English 6310. 501 American Nature Writing

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ENGLISH 6310.501

American Nature Writing

Geography. . . is finally knowledge that calls up something in the land we recognize and respond to. It gives us a sense of place and a sense of community. Both are indispensable to a state of well-being, an individual’s and a country’s. –Barry Lopez
When you understand all about the sun and all about the atmosphere and all about the rotation of the earth, you may still miss the radiance of the sunset. There is no substitute for the direct perception of the concrete achievement of a thing in its actuality. We want concrete fact with a high light thrown upon what is relevant to its preciousness. –Alfred North Whitehead
Spring 2018. Wednesday 5:40-8:20 LL 206
Instructor: Dr. Todd Richardson

Office: 4154 Mesa Building

Phone: 552-2292

E-mail: richardson_t@utpb.edu

Office Hours: M 1:30-4:30, W 4:30-5:30, and by appointment.

Coffee at the SAC: Thursdays 2-3pm. Come join me for coffee and conversation.


  • The Future of Environmental Criticism, Lawrence Buell

  • Walden, Henry David Thoreau

  • Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey

  • Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler

  • Ceremony, Leslie Marmon Silko

  • So Far from God, Ana Castillo

  • Practice of the Wild, Gary Snyder

  • Country of the Pointed Firs, Sarah Orne Jewett

  • Body Toxic: An Environmental Memoir, Susanne Antonetta

  • The Ecocriticism Reader, Glotfelty and Fromm, eds.


This course examines the textual representations of "Nature" and "Wilderness" in the American literary tradition. Accordingly, it will explore shifting definitions of these terms by way of our nation’s environmental, industrial, and spiritual history. A component of our discussion will be various writers’ ethical concerns regarding humanity’s responsibilities to preserve the environment. We will also make extensive use of literature from ecocriticism, a cross-disciplinary school of literary and environmental thought.

By the end of the semester, students will (1) demonstrate awareness of the place of nature and wilderness in American thought; (2) become fluent in ecocritical theory; (3) understand how gender and ethnicity shape a community’s engagement with the non-human environment; (4) understand the reasons for the emergence of the environmental justice movement; (5) develop a fuller understanding of the conventions of academic research, writing, and discourse.


True to an adult learning environment, this course will present many sensitive topics, including race, class, sexuality, gender, religion, profanity, politics, and violence. I encourage you not to shy away from these topics in class, but you must be aware that others have different backgrounds and hold a different set of opinions on any given subject than you. It is of utmost importance that we all be willing to be open to and considerate of the thoughts and comments of others. Please respect each individual’s right to have and share her/his ideas and opinions. Listening to others’ perspectives should help create greater understanding of the diversity of experience in contemporary America. As chief facilitator, I will do my best to make our differences of background and opinion enhance the course.


Absences are costly in terms of missed learning opportunities. If you must miss a class, you should contact me so I can tell you how to make up missed work. Upon your third absence, you automatically fail the course. Do not come to class late or leave early. If you must do either, please let me know. Active participation is expected at all times. Finally, please shut off and PUT AWAY all cell phones, whether for talking or texting, and laptop computers. If you text during class, I might ask you to leave. If you must leave your cell phone on to receive emergency phone calls, please leave it on vibrate and leave the room if you must take a call. Be advised that recording this (and any) class at UTPB, without the consent of the instructor, is a violation of university policy.


Use MLA formatting and citation methods. If you don’t already have one, you should purchase a copy of MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 8th ed. Paper grades will drop 1/3 letter grade for each day your paper is late.


All classroom behavior should enhance the instructor’s ability to conduct the class and the ability of other students to learn from the instructional program (Code of Student Life). Unacceptable or disruptive behavior will not be tolerated. Students engaging in unacceptable behavior may be instructed to leave the classroom. Inappropriate behavior may result in disciplinary action or referral to the University’s Behavioral Intervention Team. This prohibition applies to all instructional forums, including electronic, classroom, discussion groups, etc.


Cheating, plagiarism, and other forms of academic dishonesty are serious offenses. Those who plagiarize will fail the class and will be referred to the Vice President for Student Affairs. Additional punishments could include expulsion from the university.


Students with disabilities are responsible for registering with the Office of Student Disabilities Services in order to receive special accommodations and services. Please notify the instructor during the first week of classes if a reasonable accommodation for a disability is needed for this course. A letter from the UTPB/ADA office must accompany this request. The ADA office is located in the Pass Office. Telephone (432)552-2630.

  • Seminar paper, 40%. 15-20 pages, due at the end of the term. A 300-500 word prospectus and bibliography will be due in advance. You are expected to produce a well-researched and critically savvy contribution to the field of nature writing and/or ecocriticism. Your paper should be a rough draft of a conference presentation – keep in mind that travel money is available for graduate students.

  • Ecocriticism paper, 20%. 5-7 pages. You will explore a literary work using some aspect of ecocritical theory. Details to follow.

  • Bibliography and presentation, 10%. Each student will be asked to compose and present one short annotated bibliography. Details to follow.

  • Ten short (two page) discussion papers in response to weekly readings, 20%. Details to follow. You may substitute three of these papers with an environmental service project to promote sustainability on campus or in the community. You may pair up or form a group to complete this project. You must consult with me before you begin this project.

  • Class Participation, 10%. Since our class is a seminar, energetic and collegial participation is assumed for each class period. I will distribute midterm evaluations of your participation.

If you have any questions about course policies or requirements, please feel free to ask me.

Class Schedule (Subject to Change)
1/10 Introduction and course overview.
1/17 Cheryll Glotfelty “Introduction: Literary Studies in an Age of Environmental Crisis” xv-xxxvii, Lynn White, Jr. "The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis" 3-14, Lawrence Buell from The Future of Environmental Criticism vi-ix, 1-28, 97-108, 128-33. (Recommended: Buell’s “The World, the Text, and the Ecocritic” 29-61, “Glossary of Selected Terms” 134-49, Glen A. Love “Revaluing Nature” 225-240).
1/24 Visit from Mary Beth Anton, Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church, Midland. Michael Wigglesworth from “God’s Controversy with New England,” William Bradford from Of Plymouth Plantation, Nathaniel Hawthorne “Young Goodman Brown,” Wendell Berry “Gift of Good Land” (handouts). Annette Kolodny “Unearthing Herstory” 170-181. (Recommended: Roderick Frazier Nash “A Wilderness Condition” (handout)).
1/31 Ralph Waldo Emerson from Nature, Nash “The Romantic Wilderness” (handouts). Henry David Thoreau Walden (selections). [Last day to drop a class without creating an academic record]
2/7 Walden (cont.), Louise Westling “Thoreau’s Ambivalence toward Mother Nature” (handout). Lawrence Buell “Walden’s Environmental Projects” (handout), Buell “Space, Place, and Imagination from Local to Global” 62-96.
2/14 Walden cont., Sarah Orne Jewett, “A White Herron” (handout).
2/21 Sarah Orne Jewett Country of the Pointed Firs, Buell “Complications of Gender” 108-112. Stacy Alaimo selections from Undomesticated Space (handout). (Recommended: Vera Norwood “Four Women Respond to the American Landscape” 323-350.)
2/28 Visit to Sibley Nature Center in Midland. Class led by Michael Nickell, director. Mr. Nickell will discuss some regional stories and historical pieces. Required readings are forthcoming. (Meeting time at Sibley will be 4:30.)
3/7 Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire (selections), Don Scheese “Desert Solitaire: Counter-Friction to the Machine in the Garden” 303-322. Short paper due.
3/14 Spring Break – no class
3/21 Gary Snyder The Practice of the Wild (selections). Abstract and bibliography due.
3/28 Buell, “The Challenge of Environmental Justice Revisionism” 112-27. Stacy Alaimo "Material Memoirs" (handout). Susanne Antonetta Body Toxic. [Last day to drop a course]
4/4 Castillo, So Far from God, critical essay to be determined.
4/11 Leslie Marmon Silko Ceremony, Paula Gunn Allen “The Sacred Hoop: A Contemporary Perspective” 241-63, (Recommended: Silko “Landscape, History, and the Pueblo Imagination” 264-275).
4/18 Ceremony concluded. bell hooks “Touching the Earth,” Evelyn White “Black Women and the Wilderness” (handouts). Octavia Butler Parable of the Sowers.
4/25 Parable of the Sowers concluded.
Wednesday, May 2, by 5:30pm: Final paper due.

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