Nature Writing and Environmental Literature

Professor: Dr. Pamela Banting
Institution: University of Calgary
Course Number: 239.03

Dr. Pamela Banting
Office:  SS 1010 (10th floor of Social Sciences Bldg., office no. 1010)
Telephone: 403-220-5480
[email protected]

Classes meet: Tu/Th 2:00 to 3:15 in MS 319
Office hours:  Tu/Th 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. (any necessary changes to office hours will be announced in advance during class)
Cap 40


This first-year course will introduce students to three genres of contemporary nature writing and environmental literature. The genres we will read are poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction. All texts on the course focus on the natural world and humans’ relationships with it. We will discuss such questions and topics as the following:

the role of literature in how we perceive and conceptualize nature;

earth as literary setting and stage but also as habitat;

utopias vs. dystopias;

sense of place;

pollution, climate change, the fossil- and post-fossil fuel economies, and other environmental problems and potential catastrophes;

notions of private vs. communal property;

mammals, birds and concepts of the more-than-human world;

extirpation and extinction of animal and plant species;

notions of wilderness and wilder places;

settlers and nomads;

observation and contemplation of nature;

nature and silence;

the relationship between landscape and story;

ethics, environmental activism and questions of responsibility to the earth;

and related topics.

For an overview of the course, ecocriticism and the relationship between literature and environmental issues, please begin reading TheEcocriticism Reader. The first literary text we will read is Cormac McCarthy’s dystopia novel The Road.  After reading it and discussing ecological and social apocalypse, we will begin to examine texts that propose various ecologically responsible solutions to environmental catastrophe.



NOTE:  Most of the books have been ordered at Pages Books on Kensington (next to the Plaza Theatre).  One book, The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology has been ordered at the University of Calgary Bookstore.  (You may also find some second-hand copies of it, and of some of the other books, at second-hand/used bookstores, including the one on campus.)  You also need a style, grammar and punctuation manual (see below for recommendations).


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

Style, grammar and punctuation manual:

I recommend either Diana Hacker, The Canadian Pocket Style Manual(suggested for most students) OR Joseph Gibaldi, The MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers (suggested for English majors or minors).  However, students may choose any recent (2000+) style, grammar and punctuation manual PROVIDED THAT the one you choose contains a section on MLA style.


Cormac McCarthy, The Road


Karsten Heuer, Being Caribou: Five Months on Foot with an Arctic Herd


Meira Cook, ed., Field Marks: The Poetry of Don McKay

Don McKay, Songs for the Songs of Birds (audio podcast, poems by McKay and read by him).  Please download from Itunes onto your mp3 player ($9.99).

Anthology (several genres):

Pamela Banting, ed., Fresh Tracks: Writing the Western Landscape



Assignment Portfolio:


Exam:                                                                                                   30%

Essay:                                                                                                  20%

Reading journal:
10 two-page entries (20 full pp. total), typed, double-spaced,
12-point font, 1” margins on all four sides of the paper):                     40%

Test:                                                                                                    10%

TOTAL                                                                                              100%

STUDENTS MUST COMPLETE AND SUBMIT ALL OF THE ASSIGNMENTS IN ORDER TO BE ELIGIBLE FOR A PASSING GRADE.  Failure to complete and submit all assignments will result in an automatic failure of the course.

There will not be a registrar-scheduled examination in this course.  There will instead be two tests written during class time.

Class time may include regular lectures, a couple of special evening talks or presentations by important visiting speakers to campus or Calgary, class discussion, group discussion and group work, film or audio clips, internet resources, and other activities specially designed to structure and encourage learning how to read accurately and perceptively, talk about what one has read with others, formulate thoughts and ideas about texts and literature and lecture materials, and so on.

Talking with and sharing ideas and insights with one’s professor and peers about literature, literary techniques and literary criticism is what one does in English studies; anyone who regards talking with or listening to others including fellow students about such topics as an unimportant use of class time is making an erroneous assumption.

Late penalties:  Late penalties will be deducted for late assignments. Late penalties can result in a failing grade on an assignment so students will want to start assignments well in advance of the due date.  The late penalty for your written course work is one mark per day late.

Submission of assignments:  Assignments are due in class on their respective due dates.  Electronic submissions will not be accepted.Please make all efforts to hand assignments directly to the instructor in class.

If due to illness or accident, it is not possible to do so, take your assignment to SS 1152 and put it in the drop-box, where your assignment will be date-stamped and placed in the instructor’s mailbox. Please put both your name and the instructor’s name on the assignment before putting it into the drop-box. 

Please keep a digital or photocopy of your assignment in case of loss for any cause. Assignments cannot be returned by staff in the Department office.

Extensions:  Extensions for submission of assignments may be requested provided that medical documentation from a physician or a counselling certificate from a licensed psychologist or counsellor is provided to the instructor in advance of or on the due date.

Test and Exam: All course materials –  assigned readings, lectures, in-class discussion, audio and video materials, etc. – will be considered sources for test and examination questions.  In other words, everything on the course and discussed or displayed during classes is course material.

Students must be available up to and including the last day of the examination period. 

Grade Equivalencies:

A+                   4.0                   88-100%

A                     4.0                   84-87

A-                    3.7                   80-83

B+                   3.3                   77-79

B                     3.0                   74-76

B-                    2.7                   70-73

C+                   2.3                   67-69

C                     2.0                   64-66

C-                    1.7                   60-63

D+                   1.3                   57-59

D                     1.0                   50-56

F                      0                      0-49



It is each student’s responsibility to understand fully the nature of plagiarism so as to avoid it in any of its forms.  Please consult the handout attached to this outline, and please ask me if you have any further questions or are in doubt about a particular instance.  Plagiarism is a serious offence, and will be reported to administration and disciplined according to the policies of the University.