Asee peer logo

Hydrotopia: Integrating Civil Engineering And Humanities To Teach Water Resources Engineering And Management

Download Paper |


2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Innovations in Civil Engineering Education II

Tagged Division

Civil Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.660.1 - 15.660.12



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors

author page

Steven Burian University of Utah

author page

Edward Barbanell University of Utah

Download Paper |

NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Hydrotopia: Integrating Civil Engineering and Humanities to Teach Water Resources Engineering and Management


This paper describes a unique integration of civil engineering and philosophy disciplines to create an interdisciplinary learning experience for a multi-discipline set of students from predominantly civil engineering and disciplines in the humanities and social sciences interested in professions in water resources. The course was developed and co-taught by professors from civil engineering and philosophy at the University of Utah with the goals of (1) cultivating in the next generation of civil engineering professionals – those responsible for planning, designing, managing, and operating water resources systems – a broader sensibility about the cultural climate in which they will operate, and (2) developing in humanists, social scientists and others who will be responsible for shaping and articulating that cultural climate a more grounded understanding of the practical water problems facing society and the constraints limiting engineering and technological solutions. Our pedagogical approach was to engage the students in case study analyses and mediated discussions of historical and emerging water engineering issues and projects in the western United States. Within the context of the case studies, students were exposed to philosophical and legal concepts, hydrologic principles, water resources engineering design and management techniques, water management modeling and analysis tools, social and behavioral science theories, water law, and more. One unique aspect of the course was the use of position papers with random assignment of position that forced students to analyze and argue points from perspectives outside of their discipline and sometimes against their personal beliefs. The outcomes of the course were assessed through a written survey, informal student discussions, and end-of-course ratings and comments. The collective feedback clearly indicated the civil engineering students broadened their understanding of the local, regional, and global context of water resources engineering projects and learned to decompose problems and develop logical arguments based on a broad base of knowledge. Most interesting, the civil engineers learned to analyze engineering issues using tools and constructs rooted in philosophy, while the philosophy students gained an appreciation of the challenges faced by engineers and the constraints of modern society related to water resources engineering projects. An unexpected outcome of the course was noted by the end of the semester with the engineers arguing their position papers from humanist perspectives and vice versa – humanists basing their arguments on traditional engineering approaches, e.g., cost-benefit analysis.


Water in the American West can be understood best by seeing aridity as its defining physical feature; this is because one can most fruitfully describe the culture of the west -- its past, its present, and its future -- as an hydraulic society1. The genesis of this society was a utopian vision of the transformation of the west into a new Eden, a transformation made possible through technology. Presently the inhabitants of the West are being forced to re-examine their relationship, both to the water and to the technology used to control it. Indeed, in the next half century, water in the West is anticipated to become a defining challenge requiring a combination of scientific, social, philosophical, technological, ecological, political, economical, and other

Burian, S., & Barbanell, E. (2010, June), Hydrotopia: Integrating Civil Engineering And Humanities To Teach Water Resources Engineering And Management Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16534

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2010 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015