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Literature & Ecology - ENG00089H

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  • Department: English and Related Literature
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Freya Sierhuis
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: H
  • Academic year of delivery: 2020-21

Module summary

This module will study the relationship between literature and the environment. Lawrence Buell famously defined ecocriticism as “[a] study of the relationship between literature and the environment conducted in a spirit of commitment to environmentalist praxis”. This module will encourage students to think about the ethics of environmental criticism and to consider the relation of academic study to the praxis of everyday social and political life.

Drawing upon a number of key theoretical and literary works as well as from key texts in contemporary ecological literary criticism, environmental literature, and philosophy, it asks the question of what constitutes environmental literature, how such literature shapes environmental consciousness and action, and how new perspectives generated by the emergence of ecocriticism raise questions about the relationship between human perception and the natural world, and our co-existence as human beings in the larger living organism of the earth.

Readings will include the poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge and classic texts of nature writing, such as Thoreau’s Walden and Melville’s Moby-Dick, and Bruce Chatwin’s Songlines, as well as philosophical and critical texts by Bacon, Rousseau, Aldo Leopold, and Arne Næss. The final weeks of the seminar will look focus on the New Nature writing in contemporary literature.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2020-21

Module aims

  • To introduce you to current critical debates in the field of ecology and literature
  • To improve your ability in methodologies of close reading and textual analysis.
  • To improve your skills in independent research and written and oral communication.
  • To promote interdisciplinary research in literature and ecology

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module you should be able to:

  • Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with a range of texts dealing with the the scientific, cultural and political contexts of attitudes towards nature and the natural world, and their historical genesis.
  • Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with the changing ways in which humankind's relationship with the nature has been imagined and re-imagined in literature
  • Evaluate key debates within the relevant critical fields, such as Deep ecology; materialism, environmental ethics; ecological interpretation; nature writing.
  • Produce independent arguments and ideas which demonstrate an advanced proficiency in critical thinking, research, and writing skills


Task Length % of module mark
3000 Word Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

You will be given the opportunity to hand in a 1000 word formative essay in the term in which the module is taught (usually in the week 7 seminar). Material from this essay may be re-visited in your summative essay and it is therefore an early chance to work through material that might be used in assessed work. This essay will be submitted in hard copy and your tutor will annotate it and return it two weeks later (usually in your week 9 seminar). Summary feedback will be uploaded to your eVision account. 


Task Length % of module mark
3000 Word Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

  • You will receive feedback on all assessed work within the University deadline, and will often receive it more quickly. The purpose of feedback is to inform your future work; it is designed to help you to improve your work, and the Department also offers you help in learning from your feedback. If you do not understand your feedback or want to talk about your ideas further you can discuss it with your tutor or your supervisor, during their Open Office Hours
  • For more information about the feedback you will receive for your work, see the department's Guide to Assessment

Indicative reading

The reading list for the module will be provided in advance of the module running. Texts may include examples chosen from:

  • Leopold, Aldo (1949). Thinking Like a Mountain, in: Leopold, A Sand County Almanac: And Sketches Here and There (Oxford University Press)
  • Bate, Jonathan. The Song of the Earth. Harvard U P, 2000.
  • Buell, Lawrence. The Environmental Imagination. Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture. Cambridge, MA and London, England: Harvard University Press, 1995.
  • Burke, Edmund. A Philosophical Enquiry into Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. Ed. Adam Phillips. Oxford U P, 1998.
  • Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Selected Poems. Ed. H. J. Jackson. Oxford U P, 1985.
  • Cronon, William, The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature, in: William Cronon, ed., Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature, (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1995) pp. 69-90
  • Guattari, F©lix: »Remaking Social Practices«. In: Genosko, Gary (Hg.) (1996): The Guattari Reader. Oxford, Blackwell, S. 262-273.
  • Heise, Ursula K. Greening English: Recent Introductions to Ecocriticism. Contemporary Literature 47.2 (2006): 289-298.
  • N¦ss, Arne. (1973) The Shallow and the Deep Long-Range Ecology Movement: A Summary. Inquiry, 16:95-100
  • MacFarlane, Robert, The Wild Places (London: Granta, 2007)
  • McKibben, Bill ed., American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau.
  • Norton, Timothy, Ecology without Nature (Harvard University Press, 2009).
  • Rousseau, Jean Jacques. The Discourse on the Origin of Inequality. Trans. Maurice Cranston. Penguin, 1985.
  • -----. Reveries of the Solitary Walker. Trans. Peter France. Penguin Classics, 1979.
  • Rueckert, William. Literature and Ecology: An Experiment in Ecocriticism. Iowa Review 9.1 (1978): 71-86.
  • Serres, Michel. The Natural Contract. Trans. Elizabeth MacArthur & William Paulson. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1995.
  • Sheppard, Nan, The Living Mountain ()
  • Thoreau, Henry David, Walden, or Life in the Woods
  • Thomas, Keith, Man and the Natural World. Changing Attitudes in England, 1500-1800 (New York: Penguin: 1984)
  • Wordsworth, William. Selected Poems. Ed. John O. Hayden. New York: Penguin, 1994.
  • Zapf, Hubert. Literary Ecology and the Ethics of Texts. New Literary History 39.4 (2008): 847-868.

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.