Ecological Issues and American Nature Writing

Professor: Andrea Campbell
Institution: Washington State University
Course Number: 472.01

English/American Studies 472.01 – Fall 2009

Ecological Issues and American Nature Writing

Andrea Campbell
Avery 465
Office Phone: 5-3876
Office Hours: MW 12-1

Course Description: The terms “nature” and “environment” are often used interchangeably. In this course, we will explore and challenge our own definitions as well as those of others. Literature as well as literary theory will be the main vehicles of our environmental discussions, which will look not only at contemporary pieces/issues but explore past ones as well. Besides focusing on nature, we will also focus on environmental justice practices, both literary and actual and how they are changing the way we view our earth and redefining the human relationship to the environment.

The following are focus questions that we will be addressing throughout the course:

  • What is “nature”? What is “environment”?
  • What are some historical perspectives towards nature/environment? Have those perspectives changed?
  • How do race/gender/culture/class affect perspectives towards nature (both past and present)?
  • What is our current relationship with nature? How does this differ across regions, classes, cultures, etc?
  • How are issues of environment and social justice overlapping? What theories have developed surrounding environmental issues?
  • How does literature help complicate these questions and/or attempt to answer them?

Objectives: By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • Recognize key historical interactions between nature and humans in the United States
  • Construct in-depth definitions of key terms such as nature, culture, environment
  • Identify key elements of the eco-theories
  • Negotiate intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality and environment
  • Identify certain national environmental justice movements as well as select current local projects


Course Texts

A Walk in the Woods – Bill Bryson

Solar Storms – Linda Hogan

So Far From God – Ana Castillo

All Over Creation – Ruth Ozeki

Lilith’s Brood – Octavia Butler

The Norton Book of Nature Writing (selections)


Course Assignments (more details to be given in class):

Reading/Writing Journal: It is imperative that you not only do the reading for the course, but also engage with the texts by asking questions, pointing out key elements and ideas and offering your own opinions. So I am asking you to keep a Reading/Writing Journal throughout the course. Multiple times during the semester, I will begin class by posing a question related to our current reading and it is your job to respond to that question using the text as a reference. Your journal will be collected twice – once at midterm and once toward the end of the semester.

Writing Dialogue: The authors covered in this class offer a variety of views and experiences with the environment. For the writing dialogue, you will put two authors into conversation with one another and compare/contrast their views. Your piece should be 4-5 pages in length and briefly summarize the major points of each author before putting them into a dialogue with one another. Some questions to consider: Where do you see agreement between these two authors? Where do you see differences? What are the influences behind their positions? More questions and guidelines will be provided.

Eco-Paper: For this paper, your job will be to analyze a novel (or two) of your choice, using one of the eco-theories covered in class. I will provide prompts for you to choose from but you are also welcome to construct your own – just be sure to discuss it with me first. Your piece should be 6-8 pages in length and use outside sources to support your analysis. More guidelines will be provided.


Grade Breakdown:

Reading/Writing Journal – 10%
Writing Dialogue – 20%
Eco-Paper – 20%
Midterm – 20%
Take Home Final – 30%



Attendance: Being in class every day is crucial to this course. Discussions and lessons are important and it is important that you not only come to class but come having done the reading and prepared to participate. More than 3 absences will affect your grade and more than 4 means you will not pass the course.

Disability Accommodation: Reasonable accommodations are available for students with documented disabilities. These accommodations must be approved by the Disability Resource Center, 335-1566. Please notify me during the first week of class of any accommodations needed for this course. Late notification may result in the unavailability of the requested accommodation.

Plagiarism: Because we will be covering proper citations and bibliographies in class, there is no excuse for plagiarism. Plagiarism is handing in work that is not your own, even unintentionally. If you have questions, please ask. Plagiarism will result in failure of the course.

Late Work: Because due dates are listed and announced in class, I will not accept late work. If you are ill or have to miss class for any reason, it is your responsibility to get your work in on time. Find out from classmates what you missed. There are lots of ways to get your papers to me: under my office door, or give to someone to turn in for you. I do not accept papers through e-mail.


Course Calendar

Week 1 – What is “nature”?  The Norton Book of Nature Writing(selections)

Week 2 – What are some historical perspectives towards nature/the environment? The Norton Book of Nature Writing (selections)

Week 3 – History continued, What is Ecocriticism?  – The Norton Book of Nature Writing (selections)

Week 4 – What is our current relationship with nature? A Walk in the Woods, The Norton Book of Nature Writing (selections)

Week 5 – Current relationship continued –  A Walk in the Woods, The Norton Book of Nature Writing (selections) (Writing Dialogue Due)

Week 6 – What is ecofeminist literary criticism? – Solar Storms, The Norton Book of Nature Writing (selections)

Week 7 – Midterm, How do race/gender/culture/class affect perspectives towards nature? – Solar StormsThe Norton Book of Nature Writing(selections)

Week 8 – What is Environmental Justice criticism? – So Far From God

Week 9 – Intersections of environment and race/class/gender/sexuality –So Far From God

Week 10 – Ecological Issues and Environmental Consequences – All Over Creation

Week 11 – Issues continued – All Over Creation (Eco-paper due)

Week 12 – What are possible environmental futures? – Dawn

Week 13 – Futures continued – Dawn

Week 14 – Thanksgiving Break (Read Adulthood Rites)

Week 15 – What questions do we still have? – Adulthood Rites

Week 16 – Review Course/Take home Final Exam