Health and Environment by Meredith L. Theeman

How can we understand the myriad ways that our health is influenced by the environments in which we live? These readings should be approached less as a comprehensive list of literature on well-being and environment, and more as a guide to interesting points of entry into the diverse discourse that falls under the category. Within these texts you will encounter a variety of questions posed through various methods of inquiry ranging from longitudinal studies, experimental conditions, and medical research employing bio-physiological markers, to ethnography, qualitative measures, and personal narratives.

It what ways do our natural, social, and built environments help or hurt us? Someone new to these questions might begin with broader-sweeping texts such as Lopez (2012) or Kaplan & Kaplan (1989); others will delve directly into research articles that seek to answer a specific piece of this complex question. What are the benefits to exposure to the natural environment? Is it enough to look out the window (Ulrich 1984) or go walking in a city park (Martens, Gutscher & Bauer 2011)? Or should we “simplify! simplify! simplify!” to surround ourselves with only naturally occurring sounds (Thoreau 1854), eliminating those noises that make us stressed, and more promote to disease (Harding et al. 2013)? Will syncing our bodies to the rising and setting of the sun keep us well (Goel et al. 2005; Lee, Smith & Eastman 2006)? For those who spend a majority of their days inside, how might our built environments make it easier to work (Marklund, Bolin & Essen 2008), learn (Jamal et al. 2013), or heal (Andrade et al. 2013)?

If you read only one selection, I draw your attention to what is arguably the first scholarly articulation of place and geography as cause for physical and psychological characteristics and health-related events. “On Airs, Waters, and Places.” Attributed to Greek philosopher Hippocrates, it provides a fascinating look into the ways in which our narratives surrounding health and illness have–and in some cases, haven’t–evolved across the 24 centuries since its recording. Is it the angle of the sun that controls our temperaments? Is it the changing temperature of the wind that wrecks our sinuses? Is it lack of access to water trickling down the mountainside that makes us ill? Some questions take a long time to answer and these readings represent important efforts toward that end.

Meredith L. Theeman is a social scientist with a Ph.D. in Environmental Psychology from CUNY The Graduate Center. Her academic interests include psychology, mental health, urban environments, light exposure, and health narratives. She teaches interdisciplinary courses such as Place & Behavior, Environmental Psychology, and The Green Dream at the NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study, where she is administrative faculty.

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 Supported by the CUNY Doctoral Students Council.