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Visiting ceramics artist Courtney M. Leonard leads a workshop in
which she shows students how to create a “pinch pot” by forming an
opening in a ball of clay and then pinching around the edge to make a
may talk about the weather, as the saying goes, but few are likely to
have thought about it in as many and varied ways as the students in an
experimental graduate seminar at the University of Delaware.
Cross-listed in the departments of English and Art History, and part
of UD’s environmental humanities initiative, the course explores aspects
of weather from perspectives that include meteorology, literature, art,
poetry, history, environmental justice and the erosion of cultures.
“I’m interested in the connection between humans and weather, how
humans are inspired by the atmosphere in literature and art and
philosophy,” said Lowell Duckert, associate professor of English, who
leads the course that was co-designed by students.
“I want the class to not just be about poetry or novels in which
weather is a feature. I want a class that has a proliferation of
possibilities and asks: How does the turn to physical weather and the
process of weathering help us think critically about a multitude of
Each class session focuses on a particular topic and features
guest speakers, field trips or experiential-learning activities.
Students are reading nonfiction books about the science of weather and
the history that led to today’s high-tech forecasting systems, as well
as Shakespeare’s King Lear and Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones, a novel
centered on Hurricane Katrina.
In early October, for a session with the topic “Shorelines,” the
class traveled to Fort DuPont State Park in Delaware City to hear from
Emma Ruggiero, a graduate student in UD’s College of Agriculture and
Natural Resources and an intern with the Coastal Resilience Design
Studio. Ruggiero has developed a master plan for Fort DuPont that
proposes innovative solutions to sea level rise and soil erosion at the
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
An experimental English-Art History graduate seminar titled
"Weather" is an example of the kinds of innovative grad courses several
departments in the College of Arts and Sciences are doing. Visiting
ceramics artist Courtney M. Leonard led a workshop during. one class session.
Other guest speakers in October
included Arizona State University Dean of Humanities Jeffrey Jerome
Cohen and Julian Yates, who is H. Fletcher Brown Professor of English at
UD, who both talked about “arks” and the concept of refuge.
For another recent class meeting, Duckert invited Courtney M. Leonard
to talk to the class about her work as a ceramics artist who also
explores her Native American culture as a member of the Shinnecock
Indian Nation on Long Island, New York. Her art reflects that coastal
environment and the Shinnecocks’ historical ties to water and the
A self-identified eco-artist, Leonard described the influence of the
environment on her work as well as the effects that weather has on
vulnerable communities, from Long Island to the desert of the U.S.
Southwest, where she now lives and works. Just as weather events can
erode the physical environment, indigenous culture has often been eroded
as well, she said.
Students accompanied Leonard to UD’s ceramics studio and learned some of her techniques by forming clay into small pots.
“I really appreciated Courtney Leonard's insight and the fact that we
were able to partake in her creative process by handling the matter
ourselves, giving shape to the clay,” said Thomas Busciglio, an art
history doctoral student enrolled in the seminar.
Lowell Duckert, associate professor of English, who leads the
course that was co-designed by students, forms a clay pot.
“I rarely have the opportunity to meet contemporary artists, since my
research focuses on the 19th century. And Courtney Leonard's practice
is connected to important environmental issues, which made her
intervention all the more relevant.”
In November, students will spend the “Archive” class session visiting
Special Collections in Morris Library and the UD Disaster Research
Senior assistant librarian John Caldwell will talk about the 1962 Ash
Wednesday storm that severely damaged Delaware’s coast, and the DRC’s
A.R. Siders, assistant professor of public policy and administration,
will talk about coastal evacuation plans along the Eastern Seaboard.
In other sessions in November, the class will hear from a
visiting historian who has written about the Little Ice Age and its
effects on the Europeans’ first arrivals in North America, and a
visiting professor of English who has written about the weather in King
These wide-ranging topics are all designed to inspire students to think in new ways and across disciplines, Duckert said.
“If your emotions and your imagination are tied to the weather, how
does this inform your thinking?” he asked as one of the questions the
seminar explores. “The arts and the sciences are not inherently
separate. Collaboration—that’s where you do your best work.”
From Busciglio’s perspective, the seminar has been successful.
“My research will most likely involve a whole range of methods like
ecocriticism, environmental studies and material studies,” he said. “I
wanted to be more familiar with these approaches, and Professor
Duckert’s class is a good way to accomplish this in an interdisciplinary
manner, combining art, literature and science.”
The graduate seminar “Weather” is an example of what the Department
of English calls “colloquies” or conversation-centered seminars that are
co-designed by graduate students.
“This type of course puts interdisciplinary conversation at the
center of the seminar experience,” said Siobhan Carroll, associate
professor of English and the department’s director of graduate studies.
“We want students in these courses to be exposed to ideas and
experiences that they would not ordinarily come across if they stayed
inside the traditional boundaries of their disciplines.”
A previous seminar of this type, “The Black Atlantic and the
Archive,” led by Laura Helton, assistant professor of English, was
offered in fall 2018. That course resulted from interdisciplinary
conversations that were generated by UD’s African American Public
Carroll said the department plans to offer more of these innovative seminars.
“We believe that to produce cutting-edge scholarship we need to
create open, engaged spaces for intellectual community, in which
students and faculty from different disciplines can learn from each
other,” she said.
A Unidel Grand Challenge Grant supported the planning of the
“Weather” course. Other funding came from the departments of English,
History and Art History.
Article by Ann Manser; photos by Kathy F. Atkinson
Published Nov. 1, 2019