The American Wilderness

Professor: Amy Clary
Institution: American University of Beirut
Course Number: ENGL 244/AMST 276

Course: The American Wilderness

Institution: American University of Beirut (Beirut, Lebanon)

Spring 2010, MWF 10:00 – 10:50 a.m., Nicely Room 107

Dr. Amy Clary                                                                       


Required Materials.

AUB email address and Moodle login.

American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau, ed. Bill McKibben, 2008.

Into the Wild, John Krakauer. New York: Anchor Books, 1997. ISBN: 0385486804

Course texts on Moodle. Please print out or photocopy electronic texts and bring them to class on the days assigned.


Course Description.

The proliferation of wilderness-themed television programs, books, computer games, and consumer products in contemporary American culture might give the impression that the celebration of wilderness is a long-standing American tradition. On the contrary, the value and definition of wilderness has long been debated in the U. S. Questions about the effects of wilderness on the character of American pioneers, the relative merits of preserving or developing wild land, and the ownership and stewardship of America’s open spaces have generated impassioned argument. Coming to terms with the role of wilderness in contemporary American culture is essential to understanding an American national identity. It is also essential to understanding the current debates over preserving or destroying the nation’s remaining wild lands.

Through an examination of legal, literary, and cultural texts, this course will explore the role of wilderness in America. From colonial contacts with wilderness to the protection of public lands to the development of the national park system, this course will examine the definition and representation of American wilderness in its many permutations. We will also explore the role of wilderness in an age of technology and simulation, and discuss the future of wilderness in the American cultural imagination.


Course Goals.

This course will demand that you develop the focus, memory, and commitment required of all good readers of difficult texts and apply them to legal, literary, popular, and visual texts from a variety of time periods. It will also ask you to expand your repertoire of critical lenses through which you read texts, and to communicate challenging and complex ideas in conversation and writing.

By the end of the course, you should be able to trace the legislative, cultural, and literary history of wilderness in the U.S., and should have your own working definition of the term “wilderness.”


Course Requirements and Grading Criteria.

Attendance, class participation, oral presentation, blog post and comments: 15%

In-class exam 1: 15%

In-class exam 2: 20%

In-class exam 3: 20%

Essay(s): 30%

Exams and quizzes.

There will be three cumulative in-class exams. These exams will be closed-book. Under most circumstances, missed exams may not be made up. There may also be unannounced reading quizzes, which cannot ordinarily be made up if you are absent or late to class. Cumulative quiz grades will be factored into your participation grade.



Option A: two four-page papers.

Paper #1: due Monday, March 22 (worth 10% of final grade)

Paper #2: due Friday, May 28 (worth 20% of final grade)

Option B: one eight-page paper.

Due Friday, May 28 (worth 30% of final grade)


Papers that are short, have too-wide margins, too much spacing, or too-large font will suffer a grade penalty. Do not expect to have a late paper accepted.


Blog post and two comments. (will not receive a letter grade, but will be factored into the class participation score). Each student will be required to post one original five-hundred-word blog entry on a topic that helps illustrate or complicate ideas about wilderness and people’s interactions with–and simulations of–it. At least one image should be included. Also, each student will make a substantive comment of at least three sentences in response to at least two other blog posts. All blog posts should be done by May 3rd; comments may be done any time before May 28. I have posted a couple entries to help generate some ideas. You can view the blog at


To post your blog entry: go to After you log in, click on “new post” to begin your post. Click on the “insert image” icon on the toolbar to add a photo.

Presentation (10 minutes). Students will work independently or in pairs to research a topic discussed by or related to the assigned reading for a particular day.


Attendance. Your attendance and participation are important to the success of the class as a whole, as well as to your own academic development. Much of our in-class work will be impossible to make up if you are absent for any reason. Please do not miss class. Except in very unusual circumstancesa student who for any reason misses six class meetings during the first ten weeks of class will be required to drop the course. Any student who misses more than nine class meetings for any reason should not expect to pass the class.

Plagiarism and Other Forms of Academic Dishonesty.

Academic dishonesty (including cheating and plagiarism, the use of another’s text or ideas without proper credit and citation) will earn students a variety of sanctions, starting with a failing grade on the assignment. Please see the AUB Student Handbookand “Student Code of Conduct” for details.

Course schedule

This schedule is not written in stone and may change depending on the needs of the class.





Monday 15                  course introductions; syllabus

Wednesday 17              R. Crumb, “A Short History of America” (American Earth p. 591-594)



Part I: The History of the Wilderness Idea in the U. S.

Friday 19                     Introduction by Bill McKibben (American Earthp. xxi-xxxi)

Monday 22                  excerpt from “Ktaadn,” by Henry David Thoreau (on Moodle). Bring American Earth to class also.                                          

Wednesday 24            excerpt from “Wilderness,” Greg Garrard (handout)

Friday 26                    holiday – no class



Monday 1                    continue excerpt from “Wilderness,” Greg Garrard (handout)

Wednesday 3              Thoreau, excerpt from Walden, (American Earthp. 9-19)     

Friday 5                       Thoreau, excerpt from Walden, (American Earth p.19-25)

Presentation __________________________

Monday 8                    Thoreau, “Huckleberries” (American Earth p. 26-36)


Part II:       Protecting Public Land: National Parks, Urban spaces

Wednesday 10            excerpts from The National Park Service Organic Act (on Moodle)

Friday 12                     John Muir, “Hetch Hetchy Valley,” (American Earth p. 104-112)

Presentation __________________________ 

Monday 15                  Frederick Law Olmsted, “The Plans of the Central Park”, (American Earth p. 120-125)

Presentation __________________________


Wednesday 17                        In-class exam #1

Friday 19                     “Constructing Nature: The Legacy of Frederick Law Olmsted,” Anne Whiston Spirn (handout)

Monday 22                  excerpts from The Wilderness Act of 1964(American Earth p. 392-394)

Wednesday 24            synthesis day – no reading assignment

Friday 26     N. Scott Momaday, “A First American Views His Land” (American Earth p. 570-581)

Presentation __________________________

Monday 29                  Edward Abbey, “Polemic: Industrial Tourism and National Parks” (American Earth p. 413-421)

Wednesday 31            continue Edward Abbey, “Polemic: Industrial Tourism and National Parks” (American Earth p. 421-433)

Presentation __________________________



Friday 2                       holiday – no class

Monday 5                    holiday – no class

Wednesday 7              former U. S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, “Remarks at the Signing of the Highway Beautification Act of 1965,” (American Earth p. 395-398)

Presentation __________________________

Part III:     Wilderness Contaminations, simulations and Celebrations.

Friday 9           Rachel Carson, from Silent Spring (American Earth p. 365-376)

Presentation __________________________       

Monday 12                  Bill McKibben, from The End of Nature(American Earth p. 718-724)

Presentation __________________________

Wednesday 14                        Terry Tempest Williams, from Refuge(American Earth p. 739-752)                                   

Friday 16         continue Terry Tempest Williams, from Refuge(American Earth p. 752-759)

Presentation __________________________

Monday 19                  In-class exam #2                    

Wednesday 21                        Sandra Steingraber, from Having Faith(American Earth p. 929-938)

Presentation __________________________            

Friday 23                     Michael Pollan, from The Omnivore’s Dilemma(American Earth p. 948-960)

Presentation __________________________

Monday 26                  Alice Walker, “Everything is a Human Being”(American Earth p. 659-670)

Wednesday 28            David Quammen, “Planet of Weeds” (American Earth p. 874-884)

Friday 30                     continue David Quammen, “Planet of Weeds”(American Earth p. 884-897)

Presentation __________________________



Monday 3        Philip K. Dick, from Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (American Earth p. 451-453)

Wednesday 5              synthesis day—no reading assignment

Friday 7                       Into the Wild                                 

Monday 10                  Into the Wild 

Wednesday 12                        Into the Wild

Presentation __________________________

Friday 14                     In-class exam #3

Monday 17                  Into the Wild

Wednesday 19                        Into the Wild

Presentation __________________________





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