Environmental Engagement (ENVS 295) is the newest required course for all environmental studies majors, beginning with the class of 2020, offered every semester. Students are offered the hands-on space to develop and complete an individual or collaborative engagement project, in light of the course goal to bridge scholarship and people through communication; here is a summary of all projects from spring 2017.
Georgia Reid, a student in ENVS 295 this past spring, used a digital medium to accomplish active engagement and explore storytelling. With her project, Your Place or Mine?, she asks, “How can digital platforms be used as tools for facilitating environmental engagement? What are opportunities and limitations? To what extent can this story map be a tool for facilitating discourse beyond the screen?” Three goals guided her work: one, to create a space inviting to various perspectives, encouraging people to contribute an honest and authentic snapshot (no matter what other’s are saying); two, to spatially paint a narrative history of places; and three, to make scholarship more accessible and relevant to a public audience.
She uses environmental engagement to communicate a scholarly framework, building on place theory, wicked problems, and actor-network theory. In a previous post concerning this project, Georgia reflected on what the word framework means. Through readings and interviews, she says that “frameworks are a way we organize a portion of reality or a tentative theory of phenomena you are investigating.” She explains that place is not just a landscape, but includes people, ideas, and meaning. Within each place there can be wicked problems, unsolvable entities that, as Georgia puts it, “are embedded in our places as conflicting interests, beliefs, and practices causing disagreement.”
Another question guided Georgia’s work: “How are narratives spatially located, or mapped?” She chose to use Story Maps (an online mapping platform) as the canvas to engage others. She said, “StoryMaps is a platform for communication—a process of storytelling—through which people engage in a digital public with others’ stories and available scholarship.” She aims to collect stories of place—place being a term of complexity that weaves together relationships and realities.
So far, a few contributors have added their stories to her Story Map. Georgia notes that those already familiar with the scholarship might be more likely to employ scholarly terminology when writing actors into an understanding of their chosen place. It’s a challenge to get results from those who so far aren’t familiar with the scholarship she’s using—wicked problems, place theory, or actor-network theory—but it’s a challenge worth pursuing.
The project is currently in its “launch stage,” as Georgia puts it, but that should not stop you from exploring the story map website and contributing your story.