August 16, 2016
Meet Your Guides: Part 6

Learn more about the creative, intelligent and environmentally savvy scholars leading us on our adventures! Meet Rachel A. Blumenthal, IU Kokomo.

We’re introducing you to the creative, intelligent and environmentally savvy scholars leading us on our adventures (register for one here). Our scholars will help infuse the humanities into each excursion by facilitating interesting conversations that connect environmental literature, nature and the past, present and future of Hoosier stewardship. Be sure to check the blog throughout the summer to “meet the minds!”

Meet…

Rachel A. Blumenthal, assistant professor of English at Indiana University Kokomo

What excursions will you lead?

You can join me on Oct. 8 at the Limberlost State Historic Site in Geneva. We’ll hike the restored Loblolly Marshes that inspired Gene Stratton-Porter’s beloved novel A Girl of the Limberlost.

What drew you to Next Indiana Campfires? How does it connect to your professional or personal interests?

I was drawn to Next Indiana Campfires because of its ability to bring together new friends and stimulate thoughtful conversation about regional issues. I’ve always lived in major metropolitan areas—Atlanta, Nashville, Chicago. Moving to Kokomo and then Lafayette, Indiana from an urban metropolis has been an eye-opening experience for me as I reconceive my own academic and personal relation to nature. I am beginning to learn more about Midwestern topography as I visit local parks—Prophetstown and Wolf Park, for example—and read and teach regional literature. I found that Sinclair Lewis, for example, that Midwestern-born writer whose muckraking novel, The Jungle, investigates the meatpacking industry of Chicago, stimulated a fascinating conversation amongst my IU Kokomo students on agricultural economies and cultures of the region. My students drew explicitly on personal experiences working on family farms and for the FDA, and I think our intellectual conversation was deepened by their connections to the region and its rural economies.

What author, book, essay or poem first awakened an interest in environmental writing? Tell us a little about when you read it and how it impacted you.

Gene Stratton-Porter, a favorite writer of mine since childhood and author of the bildungsroman, A Girl of the Limberlost, connects lepidoptery and swamp ecology with a girl’s coming-of-age turmoil. Even when I was a young reader of Stratton-Porter’s novel, I was struck by how thoroughly she interweaves issues of child development and personal growth with the ecology of place—to borrow geographer Yi-Fu Tuan’s conception of geographical space as a “reality to be…understood from the perspectives of the people who have given it meaning.” In sum, a naturalist, alone, cannot study or participate in the natural environment. The naturalist must also be a humanist.

Where’s your favorite place to spend time outdoors in Indiana? Have you discovered a hidden gem that more Hoosiers should know about?

Prophetstown State Park near Battle Ground, IN. The vast expanses of prairie grass and wildflowers are oceanically magnificent. I can’t help but think of Emily Dickinson:

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,–

One clover, and a bee,

And revery.

The revery alone will do

If bees are few.

These sublime grasslands will certainly send you into a reverie!

What’s the focus of your scholarly research / creative practice? How does it relate to nature and the environment?

Much of my published research, as well as my book-in-progress, “Misdiagnosis: Psychology and the Female Patient in Nineteenth-Century American Literature,” takes up questions about the relation between literature and medicine. My abiding interest in the interdisciplinary possibilities of science and the humanities has led me to develop courses in environmental literature and ecopoetry.

Is there an environmental humanities topic or text that you love teaching? What is it, and why do you love using it in the classroom?

The anthropocene—what is it? In what ways do individual humans participate in it? How do we grasp the vast intervals of geologic time? Does Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” theorize it? I find these questions tap into students’ political investments regarding environmentalism, economy, and community. This topic also draws out students who enjoy thinking more abstractly about ethics and the human/nature relation. Whitman, the transcendentalist who regarded the human body as glorious, is a wonderful vector for these conversationsOkay, just for fun! If you could have a bobble-head of any Hoosier living or dead, who would it be and why?

Okay, just for fun. What’s on the top of your book pile these days?

Joyce Carol Oates, The Man Without a Shadow; Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns; Zadie Smith, White Teeth

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Next Indiana Campfires is a unique way to connect nature, literature and Indiana’s Bicentennial. The program is supported by the Efroymson Family Fund, the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust and Pulitzer Prizes Centennial Campfires. Indiana Humanities is supported in part by Lilly Endowment Inc. and the National Endowment of the Humanities. 

This post is part of the weekly blog series devoted to the initiative. Check back every Tuesday to learn more about Indiana’s great environmental literature, find out interesting facts about Hoosier stewardship, get all the latest program details and more.

Posted In: Next Indiana Campfires, Spotlight

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