Environmental Destruction:

An Introduction to the Environmental Humanities

What can the humanities teach us about our current environmental crisis? This question is at the heart of the “environmental humanities,”          which consider the ways that humans are entangled in a world with plants, animals, and other “things” that are framed as “natural resources.”

“Environmental Destruction” will focus on the ideological causes, palpable effects, and imagined futures linked to humans' destruction of our environments. In addition to one traditional paper you'll produce podcasts on the history of early conservation or preservation efforts and  digital essays that introduce pressing environmental problems by situating them in a longer historical, literary, and cultural context. 

Course Texts

Additional readings are posted on Canvas.


Assignment details are or will be linked to each title.

Schedule for Each Week 

Monday: meet as a whole group to go over your reading and work for the week.  I’ll take questions, and our focus will be on explication, or your understanding of the texts we’re engaging with, along with specific skills.

Wednesday: meet in smaller cohorts or “sections” for about 30 minutes each.  These meetings will be focused your analysis and critique of the materials that we’re engaging with.  You’ll be shaping these discussions.

Friday: watch or read a five-minute wrap-up video or email with an overview of the ideas from our small-group conversations and an introduction to our next week.

Schedule of Readings and Assignments

Week 1: Introductions

August 26:  In class: Introductions

                    In class: Syllabus and Assignments

Week 2:  Ralph Waldo Emerson

August 31: Emerson, Nature, 3-12, 22-35, 56-7, 66-7

September 2: Emerson, "The Young American"

                        Emerson; Natural History of the Intellect 9-11

                        "Giving Emerson the Boot"

Week 3:  Henry David Thoreau 

September 7: Thoreau, Walden, “Economy," “Where I Lived"

September 9: Thoreau, Walden, “Higher Laws, “Conclusion”

                           “Pond Scum: Thoreau’s Moral Myopia”

A brief note on learning in the present moment:
We’re all working in the midst of a prolonged state of emergency,  I understand that.  This is a time for empathy, this is a time for flexibility, and my goal is not to police your learning but to create the best environment I can for enabling you to learn.  If you find that you are in crisis, I will work with you.  

See Course Policies and Campus Resources here.

Week 4:  Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way

September 14:  Thoreau, “Walking,” 71-122   

September 16:  Turner, “The Significance of the Frontier"

                         “U.S. Expansion and its Consequences,”

                         Oxford Handbook of American Indian History

Week 5:  John Muir

September 21: John Muir, Essential Muir, 3-83

                           Discuss Podcast Assignment 

September 23: John Muir, Essential Muir, 87-126

                          “Environmentalism’s Racist History”

                           Podcast Topics & Preference Forms Due

  • To learn about the history and genres of environmental literature 

  • To situate that literature within a number of relevant contexts

  • To improve close reading skills

  • To conduct research and engage with primary sources 

  • To produce, support, and revise argumentative essays

  • To apply your thinking about literature and history to contemporary environmental issues

  • To consider and practice sharing information with both peer and public audiences

  • To share and collaboratively develop ideas about literature, environmental issues, and your own writing

Learning Outcomes   

Week 6-7: Preservation and Conservation Podcasts

September 21: Discuss Podcast Assignment

September 23: Topic & Group Preference Forms Due

September 28: Kline, First Along the River

                          Discuss research and scholarly sources

September 30: Brief Proposals Due; Group meetings

October 5: Introduction to Podcasting with Brianna Derr
October 7: Group meetings

October 10: Drafts Due; Draft Workshop begins

October 13: Feedback Due; Draft Workshop Ends

October 17: Projects Due 

Week 8: Imagining Extinction; or, The Anthropocene

October 12: Alan Weisman, The World Without Us, 1-46, coda

October 14: Avatar

Week 9:  Hurricane Katrina and Environmental Justice

October 19: Spike Lee, When the Levees Broke, Part I

                     Natasha Trethewey, Beyond Katrina, 1-70

October 21: Natasha Trethewey, Beyond Katrina, 71-123


Week 10: Oil and Climate Change

October 26: Stephanie LeMenager, Living Oil: Petroleum Culture, 3-19, 102-141.

October 28: “Oil Stories” from The Guardian

Week 11-15: Final Projects​

November 2: Library Workshop: Research for your topics
November 4: Group Meetings: Go over research and topic ideas

November 9: Tech Workshop: How to use Adobe Rush
November 11: Group Meetings: Go over proposals
November 16: Narrative Workshop: Pitch your ideas to the class
November 18: Optional Group Meetings
November 23: Optional Group Meetings
November 25: No Class; Thanksgiving Break
November 30: Optional Group Meetings

                         Drafts Due; Draft Workshop begins

December 2: Optional Group Meetings

December 4: Feedback Due; Draft Workshop ends
December 11: Projects Due