Climate Change: Activating the Humanities through Service Learning

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Cynthia S. Williams/NeMLA 2021
contact email: 

This roundtable at NeMLA (Northeast MLA, Philadelphia 2021) will explore humanities courses that incorporate service learning as a way to respond to climate change. Given the exigency of global warming and the stress it places on our local communities, it becomes increasingly vital to leverage the humanities through focused civic engagement.

We will build on former MLA President Sidonie Smith’s compelling notion of “The English Major as Social Action” by asking not just what the humanities is in the era of climate change, but what it can do.[1] How can we turn theory into praxis, bridging the difference between real and imagined lives? How, for example, can a literature student’s heightened awareness of systemic injustice be developed, tested, and applied in a service learning partnership motivated by sustainability? Recognizing that the effects of global warming will have the greatest impact on our most vulnerable communities, how can we help our students “create knowledge with those whom the knowledge serves”?[2]

Our discussion will seek to articulate best practices for combining the humanities and hands-on work in the arena of climate change. Case studies will be especially productive, but courses still in the planning stages will also be considered. Topics for brief papers might include but are not limited to:

The literature of climate crisis and sustainability

Literature and activism

Classroom content as a foundation for community partnership

Modalities for reflection

Listening skills vs. reading skills

The role of research in building community

Crafting and assessing learning outcomes

Diversity and social justice

Public-private partnerships

Short-term excitement vs. long-term progress

Leadership skills

Judging impact

The social role of the humanities

3-10 participants are sought for brief, informal presentations (5-10 minutes), and the session is open to conversation and debate among participants and the audience. This is session #18499. Please utilize this NeMLA portal to upload your abstract:


[1] Smith, Sidonie. “The English Major as Social Action.” Profession (2010): 196-206.

[2] Cushman, Ellen. “Opinion: Public Intellectuals, Service Learning and Activist Research.” College English 61.3 (1999): 330.