Kathleen Smythe

Kathleen Smythe

Chair and Professor, History Department – Xavier University

Kathleen loves teaching and writing, particularly the challenge of addressing questions of contemporary relevance through historical investigation. In her classes, she seeks to re-connect intellectual, spiritual, and place-based learning. One class that does both is her First Year Seminar, “Bicycling Our Bioregion.” Each fall students spend seven days on historical and ecological bicycling excursions around Cincinnati and end with a three-day trip up the Little Miami River valley. A book derived from these bike tours, Bicycling Through Paradise (Spring 2020) co-authored with Chris Hanlin, features twenty tours of the Cincinnati area. Kathleen also teaches another place-based course, “History of Agriculture.”

Kathleen is an African historian with years of fieldwork experience in Tanzania, East Africa. Her first book, Fipa Families (2006), and a series of related articles examined the ways Fipa integrated and made sense of European Catholic missionaries and their values during the colonial period.

For several decades, she has been interested in globalization, economic development and agriculture, both the histories of these ideas as well as the question of how well hegemonic ideas and investments mask the much more complex challenges facing us, such as the viability of the planet’s ecosystems; the viability of the current and projected human populations; and the viability of economic systems focused primarily on production and consumption with little grounding in either biophysical or social and cultural realities.

Much of her writing and teaching currently focuses on these questions. A second book, Africa’s Past, Our Future (2015), highlights ideas and institutions in African history and culture that broaden our imagination about what is possible socially, politically, and economically. A third manuscript titled Whole Earth Living: Sustainability and Subsistence proposes a new sustainability framework based on long-term human interdependencies on earth and its ecosystems. The framework is built on an understanding of the losses that have occurred to human well-being with more recent historical developments in agriculture and technology.

Kathleen appreciates belonging to a variety of communities that share her questions and interests, including The Land Institute’s Ecosphere Studies program that seeks to create a culture that is perennial more than annual, and the Ignatian Pedagogy for Sustainability project that is developing an approach to teaching sustainability in Jesuit colleges and universities grounded in the Ignatian heritage and education, including civic engagement and time for reflection.

 Contributions to HumansandNature.org:

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