Janet Davis

Janet Davis

Department of American Studies
Animals, Sustainability, and the Environment: A Service Learning Model for the Humanities

Project Update

This project will combine classroom readings and discussion on the history of American animals and the environment with hands-on service learning and community engagement outside the classroom. The Austin Animal Center, Travis Audubon, and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center are partnering with this service learning initiative, which will go live in Fall 2017 in the upper-division seminar, “Animals and American Culture.”

Work related to animals and American culture have received substantial media attention recently. Students who choose to fulfill their service learning requirements at the Austin Animal Center will work with animals—walking, grooming, feeding, and enclosure care. Students who choose Travis Audubon will conduct bird strike research and/or habitat studies on the UT campus, or they can choose to work with Audubon staff members on trail/habitat maintenance, and educational outreach activities.

Students who elect to fulfill their service hours with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center will research specific wild animals onsite and will present this research to visitors through the Center’s innovative Discovery Cart program. Other service learning options at the Lady Bird Johnson Center include research on Lady Bird Johnson’s life and legacy as an environmentalist, as well as the development and implementation of educational programs on pollinators, invasive species, and the synergetic relationship between gardens and animals.

Project Overview

Experiential learning is becoming an integral part of higher education across the nation, as documented in The Chronicle of Higher Education. My initiative involves the development of a service-learning model used in my upper-division undergraduate seminars. I’m committed to bringing the classroom and research process to wider publics.

AMS 370, “Animals and American Culture” explores the ways in which animals—as pets, laborers, vermin, food, agents of disease, family members, and more—have shaped American history. Part of our exploration is dedicated to studying the history of animal welfare and the rise of the animal sheltering movement during the nineteenth century. In tandem with this historical analysis, students will volunteer at one of Austin’s animal shelters for approximately one hour per week. They will write weekly journal entries about their experiences. This hands-on experience will concretely illuminate major historical themes related to municipal policy, volunteerism, sanitation, euthanasia (and the rise of the “no-kill” movement), and the proliferation of pet keeping in America.

What are you passionate about?

I am passionate about the intellectual and creative synergies between scholarly research and teaching. In many of my classes, I bring my own research directly into the learning environment. As a result my students become more committed to their own research, writing, and speaking.

I am very interested in bringing the research experience to my large-enrollment classes. This research may take the form of an exploration of digital archives and writing a traditional scholarly research paper. It may also culminate in the creation of a website or documentary film—all of which will provide undergraduates with a creative hands-on learning experience.

What is a teaching strategy that you've learned from another Fellow?

I have learned so much from being a PTF. One strategy to highlight is the importance of collaboration. The PTF community provides a remarkable wealth of expertise and generosity of spirit. The act of collaborative discussion and sharing has made me a more effective teacher: from troubleshooting difficult situations to the incorporation of new technologies in the lecture hall, the wonderful PTF community has provided me with an invaluable fount of wisdom and experience.