Water in the classroom

Anthropologist Valerie Lambert, pictured in front of a water reservoir, is developing a new course which will examine water and American Indian issues. (photo courtesy of Valerie Lambert)

A steady stream of new ideas will trickle into classrooms across UNC this fall, thanks to the University’s new campuswide academic theme, “Water in our World.” Opportunities to study water will span from its chemistry to its roles in different societies and even geopolitical conflicts. While some professors are retooling older courses to incorporate issues and concepts concerning water, other professors are researching and designing entirely new curricula.

To spur new classroom experiences tied to the water theme, the Center for Global Initiatives awarded $22,400 in six grants for curriculum development. College of Arts and Sciences professors scooped up five of these grants. Here are some of their refreshing takes on water:

History professor Sarah Shields began to focus on water issues as a result of her students’ interests. Shields says it became clear that water has played many pivotal roles in the societies and politics of Middle Eastern peoples. Her new course, “Water, Conflict and Connection: the Middle East and Ottoman Lands,” will go beyond historical geography to survey the economic influences of water in coastal communities dependent upon fishing and pearl-diving. It will also examine the technological innovations that allowed distribution of water for irrigation, the impacts of water pollution in today’s Middle East, public health issues arising from water-borne diseases, the role of water in religious and cultural practices, and the contribution of water scarcity to cross-border political conflicts.

Valerie Lambert, an anthropology professor who focuses on American Indian issues, is developing a new course which will examine how water issues contribute to global socio-political and economic inequalities. “Water has always been central to my research,” Lambert says, “because the American Indian story is in large part a story about non-Indian efforts to gain control over Indian land, water and other resources.” Lambert says she is also seeking to make local tie-ins, such as discussing how the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina bottle and market their own water through the tribally owned Cherokee Bottled Water business.

Chemist Brian Hogan (right) adopted his daughter, Lexi, from Guatemala. His new course will explore water issues in her village. (photo courtesy of Brian Hogan)

Chemistry professor Brian Hogan is also creating a new course which will not only examine the biochemical properties of water, but also water pollution issues and how contaminated water is a public health issue contributing to poverty and instability. “This course is unique in that it is only the second [at UNC] to try to bridge chemistry and society,” Hogan says. “Poverty, water-borne illness and pollution are all interrelated. Almost universally, as water has become more potable, civilization has flourished and poverty has diminished.” He plans to introduce students to the major causes of water borne-pathogens and ways to eliminate them. On a personal level, Hogan’s relationship with two of the “Lost Boys of Sudan” informed him about the importance of the Nile River to the Dinka people. As a result, he’s making Southern Sudan one of two geographic areas of focus in the course. The second is a remote indigenous village named Nueva Esperanza in Izabal, Guatemala, where he adopted his daughter and has worked on water purity issues. Hogan says he’s seen that the inordinate amount of time spent purifying water in this village detracts from girls’ ability to attend school and become literate.

Other CGI grantees from the College include: Robin Visser, professor of Asian Studies, for her updated course, “Chinese Ecoasthetics and Water Issues;” and geology professors Tamlin Pavelsky and Jason Barnes for their updated course, “Linking Hydrology and Geology in the Athabasca River Watershed, Canada.”

In addition, Eunice Sahle, chair of the African and Afro-American studies department, is working with colleague Reginald Hildebrand to devise ways to explore water and health issues in the context of Chapel Hill’s Rogers Road community. In spring 2014, water will also be the theme of her department’s annual conference.

[By DeLene Beeland, fall 2012 Carolina Arts & Sciences magazine ]

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The Future of the Outer Banks

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