Antioch University New England
Throughout his work in the PhD program, Craig Gemmell says he found “unintentionally, that I could define what nature really is and what a naturalist should be in the 21st century.” He had intimate experience with nature growing up on a farm in Connecticut, and his affection for the natural world led him into the sciences.
“I came into the doctoral program as a searcher. I knew I wanted a departure from my background as an ecologist and biology teacher. I knew what I loved— and it wasn’t what I was doing. I loved playing with ideas about what nature is. I loved books and literature. I wanted to use the physical world and the world of words to explore the definition of nature and what it means to be a naturalist.” He read biographies of literary naturalists, Thoreau, Dillard, E.O. Wilson, and many others. “It got me thinking about how these people were subversive in the best kind of ways and what the structures of their development werelike so that I could figure out how to teach that.”
Then Craig turned his attention to eco-criticism. He found a “disgustingly contested terrain of academe that didn’t have much bearing on the value of books and the value of experience.” He developed a course offering direct experience of nature and vicarious experience through books—literature and poetry, as well as scientific, historical, and philosophical writing. His students at the Groton School fell in love with it. “It really seemed to have an effect on their affect.”
Throughout his dissertation research, Craig studied nature through both literature and science. He redefined his teaching practice and is now committed to writing and to expanding his role in educational leadership.
When Craig looks back at the road that led him to Antioch, he recalls a hike with nature-writing guru John Elder. Along the trail, he talked about wanting a doctoral program that would allow him to continue his career and work life while enriching it along the way. “You should go to Antioch,” Elder advised. And now, Craig has returned the favor by finding a way to give rise to a new generation of naturalists.