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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 linked to each title.

Course Info and Classroom:
ENG 361, ENG 661, and ENV 305:
MW 12:30-1:45, Tribble Room A208
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.  

I ask, in turn, that you be aware of the very real possibility that we may have to shift to online learning. If that is the way things develop I'm prepared to pivot, and we'll meet as a full class on Mondays but in discussion or project groups on Wednesdays. 

For the time being, however, we'll be in person without masks.

Schedule of Readings and Assignments

Weeks 1 & 2: Introductions & Ralph Waldo Emerson

August 22:  In class: Introductions

                    In class: Syllabus and Assignments

August 24: Emerson, Nature, excerpts

August 29: Emerson, Nature, excerpts

                    Emerson, "The Young American," excerpts

                    Emerson; Natural History of the Intellect, excerpts

                    "Giving Emerson the Boot"

Weeks 2 & 3:  Henry David Thoreau 

August 31: Thoreau, Walden, “Economy," “Where I Lived"

September 5: Labor Day 

September 7: Thoreau, Walden, “Higher Laws, “Conclusion”

                        “Pond Scum: Thoreau’s Moral Myopia”

See Course Policies and Campus Resources here.

Week 4:  Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way

September 12:  Thoreau, “Walking,” 71-122   

September 14:  Turner, “The Significance of the Frontier"

                          “U.S. Expansion and its Consequences,”

                          Oxford Handbook of American Indian History

Week 5:  John Muir

September 19: John Muir, Essential Muir, 3-83

                           Discuss Podcast Assignment 

September 21: 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   

Weeks 6-8: Preservation and Conservation Podcasts

September 19: Discuss Podcast Assignment

September 20: Topic & Group Preference Forms Due

September 26: Kline, First Along the River

    Discuss Conservation and Preservation 

                          Discuss Research and Scholarly Sources

September 28: Brief Proposals Due; Project Group Meetings

October 3: Introduction to Podcasting with Brianna Derr
October 5: Work-in-Progress Presentations to get ideas from the class 

October 10: Draft Workshop

October 12: Group Meetings to go over your projects 

October 15: Projects Due 

Week 9:  Hurricane Katrina and Environmental Justice

TBD: Film Screening of Spike Lee, When the Levees Broke, Part I

October 17: Natasha Trethewey, Beyond Katrina, 1-70

October 19: Natasha Trethewey, Beyond Katrina, 71-123

Week 10: Oil and Climate Change

October 24: Stephanie LeMenager, Living Oil: Petroleum Culture, 3-19, 102-141.

October 26: “Oil Stories” by Tim Gautreaux, Joanna Kavenna, and Mohammed Hasan Alwan

Week 11: Standing Rock 

October 31: Estes and Dhillon, Standing with Standing Rock, selections.

Week 11-15: Final Projects​: Digital Essays for

October 31: Go over assignment and strategies for successful digital essays.
November 2: Group Meetings: Go over research and framing ideas

November 7: Group Meetings: Go over proposals
November 9: Narrative Workshop: Pitch your ideas to the class
November 14: Tech Workshop: How to use Adobe Rush

November 16: Script Workshop: Share you draft with other groups 

November 21: Group Meetings: Go over final questions 
November 23: No Class; Thanksgiving Break
November 28: Draft Workshop  

November 30: Conclusions & Evaluations

December 8: Projects Due

December 10: Reflective Writing Due

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