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Program for Liberal Arts and Civic Engagement

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PLACE LogoPLACE aims to enhance student engagement and faculty development in the liberal arts through the exploration of thematic connections among modes of thinking and inquiry.

2015-16: Air, Water, Earth, and Fire: the ancient elements on a changing planet

"… when a man must be afraid to drink freely from his country’s rivers and streams that country is no longer fit to live in."
--- Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire A Season in the Wilderness (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968), 162.

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 this PLACE proposal: 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.

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