ENVS Program seniors take two semesters to complete a capstone project. The options for what students can study are limitless, as are their outcomes: some produce a thesis (see here for spring 2017 honors theses), while others produce alternative outcomes. As two examples of the latter, Marielle Bossio and Kara Scherer audaciously push the boundaries of environmental scholarship by communicating original ideas and contemporary issues in innovative ways.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, the threat of earthquake disaster, what many people fondly call “The Big One,” is ever looming and present. Kara, who has been interested in disaster management since she came to Lewis & Clark, has focused her capstone on the app Nextdoor, and its potential to facilitate the creation of communities, and through them, foster resilience. The antecedents of her thesis are many, but an especially crucial one was an experience that she had in Christchurch, New Zealand while she was researching utopian/dystopian narratives after the tragic 2011 earthquake. Living and researching in this setting, Kara realized the importance of community in coping with and managing shocking events. Coming back to Portland, she applied this newfound interest to the situation in the Pacific Northwest. If communities are important for resilience, Kara wanted to look instrumentally at how they can be created by examining the efficacy of Nextdoor, a social media app. In this way, Kara is taking a quintessential environmental idea about natural disaster management, and applying it to the pressing issues of our time while investigating it through the lens of new social media technologies that have not been considered in the environmental context until now.
Marielle Bossio is an ENVS and art double major. For ENVS double majors, their concentration becomes the other major, so for Marielle, this is art. Obviously, art is a massive topic, so her capstone focuses this further on investigating artistic representations of the Anthropocene, the proposed (but not yet formally accepted) current geologic epoch in which humanity and our technologies are the most important influencer of the Earth’s geological processes. Not only is the Anthropocene a controversial and relatively new topic in environmentalism, pairing it with the artistic lens makes Marielle’s capstone both a joy to read about and look at, and a beginning of a very interesting scholarly conversation. In her capstone, she looks at the work of the small handful of artists who conceptually connect their works (two-dimensional, three-dimensional, and performance art) to the idea of the Anthropocene, and analyzes them in an attempt to discern the value of art within conversations about the Anthropocene.
While Kara does not explicitly address the idea of the Anthropocene, she sees her capstone as connecting closely to the topic. To begin with, her work is situated in our current time where anthropogenic climate change is increasing the rate of natural disasters. This is not exactly the same as the Anthropocene, but Kara focuses on earthquakes, which are inextricably linked to geologic processes, and the increased impact of humanity. Additionally, Marielle points out that discourse around the Anthropocene often portrays it as something that humans and their technologies have brought on themselves. Marielle, though, does not use this apocalyptic narrative, and considers our situation as a reality that art can help us navigate. Similarly, Kara’s capstone examines the ways in which technology can help us manage natural disasters, rather than buying into dystopian views of technology common in classical environmentalism. Regardless of similarities in content, the capstones of these two seniors represent the type of innovative and creative scholarship fostered by four years of hard work in the Environmental Studies Program.