This course is intended to provide an introduction to the history and practice(s) of “ecocriticism,” defined for our purposes as the study of literary (or other cultural) representations of ecological environments and the fraught human interaction with those environments. Although first-wave ecocritics in the 1990s focused almost exclusively on the “nature writing” of Wordsworth and Thoreau, the rise of the environmental justice movement has led to an increasing focus on urban or otherwise toxic environments and a greater awareness of how the politics of class, race, and gender influence contemporary discourses concerning “nature” and its purported preservation or conservation.
Inspired by Raymond Williams’ classic The Country and the City, this course will trace the development of pastoral as a mode of literary representation from ancient Greece and Rome through the British Renaissance and Romantic periods and consider its persistence in a myriad of guises in our own contemporary moment. We will also trace the anti-/counter-pastoral impulse in British and American literature and consider its relation to the historical phenomena of urbanization, the Industrial Revolution, and the suburbanization of American cities after World War II. Throughout our investigation, we will examine a variety of poems, short stories, essays, films, and even potentially advertisements and news stories. Course requirements include a midterm, paper and final presentation.