Stories of the Susquehanna: Digital Humanities, Spatial Thinking, and Telling the historia of the Environment recap

Stories of the Susquehanna: Digital Humanities, Spatial Thinking, and Telling the historia of the Environment, 2012-10-09

~ Allegra Swift Gonzalez

Access is only available to the colleges participating in NITLE, so if you are from Scripps College, Pomona College or Harvey Mudd College and you are interested in viewing the slides and recording, please contact Mary McMahon at Pomona ITS.

Katherine Faull, professor of German and humanities, Bucknell University, and seminar leader
Alf Siewers, associate professor of English, Bucknell University, and seminar leader

“Collaborative student-faculty research projects centered in the locale of residential liberal arts colleges let students engage in a variety of learning experiences and high impact practices including undergraduate research, civic engagement, and multidisciplinary approaches to complex problems. Students at Bucknell University, as part of the Stories of the Susquehanna Valley Project, gathered stories from the Marcellus Shale region in the Susquehanna watershed of how the boom in natural gas drilling is transforming communities and cultural landscapes.” NITLE announcement.

Professors Fauli and Siewers spoke about the successful course they devised with considerations of institutional administrative requirements and engaging interdisciplinary undergraduates. In building the course, the professors were aware that this course was only fulfilling a requirement for some students and that it did not necessarily credit their major. They also took into account the politics of introducing a course to administration and the necessities required for continued support. The structure and support systems for this intensive course helped to engage the students and ended up benefiting the community, the students, and the aligned researchers.

Instead of making this an online course or maybe in reaction to, this course was designed to accentuate outdoor regional based instruction.

The course required 5 hours a week + a “running reading and reaction journal”

  • 1 hour discussion on T-TH
  • 3 hour lab on W
  • field trips (40 students, outside funding and residential college funds)

In addition, there were workshops on using tools and methods:

  • ArcGIS
  • video essay
  • Final Cut Pro
  • blogging
  • Arcmap and google map – kmz files and embed images

Collaborations included support from faculty and staff with English, Environmental Science, Geography, and GIS specialties.

Fauli and Siewers were able to motivate students who are coming from multiple disciplinary backgrounds from sciences to humanities  by engaging them with collaborative problems solving, outdoor and cultural adventure including kayaking and entre to Native American communities. Outreach to Native American communities was mentioned as having enriched faculty research and student experience as well as garnered relationships built on mutual trust and respect.


  • became agents of change
  • learned new ways of thinking of cause and effect
  • related primary sources as spatial constructs
  • won internships with National Geographic and the National Parks due to relationships built by projects
  • contributed to the studied area being registered as protected historic place

Scholarly student output included:

  • narrative maps
  • critical cartography and GIS layers map produced
  • database of historical GiS layers
  • work from precious year informs the next
  • interest in careers in historic preservation, local and national conservancies.

Funding was garnered from multiple sources and looked to be quite the endeavor in itself. I was curious to know if they had help with gathering the financial support. Some f the funding aspects mentioned were a NEH collaborative research grant, a foundation for summer writers, and the Mellon Foundation.

The Stories of the Susquehanna Valley Project is really well organized and thought out course model that brought about many levels of benefits and engagement.

Image credit:

Attribution Some rights reserved by Nicholas_T

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