As the announcer neatly ticks off the options that could let you take home that BINGO prize, the apparently random assortment of numbers in front of you begin to take on shape. Patterns emerge and your excitement increases with every square that connects. But, as any seasoned BINGO player will tell you, listening for the next one is as important as marking down the ones previously read. If you fall behind because you over-celebrated getting the second to last block, you may miss the announcement of your winning square. Finding what the pattern looks like, seeing the gaps of what you need next, and paying attention are, in my view, the fundamentals of BINGO.
As it happens, these could also be considered the fundamentals of my experience this past semester in Professor McNeill’s Environmental History Seminar.
Professor McNeill began the seminar asking all five students to nominate themes for discussion throughout the semester. The topics suggested ranged widely, from “Big History” and “Energy” to “Urban Metabolism,” showing the varied interests and priorities of the room. As a newcomer to environmental history, the full blackboard and resulting skeleton syllabus was my first exposure to a summary of which historical themes might mesh well with environmental thinking. As it turned out, that appeared to be pretty much anything – a random assortment of topics to an inexperienced eye.
As the semester proceeded, patterns emerged. Historical and environmental questions blended together and grew from class to class. What does it mean to write accessibly? What about scientifically? What do we, as both historians and readers, gain from including and exploring the materiality of our subject matter? Some were more detailed (what is copper, bison, or soil, anyway?) and some were much bigger (should every history start with the Big Bang?).
With each new idea, every class encouraged a reassessment of your own work with a fresh environmental perspective or a new method. The weekly exercise of identifying “grist for your mill” encouraged us to layer concepts on individual projects, paying attention to what’s out there and assessing how it had been applied. Reading, listening, thinking, and debating the way through each book created more informed views of what gaps existed.
Which reminds me that the other known fundamental of BINGO is a little luck.