Mountains and the Literary Imagination

Professor: William Stroup
Institution: Keene State College
Course Number: English 270: Open to Non-majo


English 270–01 and 270–02

Spring, 2007

TR 10–11:40

Putnam Arts Lecture Hall


Dr. William Stroup                                                                Dr. Mark Long

(e-mail) [email protected]                                              (e-mail)[email protected]

102 Parker Hall                                                                    101 Parker Hall

(office phone) 358-2692                                                       (office phone) 358–2695

Office hours: M & W 2-3, T & R 1:30-2:30,                           Office hours: W 10–1,

and by appointment                                                                 F 11–12, and by appointment


Course Description and Objectives

This team-taught course will explore a diverse set of historical and conceptual questions about the meanings of mountains for the human imagination. Students will read writings from a range of cultural, mythological and religious traditions, including European Romanticism and American nature writing. The course will also examine representations of mountains in the visual arts. Some lecture, lots of discussion, creative and analytic writing, and excursions into what Henry David Thoreau called “the solid earth!  The actual world!.”


Required Texts

Mountains of the Mind:  Adventures in Reaching the Summit by Robert McFarlane. Pantheon paperback.

Walking With Thoreau: A Literary Guide to the Mountains of New England with commentary by William Howarth. Beacon paperback.

The Mountains of California by John Muir. Modern Library paperback.

Percy Bysshe Shelley. Everyman’s Poetry paperback.

Mountains and Rivers Without End by Gary Snyder. Counterpoint paperback.

Students will also be responsible for additional reserve and online readings, including selected poems, excerpts from Wanderlust: A History of Walkingby Rebecca Solnit; Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory by Marjorie Hope Nicolson; Landscape and Memory by Simon Schama.


Course Expectations and Requirements

1)      Regular attendance is expected and required. Your ideas, responses and questions are valued and in large measure determine the success of the course. Absences, therefore, have a noticeable effect—not only on the quality of your thinking and writing but on the educational experience of other members of the course. If you must miss a class, please let one of us know in advance. Note well that two unexcused absences will lower your final grade. If you miss four or more classes you will be ineligible to pass the course.

2)      Pre-class preparation and in-class participation is expected and required. You are expected to come to class with both body and mind: that is to say, you are to read carefully and thoughtfully the daily readings and to be prepared to discuss what you have read in class. You will be called upon to share your insights and questions concerning the readings. At the same time we define participation quite broadly, and so your participation grade in this course will not simply be measured or guaranteed by speaking up during class. We are genuinely interested in your progress as an active participant in our collective work. We will look for progress in more than one definable area of participation, to include attentive listening, thoughtful in-class response, conversation with me in my office and/or by e-mail, and engagement with your classmates outside of class. Our goal is to cultivate a community of readers and writers; and we expect that you will bring your experience and knowledge to the classroom so that we may learn from one another. We encourage you to speak with me if you are having difficulties preparing for class, or if you would like to work more closely with one of us to become a more active participant in our work together.

3)      Required written work will include Blackboard forum postings; a sequence of shorter essays; a midterm examination, and a longer end-of-the-semester writing project. You can expect to be writing during every week of the semester. All written work must be typed, appropriately documented and submitted at the beginning of class on the due date.

4)      Field work is expected and required. In addition to preparing for and attending regular class meetings, your experience in this course will include 1) a walk with Henry David Thoreau in the mountains of New England and 2) a trip to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. There will also be an optional ascent of Mt. Monadnock during the final weeks of the course.


Evaluation and Grading

There are 500 possible points in the course. The final course grade will be determined by attendance and participation, including consistent and thoughtful in-class, field and group work (100); the Blackboard forum postings (50); the midterm examination (50); the sequence of shorter essays (4 x 50=200); and the final writing project (100).

Success in this course begins with discovering an interest and enthusiasm for attentive reading, engaged dialogue and purposive writing. Should at any time you have a question or concern, please contact either Mark or Bill, or drop by our offices to talk.


If you are a student with a disability

The Office of Disability Services (ODS), Elliot Hall, 8.2353, is available to discuss eligibility requirements and appropriate academic accommodations that you may require as a student with a disability. So all arrangements can be made, requests for academic accommodations need to be completed during the first two weeks of the semester. You are responsible for making an appointment with ODS for disability verification and determination of reasonable academic accommodations.


Weather Policy

Though it’s alarmingly warm as our semester begins, it is still winter in New Hampshire, and that should still mean something. The College tries to stay open except during the most extraordinary of snow emergencies. Local TV, Radio, and all have info about campus-wide cancellations. On days when there may be any doubt of the status of the class, please access one of our outgoing voicemail message by calling 603.358.2692 (Stroup) or 603.358.2695 (Long).  Unless I say explicitly that class is cancelled, it will be on as scheduled. Make safe decisions for yourself, of course, and use my voicemail to stay in contact.

Tentative Course Calendar

We have created a Blackboard site for the course, Mountains and the Literary Imagination. You will be logging on to Blackboard weekly to participate in the discussion fora. You will also find on the site a copy of the syllabus, writing assignments as well as other resources.


Week One

Jan 16:  Introduction to the course. Mountain myth and mountain reality.

Jan 18:  Cultural ideas about mountains. Discussion of Rebecca Solnit’s chapter “Mount Obscurity and Mount Arrival” from her book Wanderlust(handout). Representing mountains.


Week Two

Jan 23  Read the first two chapters of McFarlane’s Mountains of the Mind, 1-65. Please note: all Tuesday readings are preceded by online discussion until noon on Monday.

Jan 25  Introduction to Romantic period poems about mountains (handout): William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, John Keats, Percy Shelley.


Week Three

Jan 30:  More on Mountains and Romanticism.

Feb 1:  Special Guest Lecturer: Howard Mansfield. Read “The Shrinking of the Grand Monadnock” (online): monadnock/shrinking_intro.html. First paper due.


Week Four

Feb 6 Mountaineering in New England. Read introduction to Elevating Ourselves: Thoreau on Mountains by J. Parker Huber (handout), and Emerson’s Nature (introduction and chapter one, online at

Feb 8 Read Walking with Thoreau, introduction by William Howarth (1-14), and Katahdin section, 71-145.


Week Five

Feb 13: Read Mountains of the Mind, 66-102, and Shelley’s Mont Blanc.

Feb 15 More discussion of fear, religion, and the sublime. Read Mountains of the Mind, 103-36.


Week Six

Feb 20: Moving to higher altitudes. Read Mountains of the Mind 137-67. Introduction to John Muir: slide presentation and lecture. Read the first and title chapter to The Mountains of California, and “Glaciers” and “Snow.” Second paper due.

Feb 22:  More Muir. Slide presentation and discussion. Read “A Near View of the High Sierra,” “The Passes,” “The Glacier Lakes,” “The Glacier Meadows,” and Gary Snyder, from Myths and Texts (handout).


Week Seven

Feb 27 Muir’s Range of Light. Discussion of western mountains, the tradition of American nature writing. Read “Sierra Thunder-Storms,” “The Water-Ouzel,” “The Wild Sheep,” “The Bee-Pastures.”

March 1 John of the Mountains: Discussion of Muir’s legacy, the idea of the national park, wilderness and wildness.


Week Eight

March 6 Introduction to Gary Snyder. Read “Lookout’s Journal: 22 June ’52 – 22 August ’53,” “Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout,” “Poem Left in Sourdough Mountain Lookout,” “A Visit from Dick Brewer” (handouts). Hand out and discuss midterm examination assignment.

March 8 View Gary Snyder reading Mountains and Rivers Without End. Read “The Making of Mountains and Rivers Without End,” 153–58. Take home exam due


Week Nine

Spring Break. Take Snyder with you.


Week Ten

March 20 More Mountains and Rivers Without End. Read section 1, 5–44. East Asian landscape paintings, hand scrolls or shou chuan.

March 22 More Mountains and Rivers Without End. Read sections 1 and 2, 47–115. Pilgrims, journey songs, walking meditation, circumambulation (“opening the mountain”). Walking with Thoreau response paper due.


Week Eleven

March 27  More Mountains and Rivers Without End. Read section 4, 119–52. Discussion of “The Mountain Spirit” and Nō drama, Yamamba (“Old Mountain Woman”). New poems from Snyder’s most recent book, Danger on Peaks (handout).

March 29 Journey to Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.


Week Twelve

April 3 Wool Gathering. Generating final writing projects and approaches. Paper on MFA excursion due.

April 5 Aldo Leopold, “Thinking Like a Mountain,” Evelyn White, “Black Women and the Wilderness,” Gary Snyder, “The Etiquette of Freedom” (handouts).


Week Thirteen

April 10 Recent work on mountains and literature: readings to be announced. Writing Project proposals due.

April 12 Writing Workshop


Week Fourteen

April 17 First version of essay is due

April 18–20 Individual Conferences


Week Fifteen

April 24 Class Presentations

April 26 Class Presentations


Finals Week

Final essay due in 101 and 102 Parker Hall, Thursday, 3 May 10:30–12:30. Please bring two copies of your essay, one for Long and one for Stroup.


Writing Assignments

English 270

Spring Semester 2007


1. Blackboard discussion

Due: between Friday and noon on Monday through 3 April

In order to keep our class discussions from slipping into a crevasse during the five days between Thursdays and Tuesdays, part of your required writing for the course will be thoughtful contributions to an online discussion forum on Blackboard. We have created a Blackboard site for the class, Mountains and the Literary Imagination. Everyone will be responsible for posting an initial contribution in response to a prompt about the reading ONCE this semester.  This means that for readings we’re discussing in class on Tuesday you will need to post a lively and searching entry by Sunday evening at 6pm.

Then, everyone else in the class will have a chance to add questions and responses until noon on Monday, so that we can all have a chance to look over the discussion before Tuesday’s class.  You are required to post at least THREE messages that further the discussion during the semester in addition to taking your turn getting us started. These messages may form the basis of later, formal papers, so approach them as you would a mountain: in high spirits, well-prepared, with a willingness to take a risk, and ready for surprise.


2. Essays

Due Dates: Essay #1, Thursday, 1 February; Essay #2, Tuesday, 20 February; Essay #3 Tuesday, 1 April

We will distribute specific essays instructions at least one week before the due date—both in class and on Blackboard.


3. Midterm Examination

Due: Thursday, 8 March

The midterm will be distributed on Tuesday, 6 March, and will ask for brief commentaries on selected passages from the readings so far this semester. We will take time on the 6th to discuss our expectations for written commentaries and answer any questions you may have.


4. Walking with Thoreau Essay

Due: Thursday, 22 March

This assignment asks you to travel, on your own, into the mountains of New England. Thoreau’s travels took him to our region—to Monadnock, Wantastiquet and Fall Mountain—to Massachusetts’ Greylock, as well as the higher and more alpine regions of New Hampshire’s White Mountains and Maine’s Katahdin. The walk and the essay should be completed some time during the first half of the course. The essay is due the week following spring break.

Choose a mountain Thoreau climbed and go there—on your own, or withclassmates or friends. Take a walk. Bring a journal. Record your experience in the field. Then consider, in writing, the relationship between Thoreau’s experience and your own. This five page essay will weave together your experiences as a reader of Thoreau’s account and tell the story of your own experiences reading the physical landscape and the mountain as it takes shape in your own mind.

The goal is not necessarily to climb the mountain. There are many experiences to be had that do not involve the summit—especially during the winter months when the higher reaches of any peak can be dangerous. Rather your journey is to experience the mountain and to consider the formation and meaning of that experience in writing—using Thoreau’s written account as one lens through which your experience might be understood. You will want to read Thoreau on your mountain before you take your journey and then reread his account after you return.

Note well Thoreau’s comment that in lieu of higher ranges around the world, much is to be learned by exploring the peaks and valleys of the landscapes where you are. “I will find a passage round the actual world where I am,” is how Thoreau puts it in his journals. If you have questions or concerns about this excursion, want to involve either of your professors as you get organized, or if you need transportation, please be in contact with us as soon as possible.

Finally, for those interested, we will organize an optional final’s week walk up Mt. Monadnock. More details on this outing as we approach the final weeks of class.


5. Final Essay

Due: Thursday, 3 May, 10–12:30

The final essay will be developed over a five week period, from 3 April to 3 May. We will turn our attention to your final writing projects during week 12 by summarizing the main themes, issues, ideas we have explored in the course and will develop a list of questions and lines of inquiry for the final writing project. We will also use class time to discuss the development of complex and interesting claims, and the intellectual process that produces satisfying and meaningful writing. The writing project will involve a written proposal, group work, individual meetings with Bill and/or Mark, and a class presentation.

A more detailed assignment and sequence of activities and responsibilities for this final writing

project will be distributed during week 12.