Course Description

This experiential, community-engaged interdisciplinary course will introduce students to a range of artistic and ecological practices to understand, interpret, and communicate past and present environmental issues of the Mohawk River Watershed. We will dive deep into current topics using the New York Water Resource Institute’s Action Agenda items including A) Understanding inequitable distribution of flood, drought, and water scarcity vulnerability. B) Exploring traditional ecological knowledge and people’s history of the river C) Learn about water quality, restoration, and riparian systems. During the first portion of the course students will be introduced to the history and theory of ecological art and meet contemporary artists who work with rivers or water in general, as a medium. We will then float into the ecology, geology, and hydrology of the river from experts in their scientific fields. We will hear stories, folklore, and learn traditional knowledge from Mohawk people. Together we will take two weekend field trips to various locations in the Mohawk River Valley and students will attend the annual Mohawk River Watershed Symposium in Schenectady, NY. The last weeks of class will be dedicated to creating artwork that communicates topics covered in this class. Students will design, develop, and fabricate group art projects based on the action agenda while highlighting local issues of environmental justice. These interdisciplinary art projects will be publicly exhibited in local art spaces. Lectures, readings, field trips, critique, as well as art fabrication and exhibition will contribute to students’ development. Class field trips are required.

As a result of participating in this course, students will be able to:

  • Discuss the geological, geographical, environmental, and people’s history of the Mohawk River Watershed.
  • Articulate current issues and scientific research of the Mohawk River Basin.
  • Summarize the NY Water Resource Institute’s Action Agenda, specifically the Mohawk River Action agenda items.
  • Exhibit an understanding of traditional knowledge and history of the Haudenosaunee people as it relates to the Mohawk River.
  • Interrelate field study, scientific research, cultural and artistic practices to deepen a sense of place, specifically the Mohawk River Valley.
  • Name, identify, describe, and critique the work of diverse international artists and scientists who exemplify a holistic study of nature, sustainability, and humanities, while learning about the strategies and critical concepts they employ in their work.
  • Gain new perspectives to diversify your approaches to your discipline-specific problems particularly as it relates to environment and sustainability.
  • Move through the process from researching a real-world problem to communicating that topic through designing, fabricating, and exhibiting a community-engaged art piece.


Class Details

  • NTRES 4700 /ENVS 4700
  • Instructor: Dr. Anna Davidson (she/her), Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, 119 Fernow Hall, Cornell University,
  • Teaching Assistant: Anna Mehlhorn (she/her),
  • Credits: 3
  • Meeting Times: Spring, 2024, Wednesdays 1:25-2:40pm and Fridays 1:25-4:25 + 2 field trips
  • Meeting Location: G01 Fernow Hall

Tentative Schedule (subject to change)

Day Date Topic Activity
W 24-Jan What is Ecologiclal Art? Introduction, What is Ecological Art?
F 26-Jan What is Art? SEARCH now / RESCUE later Lecture by Art writer/curator Linda Weintraub, Activity, Searh now/Rescue Later
W 31-Jan Artists working on Rivers & Water Lecture by visitng artist Tim Weaver-Assign Group Projects (Harrisons, Lauren Bon, Basia Irland)
F 2-Feb Artists working on Rivers & Water Lecture by visitng artist Laura Bon*
W 7-Feb Artists working on Rivers & Water Lecture by visiting artist Betsy Damor*
F 9-Feb Artists working on Rivers & Water Group Presentations
W 14-Feb Exam
F 16-Feb Introduction to the Mohawk River Lecture by Kathy Czajkowski-NY Water Resource Institute
W 21-Feb Natural Channel Design Lecture by scientitst, Peter Nicols, Schoarie County Soil and Water Conservation
F 23-Feb Geology, Culture, Industrial Archeology of the Mohawk Lecture by Simon Litten
W 28-Feb Mohawk Science? River Keeper*
F 1-Mar Understanding natural river flow patterns as the basis for sustainable managemnt and conservation Lecture by Scientist Dr. Rebecca Sneider & data activity
W 6-Mar Library Research-Mann Library
F 8-Mar Indigenous Ways of Knowing Lecture by Tom Porter, Spritiual Leader of Kanatsiohareke Mohawk Community
W 13-Mar Exam
F 15-Mar Field Trip to Mohawk River Valley Mohawk River Symposium-Union College, Schenectady, NY,
S 16-Mar Field Trip to Mohawk River Valley Schoarie River Center, Folklore by Ellen McHale, Dinner with Mohawk Storyteller Kay Olan
Su 17-Mar Field Trip to Mohawk River Valley Amsterdam, Cohoes Falls, Iriquois Museum, Little Falls, NY Environmental Humanitites, Schoarie Crossing State Park. Museum
W 20-Mar Group Research Presentations Group Research presentations on science of the Mohawk
F 29-Mar Group Research Presentations Group Research presentations on science of the Mohawk
W 10-Apr Community Engagement Lecture by Amy Samules*
F 12-Apr Field Trip
S 13-Apr Field Trip
Su 14-Apr Field Trip
W 17-Apr Final Project/Studio
F 19-Apr Final Project/Studio
W 24-Apr Final Project/Studio
F 26-Apr Final Project/Studio
W 1-May Final Project/Studio
F 3-May Installation for Exhibition
5/11–5/18 Final Exams

Field Trips

We will travel together in 12-passenger vans. Students driving their own vehicle is not advised. All students are expected to treat the entirety of the trip as class and adhere to Cornell policy. The use of alcohol and drugs are prohibited on all field trips and during regular class times. Please dress for cold and wet weather and wear comfortable footwear. Most tools and equipment needed for field trips will be supplied, however students are encouraged to bring their own cameras, Go-Pros, hydrophones, and art materials, if they have it. Other items to bring include: journal, reading materials, medications, toiletries, computer, charging cords, water bottle, daypack/backpack, alarm clock, watch, special dietary needs. DO NOT OVER PACK, as there is not much space in the vans. We will be spending a lot of time together on field trips. It’s important to be helpful, courteous, maintain a positive attitude,  and provide a safe respectful environment for all.


We will be staying in a castle! That’s right, the Amsterdam castle in Amsterdam, NY along the Mohawk River. These are comfortable hotel rooms with two king size beds per room/4 people per room. Reach out to me if you prefer to purchase your own private room with your own funds or feel free to bring a sleeping bag and set up camp on the floor.

Canvas, Readings & Assignments

All course materials, grades and class announcements will happen through Canvas. Please check weekly modules for all class assignments.


Not including field trips, you are allowed two absences over the semester. It’s recommended that you save these for actual sick days. For every subsequent unexcused absence your grade drops by a letter grade (i.e., B to B-). All field trips are mandatory. Because of the nature of this course,  class cannot be “made up.”  However, accommodations can be made for religious observances, or any Cornell-related activities such as band, sports, etc. that will conflict with class and field trips. This needs to be communicated with the instructor with at least 2 weeks of advanced notice.

Late Policy

Late work is NOT accepted.

Academic Integrity Policy

All students are expected to adhere to the University’s Code of Academic Integrity (, which states that any submission of work by a Cornell student for academic credit indicates that the work is the student’s own. All outside assistance should be acknowledged and truthfully reported in all circumstances. Students in this class who violate the Code of Academic Integrity will be given a grade of zero for the assignment and/or a failing grade for the course.

Diversity and Inclusion

Cornell University and I are committed to full inclusion in education for all persons. Services and reasonable accommodations are available to persons with temporary and permanent disabilities, students with DACA or undocumented status, students facing mental health or other personal challenges, and students with other kinds of learning challenges. Please feel free to let me know if there are circumstances affecting your ability to participate in class. Some resources that might be of use include:

  • Office of Student Disability Services
  • Cornell Health CAPS (Counseling & Psychological Services):
  • Undocumented/DACA Student support See the list of campus resources

Students with Disabilities

Your access in this course is important to me. Please request your accommodation letter from Student Disability Services early in the semester, or as soon as you become registered with SDS, so that we have adequate time to arrange your approved academic accommodations. Disability accommodation procedure for students.

Physical and Mental Health

Maintaining your physical and mental health is extremely important. I recommend trying to get plenty of rest, exercise, eat well, and follow Cornell’s Covid-19 safety guidelines. If you are struggling to complete something in the course due to mental health issues, please reach out to me. Additionally, please check out this website that hosts a wide range of services and strategies: Mental Health at Cornell.

Religious Observances

Please let the instructors know well in advance if a religious observance conflicts with class attendance or other course-related requirements. We will figure out an equivalent way to make up for this.

Grading System

A+ =4.3 B+ =3.3 C+ =2.3 D+ =1.3
A =4.0 B =3.0 C =2.0 >D =1.0
A– =3.7 B– =2.7 C– =1.7 D– =0.7
F =0.0

Grade Breakdown (subject to change):

  • Exam 1 10%
  • Exam 2 10%
  • Group Presentation 1 10%
  • Group Presentation 2 10%
  • Attendance 15%
  • Participation (are you adding to discussion, critique, doing your portion of the work?) 15%
  • Artwork 15%
  • Reading Reflections 5%
  • Final Reflection papers/Surveys 5%
  • Other Assignments (art event, etc.) 5%

Important Note! While I strive to be as organized as possible, this document serves as a guide and is a living document that WILL CHANGE. This is a new experimental class with a lot of moving parts designed to be a special experience for you. There may be bad weather, unforeseen obstacles or new great opportunities that pop up that we can’t pass up (especially on field trips). It is important to be flexible and embrace the unknown! If this does not fit your educational approach, then this might not be the right class for you.