ENGLISH 290 - Themes in Language and Literature
Section: 002 The Environmental Imagination of North America
Term: WN 2014
Subject: English Language and Literature (ENGLISH)
Department: LSA English Language & Literature
Requirements & Distribution:
Waitlist Capacity:
May be repeated for a maximum of 6 credit(s).
Primary Instructor:

This will be an interdisciplinary course which familiarizes students with the complex history of human interactions with North American environments from the era of first European contact to the present. We will move through the material chronologically, and do justice, eventually, to the major bio-regions of North America. We will use Carolyn Merchant’s textbook American Environmental History as the major guide, along with chapters from Wilderness and the American Mind, Changes in the Land, and The Columbian Exchange. We will move from the contact/colonial period in which we will observe the clash of various land ethics amongst Amerindian, European, and African peoples; geographically we will focus on the Caribbean, Virginia, and New England, accounting for both the tropical plantation order and Puritan notions of wilderness. We will then move to the Revolutionary/Early National period to see how ideas of nationhood and citizenship were tied up both in notions of land ownership, but also territorial immensity in the west, and to see how Enlightenment science found systematic order in nature. We will then study Emerson and Thoreau (in New England), and John Muir (in California) to see how transcendent spiritualities were etched into, or discovered in, the delicate processes of natural history; we will see in these authors Romantic and conservationist responses to the rise of industry, rapid transport, and land despoliation—responses which still influence the language of environmentalism today. Next we will read early 20th-century texts which respond to two different bio-regional histories: Willa Cather’s My Antonia and Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac, about the transformation of the prairie; and William Faulkner’s Go Down, Moses and Zora Neale Hurston’s collections of African-American folk tales, about the plantation regime and disappearing forests in the deep south. From Rachel Carson and the Environmental Justice movement, we will decipher the late 20th-century turn towards a “toxic discourse” as regards a human fear of degraded environments. We will finish by assessing the present moment: Katrina; neo-transcendental writers; “locavore” and “slow food” movements; Global Climate Change debates and representations; the “trouble with wilderness”; and the new globalization of environmental thinking.

Such a course will help students understand American history as an environmental history. It will familiarize them with the ‘canon’ of environmental writing and thinking in the U.S. We will also do some field work in the Nichols Arboretum and the Museum of Natural History, making students aware of the ‘Public Goods’ which surround them at the University, and how these are caches of learning. We might also, in thinking about food and Environmental Justice issues, visit and do a day of service learning with the organization, The Greening of Detroit. You will write a number of short papers throughout the term, including both interpretations of texts we are reading and a more creative exercise in environmental autobiography.

ENGLISH 290 - Themes in Language and Literature
Schedule Listing
001 (LEC)
TuTh 1:00PM - 2:30PM
002 (LEC)
10ENVIRON Majors
TuTh 2:30PM - 4:00PM
003 (LEC)
MW 1:00PM - 2:30PM
004 (LEC)
TuTh 4:00PM - 5:30PM
NOTE: Data maintained by department in Wolverine Access. If no textbooks are listed below, check with the department.

Coursepack Location:
ISBN: 0140249192
The land of little rain, Author: Mary Austin ; introduction by Terry Tempest Williams., Publisher: Penguin Books 1997
ISBN: 9780195059281
A Sand County almanac, and sketches here and there, Author: by Aldo Leopold ; illustrated by Charles W. Schwartz ; introduction by Robert Finch., Publisher: Oxford University Press Special co 1989
ISBN: 9780679741879
My Antonia, Author: Willa Cather., Publisher: Vintage Books 1st Vintag 1994
ISBN: 9780231112321
The Columbia guide to American environmental history, Author: Carolyn Merchant., Publisher: Columbia University Press 2002
ISBN: 0060587148
Uncle Tom's children, Author: with an introduction by Richard Yarborough., Publisher: HarperPerennial 1st Perenn 2004
ISBN: 0394701496
Three famous short novels, Author: by William Faulkner., Publisher: Vintage Books Vintage Bo 1966
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