Place-based ✨ Ecology + Social Relations + Meanings. Writing, Editing, Teaching & Learning. Ruralist. Homecomer. Driftless Minnesota.

James T. Spartz, PhD — Teaching | Research | Writing

INTERESTS: Environmental Communication | New Media + Digital Mindfulness | Ecocultural Identity | Land Use | Ecomusicology | Cultural Ecosystem Services + Relational Values | Rural Revitalization + Tourism

EDUCATION
2014 — Ph.D., Mass Communication
Department of Life Sciences Communication
University of Wisconsin — Madison

2007 — MA, School of Journalism & Mass Communication
University of Wisconsin — Madison

1995 — BS, Psychology — University of Wisconsin — La Crosse

EXPERIENCE
2021 — Writer / Editor — Institute for Research on Poverty
University of Wisconsin — Madison

Professor of Environmental…


Write to the River: “Then & Now” —

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Minnesota Land Cessions — Map 33. For more details, visit: Indian Land Cessions in Minnesota, hosted by the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians.

The Friends of the Mississippi River’s Write to the River poetry and prose project aims to “inspire artistic engagement” with the many senses of place found along the Upper Mississippi River. Every month, FMR invites people “to share an original poem or short prose response to seasonal images along the Upper Mississippi River.”

In December, 2020, I submitted a poem in response to “then and now” photos taken from the vantage point of present-day Indian Mounds Park in St. Paul. According the St. Paul city government site, Indian Mounds Regional Park


Driftless Minnesota Place Names

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Root River at Rushford (G.G. Grossfield, undated). Courtesy of MN Historical Society.

Meanings about places emerge through the stories we tell. These stories may involve formative experiences or unique happenings, landmarks for direction, or points of inspiration and awe. Over time, places and their stories change. Names change. Even at the foundational scale of geology, change is always occurring. In the porous karst region of far southeastern Minnesota, with its deep history and precipitous bluffs of limestone, sandstone, clay and dolomite, there is a connecting thread woven throughout: The Root River.

The Root is fed by surface water run-off and countless snow-cold springs. Labyrinths of water and rock…


Driftless Minnesota — Winona County

Place names are signs and signifiers. Names to navigate and remember. Names to obscure and erase.

It is intuitive to point and name. Toddlers do it. Older people, too. Pointing and naming situates locations and contexts of direction. At the watershed scale, biotic life exists within watershed systems and geological structures. These are always changing, however slowly. Place names help us understand relationships as both being as they are and becoming what they will be. Between fields and forests, winds and waters, physical and metaphysical forces… lifeways and worldviews are given boundary markers. …


John Dewey (1859–1952) provided “America’s chief contribution to the age-old theories of beauty and creation” in 1934.

John Dewey (1859–1952) published Art as Experience in 1934 based on his Harvard lectures on esthetics. In 1932, Dewey was the first William James Lecturer at Harvard and among the early developers of philosophical pragmatism. Republished by Capricorn/Putnam in 1958, Art as Experience examines the structures and characteristics of art from architecture to sculpture, painting, literature, and music. Excerpts here explore Dewey’s comments on music, or musical art as experience.

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Art As Experience by John Dewey was originally published in 1934. The book cover here is from the 1958 republication by Capricorn/Putnam. Contents are based on Dewey’s 1931 winter/spring lectures on The Philosophy of Art as Harvard’s first William James Lecturer.

Foreshadowing the Shop Class as Soulcraft (Penguin, 2010) ethos of philosopher and motorcycle…


Sharing art connects community across time and space.

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Music infuses everyday life with modes of connection. Through the congested rhythms of city life to the openness of the countryside, sounds of life itself are sometimes dischordant, sometimes symphonic, but always present.

Whether “natural” or orchestrated, music affords us an anchor of familiarity in times of social upheaval and isolation. In times of physical distancing, we need effective forms of connection more than ever.

Moving through grief or intentionally celebrating life and love across time and space, music and other art (e.g. …


Songs and Songwriting for Creative Sustainability.

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Songwriting is a conjuring. Bird on your shoulder. Rabbit from a hat. Demons at your doorstep. Unraveling a ball of yarn that is the phenomenal world while knitting some cozy metaphorical sweaters, hats, mittens. Productive unraveling and reweaving refines the stories we have heard into stories we want to tell. Through melody, meter, and rhyme poet songwriters find metaphors, conceits, and twists of true-enoughness by spelunking deep into metaphysical caverns, nightclubs, river valleys, backroads and dank basements. Eureka: Inspiration! Gritty, coated, ass-kicked… triumphant… off to the open-mic; try a little something new. Hoping to pass the audition.

Songcraft in the…


A typewritten handout was provided to students and faculty of the Berklee College of Music for a performance and Q&A by the legendary pianist/keyboardist Chick Corea, on April 22, 1985.

Corea told an “energetic and musically sophisticated crowd of aspiring jazz and rock musicians” that what matters most in their own musical pursuits is knowing the “certainty of what you like, and how that fits into things,” according to a review article of the same date in the Christian Science Monitor, dateline BOSTON.

“We have the freedom,” he explains, “the inalienable right to do things as [we] see fit, to…


Intentional engagement with words and worlds.

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The multisensory immersive experience of forest bathing is a place-based activity. It is also a global phenomenon. In my home state of Minnesota, the trend is taking root. Minnesota Public Radio published Forest Bathers: A slow hike can help your health by Euan Kerr in November, 2019, building on a previous piece, Forest Bathing: A retreat to nature can boost immunity and mood, by Allison Aubrey, from July 2017.

Intentional engagement with the forest atmosphere connects a person to their surroundings — the emphatic physical environment — and builds awareness of social relations involving the more-than-human world. …


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Red Maple, Harvest Moon.

I shared these via #FY4003 but wanted to share here, too. #FY4003 is a hashtag I use to track news and information related to a senior undergraduate “Forests & Society” course I’ve co-taught for the past three fall semesters at Unity College, in Maine, USA.

For class, we read the Understory chapter from Robert Macfarlane’s wonderful book Underland. Just today, The Guardian newspaper published Should This Tree Have the Same Rights As You? by Macfarlane, evaluating various Rights of Nature (or Natural Rights) cases from recent years. Reading it, we can pull on the threads of discourse to follow a…

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