Where words meet water

As an assistant professor of composition and rhetoric in the Department of English, as well as a faculty affiliate with the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, Caroline Gottschalk Druschke researches the human aspects of natural resource management and teaches classes that bridge communication and environmental concerns.

September 1st 2017 | Katie Vaughn
Arts & Humanities, Faculty
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Photo by Sarah Morton, College of Letters & Science

My whole life, two of my great passions were words and water, and I've always been attuned to the connections between all kinds of things: words, people, watersheds, ecosystems, and so on.

I was lucky enough to spend my summers as a lifeguard on the Chicago shores of Lake Michigan, and to see seasonal and yearly fluctuations in shorelines. I experienced firsthand the health impacts of combined sewage outflows, saw thousands of dead alewives wash up on the beach and witnessed the impacts of invasive species.

When I finally had the chance as a graduate student to combine my work in rhetorical studies with training in ecology, it was a culmination in many ways of interests I’d had all my life.

At UW-Madison, I’m excited to work with the great folks in the Writing Center to explore innovative ways to approach training for science writing, useful for STEM graduate students and faculty.

Aristotle famously described rhetoric as the ability “to see the available means of persuasion in each case.” I think of rhetoric as something more like the means of negotiating life in common. As a rhetorician, my work ranges across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences, but falls into roughly three categories: rhetorical theory; human dimensions of natural resources; and science writing. 

On the rhetorical theory front, I’m especially interested in the other-than-human dimensions of rhetoric and in how a variety of field methods (from anthropology and ecology, for instance) can impact our understanding of what rhetoric is and can do. 

I bring my rhetorical training to bear on questions of environmental management. Since 2015, I’ve been collaborating on a National Science Foundation-funded multi-state research project, “The Future of Dams,” focused on strengthening the scientific basis for decision-making about dams and exploring innovative public engagement mechanisms.

At UW-Madison, I’m excited to work with the great folks in the Writing Center to explore innovative ways to approach training for science writing, useful for STEM graduate students and faculty.

Right now, I’m working to connect the research I’m overseeing in Rhode Island — related to dam impacts on brook trout conservation — with research underway by the Center for Limnology and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources focused on dam removal and trout conservation and management in Wisconsin. I’m also transitioning into a book-length project that builds from my fish research to consider the other-than-human aspects of rhetoric. 

This fall, I’ll be teaching a section of English 245: Seminar in the Major that I’m calling “Writing Rivers.” The course will take students in the Department of English through a series of writing projects — from memoir to critical analysis to policy document — that explore the complex relationships we have with rivers and examine the impacts of a variety of written texts on riverine landscapes. This spring, I’ll teach “Writing Rivers” again, as well as a new course I’ve designed, “Rhetoric, Science, and Public Engagement,” that I hope will engage students in both the Department of English and from STEM disciplines across campus.

Tag: English