What follows is a crude draft of a planned trip to Ireland with our students in June 2013...suggestions etc welcome...nothing is set in stone but generally this is what we'll be doing....
“The way that I went,” wrote Robert Lloyd Praeger in 1937 “was an Irish way, with extraorbital aberrations, especially in later years, to the extent of a thousand or fifteen hundred miles. It was from the beginning a way of flowers and stones and beasts.” Seventy-five years after the publication of his classic account of Irish natural history we are proposing to follow after Praeger in a study abroad trip to Ireland’s wildest places.
We will follow Praeger to four distinct regions: the Wicklow Highlands, Connemara, the Burren, and the Kerry Highlands. Each area is ecologically distinct exemplifying a particular aspect of Ireland’s natural legacy, and each is the location of a National Park which form the focal points of the study-abroad trip. In addition to their unique natural history, the three regions are also culturally distinct, presenting opportunities for students to appreciate both the history and the contemporary situation of Ireland.
The overarching theme for our study will be an examination of the Irish landscape as a co-production of nature and culture. Drawing upon the long tradition of Irish archaeology, landscape interpretation, and historical botany in which Ireland’s ecosystems have been investigated in order to understand both the ecological and human-historical factors that shaped them, we will create case studies assessing issues pertinent to each location we visit. The theme of co-production is, in turn, relevant, for an assessment of environmental issues elsewhere in the world: how does one think ecologically about cultural landscapes, and how does one manage a relationship with environments which have historically been influenced by cultural factors? Ireland has not been a wilderness in the sense used in the writings of the American tradition for almost 10,000 years. As ecologists increasingly appreciate that we live on a humanized globe, well characterized case studies of ecologically valuable cultural landscapes, such as are found in the Irish National Parks, will be helpful in developing sustainability models. That being said, many problems beset Irish landscapes: tensions stemming from very recent economic development as well as from the range of ecological pressures arising from global change: modified climates, invasive species, atmospheric pollution, and so forth. We shall comprehensively analyze and learn from these. Students will be explicitly invited to apply what they learn in Ireland to the situation in the American Midwest.