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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 or will be linked to each title.

Schedule for Each Week

Tuesday: 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.

Thursday: 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.

Saturday: I'll send 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 27:  In class: Introductions

                    In class: Syllabus and Assignments


Week 2:  Ralph Waldo Emerson

September 1: Emerson, Nature

September 3: Emerson, "The Young American"

                        Emerson; Natural History of the Intellect  

                       "Giving Emerson the Boot"


Week 3:  Henry David Thoreau 

September 8: Thoreau, Walden, “Economy," “Where I Lived"

September 10: Thoreau, Walden, “Higher Laws, “Conclusion”

                           Thoreau, Walden, book reviews (380-388)  

                          “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 15: Thoreau, “Walking,” 71-122   

September 17: Turner, “The Significance of the Frontier"

                          “U.S. Expansion and its Consequences,”

                          Oxford Handbook of American Indian History

Week 5:  John Muir

September 22: John Muir, Essential Muir, 3-83

September 24: John Muir, Essential Muir, 87-126

                         “Environmentalism’s Racist History”

Week 6-7: Preservation and Conservation Podcasts

September 22: Discuss Podcast Assignment

September 24: Topic & Group Preference Forms Due

September 29: Kline, First Along the River

                          Discuss research and scholarly sources

October 1: Brief Proposals Due; Group meetings

October 6: Introduction to Podcasting with Brianna Derr
October 8: Group meetings

October 10: Drafts Due; Draft Workshop begins

October 13: Feedback Due; Draft Workshop Ends

October 17: Projects Due 

  • To learn about the history and genres of environmental literature 

  • To situate that literature within a number of relevant contexts

  • To conduct research and engage with primary sources 

  • To engage with and evaluate literary criticism.

  • To produce, support, and revise argumentative essays

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

  • To write differently for peer and public audiences. 

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

Learning Outcomes   

Week 8: Imagining Extinction; or, The Anthropocene

October 13: Alan Weisman, The World Without Us, 1-46, coda

October 15: 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 & Climate Change

October 27: Stephanie LeMenager, Living Oil: Petroleum Culture, 3-19, 102-141.

October 29: “Oil Stories” from The Guardian

Week 11-15: Final Projects​

November 3: Research Workshop: Meet with librarian
November 5: Group Meetings: Work through questions

November 10: Tech Workshop: How to use Adobe Rush
November 12: Group Meetings: Go over proposals
November 17: Narrative Workshop: Pitch your ideas 
November 19: Optional Group Meetings
November 24: Optional Group Meetings
November 26: No Class; Thanksgiving Break
December 1: Optional Group Meetings

                       Drafts Due; Draft Workshop begins

December 3: Optional Group Meetings

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

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