Ecological Imperialism

I am currently studying environmental history with a student. The book, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 (by Alfred W. Crosby) is an eye-opening examination of the growth of European imperialism from the standpoint of botany, epidemiology, agriculture, animal husbandry and also includes a fascinating study of climate and sailing.

The book requires readers to rethink how they understand and imagine the meeting of cultures. All too often we’ve been led to believe that one civilization colonizes another because it has superior technology, belief systems and a more sophisticated cosmology. Crosby challenges all of that. He also challenges the idea that European colonization of the globe was an inevitable result of the sophistication of European cultures.

But one of the most interesting questions his book raises is how the Europeans themselves were suited to new and alien environments and how well they did or did not adapt their thinking, mores and habits. In this age of globalization and global tourism where a person can go to the tropics, stay in an air conditioned villa, eat imported cuisine and traverse the landscape in familiar vehicles, it is all-too-easy to forget that even in the most easily settled of European colonies (e.g. Canada, Australia) colonists were often ill-suited to their circumstances and held to belief systems and aesthetic values which not only did not serve them but often led to a violent relationship with the land itself.

One of the finest examples of this in literature and film is the novel and movie “Picnic at Hanging Rock” about a turn-of-last-century picnic gone horribly wrong in the state of South Australia. The tension between the daughters and matrons of British culture and the ancient, un-English landscape of the Australian continent is palpable in Joan Lindsay’s novel and in Peter Weir’s cinematic adaptation. What stands out for me is the difference between the children of the wealthy, whose parents made money in international business, and those labourers who appear to be the descendants of the original English colonists. The question of adaptation, acclimation and acculturation cuts across the matter of social class:

Jeremy Nathan Marks 

Big Book Initiative

“Big Book Initiative”

I have begun what I am calling my “Big Book Initiative” designed to encourage my students to tackle works of literature (fiction & non-fiction) which are a minimum of 500 pages in length. The purpose of this initiative is to help young people develop the confidence necessary to take on any subject they feel in their gut they should be tackling.

When I was in grade school I knew I wanted to read Count Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.” I couldn’t say why exactly, but the book beckoned from my parents’ shelves. For years this desire remained in the back of my mind and finally, as an adult, I took the plunge and completed it. I believe that the benefit of having done so is that nearly any book I pick up now seems, by comparison, a relatively simple affair.

I believe that when students challenge themselves and then meet those challenges, they become empowered in all avenues of their lives. I am not saying that reading a 500 or 1,000 page book is going to give you the confidence to become a deep sea diver or climb a 20,000 foot mountain, but what it can do is show you that you have a discipline, drive and reserve of dedication and energy which will serve you well in life. It can also show you that you are “smarter” and more intellectually capable than you ever imagined.

But there is more. We live in a time in which distractions are manifold. Often what purports to be informative, engaging and even “good for the mind” is paltry and a waste of time. It is easy to become caught up in gossip rather than ideas and to become distracted by the play of events without learning how to gauge their causes. Learning to read demanding, mature and intellectually challenging literature does in fact help us to develop not only a deeper understanding of the human condition; it also enables us to develop our analytical minds as well as our perceptive capacities which we can then turn towards society, community or any other endeavour of our choice.

I am proud to report that a student of mine recently read the entirety of War and Peace with me. This was an exciting project for both of us which produced some highly engaging discussions. I should also add that she is just 14 years old, proving, I think, that age -nearly any age- need not be an encumbrance to undertaking ambitious work. In this spirit, another student of mine who is 13 is now mulling over such reading options as Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina”, Vikram Seth’s “A Suitable Boy,” Marguerite Young’s “Miss Macintosh, My Darling” and George Eliot’s “Middlemarch,” to mention but 4 possibilities.

Anyone who is interested in undertaking a “Big Book Initiative” with me is welcome; I would be delighted to have you. I also am happy and available to recommend books geared toward your specific field of interest.

Jeremy Nathan Marks

London Literacy in Action

London Literacy in Action

We are living in a time characterized by a widespread desire to improve -even rescue- our world. Across North America these past five years we have seen an explosion of impactful social movements demanding that our communities revisit and reassess notions of fairness, justice, and inclusion. This summer has seen a dramatic spike in that urgency for constructive action.

In response a new group, London Literacy in Action (LLA), is being formed. This group will be led by Jeremy Marks, a London-based writer and educator and will enjoy the sponsorship of both the London Youth Advisory Council (LYAC) and the London Central Library. This group seeks committed young adults between the ages of 15 and 25 who desire to participate in an ongoing conversation about fairness, justice and tolerance in our city and who are prepared to commit themselves to bi-weekly discussion sessions on Thursday evenings from 7-8:30 p.m. at the Central Library. These sessions will be driven by our close reading of contemporary fiction, literary nonfiction and memoir dedicated to the very issues which are behind the impactful social movements of our time. LLA wants (and needs) young people who are not only prepared to tackle a book every month, but who know the power of story and recognize how literature and memoir can spark the necessary conversations capable of moving our city and our society forward.

London Literary in Action will be more than just a discussion group; it will be a team prepared to interact with diverse communities of race, class, gender, colour, religion and ethnicity in London. LLA will also be a springboard for its members to become active in civic life as we will produce a narrative report of our findings which will be presented to City Council and made available to the community-at-large. In order for our group to succeed we need committed and creative youth-of-conscience.

If you are interested in joining LLA please answer 3 of the following questions. When you have completed the application please return it to Jeremy Marks at marksjn@gmail.com and include your contact information in the form of either your email or cell number (if you have one). Thank you very much for your interest! If you have any question please do not hesitate to contact me.

Application: literacy-in-action-application-pdf

Reading list: london_literacy_in_action_book_list

Politics & Social Issues Symposia for Young Adults

I am very pleased to report that my proposal to establish a Politics & Social Issues Symposia for young adults with the sponsorship of the London Library and the London Youth Advisory Council has taken a huge step forward.

I am in the process of setting up a Socratic discussion group that will meet bi-weekly to read and discuss contemporary fiction and literary non-fiction dealing with issues of socio-economic, ecological, and political importance as well as ethnic, religious, racial and gender identity. The aim of the group is to give young adults a voice on the leading issues of our time and to provide a feedback mechanism by which they will report their findings to the City. The group will be pluralistic, non-partisan and open to young adults (ages 15-25) from all backgrounds.

I will keep everyone posted. It looks like we will be convening this fall at London Central Library downtown.

Jeremy Nathan Marks

Another great discussion

I must say that I am again delighted with the session I had with the philosophy discussion group. Yesterday we met a second time and discussed The God That Failed, a collection of testimonials by six writers who turned against communism.

I remain deeply impressed by the contributions of the group. Not only did they read the book with enthusiasm but they also connected the analysis of writers like Richard Wright, Ignazio Silone and André Gide to contemporary socio-economic and political problems. To witness a group of young people sit and debate ideas with intellectual commitment, personal humility and unfailing politeness is always a great joy for me and offers me hope for our social future.

At the risk of being repetitive, I just cannot help but express my delight at having the opportunity to work with such a group of engaged and committed thinkers who approach ideas with purpose and verve. Not only are the sessions delightful to participate in, but they are a personal gift to me as I am reminded why teaching is my calling. I am grateful to my students (and their parents) for reminding me of that.

Jeremy Nathan Marks

The value of literature

I have become convinced that literature is one of the most effective ways of studying social issues. I don’t know if others feel this way, but I think that the novel form allows a writer to study human behaviour and social behaviour at a level of depth that case studies cannot quite reach. I certainly am not suggesting that case studies aren’t valuable, I just find myself consistently coming back to the insights of novels when I try and understand contemporary social problems.

Jeremy Nathan Marks

Why literature is fun

One of the things I enjoy most about teaching literature is that I am actually afforded the time to really dig into it with my students. We get to discover the buried treasure in many different novels, plays and poetry. Just the other day I had the pleasure of reading a passage from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise aloud with my students and we had a big laugh over it.

I love what I do.