Reed Awarded Mellon Foundation Grant to Support Environmental Humanities

The $500,000 initiative will fund new scholarship as well as the creation of courses centered on environmental justice and the literary imagination.

By Rebecca Jacobson | February 28, 2023

Reed College has been awarded a $500,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation to support new scholarship in the environmental humanities, develop new models of interdisciplinary teaching, and create a cluster of courses focused on environmental justice and the literary imagination. The project, titled “Generative Literature: Social Justice and the Environmental Imagination,” will unfold over three and a half years under the leadership of Sarah Wagner-McCoy, associate professor of English and humanities and chair of the American studies program, and Kristin Scheible, professor of religion and humanities and chair of the religion department. 

Reed was among 26 colleges and universities to receive support from the Mellon Foundation—the country’s largest funder of the arts, culture, and humanities—in the organization’s inaugural Higher Learning open call for research and projects related to civic engagement and social justice. The call generated more than 280 submissions from 150 institutions.

The project at Reed is interdisciplinary and multifold. In their proposal, Wagner-McCoy and Scheible outline their plans to “convene a Summer Incubator for social and environmental justice research and curricular innovation centered on the literary imagination,” with participating faculty members receiving stipends and ongoing professional mentorship. The incubator, described in the proposal as “a pedagogically focused summer workshop," will take place each year of the Mellon grant. In a fortuitous bit of timing, this year it will coincide with the biennial conference for the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment, scheduled for Portland this July.

According to the proposal, the project will “jumpstart a robust Environmental Humanities program at Reed and build community for invested faculty,” with a maximum of six new courses each year. Wagner-McCoy and Scheible intend to “pilot three new models for interdisciplinary coursework connecting humanistic tools and methods with the work of imagining new possibilities for a better world.” These will comprise:

1. an American environmental literature course with community engagement through co-curricular projects;

2. a writing-intensive environmental humanities course team-taught by Prof. Wagner-McCoy and Simone Waller, assistant professor of English and humanities, that connects questions of social justice to representations of place; and

3. a new 200-level environmental humanities course team-taught by Wagner-McCoy and Scheible, designed to build upon Reed’s introductory humanities curriculum. 

In their proposal, Wagner-McCoy and Scheible note the mounting momentum for environmental humanities at Reed, with “students [seeking] new frameworks through which to understand the practical and ethical demands of the Anthropocene.” Just as Reed’s environmental studies program has taken an interdisciplinary approach to climate crisis and sustainability, they intend not simply to “[append] humanistic programs to the study of policy and instrumental solutions” but to “expand the curriculum and support new research in Environmental Humanities by highlighting the power of the narrative imagination in the face of crisis.”

Tags: Academics, Awards & Achievements