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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Jennifer W Atkinson
BIS 345
Bothell Campus

American Environmental Thought

Explores the development of current ideas about nature and the relationship between humans and the natural world, as expressed in literature and other cultural forms. Emphasizes historical, cultural, philosophical, and global dimensions of American environmental thought, along with implications for human interactions with the environment.

Class description

Cultivating a more sustainable relation to the biotic community is both a science and an art. This course explores some of the ways that literature, film and other cultural texts have shaped environmental thought and mobilized the public imagination from the 19th century to the present.

While disciplinary boundaries often encourage us to frame environmental crisis as a scientific problem requiring technological solutions, our inquiry asks students to consider how social values, views and practices arise out of our imaginative lives. Our readings thus focus on texts that engage the cultural, philosophic and aesthetic dimensions of our relations to nature. As these works represent the nonhuman world as a central feature of meaningful human experience, they explore the same question that guides our own inquiry: how shall we live?

Readings will include traditional nature-writing, literary fiction, works of environmental advocacy and Native American myth (Henry David Thoreau, Rachel Carson, Gary Snyder, Leslie Marmon Silko, Jamaica Kincaid, Annie Dillard and others).

Student learning goals

• Identify ways that literature, film and the arts mobilize public concern for nonhuman nature and complement both the physical sciences and public policy in their efforts to address environmental crisis; build a sense of the particular resources and perspectives that the humanities bring to environmental thought.

• Develop an understanding of key social, ecological and ideological issues at stake in various representations of nature; examine what is meant by the word “nature” within different historical contexts and modes of environmental imagination.

• Identify some of the shortcomings and successes of environmental literature—both past and present—in engaging postcolonial, class, gender and racial concerns.

• Build an understanding of how narrative shapes our experience and understanding of nonhuman nature’s meaning and value.

• Develop skills for analyzing and synthesizing complex readings; produce well-written work and develop analytically rigorous arguments with clearly defined stakes.

• Increase communication skills through presentations and group work; mutually support each other's work through peer reviews and writing workshops.

General method of instruction

Seminar-style discussions, in-class writing exercises, small group discussions and activities, and some lectures.

Recommended preparation

This course involves a heavy reading load, so students should be prepared to devote a substantial amount of time to carefully reading and analyzing assigned texts. Beyond that, there are no special prerequisites for enrollment.

Class assignments and grading

Evaluations of student performance will be based on participation, journal entries, oral presentations, a midterm paper and an interdisciplinary research project.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Jennifer W Atkinson
Date: 02/20/2012