Finding a Home in the World: Lessons in Sustainability from the Ancient Mediterranean Syllabus

Seminar 495: Finding a Home in the World: Lessons in Sustainability from the Ancient Mediterranean

Fall 2022
T/Th 2:10-4:00 pm
Upjohn Library Commons 311

Hello, I’m: Professor Elizabeth Manwell
My Office: Humphrey House 106

My Office Hours:
Wednesday 9:00-11:00 a.m., 12:00-2:00 p.m.
If these times don’t work for you, please e-mail or message me to make an appointment. I’m happy to find a time that works for you!

Best ways to contact me:
via e-mail:
via chat: in Microsoft Teams (look for our class Team in your list of Teams)
(Please allow up to 24 hours for a response)

Where We Study Together

We gather on the land of the Council of the Three Fires – the Ojibwe, the Odawa, and the Potawatomi. Indigenous nations of the Great Lakes region are also known as the Anishinaabe (Ah-nish-nah-bay), or original people, and their language is Anishinaabemowin (Ah-nish-nah-bay-mow-in). We acknowledge the enduring relationship that exists between the People of the Three Fires and this land.

Course Description and Goals

We may think of sustainability and environmental studies as disciplines arising from the ecology movement of the 1960s or from contemporary concerns about the climate crisis. Yet, people have been harming and modifying the environment at least since humans began farming. Since that time, we have existed in a struggle with the world we occupy for resources to sustain us and to fulfill our desires, and yet there have always been those who have found a harmonious balance within it. This class will be an exploration of how to become part of that latter group.

This class starts WAY back…at the point where people started living in community together to work the land. And we start at a particular place, the Mediterranean basin, in part because we have so much evidence from that part of the world. In our first five weeks we explore five topics critical to thinking about how to find a home in the natural world: Defining Nature, Climate Changes, Using Animals, Working the Land, Consumption and Damage. This is not an all-encompassing review, but will give us enough context so that we can move forward—into the present and engaged with individual interests.

Students will spend the last five weeks engaged in individual projects (either choosing from a list of possible topics or developing their own). We will also be working all quarter with the City of Kalamazoo’s Community Sustainability Plan to explore how our collective action can support local and global efforts to build a sustainable future.

As a Senior Capstone, this course is designed to:

  • Draw students from various majors together through collaborative engagement with critical issues facing the world today.
  • Encourage cross-disciplinary thinking and problem solving.
  • Encourage student input on content, process, and knowledge generation for the course.
  • Encourage students to explore connections (and disconnections) among components of their K-Plan.
  • Invite students to articulate a narrative of their education in anticipation of their lives after graduation.

Specific goals for the course include:

  • Acquiring a basic knowledge of the history of core issues that affect our ability to live in harmony with the earth.
  • Gaining a deeper understanding of interventions that have been employed and may be of use in this current moment.
  • Reflecting on our own commitments and how we can choose to be practitioners of sustainability in our beliefs and actions, our careers and hobbies, our local, regional and global communities to create a home in the world.

Learning Outcomes:

By the end of the course students will be able to:

  • describe and discuss basic environmental, social, and economic dimensions of sustainability
  • compare and contrast the ideas and impacts of ancient and contemporary peoples on the environment
  • present with confidence their own research on a topic related to environment or sustainability

HILL Class Cluster

In January, Kalamazoo College received a three-year Mellon grant. (For more information, see the grant announcement.) Entitled Humanities Integrated Locational Learning (HILL), this initiative examines how many problems of our time—such as climate change, global migrations, and mass incarceration—can be analyzed through the lens of location and dislocation. To develop a deeper knowledge of these disruptions (physical, psychological, social, linguistic, and more) with the aim of generating the potential for change, HILL supports the formation of class clusters linked to specific places within and beyond Kalamazoo.

Our class is part of the Kalamazoo cluster that explores dimensions of home and belonging. In the spirit of the grant, courses partner with Kalamazoo community organizations/members and with each other. The collaboration includes SEMN 132 – Radical Belonging, SEMN 163 – About Us: Disability Stories/ Disability Rights, SEMN 182 – Wheels of Change, ENGL 155 – Identities: Home and Belonging, CES 240 (Critical Ethnic Studies) – Language: The Colonial and Imperial Difference, and SEMN 495 – Finding a Home in the World. Instructors for each course will communicate how and when they will collaborate throughout the term.

When considering the effects of location and dislocation, we understand that these concepts impact students who, for any number of reasons, may feel displaced or out of place on a college campus. The project, then, seeks to construct a sense of home on and off campus. By erasing the distinction between the classroom and “real world,” we seek to embrace how ways of learning within the humanities can facilitate a space to think about and create collective futures.

Course Materials

All readings, videos and other content will be available on our course Moodle site.

We will also be using a Course Research Guide on Environment and Sustainability curated by our reference librarians.

Course Methods

As a senior capstone experience, I hope to work in partnership with you, so that you have opportunities every class to share your gifts and expertise, partner in building the class, and find it a time and space for deep reflection on and engagement with what your K Plan means to you and how you can use it in the future.

Weeks 1-5

I’ve tried to structure the course so that we have some time at the beginning to build knowledge, learn the history of earth-human interactions in the Mediterranean, and think about lessons we might take from a different time and place. We will also build a common vocabulary for discussing these issues. In addition, we will engage in a number of activities, talk to visitors, bring in other materials, and look for ways to try on these ideas.

Tuesdays: Discussion of readings, vocabulary building, sharing from reflections
Thursdays: Visitors, projects, experiments, making connections to the modern world

Weeks 6-10

In these weeks you take over! On Tuesdays you will share a topic that you have been thinking about and researching, and will lead us in our exploration of it. You will assign our readings for the day, give us questions to use to reflect on the topic and help us develop a better understanding. Students will meet with me at least two weeks in advance to ensure that they have the resources they need and feel confident to shepherd us through the topic.

We may retain the same structure as weeks 1-5, but it depends on the number of students and student interests. If you want to keep the same structure, I will work with you to secure speakers for our Thursday sessions, projects or experiments that could inform our work, or help plan field trips to enhance our understanding.

Course Requirements:

This class is built on our work together—with each other, and our community partners—and so your grade will be based on how well you analyze the texts we read, both in class and in your written work.

A substantial portion of your grade depends upon class participation. This does not mean that you have to have something “brilliant” to contribute to each class. It does mean that I want to see that you are thoughtful, engaged and eager to dig into our topic that day. For each text we read you should come to class prepared with:

  • one passage that you liked, found interesting, or spoke to you in some way.
  • one question or problem.

The breakdown of your grade will be as follows:

Weekly Reflective Journal Entries 20% (2% each)
Facilitating a Class Session 20%
Participation and Engagement in Class30% (3% per week)
Active Engagement and Effort in Community Work 20%
Final Reflection 10%

I grade on a pretty standard scale:

PointsLetter Grade

Weekly Journal:

Each week you will be asked to bring our readings, discussions and your own experience into conversation with each other. There will be a prompt for each week to guide your writing, and to bring our course readings and discussions into conversation with current problems. But it is also a place where you can explore your own ideas. You can also use it as a place to record passages from the readings that interested you (that you want to make sure you bring up in class) or an experience that you have and want to reflect on. Really, anything course-related can go there. Weekly Journals should be updated every week by Tuesday at 9am. You should plan to write about two paragraphs in your response, in order to receive full credit (about 300 words). These will be graded using the Journal Rubric.

Facilitating Class:

We will work together early in the quarter to identify a topic that you would like to explore. In collaboration with me, you will select readings for the class, craft discussion questions for your classmates, then lead them through them in class. This will be graded using a rubric that reflects your seriousness of engagement, effort, and interest.


Participation is an important part of your grade. This part of your grade reflects both your participation AND your presence in the work we do. Active participation in this class means:

  • coming to class on time,
  • completing assigned readings and exercises,
  • listening to others (in ALL kinds of discussions),
  • contributing ideas of your own, and
  • asking questions as they come up.

If you are concerned about your participation grade or want to improve it, just ask!

Community Partner Work:

The work we do on our class project is one way we begin to practice the application of our knowledge to problems in the world, and the acquisition of new skills and knowledge to apply to the challenges of living. Thus, engagement and commitment to the project is critical for success in the class. Attendance is part of it—but open and enthusiastic engagement, curiosity and humility are essential.

Final Reflection:

Your final assignment will be a reflective essay, asking you to do many of the things we practice every week in our journals (integrating readings, experiences, work, and our own interests and expertise) but on a larger scale. Specific guidelines will be provided.

A FAQ about Class Policies

Is attendance important for this class?

Yes! You really make the class. I keep track of who is here every day and your regular participation and engagement counts for a significant part of your grade. Plus, we make the class together, and you are an important part of that!

What if I can’t meet a deadline for an assignment?

I try to make deadlines sensible, but everyone can get behind. You can still get credit for late journal (though you will lose some credit), but the goal is to prepare us for class discussion. So, making the deadline matters, because it makes our time together richer and more learning can happen. For your presentation or final reflection—well, that is something we should talk about. There is almost always a solution to any problem like that, as long as we communicate with each other.

What happens if I get sick or have to quarantine?

All the resources that you will need for the class will be available on Moodle. If you have to quarantine, I will make sure that I record class or provide you with content in other ways. Rest assured, you will not be left behind if this happens—you will be able to keep up with the course AND still be a part of it.

The structure of this class feels very loose. Should I be nervous?

What should I have with me in class?

Please always bring a copy of whatever we are reading for that class period with you. I don’t like having electronic devices open in class (for a variety of reasons). If you don’t want to print out copies of the articles, you can always bring notes on the reading. And your journal and discussion writings will often form the starting point for our conversations.

A Few Other Pieces—Campus Policies:

Honor Code:

This course operates under the College Honor System. That means: we treat each other with respect, we nurture independent thought, we take responsibility for personal behavior, and we accept environmental responsibility. Academic honesty is a critical part of our value system at K. When you borrow an idea, express the idea in your own words, thus thinking it through and making it your own, and acknowledge the source of the idea in a note, or, in certain situations, use the exact words of the source in quotation marks and acknowledge with a note. Ideas raised in class are part of the public domain and, therefore, sources of the ideas need not be acknowledged. If you are ever in doubt about this, you must ask. Here’s the full policy.


The Americans with Disabilities Act requires me to offer reasonable accommodations for students with physical, sensory, cognitive, systemic, learning and psychiatric challenges. Please contact me during the first week of the quarter if you need or believe you may need accommodations so that you can be successful in this course. If you need more information, you can learn more about specific resources by visiting the student life website or calling the Dana Jansma, Senior Associate Dean of Students Office at (269) 337-7209.

College Resources

Student Mental Health

The Kalamazoo College Counseling Center is available to all students. If you are struggling—or know someone else who is—you should definitely contact them for a visit (their hours are Mon-Fri 8-5). E-mail Patricia Jorgenson, who can assist you in getting the support you need. They are a great place to turn to if you are anxious or depressed—and they are also a great place to visit if you are struggling with workload, feeling overwhelmed, or a little worried that things are harder than they used to be. In addition, for issues that won’t wait, there are lots of people that can 24/7:

  • Campus Safety: 269.337.7321 (to be connected to an on-call counselor)
  • Gryphon Place: 269.381.HELP (Kalamazoo)
  • National Suicide Hotline: 1.800.273.8255
  • Steve Fund Crisis Text Line (for young people of color): Text STEVE to 741741
  • Call 911

Policy on Sexual Harassment, Discrimination, and Gender-Based Violence

While I want you to feel comfortable coming to me with issues with which you may be struggling, please be aware that I have reporting requirements in my role as a professor.

For example, if you inform me of an issue of sexual harassment, assault, or discrimination, or other misconduct, I will keep the information as private as I can, but I am required to bring it to the attention of the Title IX Coordinator. In the event that I must share such information with the Coordinator, you may respond to their outreach in any way you wish, or not respond at all.

If you would like to talk to the Office of Gender Equity directly, you can reach out to Tanya Jachimiak ( or make a report through the Title IX website. You can also report incidents to anyone in Student Development or Campus Safety (located in Hicks 138, 269-337-5739). If you would like to speak with a confidential individual who is not required to report to the Title IX Coordinator, please reach out to the Counseling Center, our College Chaplain, or
K’s Victim Advocate from the YWCA.

Finally, any form of discrimination or harassment based on your real or perceived race, color, religion, age, sex, national origin, height, weight, marital status, familial status, disability as protected by law, sexual orientation, or gender expression or identity is prohibited by K’s Nondiscrimination Policy. If you feel you have experienced any type of bias-related discrimination, please reach out to me and I can help connect you to the appropriate resources.

Class Schedule and Readings

Please prepare the assignments that are due for that class. This class, perhaps more than many you have taken, will rely on you to form it and sustain it.

Week 1: Defining Nature

This week we will try to define what we mean by some basic terms: nature, sustainability, environment, and ecology. We will consider how ancient definitions of these terms may differ from our own, and think about how other definitions might influence our attitudes and behavior toward the natural world.

  • This week will be a little unusual, since there is no assignment for Tuesday! Writing is due on Thursday morning at 9 a.m.


Usher, “Debts to Nature”
Leopold, “The Land Ethic” in Sand County Almanac
Hughes, “The Environment: Life, Land and Sea in the Mediterranean” (optional) and “Concepts of the Natural World” (optional) in Environmental Problems of the Greeks and Romans

Do: Complete and review your “gifts list”

Write: Start your journal. We’ve explored already how there are perspectives that emphasize our connectedness to nature, and others that highlight our separation from it. What makes you feel connected to or disconnected from nature? How might your gifts help you and the class in our journey to better understand our relationship to the Earth?

Week 2: Climate Changes

This week we consider various periods of climate change throughout history, focusing on the impact of climate in the fall of the Roman Empire and how Western Christian beliefs have shaped our responses to it. We look at how these changes have had unforeseen impacts and also how they have been managed.

Sometime this Week: You will be meeting with a partner student from Dr. Katanski’s First-Year Seminar to have lunch or dinner and get to know each other a little bit!


For Tuesday:
Harper, “Judgement Day” in The Fate of Rome
Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History: Four Theses” (optional)
White, “The Historical Roots of our Ecological Crisis” (optional)

For Thursday:
Guest: community partner (or member of K Climate Action Committee)
Prepare for conversation about doing community-based work (Kalamazoo’s Community
Sustainability Plan
and film on Cultural Humility)

Do: Explore NASA’s Effects of Climate Change site. At the bottom of the page you’ll see three interactive features (“Images of Change,” “Climate Time Machine,” and “Eyes on the Earth.” Try out at least two of these features.

Write: Choose one of the interactive features that you played with and think about what you learned from it in light of our conversations and readings. Does what we read and discussed raise questions for you about the website? vice versa? Does the information presented to you visually or graphically change your understanding of climate events? Does this give you any insights on how to talk to others about climate change?

Week 3: Using Animals

Monday at Common Time (10:55-11:55 a.m.): We will be meeting with all the classes in our cluster to have lunch and get to know each other a little bit! SAVE THIS DATE!

This week we look at human use, exploitation and cohabitation with animal species. Obviously, animal labor and animals as food represent a big part of our use of the animal world, but we will also think about how some ancient peoples thought about animals as our companion species.


For Tuesday:
Hesiod, Works and Days
Usher, “A City for Pigs”
Sorabji, “Did the Greeks Have the Idea of Human or Animal Rights?” (optional)

For Thursday:
Guest: community partner or member of K Climate Action Committee

Do: This news article links to a UN resolution about animal welfare and environmental sustainability. Set a timer for 15 minutes. Read the article, then click a hyperlink, and keep going until your timer goes off. See where it takes you. Feel free to repeat with another link to see where a different path might go.

Write: Where did you end up? What aspect of animal welfare did you choose to follow? Did you end up far from animals or still reading about animals? What is your sense from this experiment about the kinds of ancillary issues that related to animals and sustainability?

Week 4: Working the Land

This week we look at agriculture, both the ways that agriculture has harmed the land, and how farmers have found ways to nourish the land and work together with it.


For Tuesday:
Usher, “Roman Revolutions”
Purcell, “The Way We Used to Eat”
Garnsey, “Food Crisis” and Malnutrition” (optional)

Short film in class, The Greening of Cuba

For Thursday:
Field trip to Tillers International (and popcorn harvest!)

Do: Watch Good Things Await

Write: You can see from this film that the food system touches on all kinds of issues, from the personal (how we are going to feed ourselves) to the political (who gets to decide who can farm and how). Choose an issue that you saw come up in the film and write about how that same issue comes up in your own life (as a young person, a member of a family, a worker, a supervisor, a capitalist, an urban dweller, etc.). Where are the problems in the food system for you? What would you need to make it better?

Week 5: Consumption and Damage

This week we look at the damage that we have done to the world in multiple ways. We also examine the resilience of nature and the places where our positive intervention can do the most good.

Monday at Common Time (10:55-11:55 a.m.): We will be meeting with Dr. Katanski’s First-Year Seminar to discuss Sadik-Khan and Solomon’s “How to Read the Street.” SAVE THIS DATE!


For Tuesday:
Hughes, “Case Study B: Ecology and the Decline of the Roman Empire” in The Mediterranean, an Environmental History
Wallace-Hadrill, “Pliny the Elder and Man’s Unnatural History”
Walsh, “Environmental Change: Degradation and Resilience” (optional)

And an optional hopeful reading on resilience: Usher, “Community Rule”

For Thursday:
Discussion about your presentations and how we want to move forward
Time for project groups and check-ins

Do: Watch “No Impact Man” (available through the library here and here)

Write: One of the things that always impresses me is Colin Bevan’s commitment—he gave up a lot of things that we take for granted. What are your commitments? Where are the areas in your life where you stand firm? Where are you willing to give a little? Are there commitments that you are interested in making after watching the film?

Possible Topics for Your Class Sessions

Water and Waterworks (including oceans, rivers, lakes, reservoirs)
Arts and the Environment
Health and the Environment
Progress and Regression
Philosophies of Nature and the Environment
Ecological Systems: Resilience and Vulnerability
Managing Climate Anxiety
Models for Sustainable Shelter
Gender and Sustainability
Queering the natural world
Disability and Difference in Nature
Sustainability and Transportation
Animal Rights
A World without Humans
Climate Science for Dummies
Learning from Other Cultures and Societies
Economics of Climate Change
Food Preservation and Production
Implementing Kalamazoo College’s Climate Action Plan