Ashton Nichols Syllabus

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First-Year Seminar . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Thoreau and American Nature Writing . . . . . Fall 2019


Thoreau and American Nature Writing 

Fall 2019

First-Year Seminar, Dickinson College


Why have I titled our seminar Thoreau and American Nature Writing? Because Henry David Thoreau produced the ur-text, the foundational document, of American nature writing, and because the tradition that followed him has proven so important to the wider tradition of American literature. Nature writing of this kind may, in fact, be the only unique genre that America has contributed to world literature. Our learning goals for this course will be to understand the “nature” of nature-writing while also paying close attention to the works of some of the finest practitioners of the genre. We will also work to define “nature” and to understand the complex connection between humans and the nonhuman world they inhabit. What does all of this have to do with a First-Year Seminar at Dickinson?

Our readings will lead to discussions and essays that engage a progressive set of questions:

When did “nature writing” become a specific genre?

Is “nature” itself a category distinct from human activity?

Do individuals have a responsibility toward the natural world?

Are humans a part of nature, or do we exist outside of nature–distinct from nature–in some way?

These initial questions will lead to more complex considerations. To what extent are we defined by natural characteristics (gender, race, biology), and to what extent do our “natural” characteristics come into conflict with social forces (politics, class, education)? When a nature-lover says that she “loves” nature, what about cancer and AIDS? Is nature a “good” thing? Are tumors and viruses “natural”? Is nature “bad”? Is it neutral? What might that mean?

How will we proceed? Our readings will be drawn from the following texts:

Walden (Thoreau)

Sand County Almanac (Aldo Leopold)

Beyond Romantic Ecocriticism (Ashton Nichols)

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Annie Dillard)

The Snow Leopard (Peter Matthiessen)

The End of Nature (Bill McKibben)

We will also look at poems and prose extracts by William Blake, William Wordsworth, Robert Frost, and Seamus Heaney. The dates of composition of these texts range from the 1790s to our own decade. Although much has changed over the years covered by this time span, the central focus of our seminar’s inquiry–the connection of humans to the natural world–has not changed. Why write about nature at all? What obligation, if any, does each of us have to nature? Are such questions even useful as ways of interpreting our experience? By examining the complexities of these ideas, we will explore various ways of defining ourselves and our relation to the world outside us.

Required Texts

(in these precise editions, all are available in the Dickinson bookstore):

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Harper Collins) 9780060953027

 Hacker, Diana. Pocket Style Manual (Bedford) 978-0312664800

Leopold, Aldo. Sand County Almanac (Ballantine) 9780345345053

Matthiessen, Peter. The Snow Leopard (Viking Penguin) 9780143105510

McKibben, Bill. The End of Nature (Random House) 9780812976083

Nichols, Ashton. Beyond Romantic Ecocriticism: Toward Urbanatural Roosting (Palgrave Macmillan) 9781137033944

Thoreau, Henry David. Walden, Civil Disobedience, and Other Writings (Norton Critical) 978039393090

Diana Hacker Online Supplement

Selected additional readings and handouts

Required Websites and HyperTexts:

The Walden Woods Project

Henry David Thoreau

Bill McKibben (Henry Holt Publishers)

Aldo Leopold Foundation

Annie Dillard

A Romantic Natural History 1750-1859

Web Resources for Nature Writing and Writers (VCU)

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Required Reading : Each student will be responsible for having read each assignment for the class period indicated by each date. To “read” means more than merely to let your eyes move across the page. As British university students say, you should not read for class, you should prepare for class; that means that you have read long enough and carefully enough to be ready to answer questions (orally or in writing) about your reading upon arrival in class, to participate in (or help to lead) a discussion, and the reveal your understanding of the day’s assignment as well as any questions you may still have about the work for each day.


29 Thursday 10:15 a.m.–Introduction to Thoreau and American Nature Writing (define “nature”)

30  9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.  Academic Advising

31 Saturday 9 a.m. [DIAGNOSTIC ESSAY DUE: see end of syllabus]


2 M 11:30 a.m. Walden, (“Economy,” p.1-27)

6 F 11:30 a.m. Walden, (“Economy,” p. 27-54)

9 M Library Class: introduction to annotated bibliography assignment  with Kayla Birt

13 F Walden, (“Where I Lived,” “Reading,” “Sounds,” “Solitude,” “Visitors”)

16 M Walden, ( “Bean-Field,” “Village,” “Ponds,” “Baker Farm,” Higher Laws”)

20 F Walden, (“Brute Neighbors,” “House-Warming,”)

23 M Walden, (“Former Inhabitants,” “Winter Animals,” “Pond in Winter,” “Spring,” “Conclusion,”)


30 M Almanac, pp. xiii-98


4 F Almanac, pp. 101-202

7 M Almanac, pp. 202-296

11 F Poetry day: Bring a poem and readings

14 M Pilgrim, Chapters 1-5

18 F Pilgrim, Chapters 6-10


25 F Pilgrim, Chapters 11-15, “Afterword,” “About Annie Dillard”




1 F Urbanatural Roosting “Contents”-77

4 M Urbanatural Roosting 77-152

8 F Urbanatural Roosting 152-230

11 M Snow Leopard, pp. xv-104

15 F Snow Leopard, pp. 105-209

18 M Snow Leopard, pp. 210-325


25 M End of Nature Part I


2 M End of Nature Part II

4 F [ESSAY #4 REVISION DUE: ANY ESSAY] Final class: Last day to submit Annotated Bibliography

Required Writing : All students will bring at least one sheet of written notes to each class (for which there is a reading assignment) for discussion. These may be reading notes, journal entries based on your reading, a series of questions, or a combination of notes, comments, and questions. I may collect these notes at the start of class, at the end of class, or not at all. I will collect batches of these notes at various points during the semester. Make sure that you save all of them.

In addition, each student will be responsible for three (3) essays, one (1) graded revision, and an annotated bibliography, all due on the designated dates (above). Each essay will have an assignment sheet that will be distributed no less than one week before the essay is due. These assignment sheets will explain the learning goals, and formal requirements, for each essay. Each essay must be typed, double-spaced, and clipped or stapled. Each essay must have a title page including a title, your name, and the date. In some cases you will be asked to bring notes, outlines, or a rough draft to class before the final due date.

Since we will use finished essays for in-class exercises on due dates, NO LATE PAPERS WILL BE ACCEPTED.

Our seminar will also be making use of the Dickinson Writing Center at least once during the term; more on that later.

Diagnostic: The diagnostic essay will ask you to respond to a passage by Wordsworth on the relationship between human beings and nature. You will have two (2) days to complete this essay. You will be given credit for completing the assignment, but the essay will not be formally graded.

(See paper text assignment sheets–distributed in class–for all assignments.)

Essay #1: Thoreau and Nature–Describe the natural world as it is defined by Thoreau. Is this an effective definition of nature, or does Thoreau’s definition have its limitations?

Essay #2: A Self in the Natural World–describe a single experience in which you came to understand some aspect of your relationship to the nonhuman world.

Essay #3: McKibben vs. Dillard. Compare and contrast McKIbben’s End of Nature and Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek . How are the two books different in their tone and in the way they convey their messages? What do the two works have in common in addition to a concern with nature?

Essay #4: Revision. You will be able to revise any one of these three essays for a new and additional grade. It will not cancel your first grade.

Annotated Bibliography : Your final written assignment for this course will be an annotated bibliography of one of the authors or works we are studying. You will be asked to choose an author or a work during September, and you will then have the entire semester to complete an annotated bibliography of at least ten (10) items. See Anna Orlov’s sample bibliography: Orlov Annotated Bibliography.

The form, as well as techniques for the preparation of this bibliography, will be discussed in detail during our library session and several class periods. The purpose of this assignment is for you to learn the basic elements of college-level academic research. This research assignment will be due at the conclusion of the course.

Course Grading :

Class notes. Discussion. Participation. Essay 1. Essay 2. Essay 3. Revision. Bibliography


All course requirements must be completed in order for you to pass the course.

If all of this information makes our seminar sound difficult, demanding, and downright Draconian, now is the time to put your fears to rest. Part of the purpose of the First-Year Seminar Program is to let our group get to know one another in a variety of formats. I will, of course, be available for advising and office hours as the semester proceeds. But we will also be meeting more informally for at least a meal or two, a film or two, and I hope for possible and attend at least one orientation on the network e-mail system, so that we may also communicate electronically–what would Thoreau think! Don’t hesitate to ask me about details of the course, our readings, your writing, your grade, or any other aspect of your life at Dickinson. Remember, “seminar” comes from a word that means “seed plot.” With any luck, this experience will be an important seed plot for the garden of your years at Dickinson.

Academic Honesty:

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.

Academic Integrity Tutorial

Required of all First-Year Students

DEADLINE:  Monday, September 9, 2019 at 8 AM.

 All incoming Dickinson students are required to complete the Academic Integrity tutorial posted on Moodle.   Students who do not complete this instruction will not be able to request spring classes during the registration period in October.


  • Logon to Moodle through Gateway.
  • Select the course entitled “Academic Integrity Tutorial – 2019.”
  • Once in the course, click on the link to the tutorial “Join the Conversation: Work Honestly and Use Information Responsibly.”
  • Follow the instructions carefully.  All questions must be completed to get credit for the tutorial.

Statement on Disability Services:

In compliance with the Dickinson College policy and equal access laws, I am available to discuss requests made by students with disabilities for academic accommodations. Such requests must be verified in advance by the Coordinator of Disability Services who will provide a signed copy of an accommodation letter, which must be presented to me prior to any accommodations being offered. Requests for academic accommodations should be made during the first three weeks of the semester (except for unusual circumstances) so that timely and appropriate arrangements can be made.

Students requesting accommodations are required to register with Disability Services, located in Academic Advising, first floor of Biddle House.  Please contact Marni Jones, Coordinator of Disability Services (at ext. 1080 or ) to verify their eligibility for reasonable and appropriate accommodations.

Professor Ashton Nichols

Class meetings: M and F 11:30 a.m., Classroom:

Office Hours: M F 10:00-11:30, 12-1:30 TH, and by appointment


Diagnostic Essay

Thoreau and American Nature Writing

—-Here is a famous sonnet by William Wordsworth:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn* *[raised in an ancient religion]
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea* *[meadow]
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus* rising from the sea; *[sea-god who could change shape] Or hear old Triton blow Or hear old Triton* blow his wreathed horn. *[sea-god with a shell-trumpet]

—What do you think Wordsworth means in this sonnet?

Write a 500-600 word essay (no more than two double-spaced typed pages) in which you explain these lines in your own words. Do not read what others have written about this poem. Do not do any research. Simply read the lines carefully (several times), and then explain them in your own words. You may, of course, use a dictionary.

This essay is due at the start of our class on Saturday, August 24 at 1:00 p.m. The essay should be typed and double spaced. No late papers will be accepted. The essays will be used in class on this day. I will comment on these essays and return them to you, but they will not receive a letter grade. They will, however, be evaluated as part of your first class participation.


ENGL 403 Frankenstein and Other Romantic Monsters

English 403         Frankenstein and Other Romantic Monsters        Fall 2018

Required Texts

Bronte, Charlotte. Jane Eyre. Ed. Deborah Lutz. Norton Critical 4th edition. 978-0393264876                                                                                                                                                     Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Poetry and Prose. Norton, 2003. 978 0393979046                                                                                                                                                                                    Hitchcock, Susan Tyler. Frankenstein: A Cultural History. Norton, 2007. 978-0393061444                                                                                                                                                             Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein, ed. Johanna Smith. Bedford, 3nd edition, 2015. 978-0312463182                                                                                                                                                         _______. Frankenstein, ed. Susan J. Wolfson & Ronald Levao. Harvard, 2012. 978-0674055520                                                                                                                                                     Shelley, Percy. Shelley’s Poetry and Prose. 2nd edition. Norton, 2002. 78-0393977523                                                                                                                                                                                                            (texts must be in these exact editions)

Course Aims and Learning Goals

This course is designed to explore the Frankenstein myth in relation to the idea of “monstrosity.” What is a monster? Do monsters exist? Why are we scared of monsters? What can monsters teach us? Is the problem merely that we all think of ourselves as monsters? We will read Mary Shelley’s masterpiece in two versions. We will also be exploring the recesses of Mary Shelley’s imagination by reading a contemporary account of the cultural history of this remarkable story. We will examine Mary’s relationship to her devoted and destructive lover and husband, Percy Shelley, and to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the creative source of a “monstrous” sort of energy (and lethargy) that the century came to identify as “romantic.” Along the way, we will examine an unlikely group of Romantic “monsters”—Jane Eyre, Rochester, and Bertha Rochester—as we consider Romantic monstrosity in light of subsequent monsters: Dracula, Mick Jagger, Blade Runner. We will look at films including James Whales’ masterpiece and Kenneth Branagh’s monstrosity, which gets less monstrous with age. We will also consider Gods and Monsters, the 19989 semi-fictional drama that considers James Whale and his gay existence in the Hollywood of the 1930s. These works will provide the basis for your exploration of these and other Romantic monsters. We will also participate in FRANKENREADS, a national series of events surrounding the 200th anniversary of the first publication of the novel in 1818.

Course Requirements

Students will prepare two discussion introductions during the semester. Students will also be active participants in a seminar conducted almost entirely as a conversation. Students will write one essay (5 pp.) on two curated materials on Frankenstein, as well as submitting two (2) library file cards sized texts that will be displayed with you items. Each student will also produce a longer research essay (12-15 pp.) on some aspect of our work this semester. Topics will be developed in class and individual conferences. Drafts can be discussed with me by December 8. The final essay will be due by noon on December 12. Students must complete all of these requirements in order to receive credit for the course. The Dickinson plagiarism policy will be strictly enforced. Grading will be based on the following scale:

Participation               First Essay           Research Essay              Research

20%                              30%                       40%                               10%          =100%

Professor Ashton Nichols, Class time: 1:30-4:15 p.m. TH, Classroom: K 187                      

Office Hours: M TH 12-1:30 p.m. W 12-1:30 p.m. (and by appointment)



Required Reading

Students will come to class prepared to discuss the following readings on the assigned days. Brief oral or written assignments will assess your preparation. In addition, each student will prepare a discussion introduction for two (2) of our classes (sign-up sheet to be circulated in class).

W, Sept. 5 “The Myth of Frankenstein”: Introduction and Syllabus

12  Meet in Special Collections (May Morris Room) downstairs in the Waidner-Spahr Library.

19  Frankenstein, ed. Wolfson & Levao, 1818, text and Susan Tyler Hitchcock: Intro & 1

26 Frankenstein, ed. Wolfson & Levao, 1818, the apparatus and STH: 2

Oct. 3 Frankenstein, ed. Smith, 1831, the text of the novel and STH: 3

10 Frankenstein, ed. Smith, 1831, the apparatus and STH: 4

17  P. B. Shelley, Poetry and Prose and STH: 5 (Exhibit Curation texts DUE as Word documents to Nichols, Jim Gerenscer, and Malinda Triller—all three names on your email by 6 p.m.)

24   P. B. Shelley, Poetry and Prose and STH: 6 (Install exhibit in Library)

30 7:00 p.m. Dana 110. Gods and Monsters screening followed by required panel discussion.

31  Coleridge, Poetry and Prose and STH: 7 (1:30-3:00 p.m. RESEARCH ESSAY ABSTRACT DUE) Then 3-4:00 pm. Frankenstein Readings Waidner-Spahr, Display Reception 4-4:30 p.m.

Nov. 7 Coleridge, Poetry and Prose and STH: 8

14    Brontë, Jane Eyre, text and STH: 9


28  Brontë, Jane Eyre, apparatus and STH: 10 (ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY DUE)

28 4:30 p.m. Required 403 meeting with Prof. Hsuan Hsu (UC-Davis) “Olfactory Aesthetics and the Politics of Deodorization”

DEC. 5  “The Monster and His Myth Today” (film screenings)

12 Bring provisional—one paragraph—abstract for your 404 essay (11 copies)


Please contact me any time to discuss the course, your research, your writing, or your grade.


First Written Assignment

Instead of a typical essay, students’ first written assignment will be to find and curate, with at least a five-(5)-to-seven-(7)-page essay and file-card sized caption/s, two objects in our Frankenstein exhibit prepared with the help of the Waidner-Spahr Library. Your essay should suggest why this material is valuable to our understanding of the novel and should also describe the interpretive approach or approaches (textual, historical, biographical, feminist, etc.) that your object recommends to readers and observers. Finally, the essay should suggest why this particular interpretation is useful for our understanding of book. Due October 17 in class. No late essays or curation labels will be accepted. Word document of your descriptive labels should be submitted electronically to Nichols, Jim Gerenscer, and Malinda Triller on Oct. 17 as well.

Object Curation

Because our Library dates back to 1783, Waidner-Spahr is a rich repository of materials connected to the 1818 first publication of Frankenstein. Your goal for this assignment is to locate two (2) objects: including objects in our Special Collection and Archives or in the regular stacks of the Library, or that belong to me. One (1) should connect to the history of Frankenstein and (1) one should shed light on the influence this book has had over the past 200 years.

How to Begin

We will meet as a class in the Special Collections (May Morris Room) of the Waidner-Spahr Library (downstairs) to begin work on this assignment. Staff from Special Collections will help us by providing examples of the kinds of things that may be found in our Archives and Special Collections. These materials might include backgrounds to Mary Shelley’s masterpiece—John Milton (Paradise Lost), Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Volney (Ruins of Empire)—or contemporary texts or contexts, books, manuscripts, other ephemera linked to the origins or subsequent history of this remarkable story. You may even want to talk to me about materials that are in my office. I have numerous, books and other materials connected to Mary Shelley and her “hideous progeny” that I am willing to loan out for the semester for this purpose. If you get stuck, let’s talk.

Your Short Essay

You will write at least a five (5) to seven (7)-page essay about your curated material. This essay must describe the objects, or material in detail with all necessary background detail and careful analysis, as well as interpretation, of what your materials are, what they represent, and why they are significant to our exhibit and to the history of this powerful novel.

Your Exhibit Display

On the same day you submit your short essay you will also submit to me and to the Library the materials that should accompany your curated object. This needs to be at least a file-card sized display card that text will appear in the Library display cases. This card must include bibliographic details: the title, or a title, the author, date and publisher of your material/s if appropriate, and a brief description of what you material includes and why it is important to Mary Shelley, to Frankenstein or to the subsequent history of the Frankenstein story.



Research Essay

The research essay is your major graded piece of work for this course. You should begin thinking about the topic for your essay as soon as possible so that your draft will be in as complete a form as possible by early December. I will ask for an abstract (2 paragraphs) of your proposed research essay on October 23, after midterm pause. A working annotated bibliography of research sources (consulted or considered) will be due on November 13. Drafts and problems with your essay can be discussed with me between November 26 and December 8, and your final essay will be due at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, December 12.

The texts chosen for use in the course are useful starting places for your research. They include scholarly texts and bibliographies of works by Mary Shelley and others, historical and biographical information, as well as collections of critical essays from various interpretive perspectives. In addition, several of our volumes provide bibliographies of primary and secondary sources that will help you select a topic for your essay, focus that topic, and begin to produce your draft. Successful completion of this project will demand careful library research and thoughtful attention to the details of your own critical writing style. Several electronic resources will be useful as you prepare your essay. You can Google: “Dickinson Writing Guidelines and Format,” “Resources for Research and Writing,” “MLA Style (Purdue),” “MLA Format for WWW Sources,” “Interpretive Methods: A Primer”

We will also use class time to discuss the selection of your topic, the preparation of your bibliography, and the writing of your first draft. We will use discussions of our authors to focus your critical method, and we will evaluate different approaches to interpretive problems posed by these texts. Class work will include peer discussion of topics and research tools as well as sessions in December for troubleshooting and problem solving as drafts are being discussed. The goal of all of our work on this essay will be to give you tools and opportunities to develop your skills as a critical writer and researcher.

Students will also be using their work this semester to help them decide about the larger project which they plan to research in depth during the spring term 404. The general assumption is that you will use your research this semester as a jumping off point for your independent work next semester, but you may also change directions entirely as long as your prospectus (due early next term) is approved by me. You should also be thinking about a project that would sustain the sort of work you begin this semester over the course of our work in 404.





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