Environmental Humanities Master's Degree Programs

Jan 13, 2020

An MA in environmental humanities explores the confluence of the arts and sciences, focusing on approaches to ecological concerns that blend creative, philosophical thinking with empirical, science-based reasoning. Sample courses and admission requirements follow below.

Humanities-based courses focus on people's customs and attitudes and their recognition of beauty in the natural world, often through writings and artwork; in contrast, science-based environmental classes examine the physical world and the interactions of living organisms and their ecosystems from subatomic life up the evolutionary scale. In an environmental humanities master's program, students explore the interplay of these two fields and the necessary collaboration between them to solve current global issues, such as preserving current resources and creating new means of providing a sustainable global future. This article presents common admission requirements for this program and a selection of typical courses.

Admission Requirements

Most master's programs have common admission requirements, beginning with filling out an online application. Proof of a bachelor's degree from an accredited university, with a minimum GPA of 3.0, is standard, as is the submission of transcripts from all undergraduate schools attended. Master's programs typically require a personal statement from the applicant elucidating specific areas of interest and career goals. A CV is usually mandatory, as are three letters of recommendation. Finally, submitting GRE scores is encouraged but not always necessary.

Common Courses

During these 1-3 year programs, students can choose electives based on their areas of interest and a school's specific offerings in addition to taking classes such as environmental writing or fieldwork. These courses typically offer similar materials focused on exposing students to a variety of environmental writings, analytical methods, and problem-solving.

Field Course

As an introduction to the natural world, environmental humanities programs require a fully immersive experience in which students spend time living outdoors and learning experientially. Lectures focus on the place of humans in the environment and an understanding of the interactions among all living beings. As the students record their observations and discuss them with classmates, they may observe issues facing the environment, discover solutions to ecological issues, and identify topics to pursue for their final thesis or project.

Methods of Inquiry

Classes that fall under this heading expose students to research methods as they pertain to the environmental humanities, e.g., formulating hypotheses or theories based on writings and lectures. Although these approaches differ somewhat from those used in a strictly scientific or lab-based setting, critical thinking and analysis are necessary components of both. These courses encourage students to both apply standard research methodology and think creatively to find solutions for the environmental crises facing the planet.

Elective Example: Food Issues

Although numerous electives are offered to environmental humanities students, a common one involves food. Attitudes toward and customs regarding food and diet vary across cultures; however, potential crises regarding the food supply and sustainability affect all humans. Through writings, lectures, and discussions, students can learn about ecological threats to the food supply such as land use and carbon emissions. Becoming informed about these global issues can encourage them to consider possible ameliorating strategies.

Environmental Writing

In this required course, students can discover the intersection of the sciences and the humanities through environmental texts and art. By studying the compositions of past and present environmentalists, for example, students can learn the effect these works have had on policy and society, as well as techniques for both creative and persuasive writing. The ability to communicate effectively and present publications that are accessible to a wide-ranging audience can inform the public of current environmental crises and help to shape policy regarding solutions.


Seminars on ecological topics allow students to hear lectures from experts in the fields of both the humanities and sciences in settings that are less formal or structured. Exposure to issues, such as activism, public policy, and current ecological threats, widens one's perspective and presents opportunities for future research. Debates and discussions among the students and faculty further enhance the learning experience.

Final Project or Thesis

The culmination of the master's program is typically an independent study, which allows students to pursue in detail an issue of interest, using the research, analytical, and writing skills learned during the program. Students research an environmental topic or seek to offer solutions to a current ecological issue under the guidance and feedback of a faculty mentor. The work takes the form of a project or written thesis and is presented to a master's committee upon completion.

A master's in the environmental humanities offers courses that explore the connection between the arts and sciences. The perspectives gained and the methods of communicating about ecological issues provide students with the skills to help identify and propose solutions to current and future environmental challenges.

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