Literature and the Environment
Sherif Hasan Ismail Muhamed
Literary studies has become one of the most active areas of the “Environmental Humanities.” This course will introduce you to some of the main concerns of that increasingly important field. We will consider the ways that literature helps us think about human relationships to environments, natures, places, animals, weather events, and the planet. We will develop a historical perspective on how literary and philosophical traditions such as romanticism, transcendentalism, naturalism, and postmodernism mediate different understandings of the environment. We will also focus on contemporary environmental questions and problems, exploring the role of literature in our present ecological crisis, especially regarding climate change and environmental justice. We will analyze literary texts, situate them in context, discuss and interpret diversely, and reflect on our own preconceptions about our relationship to the nonhuman world. To engage deeply and thoughtfully with texts, we will avail ourselves of several philosophical and critical approaches, such as new materialism, ecofeminism, critical animal studies, and ecocriticism. Through reading, discussion, and research, students will enhance their environmental awareness, deepen their sense of place and sense of planet, and develop their critical reading and writing skills.
Our readings will include poems by William Wordsworth, Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, and Camille Dungy; prose nonfiction by Henry David Thoreau, Annie Dillard, and Edward Abbey; narrative fiction by such writers as Alice Walker, Leslie Marmon Silko, Amitav Ghosh, Jesmyn Ward, Don DeLillo, and Jeanette Winterson; and a range of theoretical and critical texts that will facilitate our engagement with the course readings. Most of our readings will be fairly short, rarely more than 120 pages a week.
You will need to purchase some books in hard copy or in digital format, but many of our reading materials will be available on the course site on Canvas. Everyone is expected to read the assigned texts and think about what they have read before coming to class.
Course requirements include weekly discussion posts on the course blog, one oral presentation with class discussion, a research paper, and a creative project (with various options, including nature or place writing, fieldnotes, and creative engagement with the reading materials). No previous knowledge or experience with literary analysis is required.
Attendance is mandatory. If absence from a particular class meeting is unavoidable, you should consult with me in order to discuss makeup work.
Final grades will be based on weekly discussion posts (20%), presentation and leading class discussion (20%), research paper (30%), creative project (20%), and performance in class discussions (10%). Cheating or plagiarism will result in an F for the class.
This course fulfills Arts & Humanities Approaches to Environmental Inquiry requirement.