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Professor honored with Andrew Mellon Fellowship from UPenn

David Macauley teaching a class in the gazebo on campus
David Macauley teaches a class in the gazebo on campus
2/15/2013 —

Penn State Brandywine Associate Professor of Philosophy and Environmental Studies David Macauley has been honored this academic year with a fellowship from the University of Pennsylvania.

As a 2012-2013 Andrew W. Mellon Fellow, Macauley is spending the year collaborating with approximately 25 fellow scholars from the region who come together each week to discuss their work before presenting on their areas of expertise during the Penn Humanities Forum, a series of events promoting an ongoing cultural conversation.

“It’s a great group of people from different scholarly disciplines giving your work an interrogation, which is really valuable,” Macauley said of the Tuesday workshops.

The theme of this year’s Forum is “Peripheries.” For Macauley, it’s a topic that easily relates to some of his recent work. His current book project, which is under contract with Indiana University Press, explores the philosophical, ecological, political and aesthetic aspects of walking as a means to better understand natural and built environments.

“My research will be conducted on both foot and in libraries, as well as with pedestrian artists and activists, in an effort to grasp the manner in which power is either distributed or disrupted in the interiors and hubs or disseminated along the de-centered edges and paths of the modern city,” Macauley writes on the Penn Humanities Forum website of his approach to the topic.

“It’s the most basic way we connect with our environment – through physical movement on foot,” he said. Macauley often takes his classes at Brandywine out on excursions to the Tyler Arboretum and on the trails behind the Vairo Library on campus. During these walks, Macauley encourages his philosophy students to explore nature through meditation and reflection.

“Walking is central to what makes us human,” he said. “There are very few, if any, other living beings who are bipedal and who stand completely upright. This frees up our hands to write and construct technology or to play music and make art.”

Macauley also explores the politics of walking and looks at events such as the walks for Alzheimers, AIDS and the March of Dimes.  As part of this work, he maintains a blog called “Foot Notes on Walking”: http://footnotesonwalking.blogspot.com/2009_02_01_archive.html online.

The Mellow Fellowship has provided Macauley an opportunity to help bring philosophy to the public, something about which he is extremely passionate. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Greater Philadelphia Philosophy Consortium, which organizes events and invites well-known speakers to the area. “Historically, a lot of philosophy has occurred in bars and cafes,” he said. Such events are open to the public and encourage the community to engage in philosophical discussions about everything from beauty to death.

Perhaps the most invaluable element to Macauley’s role as a Mellon Fellow is the community of scholars with which he is now intertwined.

“It’s a little bit like going to a conference,” he said of his interactions with the Mellon Fellows. “I get that critical interrogation. I focus my thoughts and make arguments. It’s important to have a community of scholars. You never know who you’re going to connect with.”


Macauley’s most recent book, “Elemental Philosophy: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water as Environmental Ideas” (2010), examines the philosophical ideas and environmental issues associated with classical conceptions of the four elements. He explores ways of comprehending and responding to ecological problems, while tracing changing views of earth, air, fire and water through the history of ideas. In doing so, he generates a new vocabulary for and fresh vision of the environment with reflections upon stone, wood, snow and ice, clouds, light and shadows, heat and cold, space and night. This book was recently used in a class at St. Joseph’s College in Long Island, N.Y, where the students have developed and maintain an ongoing blog about the work:
http://www.elemental-philosophy.org/.

Macauley is also currently putting together a special issue of an academic journal and editing a book, which is under contract with State University of New York Press, on the subject of the four seasons—spring, summer, fall and winter—in relation to aesthetics, the environment and philosophy. He’s happy to discuss any of these ideas or projects with others when he’s on campus and not out for a walk.

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