ENST 111 / ENGL 101 Spring 2017 _________________________________________________________
American Nature Writing:
Environment, Culture, Values
American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau. Ed. Bill McKibben, Library of America
Beyond Romantic Ecocriticism: Toward Urbanatural Roosting, Ashton Nichols, Palgrave Macmillan
Walden, or Life in the Woods, Henry David Thoreau, G. W. Zouck
A Sand County Almanac: And Sketches Here and There, Aldo Leopold, Ballantine/Random House
Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness, Edward Abbey, Touchstone/Simon Shuster
The End of Nature, Bill McKibben, Anchor Doubleday
Course Objectives & Learning Goals:
What does American nature writing have to do with the environment, culture, and values? A great deal. What does great literature have to do with nonfictional observation of nature? A surprising amount. Our course will survey writings by a wide range of authors: young and old, male and female, northern and southern, black and white. We will set these works in dialogue with environmental questions of the past two centuries: wilderness and species preservation, appreciation of wild nature, pollution. The course will also study language, literary styles, and the link between literature and “environment, culture, and values.” Our texts will be literary and scientific. Our contexts will be environmental, ethical, and ecological. We will work to answer questions about the relationship between the natural world and human beings who have defined and affected that world. Are humans just part of nature? Are we distinct from nature? Is nature beautiful and benign (sunsets, daffodils, puffins) or ugly and destructive (hurricanes, AIDS, death)? How and why should we preserve nature? Why is climate change considered the major challenge facing the modern world? We will try to understand how literary texts reflect the context of the times in which they were produced and also the times in which they have been received by readers. Our guides will include novelists, essayists, and ourselves. We will examine the current importance (as well as the controversial aspects) of evolutionary ideas, and we will emphasize the role played by literature in the development of our own environmental assumptions and values.
Useful Websites for American Nature Writing at Online Syllabus:
Students will be required to read carefully and come to class prepared to discuss all assigned work. Reading quizzes and in-class writing will contribute to discussions. Discussion will form an important part of your evaluation in this course. More than two (2) unexcused absences will be grounds for lowering your grade. You must complete all required work in order to pass this class.
Grading Based on the Following Scale:
Class participation 10% (includes group work): Short essay (one work) 20%: Long essay (authors/works) 30%: Final exam 40% : Total = 100%
The short essay (4-5 pp.) will ask you to analyze a single text. The longer essay (9-10 pp.) will ask you to connect at least one work to the culture in which it was produced. The final exam will be cumulative. I am available during office hours and by appointment to discuss the course, our readings, your writing, or your grade.
The Dickinson plagiarism policy will be strictly enforced. This class adheres to the College’s Community Standards, which clearly state: “Students are expected to do their own work. Work submitted in fulfillment of academic assignments and provided on examinations is expected to be original by the student submitting it.” Please review the Community Standards document for more information.
Accommodating Students with Disabilities
Dickinson College makes reasonable academic accommodations for students with documented disabilities. Students requesting accommodations must make their request and provide appropriate documentation to Disability Services in Biddle House. Because classes change every semester, eligible students must obtain a new accommodation letter from Director Marni Jones every semester and review this letter with their professors so the accommodations can be implemented. The Director of Disability Services is available by appointment to answer questions and discuss any implementation issues you may have. Disability Services proctoring is managed by Susan Frommer at 717-254-8107 or email@example.com. Address general inquiries to Stephanie Anderberg at 717-245-1734 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Professor Ashton Nichols: K 192
Class meetings: 1:30-2:45 p.m. M TH
Office Hours: M & TH 11:00-1:30 p.m. & by appt. Classroom: Rector Stuart 1104
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Readings for American Nature Writing
January 23 M American Nature Writing–our syllabus as a text (+Web)
26 TH American Earth, xvii-xx, xxi-1, and Thoreau Journal’s 1-8
30 M Walden, Thoreau Introductions, 5-10, 11-21 and 22-98
February 2 TH Walden 99-188
6 M Walden 189-284
9 TH Walden 285-end Writing About Literature: Assign Essay #1
13 M George Catlin, Lydia Sigourney, Susan Fenimore Cooper, Table Rock 37-61
16 TH Walt Whitman, George Perkins Marsh, P. T. Barnum 62-83
20 M John Muir, W. H. H. Murray, Frederick Law Olmstead 84-125
23 TH John Burroughs, Gifford Pinchot 145-180
27 M Essay #1 due in class: Essay workshop
March 2 TH N. Darling, Don Marquis 224-238 (plus pictures)
6 M Sand County Almanac Introduction-136 Essay #1 Final Version due at start of class
9 TH Sand County Almanac 137 (“Thinking Like a Mountain”)-end Assign Essay #2
13 M SPRING BREAK
16 TH SPRING BREAK
20 M Lynn White, Paul Erlich, Garrett Hardin 405-412, 435-450
27 M Desert Solitaire Introduction-150
30 TH Desert Solitaire 151-end
April 5 M
12 M Wendell Berry, Annie Dillard 505-549
15 TH N. Scott Momaday, Leslie Marmon Silko 570-590, Linda Hogan 809-14
19 M Alice Walker 659-671, Cesar Chavez 690-696
22 TH Urbanatural Roosting xiii-xxiii, 3-101
26 M Urbanatural Roosting 101-212
29 TH The End of Nature xiii-xxiv + 1-78 [YouTube: Bill McKibben at Dickinson & Global Warming; Do the Math with Bill McKibben; David Letterman talks with Bill McKibben. 08/31/10
May 1 M The End of Nature 82-end
4 H (Final set of pictures, 736-737) Exam Review–Essay #2 due in class
May 9 Tuesday 2:00 –m 5:00 p.m. FINAL EXAM IN CLASS ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Terms to Consider
TEXT: n.1. main body of matter in a manuscript, book, newspaper, distinguished from notes, appendixes, headings, illustrations. 2. the actual, original words of an author or speaker. 3. any of the various forms in which a writing exists. [ME, ML text(us) wording, L: structure (of an utterance), texture.]
CONTEXT: n. 1. parts of written or spoken statement that precede or follow a word or passage, usually influencing its meaning or effect. 2. circumstances that surround a particular event, situation, etc. [late ME, L context(us) joining together].
LITERATURE: n. 1. writing regarded as having permanent worth through its intrinsic excellence. 2. The entire body of writings of a specific language, period, people, etc. 3. the writings dealing with a particular subject: the literature of ornithology.
Nature and Humans: Questions to Consider
Are human beings just the mere result of random evolutionary processes over time? Is that all they are?
“Be fruitful and multiply.”–Is that a good idea? Is that a waste?
Is AIDS natural? Is spinal bifida? Is death? Is nature “good”?
Does evolution necessarily conflict with the religious teachings of Christianity? Can the two viewpoints–religious and scientific–be reconciled?
Nature could not care less about you or me? Or could it?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * Darwin and Darwinism
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–“You can’t wash the slugs out of your lettuce without disrespect to your ancestors.”–Ruskin
–“The growth of a large business is merely survival of the fittest.” –John D. Rockefeller
What were the scientific implications of Darwin’s theory?
I. The principle of natural selection determines the survival of species.
II. Species have not existed forever in their present form: Galapagos endemism.
A. Each life form on earth is undergoing continual change.
B. These changes result from chance mutations.
III. The earth and life on earth have existed for an inconceivably long time. (Lyell,
Principles of Geology, 1830)
IV. A record of the earlier stages of evolution can be found in fossils and in the anatomy
of living creatures. (Chambers, Vestiges of Creation, 1844)
What were the wider implications of the theory?
I. Natural laws
A. The laws of nature are subject to change because the material conditions that
govern those laws can change.
1.) cooperation: symbiosis or parasitism?
2.) competition: the fittest?
B. There are no “ideals” in nature or natural form.
1.) what is “right” is what succeeds over time.
2.) evolutionary success: shark, horseshoe crab, cockroach
3.) evolutionary failure: dinosaur, human brain (?)
II. Theology–“It is just as noble a conception of the deity to believe he created primal
forms capable of self-development.” –Canon Charles Kingsley
A. Man is no longer viewed as unique
1.) end-product of creation?
2.) human’s “mental moral and spiritual qualities evolved by precisely the
same processes that gave the eagle its claws and the tapeworm its hooks.”
B. Doubts about the Biblical account of human origins and fate emerge.
1.) 4004 B.C. vs. billions of years
2.) Adam and Eve vs. The Descent of Man
3.) creation as a continuous and self-modifying process
4.) destruction as likewise ongoing and accidental.
III. Social Darwinism
A. All sciences are historical
1.) science always subject to revision (non-Euclidean geometry)
2.) no laws, only theories (quantum physics)
3.) science is “true” based on best possible evidence
4.) science is never about faith; it is only about knowledge
B. Social order is a “struggle for existence.”
1.) revolutionary change: Marxist ideology
2.) laissez-faire capitalism
3.) do the ends always justify the means?