This course is a sweeping survey of Western literature from an environmental perspective. In much the same way that feminist critics are interested in literary representations of gender and women, ecological literary critics (or simply “ecocritics") explore how our relationship to nature is imagined. As with changing perceptions of gender, such literary representations are not only generated by particular cultures, they play a significant role in generating those cultures. Thus if we wish to understand contemporary America’s attitude toward the environment, its literary history is an excellent place to start. While authors such as Thoreau and Wordsworth may first come to mind in this context, literary responses to environmental concerns are as old as the issues themselves. Deforestation, air pollution, endangered species, wetland loss, animal rights, and rampant consumerism have all been appearing as controversial issues in Western literature for hundreds - and in some cases thousands - of years.
Starting with an excerpt from one of the West’s earliest texts, The Myth of Gilgamesh, this course will explore the often-ignored literary history of the natural world. In addition to being an introduction to literature and the environment, we will also be considering philosophy, history, religion, and culture from an environmental perspective. Thus, this course also provides an introduction to the environmental humanities, including environmental history, eco-philosophy, eco-theology, eco-art history, architecture and the environment, and (through the course's films) environmental media studies.