Seminar in Literary Themes: Women and Nature

Professor: Dr. Suzanne Ross
Institution: n/a
Course Number: 447-547

Winter Quarter 1995
Office: Eastman 118
Telephone: 255-4298 or 255-3061 (leave a message)
Office hours: 12:00 – 1:00 Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; 3:00 –
4:00 Monday, Wednesday; and by appointment

Course Objectives/Course Description

Working within the framework of ecofeminist theory, this course explores the relationship between women and nature through reading and discussion of both fictional and non-fictional literature. The course will consider questions such as the following:

—  How do social and cultural forces construct a gendered concept of non-human nature, traditionally associating women with nature? What are the implications?

—  What is the ecofeminist analysis of and response to the environmental crisis?

—  How do women write about their experiences in nature?

—  In what ways do these writers extend our understanding of the positions and roles of human beings within nature?

We will be seeking answers to these and other questions through our reading, discussion and writing.

Our first tasks will be to examine the traditional constructions of a connection between women and nature and to understand the fundamentals of the ecofeminist analysis of the environmental crisis. During the remainder of the course we will use ecofeminist theory to identify recurring themes and patterns in women’s writing about and experience of nature.

Course Requirements


10% – participation, attendance
40% – four critical responses (10% each)
35% – research paper, including class presentation of your research project
15% – take-home final exam, due Feb. 27th in class

Required Texts

Lorraine Anderson, ed. SISTERS OF THE EARTH. Vintage. (in bookstore)

Margaret Atwood. SURFACING. Fawcett. (in bookstore and on reserve)

Irene Diamond and Gloria Feman Orenstein, eds. REWEAVING THE WORLD:
THE EMERGENCE OF ECOFEMINISM. Sierra Club Books. (on reserve)

Greta Gaard, ed. ECOFEMINISM: WOMEN, ANIMALS, NATURE. Temple UP. (on reserve)

CHIMPANZEES OF GOMBE. Houghton Mifflin. (in bookstore and on reserve)

Penguin. (in bookstore)

Society Publishers. (on reserve)

Terry Tempest Williams, REFUGE: AN UNNATURAL HISTORY OF FAMILY AND PLACE. Pantheon. (in bookstore)

Additional readings to be placed on reserve at the LRC, second floor and distributed in class

Writing Assignments and Oral Presentations

Critical responses:
I’d like you to prepare a critical response to each of the major texts that we read this quarter (Atwood, SURFACING; Goodall, THROUGH A WINDOW; LeGuin, BUFFALO GALS AND OTHER ANIMAL PRESENCES; and Williams,
REFUGE). In each of your critical responses, I’d like you to consider the text in light of some issue or concern raised in the theoretical literature on ecofeminist thought that we are also reading and discussing. We will discuss strategies for approaching these assignments in greater detail later.

Undergraduates should write critical response papers which are approximately four pages each in length; graduate students should prepare papers of five to six pages each. Bring a first draft of your papers to class on the evenings that we discuss each of the texts (check the syllabus for specific dates). We will make use of these drafts during small group and full class discussions. Turn in final revised drafts in class the following week.

Research paper:
Each of you will be writing a research paper on a relevant topic of your choice. You may choose to explore further into the work of a single writer, either someone we have studied or someone whose work we have not read. (I suggest that you check the Bibliography and Further Reading list beginning on page 373 in Anderson for ideas. Also, consider the notes at the end of each of the articles in Diamond & Orenstein, Gaard and Plant for possible references.) Or, you may choose to consider a particular theme, issue or concern raised by any of the writers we are discussing in this course. We will discuss possible research paper topics in class during the first three weeks of the quarter.

Undergraduates should write a paper which is approximately five to eight pages in length. Graduate students should write an eight to ten page paper. All students should make use of critical and theoretical sources (articles from Diamond & Orenstein, Gaard and Plant qualify here), reviews, the words of authors about their own work, historical and/or biographical sources, as necessary. Undergraduates should make relevant use of minimally five sources in their research papers; graduates should use minimally eight. Both undergraduates and graduate students should follow the standard MLA documentation and format guidelines which are taught in English 163. (See me if you are unclear about this.)

Please submit a brief statement of your intended research paper topic to me in class on January 2nd. Final drafts of research papers are due on February 20th in class.

Oral presentations:
Each student will give a fifteen to twenty minute presentation of her/his research project. These presentations will begin on January 23rd. We’ll begin scheduling the week before. (You can turn in your research paper at any time after you have given your presentation if you like, but no later than February 20th.)

In preparing your presentation, keep in mind what your listeners are likely or unlikely to know about your topic. Provide them with the necessary background information and create a context for them. Since you won’t be able to say everything in your oral presentation that you can say in your written paper, focus particularly in your presentation on clarifying how your topic fits into the concerns of our course and extends our understanding of and appreciation for the writing of women about nature. Try to make your presentation engaging! Use slides, maps, music or audio-tapes, brief videos–be creative!

Take-home final exam:
Each of you will be writing a take-home final exam essay which will aim to synthesize our readings and discussions on the theme of women and nature over the quarter. We’ll begin discussing the final exam essay assignment in class on February 13th and work out the details of the assignment on February 20th. The essay will be due in class when we meet for the last time on February 27th.

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.