Plants in our world


May 17 – June 25, 2021

GenED Designation: SI           Credits: 4

Instructor: Dr. John M. Gerber Contact:

Human civilization has reduced the plant, a four-hundred-million-year-old life form, into three things: food, medicine, and wood. In our relentless and ever-intensifying obsession with obtaining a higher volume, potency, and variety of these three things, we have devastated plant ecology to an extent that millions of years of natural disaster could not.”

Dr. Anne Hope Jahren; professor and author of “Lab Girl

STOCKSCH 172 – Plants in Our World is a 4 credit General Education course with a SI designation. In this class we will explore the utilitarian uses of plants as described by Dr. Jarhen in the quote above.  But we will also look at plants from an historical, social and psychospiritual perspective to give us with a richer understanding of the relationship between humans and the plant world.  Throughout the course students will study the relationship between plants and humans by integrating the disciplines of biology, history and social science.  We will explore environmental, economic and social problems of global concern and questions about the nature of the relationship between humans and plants.  

General Education Learning Objectives – students will explore:

  1. …. fundamental questions and ideas in the humanities (history), social sciences, and natural sciences.  
  2. … the application and integration of interdisciplinary learning about real world problems.
  3. … analytical and critical thinking inquiry and problem solving.  

 Specific Student Learning Objectives – students will:

  1. …increase their appreciation of the utility of plants, strengthened by science-based knowledge focused on plants as sources of food, pharmaceuticals, energy, and shelter.
  2. …come to understand how the relationship between plants and humans has evolved over time.
  3. … increase their knowledge of how plants have shaped diverse human societies and cultures.
  4. …recognize how our personal interactions with specific plants and plant products have influenced our worldview and our perceived relationship with the non-human living world of plants.

Course Structure: Each week, students will be provided with a Learning Module covering a new topic.  Learning Modules will be released on Friday of the preceding week and will include:

  1. Lecture materials (a powerpoints, readings, and/or videos)
  2. A Journal Post reflection on the text, Braiding Sweetgrass
  3. A quiz on the “Plant of the Week”
  4. An assignment on the topic of the week
  5. Discussion questions assorted topics

Timeliness:  Discussion Posts, Online Assignments, Journal Posts and Quizzes will be available for 9 days from Friday to Sunday including two weekends.  It is the student’s responsibility to submit the required work in a timely manner.  Late submissions will lose 2 points for each day late.

Text: The required text is Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teaching of Plants. Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer is a plant ecologist, professor and member of the Potawatomi Nation.  She is Distinguished Teaching Professor of Environmental Biology at the SUNY College of Environmental and Forestry in Syracuse, NY.  She is a Senior Fellow for the Center for Nature and Humans.  The text may be purchased but audio recordings of all of the chapters will also be made available.

Grading criteria:

  1. Weekly Plant Quizzes (13 weeks x 10 points per week)  = 130 points
  2. Weekly Journal Posts (11 weeks x 10 points per week) = 110 points
  3. Weekly Discussion Posts (13 weeks x 10 points per week) = 130 points
  4. Weekly Assignments (13 weeks x 10 points per week) = 130 points

                                                                                    Total points = 500

Grade determination:

A   = (475-500)   A- = (450-474)   B+ = (435-449)      B =   (415-434)

B- = (400-414)      C+ = (385-399)  C  = (365-384) C- =  (350-364) 

D+ = (335-349)     D = (300-334)   F or IF = (299 or below)

Academic Honesty

 Understanding the Academic Honesty policy is VERYimportant.  Students are expected to read and abide by guidelines for academic honesty detailed in the Undergraduate Rights and Responsibilities.

Ombuds Office and Academic Honesty Office;

Accommodation Policy Statement

Disability Services;

The University of Massachusetts Amherst is committed to providing an equal educational opportunity for all students. If you have a documented physical, psychological, or learning disability on file with Disability Services (DS) that requires an accommodation, please notify me within the first two weeks of the semester so that we may make appropriate arrangements.

Technical Support

The 24/7 Help Desk is available to students using Blackboard for their online courses at UMass Amherst through Continuing & Professional Education. If you are experiencing technical issues with the system, please contact them directly.

Contact information is located:

  1. On the Blackboard Learn login page under “Need Technical Support?”
  2. Within the “Help Desk Information” module within Blackboard

Library Services and Support – See; for available services, library locations, databases & collections and more.  For additional support about the usage of web resources for assignments please contact the instructor as well as the U Mass Library Services.

Resources Used in the Development of this Course

Alexiades, M.N. 1996.  Ethnobotanical Research: A Field Manual. New York Botanical Garden.

Balick, M.J. and P. A. Cox. 1997. Plants, People, and Culture: The Science of Ethnobotany. Scientific American Library.

Barer-Stein, T. 1999. You Eat What You Are: People, Culture and Food Traditions. Firefly Books Ltd

Bynum, H. and W. Bynum. 2014.  Remarkable Plants that Shape our World.  University of Chicago Press.

Hageneder, F. 2005. The Meaning of Trees: Botany, History, Healing and Lore.  Chronicle Books.

Levetin, E. and K. McMahon. 2019.   Plants and Society. McGraw Hill.

Shultes, R. E. and S. vonReis. 1995.  Ethnobotany: Evolution of a Discipline.  Timber Press.

Simpson, B.B. and M. C. Ogorzaly. 2014. Economic Botany: Plants in Our World.  McGraw Hill.

Standage, T. 2005.  A History of te World in Six Glasses. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Strandage, T. 2009.  An Edible History of Humanity.  Bloomsbury Publishing.

Additional articles and web pages upon request

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