Grad students from York and Arizona take same course in environmental history

Cross-border, team-teaching in environmental history – it’s the latest innovation in the Graduate Program in History. A course offered to students from both York and Arizona State University (ASU) was developed by Canada Research Chair Colin Coates of Glendon’s Canadian Studies Program and the Graduate Program in History, in collaboration with history Professor Susan Gray of ASU.

Taught in the fall term at York and ASU, the two graduate-level classes in North American environmental history used the same readings and conducted discussions via video-conferencing and in person. Students worked in pairs to complete joint papers – one York student and one ASU student per project. One of the key themes of the course was the history of landscape in North America.

Right: York students with Colin Coates (left) visiting the Grand Canyon. Photo by Paul Hirt.

They finally had the opportunity to meet face to face when the Canadian group flew to Phoenix in October for seminars and a field trip. Among the books they read for the course was a biography of explorer and ethnologist John Wesley Powell in preparation for the trip’s highlight – a joint excursion to the Grand Canyon, hiking into the canyon itself.

"This trip allowed the group to explore further the issues raised in the readings and provided a first-hand experience of an iconic American landscape," Coates said. ASU Professor Paul Hirt, a specialist on the human landscape of the Grand Canyon, led the field trip.

Right: ASU’s Susan Gray

Two of the Arizona students then came to York with Gray from Nov. 14 to 18. During this visit, a video conference was set up to include those who couldn’t travel to Toronto. Complementing the field trip to the Grand Canyon, the group visited one of North America’s other iconic landscapes, Niagara Falls.

"Pairing two such programs was an excellent initiative by York International, and highly successful," said Coates.

In fact, York International helped fund the program by footing the bill for the flight costs of the Canadians to Phoenix, with ASU covering the rest of the visit’s expenses. The visit of the American group to Toronto was supported by York International, York’s Graduate Program in History, the dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies, a networking grant in environmental history funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and Coates’ Canada Research Chair.

Coates feels hopeful that this experience, a real enrichment on transnational topics, can be repeated in future joint ventures, possibly on the topic of Aboriginal history or the history of migration. Students had the opportunity to learn first-hand about a very different part of the continent, as well as engage in high-level collaborative work. York and ASU, one of the largest universities in the US, proved to be an excellent match.

Left: Colin Coates

Fluently bilingual, Coates holds a Canada Research Chair in Canadian Cultural Landscapes. He is the winner of the Lionel Groulx-Yves Saint-Germain Foundation’s award for Heroines and History – Representations of Madeleine de Verchères and Laura Secord (University of Toronto Press, 2002), co-authored with Cecilia Morgan of OISE. Coates has published several other books, a long list of articles, chapters in collective publications and has contributed to magazines in both English and French.

Submitted to YFile by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny.