Monthly Archives: October 2009

Mocking the academic sentence

What is academic writing? Good question. What is it good for? And what are its strengths and weaknesses?The Writing Program at University of Chicago has a run at the general topic by offering a spoofy academic sentence generator, which will create jargon-laden monsters at the click of a button. Any thoughts about good academic writing, by the way? Leave a comment here?


Promoting your program (21st century style)

The USC MLS program knows how to get the word out about an upcoming course, in 21st century ways. A Twitter announcement links to a Facebook entry which includes a blurb and leads to a fuller events calendar entry that also offers a link to the faculty member’s bio page, and some of those include a dramatic night-sky image of a great city (which relates to the course theme). Questions about the course? Students can use the live email link on the bio page for that.

Seminar skills: Listening

Mastering Peter Bregman’s three steps for good listening might strengthen the work we do in our graduate seminars, since he clearly shows the difference between trying to win arguments and trying to understand something. Check out his brief, lively blog posting and come back here to share your view. Do our programs teach effective listening? Should they?

Dallas for 2010

At the business meeting in Orlando Michele Niese Mrak of Southern Methodist University announced that her program will sponsor the October 2010 annual AGLSP conference in Dallas. More news, travel information, registration, calls for papers, clues about the keynote speakers, etc., to follow.

And the theme:

The Transformation of the City through the Arts and Technology

What Nature Means to Culture: A Conversation with Narcisa Medianu

Prior to presenting her work at the AGLSP Conference in Vancouver, BC, in the fall of 2008, Narcisa Medianu had her piece, “Community Gardens and the Environmental Ethics of Urban Landscapes,” published in Confluence. It combines her work and her interests as it examines the role gardens play in representing nature as well as the argument against viewing cultivated gardens as inherently “natural.” During the conference she took a small group of attendees on a tour of a few community gardens in Vancouver. She was interviewed by Assistant Editor Krista Bailey in August, 2009 after her return from a wilderness camping trip.

Are you a gardener? If so, since when?

I’ve been a gardener for many years. Although I grew up in a big city, our house in Transylvania, Romania had a large garden, where we used to grow vegetables and flowers, along with chickens, rabbits and the occasional piglet.

Narcissa pic

Are you part of a community garden? How did you become interested in researching and writing about community gardens?

When I moved to Vancouver, in an apartment on the East side, I started missing the garden and looked for opportunities to share my interest in gardening with other people. Fortunately, there are a large number of community gardens in my neighborhood; some have been around for over 25 years, and new ones are sprouting across the neighborhood. The community garden where I go most often has an extensive common area, where work parties are organized at the end of each month. It is a great opportunity to meet people and learn more about organic gardening and environmental ethics.

You discuss the theme of cultivated vs. wild in your piece. How do such relationships help us exist in harmony with each other and with nature? In what ways might such dualistic themes be counterproductive to leading a balanced life?

I don’t believe gardening and wilderness are as opposed to each other as we often tend to believe. The dualism wilderness/civilization has a long history, and is founded on the belief that intervention in nature is inevitably wrong. Wilderness narratives challenge our drive to conquer and transform nature while promoting a sense of guilt associated with the preoccupation for harvesting and beautifying nature.

There is no question: we need to preserve wilderness in order to survive as humans. We need to have a place of retreat, a place to maintain a critical perspective on civilization. But, to the same extent, we need to build a solid ethic that will guide our interactions with our immediate surroundings and help us create a better and more sustainable life in the city, where most of us live. As Michael Pollan points out in his book about gardening (Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education), garden ethics will be necessarily anthropocentric, but the gardener’s conception of self-interest should be broad and enlightened.

How has an interdisciplinary approach helped in your study of community gardens?

I became interested in researching gardens while working on my Master’s degree in Liberal Studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. I believe gardens can only be studied with an interdisciplinary approach in mind. The garden is first and foremost a metaphor of our relation with nature, and, as such, it transcends our personal experience. To understand its multiple connotations, we have to follow the paths of philosophy, poetry, and religion, starting with the powerful symbol of the Garden of Eden – the symbol of victory over nature which is wild and void of intrinsic value.

The study of community gardens wouldn’t be complete or useful without emphasizing the need of a transformed environmental ethics based on interdisciplinary approach.

You have a degree in sociology and have worked in that field. How do you connect that discipline to your interdisciplinary work? Do you feel it has biased your approach or given you a firm foundation from which you can expand?

Indeed, my first Master’s degree is in Sociology, and I must say, I found the program in Liberal Studies at SFU equally challenging and rewarding. With age, one’s ways of thinking become set, and keeping one’s mind open to new ideas is challenging. Oftentimes, I was tempted to use the point of view I was most familiar with to argue for or against new ideas, and that can bias one’s approach. Once I was able to let go of the idea that I already know the correct answer, and how to get it, I have enjoyed immensely playing with different perspectives.

Are you working on a follow-up or on related research or pieces of writing?

Unfortunately, I am not currently working on any related research. I have just completed two very different extended essays necessary for my graduation in the Liberal Studies Program. However, I continue to be interested in any social movements that reclaim urban space, asserting “the right to the city” (to quote Henri Lefebvre) through spontaneous manifestations of solidarity (such as urban gardening, Critical Mass, neighborhood festivals, and so on).

2010 Confluence Writing Awards

It’s the second year for the AGLSP’s new writing contest, and we’re continuing the award for critical essays and adding a new award for creative writing, both of which include a $500 prize and publication in Confluence.

Interested in seeing graduate students from your program submit work? The contest rules and information about formats and the January deadline are all available in pdf format. Program faculty and directors can consult the rules for guidance in screening submissions from each campus. Graduate students might want to ask their program faculty how to participate.

One cautionary note: the contest is open to the AGLSP’s full member programs. If your program is still an associate member, the AGLSP board would be pleased to speak with you about taking the next step. Something to consider…

Call for papers: 2010 North Carolina conference

The Graduate Liberal Studies Program of the University of North Carolina Wilmington invites you to submit proposals for the 2010 North Carolina Graduate Liberal Studies Conference to be held on the weekend of April 9 – 10, 2010, the same weekend as Wilmington’s annual Azalea Festival! The event will take place on the beautiful campus of UNCW and will serve as an excellent opportunity for many of you to present a sample of your academic work to an audience of your colleagues as well as members of the community at large.  Currents of Thought: The North Carolina Liberal Studies Conference is open to solid proposals from faculty, students and alumni in any area of liberal studies and the humanities, including but not limited to any relevant cultural, historical, or contemporary issues.  Creative presentations such as short fiction or poetry readings will also be considered, and in such cases, a sample of your written work should be submitted along with your proposal. We will be considering proposals from MALS/GLS programs and other graduate programs in liberal arts, so submit yours today!

Please email a 250 – 300 word proposal along with a list of any multi-media equipment you may require for your presentation to the conference coordinator, Amanda Johnson at The deadline for proposals is February 1, 2010. However, we will begin the reviewing process immediately as they arrive. All proposals should include full name, title of presentation, phone number, email and mailing address. If your proposal is accepted, your conference fee of $50 must be submitted and the proposal will be posted on our website so that those who plan to attend the conference may read it. Conference fee includes Saturday night’s closing dinner.


Please submit by February 1, 2010 to: Amanda Johnson, GLS Conference Coordinator at

Thank you for your enthusiasm and participation in the 2010 North Carolina Graduate Liberal Studies Conference.  As with our past conferences, we expect this to be an exceptional event and a great opportunity for all who participate. Liberal Studies is an interdisciplinary study and this year’s conference will seek to reflect the broad scope of studies that contribute to the graduate liberal studies.

If you have any questions regarding the conference, do not hesitate to contact Amanda Johnson at the email address above.

Herbert Berg, Ph.D., Director
Graduate Liberal Studies, University of North Carolina Wilmington

601 S. College Road
Wilmington, NC 28403-5673