, Biology, and Commerce. Engaging varied interests requires finding course material that inspires individual thinking within the context of academic discourse.

Continue reading at Building a Land Ethic: A blog for out Thinking Community  here.





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Your friendly co-editors, Randall Honold and Christine Skolnik.


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Impudent Suggestion: Human, Specious, Self-consious

ACMIf the human is defined by ways of knowing and communicating, and particularly by self-consciousness, how would we define a set of humanoid creatures (including jazz musicians) who know and communicate in unconventional modes, and who are self-consciousness about this, in contrast to other human beings who categorically deny such forms of communication.  And if “the species” were to “evolve” beyond a conventional human capacity to recognize such forms of communication, would it become something other than human? I’m not suggesting evolution from a place of superiority over other creatures; rather I’m imagining a kind of switch-back through which humans can be reconciled with other animals.  Also, I would like to suggest that all humans communicate in various non-conventional ways, but that some individuals and groups suspect alternative modes, some are certain of them, and some vehemently deny them. It’s the spectrum of self-consciousness that interests me here.

In conjunction with eccentric modes of communication, we might imagine a wide-spread shift toward consciousness of consciousness as mind/brain very widely distributed over space, time, embarrassed etc. (Judith Butler).  A self-conscious hyperconsciousness (Timothy Morton).  Something like a universal mind, but not with the spiritual baggage of that term (Om), or something like VALIS, but not tethered to external agency or the culture of science fiction (PKD).

I don’t imagine such self-consciousness emerging as a set of rapid genetic mutations, but as a form of genetic expression, regulated by environmental factors and internal chemicals, though that’s a specious distinction.   When we reflect on the fundamentals of ecology, physiology, or the mass media (more than a decade after the decade of the brain), we should take for granted that brain chemistry is affected by the environment.

Neuroplasticity refers not only to changes in brain function but changes in the rate of change.  (My source here is Reuven Feuerstein, an Israeli psychologist who changed the IQ’s of traumatized children, decades before “the decade.”)  So perhaps we might see a change, a sea change, in the rate of change of self-consciousnesses about non-conventional communication. Certainly language and technology could be part of the mechanism of change, but the effect might be something quite different from either, as we know it.

While I don’t see human beings as a savior species or transformer gods, I do think human consciousness could be raised rapidly, and with salutary effects. And I fantasize that animals and plants are helping us to figure it out, as charismatic species colonize the Internet and vegetation seems to be advancing on various fronts (Richard Doyle). Climate change may not be reversible and sustainability may be a fantasy, but perhaps cultivating “gracious relationships” (William Jordan III) has some intrinsic and lasting value.

Image: Afro-Cuban Messengers, from Culturebox.

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Calling Cthulhu Lovecraft @ 125


EC loves weird fiction . . .

Originally posted on synthetic zero:

“H.P. Lovecraft’s influence on pop culture has exploded in recent years. But why? Erik Davis is a cultural critic and the author of the essay, “Calling Cthulhu: H.P. Lovecraft’s Magickal Realism.” He fell under Lovecraft’s spell as a teenager.

Dean Lockwood talks about the important role that sound plays in creating the cosmic horror of Lovecraft’s work.

Philosopher Eugene Thacker talks about how Lovecraft used science to speculate about the nature of reality in his short story, “From Beyond.”

H.P. Lovecraft may have been a great writer, but he was also, undeniably, a racist. This pretty much ruins him for a lof of readers, and writers. In fact, therre’s curretnly a petition before the World Fantasy Award, protesting the organization’s award statue, which is a bust of Lovecraft.  Gemma Files is a Canadian horror writer and one of the people who has a problem with Lovecraft because of his racism.

Think that it’s too…

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Exploring the Nature of Diversity in Chicago

by Eoin O’Neill

Author details: Dr. Eoin O’Neill is a tenured Lecturer in Environmental Policy at University College Dublin and is visiting at DePaul University for the Autumn Quarter, hosted by the Department of Environmental Science and Studies.

Whilst visiting at DePaul and as an urban dweller in Chicago, I’m somewhat unusual; I don’t have a car and can be seen with my wife walking the streets at all hours pushing a large red buggy, which we have been told is a rather ‘awesome stroller’ and ‘like a red Cadillac’. While it takes us longer to get everywhere, walking allows for an intimate acquaintance with hidden nooks of Chicago that I may otherwise never have seen. It also allows for time to reflect and appreciate the diversity to be found within and between its neighbourhoods.

As I walk (or sometimes travel elevated on the ‘L’), I often wonder whether the difference in the types of ‘nature’, crudely assessed in terms of observable trees/vegetation, experienced by people in various neighbourhoods is in anyway attributable to some form of interplay between environment and cultural factors. On one of our walks, for example, one moves across an invisible boundary and the intensely green and manicured grass verges, the street trees, shrubs and flowers in a highly maintained urban setting give way to a relatively un-manicured urban environment, and a different cultural influence clearly apparent along the streetscape.  Whilst the type of ‘nature’ on the street is visibly different, seemingly limited to occasional window boxes and less well maintained street planting (with different biodiversity potential), I wonder whether the influence of culture is a significant factor influencing how communities express environmental preferences or appreciate nature; or whether the manner in which nature is revealed locally is predominantly resource driven? Or maybe they are inextricably linked with both having an influence in combination.

To my untrained eye, culture does not seem to be a hugely significant factor; however, the impact of the distribution of financial resources is visibly a significant influencing factor on the type of nature evident in parts of Chicago.  Some neighbourhoods look like they are entering into a period of significant transition (or transformation).  Extreme examples include extensive areas of abandoned or derelict homes and lots etc. with a less structured nature re-emerging apparent in some neighborhoods (see – although this is a drastic case).  I imagine that neighhorhoods losing their sense of urbanity might generate negative feelings and a sense of uncertainty for residents in an otherwise regulated urban setting.  Such feelings may come from recollections of experiences attached to the place as it was; and perhaps from efforts to exclude, and avoid, risky aspects of ‘authentic’ nature from the regulated environment.  Moreover, the emergence of multi-generations of urban dwellers (a global phenomenon) has probably increased the level of disconnect between people and nature.

These ‘abandoned’ parts of the Chicago urban landscapes (see also, for example, are in a state of flux – sufficiently managed to avoid emergence of much of a sense of wilderness; but at the opposite end of a spectrum that might be signified by Grove at al. ‘ecology of prestige’.  However, it seems that some new ideas are emerging within the policy community about using this change to bring about prospects for a more purposeful yet beneficial experience of such nature for affected residents.  Whilst thinking about Green Infrastructure solutions (such as rain gardens, urban agriculture, parks etc.) is not unusual, with some examples apparent as I walk around, perhaps the systemic thinking being applied by participants in the Calumet Stormwater Collaborative, to (amongst other efforts) strategically coordinate repurposing of parcels of vacant land to better manage stormwater is innovative.  (I recently attended a meeting of this group, in an observer capacity.  The collaborative model in this case comprising c. 30 stakeholder agencies and non-profits looks like it may be worthy of replication beyond Chicago.)


An improved ‘vacant’ lot in Pilsen generating ecosystem services.

From a policy perspective such circumstances present opportunities for such innovations; however, the period during which an individual’s neighborhood becomes re-defined is at least socially disruptive and a ‘messy’ experience for residents who have to live through the transition.  But perhaps other places can learn from these experiences.

Sticking to the water-related theme, the newly developed (and developing) riverside walk along the Chicago River provides a pleasant break from the immediate hazard walking alongside city traffic and the stop-start of pedestrian crossings, generating feelings of relaxation as noise levels are abated at the lower level of the water.  Similarly the walk alongside the lakeshore gives an even greater access to an unbroken, authentic, and sometimes wild vista.  Alternatively, the recently opened Bloomingdale Trail, developed on a former rail line, provides an enjoyable elevated perspective within the urban environment.  However its appearance differs from my expectations with the trail being a concrete pavement rather than a beaten path.


A section of the Bloomingdale Trail passing Bucktown

More generally, and apparent to me no matter where I walk, is the extensive amount of street-trees, bringing with them various environmental benefits in addition to well-established wellbeing and stress-reduction benefits, which must surely be welcomed by most city residents.  On the other hand, and as a consequence, the lack of any green planting on most back-alleys and laneways off main streets provides a harsh setting, especially against the backdrop of tall buildings with limited direct sunlight.

I must admit that my reflections are influenced by my background, where there is a much more homogenous society (predominantly white and of Irish and European origin), and limited evidence of any significant contemporary non-European cultural influences imprinting itself on the Irish landscape so far, of which I am aware.  The pie chart below portrays the ethnic or cultural background of all people (Irish and non-Irish) resident in Ireland at the time of the most recent census (2011).


Source: Central Statistics Office 2011. Available from  Accessed 10/29/2015.

Maybe the scale of the City of Chicago, being just under three times larger (by population) than Dublin, and with a far more extensive and vastly more culturally diverse and populous metropolitan region, means the landscape in all its guises is reflective of the environmental preferences of its various constituent communities.  Somewhat contrary to my elementary musings here, some recent findings from New York (Grove et al. 2014), suggest that socio-economic factors alone are not sufficient to explain which neighborhoods have the most exposure to nature (assessed by vegetative cover measured by tree canopy and lawns).  Perhaps this type of analysis may be an important consideration when advocating for green infrastructure and ecological restoration initiatives more widely across Chicago in the future.  Indeed the Great Rivers Chicago initiative ( seems to be a good example of engaging with communities to establish their preferences for a better relationship with, and improved access to, an aspect of nature.


Attendees and facilitators at the Great Rivers Chicago public open-house meeting at the Ping Tom Memorial Park Fieldhouse in Chinatown (10/28/2015).


Meanwhile, I’ll continue to enjoy my walks around the city and its neighborhoods.

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SLSA After Biopolitics Abstract: How We Look at Species

The King

Having done some time in the history of rhetoric, I have a double vision of the term “species.” In common parlance it means something like an essential difference; at other moments it meant something like the opposite—appearance, or form—to look at. This is similar to the paradox of substance, as intrinsic (the old matter) and peripheral (a pedestal).  I don’t mean to juxtapose these two meanings of “species” as an OED-fetishist, but to take my inspiration for reflecting on species from the idea of “looking at,” and to consider if we might consider how we might appear to other species.

The human is a set that defines itself, plays itself, through collective and diverse acts of self-definition. Part of that play is a theory of human mind, inextricably bound up with language; our mind (they say) is categorically different. But this awareness of difference comes about through observing other species. How we look at other species is a central act.  We are a species that regards other species and tends to conclude that it is exceptional.

This reminds me of Levi Bryant’s remarkable diagrams in The Democracy of Objects (20 – 22). Here we are objects regarding ourselves as subjects regarding objects. To me the names of the categories aren’t as significant as our acts of seeing ourselves as categorically different, though, given “subjectivity,” being seeing objects seems a much needed corrective.

If other species have a “theory of mind” based on their experience of themselves, as they look at others, and if those theories of mind overlap with our theory of mind, could we keep drawing Venn diagrams until we arrived at a huge ring species of consciousness? Might we then come round to a new notion of species as appearance or apparent difference? And could we imagine inquiring how other species regard us?

Image source: The KING, the MICE and the CHEESE

“Theory of mind” credit to Dorothy L. Cheney and Robert M. Seyfarth, Baboon Metaphysics: the Evolution of a Social Mind (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007).

See another oblique Environmental Critique references to their thesis here.

And more about Object Oriented Ontology here.

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Resilience Roundup – Oct 30

A roundup of news, views and ideas from the main stream press and the blogosphere

Source: Resilience Roundup – Oct 30

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