Silent Spring in Wisconsin (2017-2018)

During the 2017-2018 Great World Texts in Wisconsin program, teachers and students throughout the state read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. The teaching guide and curriculum is available for free for all teachers, students, and community groups.

Published in 1962, this work of non-fiction surveys how pesticides—and, more broadly, the human species—wreaked havoc on the environment in the decades following World War II, producing widespread pollution and devastation. Tracing the interconnections between the chemical industry, technological progress, and the increasingly “out of kilter” relationship between nature and humankind, Silent Spring took specialist scientific knowledge public, translating it into terms that were accessible to a broad reading audience. Carson popularized modern theories of ecology, demonstrating the ways humans are interconnected with all parts of nature, including birds and insects, trees and soil, atmosphere and groundwater. Though Silent Spring was written in a different historical moment, its message is perhaps more pressing than ever before.

As participants in 2017-2018 program read the text, they considered the historical roots of the environmental crises we face today; the continuities between science writing and poetics that define Carson’s style; the relationship between specialist knowledge and public discourse; and the power of public intellectuals and reading publics as agents of systemic change. Participants also had the opportunity to read Silent Spring alongside works that take up similar questions from different disciplinary or historical perspectives, including Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction, Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac, and Ed Roberson’s To See the Earth Before the End of the World.

Teaching Resources

Teachers participating in the program received “Teaching Silent Spring in Wisconsin” curricular guide and supporting materials. They also attended two educator colloquia, in September and February, which featured talks by campus experts, workshopping activities and discussions, and cultural and curricular presentations. Our participating educators and students joined UW-Madison faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, Center staff and members of the public for the Great World Texts in Wisconsin’s Annual Student Conference on Monday, April 9, 2018.

Teaching Guide

Keynote Speaker: Student Conference and Public Lecture

Biologist, author, and cancer survivor, Sandra Steingraber, Ph.D. writes about climate change, ecology, and the links between human health and the environment. Steingraber’s highly acclaimed book, Living Downstream: An Ecologist’s Personal Investigation of Cancer and the Environment was the first to bring together data on toxic releases with data from U.S. cancer registries and was adapted for the screen in 2010. Steingraber will meet with high school students from across the state at the program’s Annual Student Conference. She will also deliver a public lecture.

Support for Silent Spring in Wisconsin

Silent Spring in Wisconsin was an initiative of the Center for the Humanities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, supported by the A. W. Mellon Foundation; the Evjue Foundation; UW-Madison Libraries; the Department of History; the Anonymous Fund of the College of Letters & Science; and the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

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Participating Schools

In 2017-18, 25 high schools from around the state participated in Silent Spring in Wisconsin.

  • Bay Port High School, GREEN BAY
  • Chippewa Falls Senior High School, CHIPPEWA FALLS
  • Clark Street Community School, MIDDLETON
  • Clinton High School, CLINTON
  • EAGLE School of Madison, MADISON
  • Elkhart Lake-Glenbeulah High School, ELKHART LAKE
  • Golda Meir High School, MILWAUKEE
  • Hartford Union High School, HARTFORD
  • High School of Health Sciences, WALES
  • Kettle Moraine School for Arts and Performance, WALES
  • Kewaunee High School, KEWAUNEE
  • Lake Mills High School, LAKE MILLS
  • Lodi High School, LODI
  • Madison Country Day School, MIDDLETON
  • Madison East High School, MADISON
  • Milwaukee High School of the Arts, MILWAUKEE
  • Milwaukee School of Languages, MILWAUKEE
  • New Horizons Charter School, MILWAUKEE
  • Oregon High School, STOUGHTON
  • Oshkosh North High School, OSHKOSH
  • Osseo-Fairchild High School, OSSEO
  • Rock University High School, JANESVILLE
  • SAPAR c/o Marquette School, MADISON
  • Southern Door High School, BRUSSELS
  • Wisconsin Heights High School, MAZOMANIE