Literature and the Environment

Professor: Michael Branch
Institution: n/a
Course Number: 4930-02

Course Description

In this course we will explore the vital relationship between American literature and environmental values, asking how changing literary interpretations of the land have influenced attitudes toward nonhuman nature. Why have American authors been so consistently concerned with and inspired by the idea of wilderness? How did our culture move from the Puritan notion of howling wilderness to the Transcendentalist vision of divine nature to contemporary nature writers’ concern with imperiled ecosystems, and what literary interpretations of nature will be likely in the future? After devoting two weeks to environmental themes in the work of seventeenth and eighteenth-century writers, the course will be devoted to a survey of nineteenth and twentieth-century authors whose work is deeply concerned with the environmental values which mediate the relationship between human and nonhuman nature. We will consider related issues such as the role of natural history in the development of American literary form, the evolution of the nature essay as a genre, the
place of environmental literature in the canon, the role of nature writing as a form of environmental activism, and the relationship between natural science, natural history, and environmental literature. As we explore such issues, we will also examine the merit of environmental literature as a historical, scientific, political, and literary form.

The course will encompass canonical American texts which demonstrate an abiding interest in nature (such as those by Emerson, Thoreau, Hemingway, and Faulkner) as well as classics by writers whose interest is more explicitly environmental (such as those by Muir, Austin, Leopold, and Abbey). Although this is a literature course, we will keep issues from environmental ethics and environmental history close at hand, and students will be invited to devote one paper to interdisciplinary work which links environmental questions to an area of their own interest.  Students will also be given the opportunity to try their hand at some nature writing of their own, and we will correspond with (and perhaps arrange a visit by) a few contemporary nature writers. Finally, it is hoped that we may work at least one field trip to the Everglades into our

LIT 4930-02: Literature and the Environnent
Fall, 1993

Michael Branch
Office: DM 466-B
Mailbox: English Dept. office, fourth floor DM
Office phone: 348-3935
Home phone: 386-6155
Office hours: TU and TH 12:30-1:30 and 3:30-4:30 (or by appointment)

Class Participation
This is your class and its success will depend largely upon the contribution of your ideas. At least some of each class meeting will be devoted to discussion, and your participation will be encouraged, provoked, and perhaps even inspired. Attend class actively, with your questions and ideas ready. I will try to end each class with some suggestions about what issues may be most important in our next discussion. I also hope that we will have an opportunity to take at least one field trip to the Everglades.

Length and due dates: We will write two essays, 7-8 pages each, which will be due at the beginning of class on October 26 and December 7.

Format: Papers should be typed, double-spaced, and have the pages numbered (and separated, if you use continuous paper). Please include your name, my name, the date, and a title. Your essays should be either double-
sided or printed on the reverse sides of previously used paper. It is not necessary to write out a “pledge” on your paper; in this class your name will constitute your pledge, and you will be held strictly accountable for the integrity of your work.

Topics: You will be free to write on any aspect of the reading that interests you. As we discuss the texts we will work together to identify potential paper topics, but you will devise your own angle of approach rather than selecting a topic from a list that reflects my interests. There will be an opportunity for interdisciplinary work, as well as a chance (optional) to try your hand at some nature writing of your own.

Literary criticism: You will not be required to use secondary sources – your own ideas are more important. If, however, you wish to use outside criticism to clarify your own argument or interpretation, you are welcome to do so. Beware mediocre criticism, and be sure to properly document all outside sources used.

The Writing Center: The writing center offers free, individual tutoring to writers of all skill levels. This is a certain way to improve your work through individual attention to your particular writing skllls and problems.

Late Papers: In keeping with our policy of self-determination, you will decide when a paper must be late. You are allowed four “late days” for the semester, to be used as you see fit. It is your responsibility to clearly note your late day status at the beginning of each paper (for example, “3 late days remaining”). Should you go beyond four late days, your grade on the paper wilI be reduced by a full letter grade for each additional late day. I will explain this policy further in class.

We will have one examination, a take-home final exan which will be due on  December 16 at 12:40. If you wish to, we can arrange to have an exam review in advance of the test.

Fall, 1993
Michael Branch


Before the Beginning
TU 8/31: Greetings and logistics
TH 9/2: Native American myths and tales:
“How the World Began” (Seneca)
“How the World Was Made” (Cherokee)
“The Coming of the Spanish and the Pueblo Revolt” (Hopi)
Christopher Columbus, from Journal of the First Voyage to America

The City on the Hill and the Howling Wilderness
TU 9/7: John Smith, from A Description of New England
John Winthrop, “A Model of Christian Charity”
TH 9/9: Mary Rowlandson, from the Captivity Narrative
Jonathan Edwards, from Personal Narrative

The Natural History Essay in America
TU 9/14: Thomas Jefferson, “Productions Mineral, Vegetable, and Animal,” from Notes on the State of Virginia
St. John de Crevecoeur, Letter II from Letters from an American Farmer

TH 9/16: William Bartram, “Introduction” and Florida selections from Travels
Washington Irving, “Rip Van Winkle”

Transcendental Nature
TU 9/21: Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The Uses of Natural History” and “The Naturalist”
TH 9/23: Emerson, Nature

Waking the Neighbors
TU 9/28: Henry David Thoreau, Walden
TH 9/30: Thoreau, Walden

Parables of Intervention

TU 10/5: Thoreau, “Wild Apples” and selections from The Dispersion of Seeds


TU 10/12: Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Birth-Mark” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter”

TH 10/14: John Muir, “Wild Wool,” “A Wind Storm in the Forests,” and “Hetch Hetchy Valley”

Reimagining the Desert
TU 10/19: Mary Austin, The Land of Little Rain
TH 10/21: Austin, The Land of Little Rain

Red in Tooth and Claw?
TU 10/26: Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea
TH 10/28: Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

Dispossessed of Paradise
TU 11/2: William Faulkner, The Bear
TH 11/4: Faulkner, The Bear

Finding Home
TU 11/9: Marjory S. Douglas, The Everglades: River of Grass
TH 11/11: NO CLASS. Possible field trip to the Everglades

The Land Ethic
TU 11/16: Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
TH 11/18: Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

An Ethic of Resistance
TU 11/23: Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
TH 11/25: NO CLASS

TU 11/30: Abbey, Desert Solitaire
TH 12/2: Open Day (readings to be announced)

Nature Writing After the End of Nature
TU 12J7: John Tallmadge, “In the Mazes of Quetico”
John Daniel, “The Impoverishment of Sightseeing”
John Elder, “Wildness and Walls”
TH 12/9: Betsy Hilbert, “Disturbing the Universe”

Terry Tempest Williams, “Days at Bear River”
Charles Bergman, “Manatees and the Metaphors of Desire”

TH 12/16: **FINAL EXAMINATION** (take home exam, due at 12:40)


Henry David Thoreau. Walden and Civil Disobedience. (Penguin American Library) 440 p (orig) 1983 pap $5.95 (0-14-039044-8) Penguin Classics, Viking Penguin.

Mary Austin. The Land of Little Rain. 192 p. pap $8.95 (0-14017009X, Penguin Books) Viking Penguin.

Marjory S. Douglas. The Everglades: River of Grass. 1986 pap $3.95 (0-89176-029-6, 6029) Mockingbird Bks.

Aldo Leopold. A Sand County Almanac: And Sketches Here and There. Commemorative ed. (Ill.) 256 p. 1989 pap $8-95 (0-19-505928-x) Oxford UP.

William Faulkner. Three Famous Short Novels. 1958 pap $8.95 (039470149-6, V-149, Vin) Random.

Ernest Hemingway. The Old Man and the Sea. 128 p. 1977 pal) $6.95 (0-684-7105-7, Scribner) Macmillan.

Edward Abbey. Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness, 1990. pap $9.95 (0-671-69588-6, Touchstone Bks) S & S Trade.

A SPECIAL PACKET for this course is available at the university bookstore. Be sure to buy this as soon as possible, since many of our early readings will be found only in the packet.

Copyright © 1996. This document may not be reproduced in whole or in part, in any form, without written permission from its author(s). This document has been edited for electronic publication and does not appear in its original form.