Students write book through environmental history course

by University Communications,

Zena Forest and Farm is many things to many people.

It’s where fires are deliberately set to restore the oak savanna, which dominated the area centuries ago. It’s where students practice organic farming, and it’s where a powerful telescope is used to inspect the heavens.

In a new book, “Finding a Sense of Place: An Environmental History of Zena,” 25 Willamette University students present the first coherent and comprehensive history of Zena — exploring details of its geological past and plans for the property’s future.

The book retails for $20 and is available at The Willamette Store and Royalties will benefit the Willamette Sustainability Institute, which provided the funds for the book’s publication through a Faculty Fellow Research Grant.

“One of the benefits of a liberal arts education is you get to do your own exploring,” says Morgan Gratz-Weiser ’13, one of the book’s authors.

“It was a tough process in a way to find the information you needed and to work on your own writing style, but now, it’s great to look back to see how your writing has progressed.”

History Lesson

Zena Forest and Farm is a 305-acre property in the Eola Hills of the Willamette Valley, 10 miles northwest of Willamette University. Willamette purchased the land in 2008 to develop educational programs and to “protect, restore, manage and enhance the natural resources and ecosystem services of Zena.”

Visiting History Professor Bob Reinhardt assigned the book project through his course, “The Environmental History of Zena,” helping guide students as they examined everything from studies of the Willamette Valley’s geology to church and state archival records.

“The main objective of the course was to learn about the approach, method and tools of environmental history,” says Reinhardt, who recently received a two-year postdoctoral fellowship at Carnegie Mellon University.

“I chose Zena as the place for the beginning of this process (but) the students decided what should go into the book, who would write which chapters, etc. …This book is the product of the students, not me.”

During the recent Student Scholarship Recognition Day at Willamette, about half of the student authors discussed the rewards and challenges of writing the book.

Most said the project helped them improve their writing and editing skills while also giving them a greater appreciation for Zena’s rich history.

“It was a fun puzzle to piece together, but definitely a challenge,” says Andrew Splittler ’14. “This process is something I’ll definitely remember.”