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Katherine Steele Brokaw, PhD

 

Associate Professor of English (SSHA), Co-founding artistic director of Shakespeare in Yosemite

 

School: Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts

Professional Appointments:

  • Associate Professor of English
  • Chair, Literature and Languages

Research: "As artistic director of Shakespeare in Yosemite (yosemiteshakes.ucmerced.edu), I collaborate with park rangers, scientists and activists, professional artists, and students on creating highly adaptive, free, ecologically-inflected theatre every spring as part of Yosemite’s Earth Day programming. My students and I collaborate on both the creation of these productions (and, in 2021, the film Imogen in the Wild), and on research about its efficacy in conveying a variety of environmental messages about everything from land exploitation to plastic consumption to the importance of trees as carbon sinks (which, yes, we attempt to convey through Shakespeare!). I have published on Shakespeare in Yosemite in a variety of journals and edited collections, and been invited to speak about it at conferences in the US, Canada, and Europe. In 2021, I am co-organizing the online symposium Globe4Globe: Shakespeare and Climate emergency, hosted by the Globe Theater (London), and bringing together climate activists, theater makers, and academics to talk about the way that Shakespeare’s plays might be leveraged to help people think about the local and global ecological crises. As part of this event, we will be launching the EarthShakes Alliance, an initiative I began and have developed with UC Merced student Ying-Wei Zhang, which will be a global consortium of theaters sharing resources and ideas about creating greener theatrical practices, and adapting theatrical texts to best encourage ecological thinking among audiences.

 

In addition to this work, I am lead author—working with my colleagues Fatima Burney and Bristin Jones—on a new major and minor in Environmental Communications, which we hope to launch in Fall 2023."

 

Courses & Learning Outcomes: 

Shakespeare an Ecology (ENG 168): a class in which students will read several Shakespearean plays and poems that engage directly with the natural world, and learn about the ecological contexts—including deforestation and the climate change of the “Little Ice Age”—that affected the writer and his audiences in early modern England. They also explore the many ecological uses to which these plays are being put in the present day, and study nearby projects, like Shakespeare in Yosemite, as well as various eco-minded adaptations across the continents that leverage the popularity and natural imagery of these plays to urge collaborative action on pressing environmental issues. 

Course Learning Outcomes:

1. Identify and evaluate Shakespearean plays, works of ecocriticism, and accounts of ecological performance and synthesize and analyze them 

2. Appreciate the aesthetic qualities and ethical complexities of Shakespeare’s texts, and their relationship to social, political, and environmental forces in the early modern England 

3. Empathize with historical, geographic, and cultural diversity by reading and watching Shakespearean adaptations about climate change and environmental injustice, written in varying contexts 

4. Interpret Shakespearean drama and performance about the environment, sensitive to textual and contextual cues, including those encoded nonverbally in performance. 

5. Practice advanced research skills: locate secondary and primary sources found in books, articles, and databases; synthesize those sources to support your argument; write a paper supported by research; and document that research according to academic standards. 

6. Articulate your evaluations of Shakespearean plays and productions, in speech and writing, cogently and with sensitivity to context. 

7. Articulate a sophisticated understanding of the ways in which Shakespearean adaptations can and have represented and engaged with issues related to biodiversity loss, climate change, and environmental injustice. 

 

Theatre and Ecology (ENG 167/GASP 103R): a course in which students will develop an understanding of efforts on the part of theater artists to grapple with ecological issues; critically engage with both plays and critical writing about eco-dramaturgy; and create pieces that use performance to engage ecological issues and challenges. We read full length plays from around the world, essays by artists and critics, and short plays written for the International Climate Change Theatre Action.

Students critically examine the nature and purpose of creative work and performance from a number of intercultural ecological perspectives. Through the study of these dramatic works, they will also learn about the ecological issues facing the contexts in which they were written and the problems they represent, including climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution and disease, and environmental injustice. 

1. Identify several forms of drama and performance that address ecological issues, as well as the people, places, and events that shaped the contexts in which these works were written. 

2. Appreciate the aesthetic qualities and ethical complexities of these works, and their relationship to social, political, and environmental forces in the modern world.

3. Empathize with historical, geographic, and cultural diversity by reading and watching plays about climate change and environmental injustice, written in varying contexts.

4. Interpret drama and performance about the environment, sensitive to textual and contextual cues, including those encoded nonverbally in performance. 

5. Practice advanced research skills: locate secondary and primary sources found in books, articles, and databases; synthesize those sources to support your argument; write a paper supported by research; and document that research according to academic standards.

6. Articulate your evaluations of this drama, in speech and writing, cogently and with sensitivity to context.

7. Articulate a sophisticated understanding of the ways in which the theatre can and has represented and engaged with issues related to biodiversity loss, climate change, and environmental injustice.

Research grants in the past 4 years:

  • Various grants from the UC Merced Chancellor’s Office
  • The SSHA Dean’s Office
  • Center for Humanities to support the development of Shakespeare in Yosemite
  • Dean’s Office Grant to support Globe4Globe.