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2015-2016 Common Read

The Sixth ExtinctionThe goals of the Common Read program are to promote academic discourse and critical thinking, to create a sense of community among incoming students, and to integrate an academic and social experience into the campus community. These goals are realized for new students when they receive a copy of the Common Read in their Orientation packets and arrive on campus with their reading complete and prepared to engage in discussions about the book.  This year's selection is the Pulitzer Prize winning The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert.

Air, water, earth and fire: the ancient elements on a changing planet.

The Common Read program is closely linked to the Program for Liberal Arts and Civic Engagement (PLACE) and its 2015-16 theme "Air, water, earth and fire: the ancient elements on a changing planet."  Through PLACE, faculty and students use the Common Read and the Linfield Curriculum to encourage a free exchange of ideas across disciplines, promote active forms of citizenship, and pique intellectual curiosity through the exploration of thematic connections among modes of thinking and inquiry.  

Much change is underway in our contemporary landscape.  For the first time in history, most of the world population has migrated to cities, while technology connects even the most isolated populations. Human influence on Earth’s ecosystems and atmosphere is so extensive that it may define a new geologic epoch, dubbed the Anthropocene.  Despite our increasing demands, however, the natural world continues and must continue to provide sustenance.  The ancient elements-- air, water, earth, and fire-- provide an organizing principle and set of sub-themes for the 2015-2016 PLACE theme: the air we breathe and that warms and cools with the seasons; the clean water we drink and the saline water of the vast ocean ecosystem; the earth, mixing life and decomposition, providing nutrients; and fire, symbolizing energy that we extract from the earth and harvest from the sun, the energy of life and the energy of modernity.  This PLACE topic asks us to pause and consider the elements once considered to be the building blocks of existence, the way in which they are utilized in the modern world, and their status for the future.

Read a recent research article published in Science Advances for more information about accelerated modern human–induced species losses. 

New students are encouraged to submit an entry in the Summer Common Reading Essay Contest!  See below for details.

Reading Guide for The Sixth Extinction, by Elizabeth Kolbert

Before you read:

Look around.  Ponder.  What in your normal surroundings is human built?  Pick an example, a chair, a pop can.  What resources, refinement, design went into this?  What was its impact?  On the flip side, what around you is natural, would have been there before humans?  Perhaps you can see the stars, feel the wind, smell flowers on the air, hear frogs or crickets.  How resilient is this environment surrounding you?  How fragile?

As you read:

Jot down a few ideas.  For example, what is new to you?  Surprising? Funny? Worrisome?  Hopeful?  What is your favorite quote?  What are you thinking about as you read these stories?  Which do you find the most interesting, and why?  Is there a particular story that really changed your view of the earth, or of humanity? 

When you are finished:

Return to your thoughts before you read.  Have they shifted in any way?  What would you add to your observations?  What are your hopes for the future?  As you pull your thoughts together, consider responding to one of the essay prompts below (and perhaps winning a prize!)

Summer Common Read Essay Contest

Prompts: Choose one of the prompts below as a starting place for your essay.  Be sure to tie your own personal reflections together with specific ideas from the text.

  1. Consider your reflections from before you read the book.  Or, consider another time when you felt closely connected with the natural environment, perhaps while hiking, swimming, etc.  Discuss how this experience defines you, or defines your understanding of a place you love.  How do you expect future people will experience that place differently than you? 
  2. Discuss humanity’s relentless drive to shape the landscape around us.  Is this predominately a constructive or destructive process?  Do we humans have a responsibility to preserve certain aspects of the environment?  
  3. In what ways are humans disconnected from the ecosystems that support us?  In what ways do we remain connected?  What, do you think, are the effects of these disconnections and connections in our daily lives and the life of our planet.
  4. Is there a particular story or quote that changed your view of the earth, or of humanity?  Reflect on why that particular aspect of the book resonated with you, and in what way it changed you.

Submit it by email to Linfield Academic Advising by August 1. Free textbooks (valued up to $500) for first semester classes are awarded to the winner!  

Essays should be about 500 words and will be evaluated using the following criteria: The Author:

  • Identified and discussed the significance of at least one question.
  • Included examples to support one or more positions, or arguments.
  • Considered their argument in an appropriate context.
  • Discussed possible solutions and implications to the question(s).