Summer Institute

     2009 marked the 100th anniversary of ecologist Aldo Leopold’s arrival in the Southwest. Fresh from his classes in forestry at Yale, the 22-year-old Iowan stepped off the train in Arizona in 1909 and would remain in the region until embarking for Wisconsin in 1924. That first year on the job the young assistant forester likely never passed up an opportunity to shoot a wolf, a common Forest Service practice at the time; but after one incident Leopold sensed a disconnect between his classroom training and the experience of nature, which he would describe 35 years later:

We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.

    So recalled Leopold in one of his many landmark passages, this one from “Thinking Like a Mountain,” one of the most famous essays in environmental history and a central episode of his celebrated book, A Sand County Almanac, published in 1949. Although Leopold wrote his influential work in Wisconsin after leaving the Southwest, there is little doubt his thinking was shaped by his experiences in Arizona, New Mexico, and Mexico. Aldo Leopold never saw A Sand County Almanac in print, having suffered a heart attack while fighting a grass fire a year before its publication. He might be surprised to learn that his collection of essays helped create the discipline of environmental ethics, that his ideas are central to contemporary issues such as “sense of place” and sustainability, and that his text is taught across disciplines beyond the natural sciences, including literature, history, and philosophy – a variety we saw represented among the institute’s participants. To acknowledge Leopold’s centrality to our understanding of the environment, and to celebrate his ongoing legacy, many academic and public events were planned in Arizona and New Mexico throughout 2009, most of which are described at the Aldo Leopold Centennial Celebration website.

What We Accomplished In the Cool Mountains of Prescott
    We believe this institute for 25 college faculty made a significant contribution to the centennial’s observance. Framed around A Sand County Almanac’s multidisciplinary structure, “A Fierce Green Fire at 100” was held at Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott, Arizona. The month-long institute brought together some of the nation’s most respected Leopold scholars to serve as the core faculty, along with other guest speakers and field trips to sites that hold thematic significance, in order to help visiting scholars: 1) explore the historical, philosophical, and cultural sources of Leopold’s ideas, 2) generate new research that places Leopold’s work in intellectual history, and 3) develop projects that enhance research and teaching. To do so, A Sand County Almanac was considered from a variety of perspectives, which is reflected in the readings, faculty, and activities.
    “A Fierce Green Fire at 100” was sponsored by the Arizona State University Institute for Humanities Research (IHR), whose mission includes bringing humanities perspectives to bear on pressing policy issues. Certainly, few discussions today are more important than the fate of the planet, which is reflected at colleges and universities in the growth of environmental ethics, environmental history, sustainability studies, and countless natural resources courses. Few voices contribute more to our understanding of these and related pursuits than that of Aldo Leopold who, in A Sand County Almanac and hundreds of published articles, encouraged both a scientific and humanistic understanding of our relationship to and responsibility for the land. Today, Leopold’s many contributions are preserved for scholars and shared with the public at the Aldo Leopold Foundation in Wisconsin. You can also browse through many of Leopold’s papers online at the Aldo Leopold Archives at the University of Wisconsin.  

Design, Core Faculty, and Co-directors
    This section provides a general overview of the institute activities that took place between June 22 and July 17, 2009. For a detailed day-by-day program, as well as information about the required readings, intellectual goals, and project requirements, please visit the course content link. Other sections in this website also include more information about the institute’s core faculty, guest speakers, and field trips.

    Week One: History and Biography. The lead faculty member for the first week was Curt Meine, Director of Conservation Biology and History at the Center for Humans and Nature, as well as a Senior Fellow at the Aldo Leopold Foundation. Meine is author of Aldo Leopold: His Life and Work, the classic biography of Leopold; Correction Lines: Essays on Land, Leopold, and Conservation; and many other anthologized essays. The goal of this week was to establish a historical and biographical context for further discussions. The guest faculty for the first week was law professor Rebecca Tsosie from Arizona State University, who discussed Native American land values. During Week One we took a field trip to the White Mountains, where Leopold first arrived in 1909. The landscape here inspired some of his greatest essays, and an Arizona Fish & Wildlife cabin serves as a museum that tells the important story of Leopold’s work in the area.
    Week Two: Ecological Foundations and Connections. The principle faculty member for the week was Julianne Lutz Newton from Washington and Lee University. Her recent book, Aldo Leopold’s Odyssey, traces the scientific and cultural developments that contributed to Leopold’s “land ethic,” the culminating statement of his 40-year intellectual journey. Guest faculty this week were anthropologist Elizabeth Brandt of Arizona State University, environmental philosopher Max Oelschlaeger of Northern Arizona University, and renowned architect Paolo Soleri. The field trip included Montezuma Castle National Monument, a Sinaguan cliff dwelling that foreshadows many ecological concepts, and Arcosanti, the world-famous visionary city designed by Soleri, which incorporates more than a few of Leopold’s ideas about the connections between and among social, built, and natural environments.
    Week Three: Philosophical Foundations and Connections. J. Baird Callicott, one of the founders of environmental ethics in the 1960s, and currently Regents Professor of Philosophy and Religion Studies at the University of North Texas, was the principal instructor for Week Three. Callicott is the author or editor of many books on Leopold, including Beyond the Land Ethic, In Defense of the Land Ethic, and Companion to Sand County Almanac. Guest faculty this week included environmental studies professor Ben Minteer of Arizona State University, and National Park Service historian Michael Anderson. The majestic Grand Canyon National Park was the site of the week’s field trip, where participants learned about early attempts to live in and with this hostile yet fragile environment – an opportunity to discuss the elements of Leopold’s philosophy that incorporate indigenous land values.
    Week Four: Literary, Artistic, and Aesthetic Foundations and Connections. The main faculty member was Scott Russell Sanders, Distinguished Professor of English at Indiana University and one of the nation’s most recognized voices in sense-of-place literature. Sanders is the author of more than 20 books and countless essays, several on Aldo Leopold. This week we considered Leopold’s artistic and rhetorical skills, the point being that he was not just a creative thinker but a beautiful and persuasive writer. Leopold’s views on aesthetic theory were also discussed. Sanders was joined during the final week by historian Susan Flader, author of Thinking Like a Mountain (1974) – still one of the most influential studies of Leopold's life and work. We were also joined by guest speaker Thomas Fleischner, a professor of biology at Prescott College.

    The institute’s co-directors were Joan McGregor, Professor of Philosophy at Arizona State University, and Dan Shilling, with the ASU Institute for Humanities Research. McGregor has taught environmental ethics courses and published on the question of the moral limits of property rights given environmental values. Shilling, former director of the Arizona Humanities Council, has developed programs on environmental history and ethics, taught courses on sustainability, and is currently finishing a monograph on Leopold. We have both planned and facilitated numerous university and public humanities programs. For example, for more than 20 years Joan has taught ethics workshops for judges that rely on readings of humanities texts. Dan originated the seven-state project “Moving Waters: The Colorado River and the West,” which examined the cultural connections between people and this most important water resource. We believe Leopold’s writings and work are central to contemporary discussions of sustainability and environmental ethics, and we enjoyed an engaging dialog about the historical, philosophical, scientific, and artistic dimensions of Leopold’s writings, as well as a consideration of their application today.

Weekly Schedule at a Glance

    Monday through Wednesday participants met in the new education center at Sharlot Hall Museum, one of the state’s most treasured heritage sites. Monday through Wednesday mornings were reserved for lecture and discussion with the week’s core faculty. Monday and Tuesday afternoons were set aside for group work based on the morning's content. Wednesday afternoons featured a talk by guest faculty, who helped enrich and deepen the discussion by providing additional perspectives, including counterpoint.
     On Thursdays, to introduce visiting scholars to locations that relate to Leopold’s life and work, since many of his ideas were shaped by his experience of place, we took a full-day field trip. We traveled together on a bus, and at each destination we heard from a guest speaker who interpreted the historic site and its connections to Aldo Leopold.
     Fridays allowed participants to work on projects. The primary project developed during the month was a college-level curriculum. Scholars also met weekly with Sharlot Hall Museum staff to research and design a traveling exhibition, which the museum will eventually travel to other heritage sites. Fridays were set aside for research on both of these projects. Friday mornings participants joined museum staff to sketch content for an exhibit about Leopold, focusing on the regional connections. Friday afternoons we  worked in groups to design an undergraduate course that integrates the methods and findings uncovered in the institute. We shared both of these projects, and showcased other work accomplished during the institute, during a culminating meeting with educators and the general public.
    Evenings and weekends were available for reading and research. Participants were asked to read (or at least be familiar with) four books prior to the institute, as well as purchase another set of books to be read during the month. IHR sent out an anthology developed specifically for the institute, which included selections from a broad range of disciplines that reflect on the institute’s themes. Please visit the readings link for more information.

    Finally, throughout the month we hosted social events for visiting scholars, faculty, and staff. You will also notice on the schedule a few activities at the historic Hassayampa Inn that involved the general public, another way we built bonds between participants, other educational and cultural institutions, and the community at large.

Applicant Profile
    The institute was publicized nationally. From more than 50 applications, 25 college faculty were selected, and each received a $3,200 stipend that was applied toward books, transportation, food, and lodging. A sample budget can be found here. Half of the total stipend was available to participants upon arrival in Prescott, with the remainder distributed at the midpoint of the institute. We drew faculty from diverse geographic, gender, and ethnic backgrounds. Our selection committee also took into account experience, attracting both senior professors and emerging scholars. Most importantly, we made an effort to constitute the institute with representation across the curriculum, including the natural and social sciences, languages and literature, philosophy, history, and the arts. Community college teachers were encouraged to apply, as were independent scholars who work with universities, public agencies, and community groups, such as state and national parks or conservation organizations.

Academic Resources
    Prescott is home to three colleges: Prescott College, Yavapai College, and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. Prescott College generously provided lodging and classroom space. The college’s faculty and alumni boast more than a few distinguished teachers, nature writers, and conservation voices. Within a five- to ten-minute walk of the museum, Prescott College features an excellent library and fine restaurant serving relatively inexpensive meals, with most ingredients locally grown.
    This institute was the first major project to take place in Sharlot Hall Museum’s new education center, which also includes the museum’s archives, among the best collections in the state. The classroom facility offers wireless internet access and most meeting spaces are set up for PowerPoint presentations. A recently expanded public library is within several blocks of the museum. Participants also used their weekends to visit the libraries and other resources at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff or Arizona State University in Tempe. Both schools manage ambitious sustainability programs and are within a 90-minute drive of Prescott.

Prescott Resources
    At a mile high but only 90 minutes from Phoenix, Prescott was an ideal location for a summer institute, with mild, dry days and comfortable evenings. The historic downtown, featuring a lovely Courthouse Square and famous Whisky Row, is among the best preserved built environments in the state. Sharlot Hall Museum, Smoki Museum, and Phippen Museum, along with a vibrant higher education community and great park system, testify to the town’s interest in history and heritage.
    Although the region is home to nearly 100,000 people, downtown Prescott still exhibits a small-town atmosphere. Its citizens appreciate Sharlot Hall Museum, whose grounds include Arizona’s original Territorial capital building, and they will welcome you to their community. That is one reason we built several public programs into the activities – as a way of saying thank you to the residents.
    Numerous farmers markets, rodeos, fairs, art shows, and other public events fill the summer months. Prescott also sits at the edge of the largest stand of Ponderosa Pines in the world, and outdoor enthusiasts will find national forests, many parks, hiking trails, lakes, and other natural attractions. More information about the region’s many amenities can be found here. We’ve also provided additional information about the community at this link.