Last offered: Fall 2020
To wander about among a vegetation which is new to one is pleasant and instructive. It is the same with familiar plants as with other familiar objects: in the end we cease to think about them at all. But what is seeing without thinking? (Goethe, Italian Journey)
In an age of environmental destruction and outright murder of our biological brethren, there is something deeply troubling about humanity’s relationship with nature. Technology has left us with mere facsimiles of nature—pixilated abstractions of biodiversity through satellite imagery, decoded strings of DNA—and we, as a species, have become fundamentally disconnected from actual nature and the magnificent organisms with which we share the earth. In this seminar, we will work to understand and give agency to trees as individual organisms, literally rooted in the ground, and evolutionarily rooted in deep time.
Topics to be covered include the evolutionary origin of arborescence, the search for the urpflanze (true plant), human relationships with non-sentient organisms, the case for legal rights for natural objects, reading a twig, the unseen world of roots, and the meaning of longevity in trees. Each student will also work with an individual tree in the living collections
of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University and observe (see) this organism throughout the entire semester through the creation of images (photography, drawing), journaling, and other forms of representation. The goal of this freshman seminar will be to initiate a personal and lifelong connection with the “other,” the vast and variant organisms with which we share the planet.