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C LIT 362 A: Topics in Modern Literature

Meeting Time: 
TTh 10:30am - 12:20pm
ECE 037
Joint Sections: 
ENGL 365 A, ENVIR 495 D
Gary Handwerk

Syllabus Description:

Course Syllabus: English 365A/Comparative Literature 362A/Enviro 495D

Valuing Nature: Literature and the Environment

Spring 2019                                                                            Gary Handwerk (MWF: Wallace Hall)

Tues/Thur 10:30-12:20; ECE 037                                          Office: A-402 Padelford; Phone 543-2183

E-mails:;                    Office Hours: Thur. 1-3 and by appt.

Canvas Site:           Eric Morel (Wallace Hall)

                                                                                                Office Hours: Tu 8-10 AM (Microsoft  Cafe --                                                                              in the B. & M. Gates Computer Science & Engineering Center)

About the course:

 What values do we find in nature…and why?  What role can various forms of literary and aesthetic experience play in determining what we value in nature and how we justify these values?  Why should we care about nature at all…and why, so often, do people seem not to do so, or to do so very differently from “us”?  These questions are closely intertwined; what we imagine nature to be frames and delimits the values we find in it, even what values we can envisage at all.  In different contexts, we may grant greater or lesser worth to various aspects of nature: its beauty, its resource possibilities, its spiritual impact, its recreational uses, its scientific status, or other aspects.   These acts of valuing are themselves rooted in specific socio-cultural, historical and religious traditions, as well as in the economic and scientific frameworks that often play a bigger visible role in political and personal decision-making. 


In this course, we will be analyzing how nature and environmental issues have been represented across various historical periods and geographic locales in one distinct variety of cultural text—literary narratives.  This will not be a course on nature writing or social science/public policy issues, although our concerns will intersect with both of those perspectives.  Instead, we will be studying how aesthetic and rhetorical elements have been used by different authors to shape our attitudes toward nature and the environment—with “environment” broadly construed as a category that encompasses human and non-human, physical and socio-cultural elements.  One primary course objective is simply to work toward reading the texts in this class—a set that includes fictional narratives, non-fictional essays and theoretical works—more closely and more carefully.  Each text we will read depicts one or more attitudes toward the environment, varying senses of what the world around us is, how it works, why it is the way it is, and what all of that means for us as human beings.  Moreover, each text also deals with the non-human environment as it bears upon social relations; collectively, they let us explore how our acts of valuing nature and valuing other people are connected.  As we read them, it is important to remember that they (like literary texts and works of art generally) are not simply descriptive accounts of what particular authors see or feel.  They are acts of persuasion, implicit arguments about how we should think and feel and behave that are often all the more effective for the implicitness of their intentions.  Such texts play a key role in determining how societies think about environmental issues; they help shape the deep base of beliefs and values that frames political debates about public policies.


Learning to read these kinds of texts well is, in addition, a skill that we can bring to bear on non-literary texts.  Most kinds of discourse make extensive use of “literary” strategies, deploying narrative, imagery, metaphor, and other elements typical of literary texts to help them achieve their rhetorical purposes.  It is rare that scientific expertise proves to be the sole determining factor even for what one might construe as scientific issues—the reality of global warming, for instance, or the decision to protect or not protect a specific endangered species.  It is even rarer for politicians or bureaucrats (or even scientists) to refrain from the slanting of perspective that rhetoric can provide.  So the analysis we will practice in this class is in an important way transferable to the reading and the writing you might do in very different contexts.


Your writing provides the best measure of how well you can perform the kinds of analytical reading we will expect from you.  Effective writing is in equal measure a matter of conception and execution, of planning and practice.  We will talk about the former most specifically in relation to the longer essay assignments, where we will explain for each one what you are being asked to do and why.  We will address the latter by having you write regularly, supplementing the formal, graded essays with a series of short, ungraded e-mail responses to the course Canvas site (12 in all required during the quarter) and regular in-class writing. 


Graded Work:

            Responses/Self-reflective essay                               1/7 of final grade

            Analytical essays (5)                                                  5/7 of final grade

            Attendance and participation                                     1/7 of final grade


Analytical essays will be graded on a 10-point scale, with 9 = 4.0, 8 = 3.5, 7 = 3.0, etc.  You will be writing five of these (each a one-page, single-spaced, no-margin paper, roughly 1100 words, with topics circulated a week before they are due).  All analytical essays should be submitted electronically, as Word documents on Canvas. 

 Other Essential Information:

1. Both the amount and the different kinds of materials we will be reading make this a challenging course. In addition, the active close reading that we expect you to do regularly may be something that you have not had much occasion to practice.  So we encourage you to ask questions in class and to see us in office hours for further help if needed.  It is your responsibility to come to us with any issues you feel are getting in the way of your effective learning.   

2. This is an intensive course, requiring you to read 100-200 pages per week and to write regularly about that reading. We expect that for most of you the required work will fill the 12-15 hours a week that the university prescribes as the norm for a 5-credit class. Some of you may find yourselves putting in more time than that during certain weeks.T

3. The median grade for the course will very likely be close to the norm for classes in the humanities here, around 3.3. That isn’t the bottom grade; it’s the median. That means that it is possible to get a grade below 3.0, even though you have been doing the assigned work and submitting it on time. 

4. Attendance and participation are required. Moreover, they presuppose engaged and timely completion of writing assignments. Late analytical essays will have one point deducted for each calendar day that they are late.  We will take roll on occasion and will use your response papers and self-reflective essay to help us evaluate your class participation.

5. Finally, please DO NOT PLAGIARIZE. If you have any questions about the proper use of outside sources that you have consulted, ask one of us BEFORE you submit the paper.

6. Required texts: McPhee, Encounters with the Archdruid; Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, Faulkner, Go Down, Moses; Appleman (ed.), Darwin (this Norton edition ONLY); Butler, Wild Seed; Diaz, In the Distance; plus photocopy packet available at E-Z Copy N Print, 4336 University Ave.



Course Syllabus: English 365A/Comp Lit 362A/Enviro 495D

Valuing Nature: Literature and the Environment

Course Calendar (subject to change)

April 2             --  Introduction: Looking & Seeing; Cheryll Glotfelty, “Introduction” to Ecocriticism                                      Reader (PC); Buell, from Writing for an Endangered World

April 4             --  John McPhee, Encounters with the Archdruid (Part 1)

WEEK 1 or 2   --  Optional class session on writing analytical papers (day, time  and place TBA)


April 9             --  McPhee, Encounters (Part 2)

April 11           --  McPhee, Encounters (Part 3)        

APRIL 13        -- PAPER #1 DUE, 5 PM (McPhee)


April 16           --  Aldo Leopold, “The Land Ethic” (PC); Berry, “Faustian Economics” (PC);

April 18           --  Defoe, Robinson Crusoe


April 23           --  Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe

April 25           --  Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe

APRIL 27        --  PAPER #2 DUE (Defoe)


April 30           --  William Faulkner, Go Down, Moses, “The Bear”; William Cronon, “The Trouble with

                   Wilderness” (PC)

May 2              --  Faulkner, “The Bear”


May 7              --  Faulkner, “The Bear”; Paul Shepard, “The Metaphysical Bear” (PC)

May 9              --  Faulkner, “Delta Autumn”

MAY 11           -- PAPER #3 DUE (Faulkner)


May 14            --  Charles Darwin, Origin of Species (selections to be announced)

May 16            --  Octavia Butler, Wild Seed


May 21            --  Butler, Wild Seed; Phelan, “How We Evolve” (PC) 

May 23            --  Butler, Wild Seed

MAY 25           -- PAPER #4 DUE (Darwin, Butler)


May 28            --  Diaz, In the Distance

May 30            --  Diaz, In the Distance


June 4              --  Diaz, In the Distance

June 6              --  Wrapping Things Up and Looking Ahead: Scranton, “Dying in the Anthropocene”

                                    (PC); Chakrabarty, “The Climate of History” (PC)


JUNE 10         --  PAPER #5 DUE


Catalog Description: 
Explores topics in literature and cultures of the modern world (approximately 1800-present) across national and regional cultures, such as particular movements, authors, genres, themes, or problems.
Department Requirements Met: 
Literature Core
GE Requirements Met: 
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:12pm