Graham Sustainability Institute

Literature & the Environment


This course will look at the development of responses to North American nature from the pre-colonial period to the present. Beginning by understanding Amerindian peoples as willful environmental actors, we will look at European contact as, in part, a scene of conflicting land use and land-concept regimes. Then, from Columbus’s anticipations of Eden to representations of wilderness trials by Puritans, we will move to Enlightenment understandings of the orderliness and/or the sublimity of American nature, and at early national attempts to make a precarious nation inevitable and ‘natural’ through the landscape. We will read Thoreau and Emerson’s Transcendentalist claims about the natural world; Muir’s meditations on sacred geological time in the Sierra Mountains; and early twentieth century writers (Cather, Leopold, Faulkner, Stoneman Douglas, and Hurston) who describe changes, via settlement, deforestation, drainage, and mining, to the prairies, the California desert, and the southern wetlands and forests. We will encounter later 20th-century authors (Carson, Lopez, Dillard) concerned about toxicity, concepts of sustainability, and the dependence of the human on the non-human world. We will end by thinking about the interlocked concepts of the global and local.

Literature, Science, & Arts » Program in the Environment
Winter 2018
Fall 2017
Summer 2017
Fall 2016
Summer 2016
Winter 2016
Fall 2015
Summer 2015
Winter 2015
Fall 2018