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Rethinking: Learning from Nature

Eye surrounded by skin textured like a leaf

Southern Californians know all about the four primary elements–fire, water, earth, and air. We get too much fire, not enough water, the earth can move violently, and who really wants to breathe smog?

But these elements can also be positive forces in our lives, as exemplified in a provocative exhibit that Pomona College is hosting for Spring 2016: “Umdenken/Rethinking–Learning from Nature.” On loan from the Goethe Institute of Germany, the exhibit filled four rooms in the underutilized Seeley G. Mudd building, animating that musty space with an array of electrifying posters and bold images that reminded us of our deep dependency on those elemental forces without which no species can live. They reminded us as well of the distressing degree to which we have manipulated these substances in the pursuit of progress. Alert to the stresses we have placed on the planet, the designers of this smartly-framed exhibit posed the apt question: are their limits to progress, to our capacity to progress? “Now that the natural equilibrium has been destabilized in many places”, one panel cautions, “and has in some cases been lost forever–an era of rethinking has now begun.”

The opportunity to reflect, to reconsider, and to rethink led a group of Claremont faculty, students, and community members to gather together on February 11, 2016, to talk about the exhibit’s import. What follows is a set of essays that pick up on different aspects of its significance, informal reflections that amount to a hopeful reimagining of our place in this place, this Earth, our home ground.

~Char Miller

Photo of Professor von Schwerin-HighFriederike von Schwerin-High, an Associate Professor of German at Pomona College, is particularly interested in translation studies and alterity in narrative ad philosophy, her research ranges from Gotthold Ephraim Lessing and the Age of Goethe to Thomas Mann. In collaboration with the Goethe Institute, she organized the “Rethinking” exhibit at Pomona College. Essay: Wind, Wende, Wandel 




Photo of Professor Hans Rindisbacher


Hans Rindisbacher, a Professor of German at Pomona College, is interested in the topic of perception, particularly olifactory perception. His 1992 book, The Smell of Books: A Cultural-Historical Study of Olfactory Perception in Literature, examines the role that the sense of smell has played throughout the history of European literature. Essay: Personal Thoughts on the Goethe Institute Traveling Exhibition



Professor Andre Wakefield


Andre Wakefield, a historian at Pitzer College, focuses his research on the history of science, German intellectual and cultural history, and environmental history. He is the author of The Disordered Police State: German Cameralism as Science and Practice and the co-editor/translator of G.W. Leibniz’s Protogaea. Essay: The Energiewende



Photo of Char Miller


Char Miller is the W.M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis at Pomona College and author of the just-published America’s Great National Forests and the forthcoming Not So Golden State: The Fight to Protect California’s Coast, Forests, Parks, and Cities. Essay: Rethinking LA’s Nature through German Eyes