Critical Methods: Environmental Criticism

Professor: Jenny Kerber
Institution: University of Toronto
Course Number: ENG 383

Office Location: JHB 629 (170 St. George St.)

Phone Number: 416-946-3680

E-mail: [email protected]

Office Hours: Mondays 2:30-5:30pm, or by appointment


Course Description:

This course will introduce students to the history, theory, and practice of environmental criticism. We will look at how different writers and critics have approached the term “nature” and its various translations into culture, and will consider some of the key themes and debates that have helped define the field of ecocriticism to date. In addition to reading theoretical-critical materials, we will also regularly practice the application of ecocritical methods to literary texts ranging from Romantic poetry, to conservation-oriented writing and field guides, to contemporary poetry and fiction. Topics to be discussed include: pastoral and anti-pastoral; the relationship between natural history and ecological discourses; ecocriticism’s relationship to realism, referentiality, and science; the concept of wilderness; the role of literature in environmental movements, past and present; and the impacts of feminism, environmental justice, postcolonialism, animal rights, and posthumanism on the development of ecocritical theory and practice.


Required Textbooks:

Garrard, Greg. Ecocriticism.

Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring.

McKay, Don. Vis à Vis: Fieldnotes on Poetry and Wilderness.

Singha, Indra. Animal’s People.

Coetzee, Elizabeth Costello.

Queyras, Expressway.

ENG 383H1 Readings, Winter 2010 (course kit) – available for the month of January at a discount if you order online and pick up at TLAC, 233 College Street (weblink for online purchase of course kit: You may also order / purchase the kit from TLAC directly at 233 College Street. The cost of the reading kit (which we will use regularly in class) is $78.34 + tax.


All texts are available at the University of Toronto Bookstore, 214 College St.



Short Essay (2,000 words, due Feb. 12th)                             25%

Long Essay (2,500 words, due March 24th):                         40%

Final Exam:                                                                        25%

Classroom Performance:                                                     10%

Total:                                                                                 100%


Grading Regulations:

A+ Outstanding performance, exceeding even the A described below.

A Strong evidence of original thinking; good organization, capacity to analyze and synthesize; superior grasp of subject matter with sound critical evaluations; evidence of extensive knowledge base. Few writing errors.

B Evidence of grasp of subject matter; some evidence of critical capacity and analytic ability; reasonable understanding of relevant issues; evidence of familiarity with the literature. Good organization and writing.

C Student who is profiting from her or his university experience; understanding of the subject matter; ability to develop solutions to simple problems in the material.

D Some evidence of familiarity with subject matter and some evidence that critical and analytic skills have been developed.

F Little evidence of even superficial understanding of the subject matter; weakness in critical, analytic, and/or writing skills; limited or irrelevant use of literature.

Percentage:                    Grade:                    GPA:                    Definition:

90-100        A+         4.0   Outstanding

85-89          A           4.0                    Excellent

80-84          A-         3.7

77-79          B+         3.3

73-76          B           3.0                    Good

70-72          B-          2.7

67-69          C+         2.3

63-66          C           2.0                    Adequate

60-62          C-          1.7

57-59          D+         1.3

53-56          D           1.0                    Marginal

50-52          D-         0.7

0-49            F           0.0                    Inadequate


Policy on Assignments:

I do not accept assignments by email. All assignments are due at the beginning of class on the scheduled date. Late assignments will be penalized 3% per day (weekends count as 2 days) unless I have granted an extension in advance (for legitimate medical or personal emergencies only). Essays more than two weeks late will not be accepted. To avoid academic penalty, late assignments / missed exams / prolonged absences must be accompanied by a medical note explaining the reason for the absence or late submission. No exceptions.

All essays should conform to the MLA parenthetical form of citation, and should be accompanied by a “Works Cited” page. Copies of the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers are available in the reference sections in several of University of Toronto libraries.

Please retain a hard copy of each of the essays you submit for this course. As well, please retain all returned, marked assignments until you receive your final grade for the course.


A note about classroom performance:

This mark will be based on your attendance and punctuality, thoughtful engagement with course readings, relevant and insightful contributions to class discussions, and respectful engagement with the contributions of other class members and the instructor. Adequate preparation for the class involves reading all assigned materials at least once carefully and thoroughly, making notes about these texts (underlining or marking key passages, reflecting on your responses to the text, and so on), and preparing potential questions or comments to discuss in class.

Email Policy:

Students are welcome to contact me by email to ask questions about course readings, class lectures and discussion, and upcoming tests and essay assignments. During the work week I will normally respond to messages within 48 hours. Over the weekend I cannot guarantee that I will be able to respond until the following Monday.

Accessibility Needs:

The University of Toronto is committed to accessibility. If you require accommodations for a disability, or have any accessibility concerns about the course, the classroom or course materials, please contact Accessibility Services as soon as possible: [email protected]  or


Jan. 4: Introduction – What is Ecocriticism?

Reading: Garrard, Greg. “Positions” (in Ecocriticism)

Campbell, SueEllen. “Magpie” (course kit)

Jan. 6: Reviewing pastoral through an eco-critical lens

Readings: Goldsmith, Oliver. “The Deserted Village”

Crabbe, George. “The Village: Book 1”

Jan. 8: Narratives of decline and renewal

Readings: Goldsmith, “The Rising Village”

Merchant, Carolyn. “Reinventing Eden” (course kit)

Jan. 11: Romantic Ecologies

Readings: Wordworth, William. “Nutting”

Wordsworth, William. “To a Skylark”

Clare, John. “To a Fallen Elm”

Clare, John. “The Skylark”


Jan. 13: Romantic Ecologies, continued

Readings: Shelley, Percy Bysshe. “Mont Blanc”

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. “The Eolian Harp”

Barbauld, Anna Letitia. “The Mouse’s Petition”


Jan. 15: The Environmental Imagination in Nineteenth-Century America

Reading: Thoreau, Henry David. from Walden (“Where I Lived, and What I Lived For”; “The Bean-Field”) (course kit)


Jan. 18: Ideas of Wilderness

Reading: Cronon, William. “The Trouble with Wilderness” (course kit)

Pollan, Michael. “Weeds Are Us” (course kit)

Garrard, Greg. “Wilderness” (in Ecocriticism)


Jan. 20: Gender and Natural History

Readings: Parr Traill, Catharine. “Notes From My Old Diary” (course kit)

Parr Traill, Catharine. “The English Sparrow: A Defence” (course kit)

Orne Jewett, Sarah. “The White Heron” (course kit)


Jan. 22: Taking the Long View: Temporality and Community in Leopold’sSand County Almanac

Readings: Leopold, Aldo. From Sand County Almanac (“January”; “February”; “The Land Ethic”) (course kit)


Jan. 25: Something New Under the Sun: Rachel Carson and the Dawning of the Modern Environmental Movement

Reading: Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring.


Jan. 27:

Reading: Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring (cont’d)

Brooks, Paul. “The Genesis of Silent Spring” (course kit)


Jan. 29:

Reading: Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring (cont’d)

Garrard, Greg. “Pollution” (in Ecocriticism)


Feb. 1:

Reading: Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring (cont’d)


Feb. 3:

Reading: Carson, Rachel. Silent Spring (cont’d)


Feb. 5:

Reading: Flex Day: wrap-up of Silent Spring; moving into Vis à Vis


Feb. 8: Nature and Metaphor: The Ethical Work of Contemporary Nature Poetry

Reading: McKay, Don. Vis à Vis


Feb. 10:

Reading: McKay, Don. Vis à Vis (cont’d)


Feb. 12:

Reading: McKay, Don. Vis à Vis (cont’d)


*SHORT ESSAY DUE at the beginning of class*


Feb. 13-21 Reading Break (no class; a good opportunity to get a head start on the novel Animal’s People)


Feb. 22: Signs of Nature: Ecocriticism and Semiotics

Reading: Levine, George. From Lifebirds (course kit)

Lynch, Michael, and John Law. “Pictures, Texts, and Objects: The Literary Language Game of Bird-watching” (course kit)

McKay, Don. “Field Marks” (short poem to be looked at together in class)


Feb. 24: Postcolonialism and Ecocriticism, Pt. 1

Reading: Guha, Ramachandra. “Radical American Environmentalism and Wilderness Preservation: A Third World Critique.” (course kit)

Armstrong, Jeannette. “Degrees of Green” (course kit)

O’Brien, Susie. “Back to the World: Reading Ecocriticism in a Postcolonial Context” (course kit)


Feb. 26: Postcolonialism and Ecocriticism, Pt. 2

Reading: Sinha, Indra. Animal’s People


Mar. 1:

Reading: Sinha, Indra. Animal’s People (cont’d)


Mar. 3:

Reading: Sinha, Indra. Animal’s People (cont’d)

Reed, T.V. “Toward an Environmental Justice Ecocriticism” (course kit)


Mar. 5:

Reading: Sinha, Indra. Animal’s People (cont’d)

DiChiro, Giovanna. “Beyond Ecoliberal ‘Common Futures’: Environmental Justice, Toxic Touring, and a Transcommunal Politics of Place.” (course kit)


Mar. 8:

Reading: Sinha, Indra. Animal’s People (wrap-up)


Mar. 10: Testing the Limits of the Humanities: Ecocriticism and Animal Studies

Reading: Ritvo, Harriet. “Animal Planet.” (article available via the “External Links” feature on our course Blackboard site)

Berger, John. “Why Look At Animals?” (course kit)


Mar. 12: Ecocriticism, Animality, and Ethics: A Case Study

Reading: Coetzee, J.M. Elizabeth Costello (cont’d)


Mar. 15:

Reading: Coetzee, J.M. Elizabeth Costello (cont’d)


Mar. 17:

Reading: Coetzee, J.M. Elizabeth Costello (cont’d)


Mar. 19:

Reading: Coetzee, J.M. Elizabeth Costello (wrap-up)


Mar. 22: Making Connections Between Ecocriticism and Cultural Studies: Monsters, Animals, and Queerness

Reading: Alaimo, Stacy. “Discomforting Creatures: Monstrous Natures in Recent Films” (course kit)

Franklin, Sarah. “Dolly’s Body: Gender, Genetics and the New Genetic Capital” (course kit)

Sandilands, Catriona. “Unnatural Passions? Notes Towards a Queer Ecology” Invisible Culture 9 (2005)


Mar. 24: Romantic Rambles, Revisited: Lives in Motion in Recent Ecopoetry

Reading: Queyras, Sina. Expressway.


*LONG ESSAY DUE at the beginning of class*


Mar. 26:

Reading: Queyras, Sina. Expressway (cont’d)

Cresswell, Tim. “The Production of Mobilities: An Interpretive Framework” (course kit)


Mar. 29:

Reading: Queyras, Sina. Expressway (wrap-up)


Mar. 31: Final Class — Review


Supplementary Readings:

Here is a list of some key texts in the field of literature and the environment you may wish to consult in the course of your essay research:

Adamson, Joni. American Indian Literature, Environmental Justice, and Ecocriticism.

Alaimo, Stacy. Undomesticated Ground: Recasting Nature as Feminist Space.

Armbruster, Karla, and Kathleen Wallace, eds. Beyond Nature Writing.

Barry, Peter. “Ecocriticism” in Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory.

Bate, Jonathan. Romantic Ecology.

–––. The Song of the Earth.

Bertens, Hans. “Ecocriticism.” In Literary Theory: The Basics.

Buell, Lawrence. The Environmental Imagination.

–––. Writing For An Endangered World.

–––. The Future of Environmental Criticism.

Coupe, Laurence, ed. The Green Studies Reader.

Gifford, Terry. Pastoral.

Glotfelty, Cheryll, and Harold Fromm, eds. The Ecocriticism Reader.

Guha, Ramachandra, and Juan Martinez-Alier. Varieties of Environmentalism.

Heise, Ursula. Sense of Place and Sense of Planet.

Huggan, Graham. “‘Greening’ Postcolonialism: Ecocritical Perspectives.”Modern Fiction Studies 50.3 (2004): 703-33.

Kerridge, Richard. “Environmentalism and ecocriticism.” Literary Theory and Criticism: An Oxford Guide. Ed. Patricia Waugh.

Kolodny, Annette. The Lay of the Land.

Marx, Leo. The Machine in the Garden.

Mazel, David. American Literary Environmentalism.

Meeker, Joseph. The Comedy of Survival.

Merchant, Carolyn. Radical Ecology.

Morton, Timothy. Ecology Without Nature.

Nixon, Rob. “Postcolonialism and Environmentalism.” Postcolonial Studies and Beyond. Ed. Ania Loomba.

Phillips, Dana. The Truth of Ecology.

Soper, Kate. What Is Nature? Culture, Politics, and the Non-Human. Oxford: Blackwell, 1995.

Westling, Louise. The Green Breast of the New World.

Williams, Raymond. The Country and the City.

–––. “Ideas of Nature.” Problems in Materialism and Culture: Selected Essays. London: Verso, 1980. 67-85. (also available at

Williams, Raymond. Entries on “Nature” and “Culture” in Keywords.


* See the course Blackboard site for a list of additional web resources you may find useful for this class.