Kassi Burnett, a doctoral student studying Germanic Languages and Literatures, was raised by a family of coal miners and steel mill workers in St. Clairsville in rural Ohio. That upbringing stirred her interest in environmental humanities and ecocriticism, the interdisciplinary study of literature and the environment.
Seeking shared knowledge and conversation with scholars from around the globe, Burnett attended the Trans-Atlantic Summer Institute on “Transforming Environments in Europe and North America: Narratives, Histories, Cultures,” at the University of Minnesota in June.
“In my hometown, people are more likely to smoke, less likely to know about pollution and environmental hazards and far less likely to live as long as other Americans,” says Burnett. “Seeing, firsthand, the impacts these differences have had on my family members has really pushed me to think about the narratives we tell about our environment and how we can, should and do interact with it.”
At the June 18-29, 2018, institute, experts from North America and Europe addressed global environmental problems such as climate change, biodiversity loss, toxic pollution and resource depletion and discussed the cultures that characterize these problems. Burnett interacted with these experts and received guidance for framing and developing her environmental humanities dissertation.
“I think one of the greatest takeaways from the institute was learning what brings people together in the environmental humanities,” says Burnett. “Even though we all come from different angles, we share concerns about the environment and its beings.”
Following the completion of her doctorate, Burnett plans to pursue a career in academia and ecocriticism. She received funding from the Office of Energy and Environment for her trip.
Interview by Tristen Spahr, who is a student communications assistant at the Office of Energy and Environment.