First-year students and transfer students in their first year who have already achieved academic success at the University were honored at the Success Scholars reception Feb. 23. The Success Scholars program recognizes new students who earned a GPA of 3.75…
Professor Goode’s Tolley Professorship Focus: Creating Climate Change Teaching Materials, Partnerships
The Humanities play an instrumental role in shaping thinking about the past, present and future of environmental and climate change issues. Scientists can present hard data about the climate crisis and other ecological challenges. But it is humanists who are apt to consider the uneven social and personal impacts of these challenges, to translate environmental science for wider human understanding and action, and to examine what it is we even mean when we use words like “climate,” “environment,” “atmosphere,” “nature” or “ecosystem.”
That belief—and specific ideas for how to make those enriching practical and intellectual connections happen—propelled College of Arts and Sciences Professor of English Mike Goode to submit a proposal for the college’s Tolley Professorship. He recently was awarded the prestigious two-year rotating appointment, which was established in 1995 to honor Chancellor Emeritus William P. Tolley. The role is designed to support enhancement of the pedagogical experience and to boost effectiveness in the classroom. It is underwritten by private donors and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
So, what does it mean to teach climate change in a humanities course or to make humanities instruction more ecologically minded?
“Climate change and other kinds of environmental issues impact certain groups of people, such as those living in disadvantaged conditions, disproportionately. Humanists think about climate not just as a scientific issue, but also as a human issue having social justice components. That’s something humanists can bring into the conversation,” Goode says.
Humanities courses also help students analyze how different people and cultures think about, represent and emotionally process environmental changes and their impacts on habitats, including human habitats. Aside from providing a platform for examining those histories, humanities courses provide a place for students to consider new possibilities and opportunities for ecological thought and imagination. As Goode puts it, “To change behaviors often depends on changing the metaphors, stories and images through which we think.”
Goode is excited about being named to the Tolley Professorship. He was inspired to submit a proposal based on his recent experiences developing and teaching a new English course that asks students to consider the powerful—and at times problematic —legacy that early 19th-century British representations of the “natural” world have in contemporary environmental media and ecological thought, including in nature documentaries and even zombie films.
He also drew ideas for the pedagogical work and faculty development focus from his involvement in a 2018-20 CUSE grant-supported Landscape Studies Interdisciplinary Faculty Research Seminar. Another factor that contributed to his interest was his research on the history of landscape gardening in Britain, both as a practice and as something that influenced artists and philosophers contemplating what “reality” is (and how to change it) for his book, “Romantic Capabilities: Blake, Scott, Austen, and the New Messages of Old Media.”
“I believe the College of Arts and Sciences has an opportunity to become a leader in environmental humanities education,” Goode says. “Highlighting institutional resources and offering concrete and intellectually provocative models for how to teach ecology and climate in humanities courses would be an effective way to accelerate the college’s ongoing development in this area.”
College of Arts and Sciences Interim Dean Lois Agnew says Professor Goode is a perfect match for the Tolley honor.
“He is an innovative professor and mentor who has frequently worked across disciplines and divergent interests that span literature, media, ecology, gender, critical theory and art, intellectual and science history,” Agnew says. “Climate change and sustainability are key areas of strength for the college and University, and we look forward to seeing how Professor Goode combines the scientific and human aspects of this topic to help students and faculty respond to it in the classroom and beyond.”
As a component of the professorship related to pedagogy—the method, practices and approach taken in teaching—Goode plans to focus on creating an archive of interdisciplinary lesson plans and materials. These would include short videotaped presentations showcasing different humanities courses, units and assignments related to ecology or climate that have recently been taught at the University.
Understanding that professors don’t often get to observe how others teach in their classrooms, Goode says those examples would provide tested approaches for other faculty members who might wish to incorporate environmental and climate change topics into their classes. These sample lessons could help them improve their own pedagogy by providing opportunities to view many different types of lesson innovations and teaching styles.
Goode also wants to invite collaboration and conversations into classroom discussions from faculty and staff members from diverse perspectives, such as those working in sustainability efforts and those teaching law, Native American/Indigenous studies, geography, biology, and film and media arts. These will include everything from staging a discussion between philosophy and environmental law professors about what it means to grant nonhuman entities like trees or rocks “rights,” to creating teaching resources focused on how the materials from which art objects themselves are made are part of histories of resource use and extraction.
“We have the admirers of Michelangelo to blame in part for the popularity of Carrera marble in countertops and office building lobbies,” Goode says.
For this latter project, he will be collaborating with the University’s Art Museum, including creating programming with them tied to an artwork on loan to the museum in 2022-23 by the renowned landscape artist Robert Stimson.
In addition, he wants to showcase ways that humanities faculty can use campus and adjacent landscape sites, such as the Rock Cut Quarry behind South Campus and Oakwood Cemetery, to teach environmental history and ecological thought through immersive learning.
Tolley professors are required to hold a short conference at the end of their tenure at the University’s property at Minnowbrook, and Goode sees the ecological orientation and character of Minnowbrook as itself offering an appropriate platform for addressing environmental issues. This traditional conference center, situated on millenia-old granite in a protected Adirondack location that was home to ancestral indigenous populations, provides an apt focal point for bringing different disciplinary perspectives to bear on environmental conversations, Goode says.
Professor Goode joined Syracuse University in 2003 after working for two years as a visiting assistant professor at Reed College. He served as an assistant professor of English until 2010 and as an associate professor of English until his recent naming as a full professor in spring 2022. He received a bachelor of arts degree from Princeton University in economics in 1993, and both a master’s degree (1995) and Ph.D. (2001) in English from the University of Chicago.
Prior to Goode’s naming, Ken Frieden, professor of Religion, English, and Languages, Literatures and Linguistics, held the Tolley professorship appointment for the 2018-2020 term. Gwendolyn Pough, dean’s professor of the Humanities and professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, was appointed to the two-year post beginning in 2020.