Students embrace historical significance in Palouse course

Students observe and document their surroundings on the WSU Pullman campus.
During an in-class excursion, students in the Landscapes of the Palouse humanities course observe and document their surroundings to gain greater appreciation and learn more about the area they call home during their academic years in Pullman.

A multidisciplinary humanities course is taking Washington State University undergraduates out of the classroom and into the Palouse.

Part of WSU’s First-Year Focus Program, the course Landscapes of the Palouse introduces undergraduate students to the importance of the region through activities that contemplate its many histories. They engage with people who live, work, and care about the landscape, and they explore the outdoors.

“The essential course objective is for students to embrace where we are, learn to read any landscape, and reflect on their roles as citizens,” said Jolie Kaytes, a landscape architecture professor and lead of the interdisciplinary team who created the course. “These are concepts we hope they will take with them anywhere they go.”

Kaytes, along with collaborators in history, architecture, environmental science, and education, developed the curriculum with the support of a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The course, now in its fourth year, has been well-received according to student surveys.

Students investigate the land and people over time and from several viewpoints. Guest lecturers from the Nez Perce Tribe, local historians, agriculture industry representatives, along with a mix of faculty provide diverse perspectives about the area. First peoples, ecological processes, cultures of agriculture, and watershed connections are among the broad themes examined in the class. Some lesson topics include land formation, farming practices, Pullman’s historic buildings, land-use planning, dam consequences, and the Hanford Site.

In-class excursions and opportunities to observe and document the region’s histories, physical features, and ecologies encourage students to become familiar with community needs and the hopes of past and present. Students also interact with local non-profit organizations.

“As a geologist steeped in the training and culture of the natural sciences and increasingly aware of threats to the ecosystems that sustain us, this is a project I’m particularly proud to be a part of,” said Kent Keller, professor in the School of the Environment. “The importance of care-for-place is integral to the future of our communities and the whole Earth system.”

In addition to being a part of the First-Year Focus program, the 3-credit Landscapes of the Palouse course is open to all WSU Pullman students and fulfills the humanities [HUM] University Core Requirement.

Faculty contributing to course development included Kaytes, Keller, Phil Gruen, professor in the School of Design and Construction; Jeffrey C. Sanders and Clif Stratton, professor and career-track associate professor respectively in the Department of History; and Francene Watson, associate teaching professor in the College of Education. Gruen delivers a related course called The Global Palouse for the WSU Honors College, which also embraces an interdisciplinary spirit.

“These classes provide a way for students to fulfill a humanities requirement that is grounded in the Palouse, the place where they study and call home for four years” said Kaytes.

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