Literature and Environment in BC

Professor: Dr. Richard Pickard
Institution: University of Victoria
Course Number: English 250: Contexts of Liter

OFFICE HOURS: T 9:30-10:30, W 11:30-12:30, F 9:30-10:30, and by appointment
TELEPHONE: 250-721-6636 (but email is faster)
OFFICE: Clearihue D331

Calendar description:
Examination of cultural responses (in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and film) to the intersection in British Columbia of discourses around environment, environmentalism, and resource use.  Consideration of publishing dynamics, resource economics, and activism, as well as related First Nations issues and the political uses of symbolism.

Course guide description:
BC literature provides an exceptional opportunity to explore the cultural manifestations of contemporary environmental issues: a nexus of First Nations rights and claims, a tradition of nvironmental engagement, and an economy heavily influenced by resource industries. We will consider a number of contemporary texts, from various genres, in pursuit of questions like the following: Whose symbols frame the environmental debate? How many debates are there? And what place might literature have in British Columbians’ attempts to think through their place in, or relationship to, the natural world?

Required texts:
Bowling, Tim. The Witness Ghost. Roberts Creek, BC: Nightwood Editions, 2003. [poetry]

Rhenisch, Harold. Tom Thomson’s Shack. Vancouver: New Star Books, 2000. [nonfiction]

Robinson, Eden. Monkey Beach. Toronto: Random House, 2001. [novel]

Wong, Rita. forage. Roberts Creek, BC: Nightwood Editions, 2007. [poetry]

Other short texts will be placed on the course Moodle page at different points throughout the semester. You’ll need to log into regularly, since I’ll be posting handouts, reference material, background information, etc.


Response paper #1:  500-750 words, Due October 5, 15% of grade
Response paper #2:  500-750 words, Due November 12,  15% of grade
Wikipedia entry (group or solo): Due December 1,  20% of grade
Final project:  negotiable length, Due December 10,  50% of grade

Response papers:
I’ll give you some sample topics, but you’ll need to write one short response paper on Eden Robinson’s novel Monkey Beach and another on a book of poetry, either Tim Bowling’s more traditional Witness Ghostor Rita Wong’s more postmodern forage. You’ll be asked to talk about details from the books, rather than express only a general feeling.

Wikipedia entry:
You’re being asked to write and edit a Wikipedia entry on a BC writer who addresses environmental matters, other than the four main writers we’re looking at. A list of writers will be provided for you to choose from, so there won’t be any duplication. At the present time many of the Wikipedia entries on BC writers are stubs that require additional information – your goal will be to make the entry more detailed and more valuable. If you’d like to do this as a group project, I’ll entertain proposals and suggestions. One option would be to do a series of entries for one writer’s books, for example. Alternatively you could do a single longer entry on an environmental theme important to BC literature, or on a publisher (like Nightwood Editions) or book series (like Transmontanus, published by New Star Books).

Final project:
You have some freedom for this assignment, though I’ll need to receive a detailed, 300-word proposal from you before you get started, and we’ll talk in class about some of the possibilities. You could do a traditional paper (around 1500 words), or you could do something creative.

Traditional paper options would be an essay of literary analysis on one of the four texts for this course, or a more theoretical examination of some issue raised by one or more of the texts. Still another would be to write a piece of narrative scholarship, which could be fairly creative. (Rhenisch’s book Tom Thomson’s Shack is an example of narrative scholarship.)

Or you could get creative. Generate a detailed annotation of one or more of Rita Wong’s poems; situate Tom Thomson’s Shack against active First Nations land claims; connect The Witness Ghost to fisheries closures and industrial practices; compare Eden Robinson’s Kitimaat to your own town. Let’s talk about what you might want to do.

Submitting assignments, and lateness:
Assignments must be submitted by 9:00 p.m. on the date due, through the course Moodle page in .doc, .docx, .odt, or .rtf format. Ten percent per day (or portion thereof) will be deducted from the score of assignments handed in after the date due. Extensions are very rarely – but occasionally – granted.

The minimum penalty for plagiarism is a grade of 40 on the relevant assignment, but this grade is reserved only for clear cases of inadequate documentation, such as mishandling well-intentioned paraphrases; most cases will result in a grade of 0. In addition, incidents of plagiarism are reported to the appropriate university authorities.

Reading Schedule:

Sept. 3-5 n/a
Sept. 9-12 Eden Robinson, Monkey Beach
Sept. 16-19 Eden Robinson, Monkey Beach
Sept. 23-26 Eden Robinson, Monkey Beach
Sept. 30-Oct. 3 Tim Bowling, The Witness Ghost
Oct. 7-10 Tim Bowling, The Witness Ghost
Oct. 14-17 Tim Bowling, The Witness Ghost
Oct. 21-24 Talking about assignments
Oct. 28-31 Rita Wong, forage
Nov. 4-7 Rita Wong, forage
Nov. 12-14 Rita Wong, forage
Nov. 18-21 Harold Rhenisch, Tom Thomson’s Shack
Nov. 25-28 Harold Rhenisch, Tom Thomson’s Shack
Dec. 2-3 Harold Rhenisch, Tom Thomson’s Shack

Note that there will be additional short readings made available through the course Moodle page at different points in the semester. They’ll be short, mostly, and intended to let us reflect on the required readings. For longer readings, you’ll get at least a week’s notice before we talk about it in class.

We will also watch a film during class at some point, and you’ll get some advance notice of that as well.