Arborescence: Keeping Trees in Mind – History & Philosophy of Science/HPSC-X 220 (33022)

History & Philosophy of Science/HPSC-X 220 (33022)/3 credits CASE A&H

Mondays & Wednesdays 3:00-4:15 pm/Goodbody Hall 107

James Capshew


From maples and oaks in southern Indiana to giant sequoias and ancient bristlecone pines in the mountains of California, and commonplace and exotic species nearly everywhere in the world, trees are all around us.


Trees are not only an essential part of our natural environment; they also contribute in many ways to our cultural heritage. This course provides an introduction to the study of trees, concentrating on understanding their role in ecosystems of the Earth as well as focusing on their venerable and diverse relationships with humanity. Trees supply basic necessities for shelter, fuel, building materials, food, and medicines. At the same time, they provide metaphors, symbols, and other cultural constructions that nurture connections to the environment. In the current Anthropocene epoch, the fate of human populations is inextricably bound to the health and sustainability of the world’s forested areas. Learning goals include deeper understanding of the natural and cultural history of trees (including IU’s woodland campus), practical orientations to ecological ethics, and passionate appreciation for the many roles trees play in daily life.


Among the course topics are the evolutionary basis for landscape preferences, why trees deserve moral consideration, and local and global dimensions of deforestation. We will have field trips to various parts of the IU campus, guest lectures, and opportunities for service.


About the instructor: With a lifelong interest in trees and forests, Professor Capshew combines both scientific views and humanistic approaches in this course. He has published studies on the history of Indiana University and its human and natural environment, and was a founding cochair of the Tree Commission of the City of Bloomington. For more information, contact Professor Capshew at