Mill Town Project

Bennington College, 2013-2016

map of north bennington, Vermont in 1856

This project matched academic rigor with experiential, interdisciplinary learning in a sequence of two courses to ground students firmly in their place of study—Bennington, Vermont and its environs. Former mill towns like Bennington dot the New England landscape. These are not the urban centers at the forefront of sustainable design, but neither are they rural outposts nor do they fit the image of the quickly spreading suburb. Through analysis of the past resource-use regime and human-environment interactions students gain insight into what a sustainable future could look like. The introductory course, "Studying Place by Metes and Bounds" provides the geographic specificity needed for students to understand how social, political, and biophysical processes influence each other. This course highlights core STEM knowledge central to sustainability issues, but also examines how STEM knowledge and approaches are integrated in a larger societal whole through encountering real problems in a tangible, local setting. The second course is an advanced projects course including individual internships with regional organizations during Bennington College’s seven-week non-residential winter Field Work Term. In the projects course, students collaboratively design and implement case studies addressing issues of sustainability in the Bennington region,drawing on qualitative and quantitative research methods from diverse disciplines as called for. In developing intensely place-based curricula, we develop teaching tools that will be of general applicability in integrating student experience with any locality. Ongoing relationships with local community organizations, K-12 teachers, other colleges in the area, and local resources who have unique expertise, will provide the groundwork for future collaborations. Workshops were organized to cooperate with community based organizations and members, and to seek further collaborations in the area. Local media disseminated ideas generated from student projects. This course format was adapted for a sequence of undergraduate research courses at Binghamton University called People, Politics and the Environment.

The Challenges of Studying Place

A View from Bingham Hill, published student essays

People, Politics and the Environment