Jennifer W Atkinson
Various topics designed to respond to faculty and student interests and needs.
"ENVIRONMENTAL THOUGHT & LITERATURE"
Cultivating a more sustainable relation to our 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 public awareness 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 attitudes, values and practices arise out of our imaginative lives. Readings will therefore focus on texts informed by the natural sciences but attuned to 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 itself, they engage the very question that guides our own inquiry: how shall we live?
Readings will include traditional nature-writing, literary fiction, works of environmental advocacy and traditional myth (Henry David Thoreau, Rachel Carson, John Updike, Jamaica Kincaid, Ursula Le Guin, John McPhee, Annie Dillard and others). Our investigation will also consider the expanding range of voice in environmental writing from recent decades, which includes a significantly growing number of women and writers of African American, Native American, Hispanic, Asian American and other ethnic backgrounds. Students will explore how this archive might build a broader awareness that there can be no fundamental distinction between environmental advocacy and advocacy for social justice; that exploitation of humans and nonhuman nature is perpetuated by the same political and economic systems; and that cultural diversity is one of our most powerful resources for protecting biodiversity.
Student learning goals
- Identify ways that literature, film and the arts mobilize public concern for nonhuman nature and complement the physical sciences and public policy in their efforts to address environmental crisis; built 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 thought.
- Develop skills for analyzing and synthesizing complex readings in order to support one's own writing.
- Produce well-written work and develop analytically rigorous arguments with clearly defined stakes.
- Increase communication skills through presentations and group work; generate a cooperative spirit as a community of students and mutually support one another as writers/learners through workshops and peer editing.
- Identify some of the shortcomings and successes of environmental literature and thought--both past and present--in engaging postcolonial, class, gender and racial concerns.
General method of instruction
Seminar-style discussions, in-class writing exercises, peer-reviews of written work and some lectures.
No special preparation or prerequisite is required for enrollment; however, students should possess intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm for reading, writing and dialogue.
Class assignments and grading
Evaluations of student performance will be based on participation, journal entries, short writing assignments and an oral presentation. Students will design their own final projects, which may involve writing a traditional paper, creating a short film, creating an environmentally-themed blog or art project, etc. Students are encouraged to connect course readings with a personal experience of "nature immersion" during the quarter (tending a garden, fishing, hiking/walking/exploring, visiting local farms, documenting seasonal growth and wildlife, charting weather patterns, etc.)