Branching Out on the Subject of Trees
It was an unexpected inquiry from a new student and advisee of Jennifer Hubbert, professor of anthropology and Asian studies. Hubbert posed the question to her colleagues on L&C’s faculty listserv. The thread quickly went viral among faculty and served to highlight one of the key strengths of a liberal arts education: its interdisciplinary focus.
An arborphile could certainly examine the micro-level structure of trees using the college’s electron microscope in the nanomaterials chemistry course.
In percussion, we practice Paradiddle Trees.
No log rhythms though.
The Lieder genre is so full of songs about the forest, and the French poets are not far behind. Entire recitals have been sung on the subject of trees/flora/fauna.
Students interested in dynastic family trees can take my Tudor and Stuart British history survey. Be forewarned: the branches are hopelessly intertwined.
In my Philosophy of the Environment class, we talk about the moral standing of trees. Can you harm or hurt a tree? Do they have intrinsic or inherent value? Should we say that they have rights? We also talk about the aesthetics of trees and forests. Why are they beautiful? Are they always beautiful? What makes them so?
One thing we do not talk about is whether they make sounds when no one is there to hear them.
And, of course, creative writing— where you can write poetry, nonfiction, or even fiction about, or from within, the forest.
We discuss the mockumentary style on television in my Media Design and Criticism class, focused around The Office. And paper comes from trees …
I’ll add the most beautiful anatomical feature of the brain, the arbor vitae of the cerebellum.
And yet another tree—syntax trees used by linguists!
Several of our overseas study programs (New Zealand, Ecuador, East Africa, Australia, and Thailand) have a special focus on trees. For example, in Australia, students learn about how certain trees have evolved to withstand— and even require for germination—the presence of fire. Some trees in New Zealand can be directly compared with those in Chile, a relic of the Gondwana supercontinent. In Ecuador, students spend time doing transect studies in the Amazon rainforest.
Of course, actual trees abound in our [biology] curriculum, but we also focus on phylogenies —trees of relationships—and the methods of inferring the grand histories of the evolution of life.