Critical Practices

2:30p-3:45p TR (30) 3 CR.

TOPIC: “Environmental Criticism”

PREREQUISITE: L202 with grade of C- or better. NOTE: The English Department will strictly enforce this prerequisite. Students who have not completed L202 with a grade of C- or better will have their registration administratively cancelled.

Our English L371 in Environmental Criticism will have three main parts. Our first perspectives will be global; our second perspectives will be regional and local and will be partly about Indiana; and our third perspective might be called philosophical. That third part of the course will look into theories and discussions of "environmentalist" thinking, including the conservation or preservation of nature and the historical rise of nature appreciation. We will look at a number of different theories regarding those "environmentalist" or "nature appreciation" topics. Overall, our course will ask how all three major parts, the global, the regional, and the philosophical, potentially bear upon the reading of selected literary texts.

For our first and global unit, our main text will be Jared Diamond’s Pulitzer Prize-winning study Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (1998). We will use Diamond’s book enhance our global and historical perspectives on the making of cultures on different continents. He asks what happens when different cultures collide. Diamond especially has in mind the collision between the Spanish and the Native Americans of Mexico and Peru in the New World. We will also look at some excerpts from Alexander von Humboldt's nineteenth-century work Cosmos, a book that in some ways might be termed a pre-evolutionary precursor of Diamond's global outlooks, and we might possibly read a play from ancient Greece in conjunction with this global segment of the course.

We have some flexibility in our second or regional unit for deciding which states we study. One of our literary readings for this unit of the course will decided in consultation with members of the class. There will be an "Indiana" component in the course. Some of our readings will come from Indiana State Department of Natural Resources publication entitled The Natural Heritage of Indiana. We plan to read a literary work about appreciating the nature of Indiana, probably Gene Stratton Porter's novel of 1909, A Girl of the Limberlost. We'll also do some reading from Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, as well as from the Declaration of Independence. And we may turn our attention to the southern states, and to a novel or short novel by William Faulkner. We will hope that the spring weather cooperates and that we can do go on some flexibly scheduled class field trips to see parts of the present day nature of Indiana.

For the third unit or segment of the course we will consider some of the many debates on the question of just where our "sense of nature" or "appreciation for nature" or lack thereof comes from. Part of those discussions and deliberations may be based on readings from Edward O. Wilson's short book Biophilia (1986). We plan to consider arguments which hold that our senses of nature and environment are innate or inherited; and we will consider contrary arguments which contend that our senses of nature and environment are learned, acquired, and culturally shaped. This section of the course may read some nature poetry from Britain or America.

A note on orientation. You by no means need to be an "environmentalist" or an activist in order to take this course and do well in it. Our course will be historical; and it can viably be argued that for much of world history people were not anything like conservationists or preservationists. We will allow for and encourage a wide range of critical perspectives on the human affected "environment" across the ages. We do hope that our course will expand our perspectives in global and international directions.

Student written work in the course will consist of a series of short (one-paragraph to one-page length) working papers, a brief (circa three-page) "environmental autobiography," three critical papers (about 6-8 pages each), and possibly some other short in-class exercises or quizzes. There is no mid-term exam or final exam. This is an essay writing course. Regular attendance will be expected and required. Class meetings will be mostly conducted as discussion.