English 454

ENGL 454
Literature and the Environment

Catalog Entry

ENGL 454. Literature and the Environment
Three hours lecture (3).

Prerequisite: CORE 101 and CORE 102.

Examines literature concerning the relationship between humans and the environment. Study of landmark non-fictional works of an emerging ecological ethic as well as fictional works that invite an ecocritical approach. Students will examine how changing literary interpretations of the land have influenced attitudes toward non-human nature and how cultural values have shaped our definitions of nature, our perceptions of it, and our interaction with the natural world.


Detailed Description of Content of Course

Writers of all descriptions--scientists, philosophers, journalists, poets, fiction writers--have struggled to understand the natural world. Since environmental writing seems to begin with the assumption that readers have not thought about their surroundings richly or deeply enough, how then does it go about showing readers a new way of “seeing” familiar landscapes? How should humans negotiate their “place” in nature and how does science relate to literary art?

After spending the first few classes defining the issues, the course will survey authors whose work is deeply concerned with the relationship between human and non-human nature, and with humans' place in a threatened natural world. It will examine both non-fiction and fiction and will be concerned with the possibilities and limitations of both. The course will include several critical articles from the emerging field of ecocriticism and may include some poetry.


Detailed Description of Conduct of Course

Central to the course will be group work focused on the themes and questions raised by the assigned readings. Dialogue between the students and the professor will focus on such topics as the appropriateness of the style, development of a theme, support of an argument, and related critical questions.

Though we will consider environmental literature as a historical, scientific and political form, we will first and foremost attend to its literary aspects: the style and rhetoric, how an author uses myth, narrative, image and metaphor to communicate something about or with the natural world and our relationship to it. Lectures from the professor may offer historical or critical perspectives (for instance, Romantic, pastoral, deep ecological, ecocritical, ecofeminist) or contexts (personal-spiritual, aesthetic, political, scientific, discursive), as they are necessary and relevant to the students' full understanding of the works under investigation. Class discussions should provide the necessary links between the students and the writers whom they are reading, and among the student readers/writers themselves. The class will be a forum connecting theoretical issues with outstanding literary works in the best spirit of collaborative learning.

Since one goal of the course is to increase students’ awareness of their role as agents in and observers of the world around them, students will write weekly reflective pieces on assigned readings, reminiscent of journal entries. Possibly, such entries will respond to focused study questions or web resources. These personal response papers are intended to be informal contemplations that nonetheless demonstrate an active engagement with the literature. These responses should show students' knowledge of the reading, both in large concepts and specific details, and provide a point of view or question about the reading that contributes to class discussion.

Students will also be required to write at least two more formal, analytical papers. The first will be in response to the literature. The second, a researched paper, will be a critical analysis on one or more of the works studied. These essays should demonstrate critical thinking and the ability to formulate and present an argument.

To expand the classroom, the course may feature guest speakers from the departments of Biology, Geology, Geography and Anthropology, and the class will move to the field at least once during the semester to discuss how environmental writers observe and describe landscape.


Goals and Objectives of Course

Broadly speaking, the goals for the course will be the same as those for other English courses: for students to become better readers and writers. By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • recognize environmental literature as an important literary genre;
  • demonstrate techniques and approaches to read it;
  • understand the historical and social contexts that inform environmental literature;
  • write papers that demonstrate clear expression, critical thinking and research skills;
  • express an increased awareness of the physical world; and
  • discuss environmental problems that promise to become more pressing with each passing year.


Assessment Measures

Assessment may involve some combination of the following:

  • class contribution and attendance;
  • student presentations or teaching demonstration on authors, themes, or approaches;
  • journals, or weekly responses based on study questions and web resources;
  • exams, quizzes, or tests;
  • creative writing exercises based on what is studied;
  • critical reviews of books not included on the course syllabus;
  • at least (2) papers, researched and non-researched, which the students will have the opportunity to revise.


Other Course Information


Review and Approval

October, 2009