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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: 2023-24

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 period
A Semester 2 2023-24

Module aims

The aim of the module is to acquire a broad understanding of the different approaches in ecocriticism, and the ability to place different critical approaches in their intellectual and cultural context.

Module learning outcomes

On successful completion of the module, you should be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with the development of Western environmental thought, including the ability to reflect on it critically.

  2. Demonstrate an advanced understanding of and engagement with ecocriticism as a discipline animated by environmental concerns, and with questions concerning the relationship between literature, life and activism.

  3. Evaluate key debates within the relevant critical fields dealing with questions of intrinsic value, land ethic(s), the rights of nature, environmental racism, settler colonialism and indigeneity.

  4. 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 submit a 1000-word formative essay for the module, which can feed into the 3000-word summative essay submitted at the end of the module.

Your essay will be annotated and returned to you by your tutor within two weeks.

You will submit your summative essay via the VLE during the revision and assessment weeks at the end of the teaching semester (weeks 13-15). Feedback on your summative essay will be uploaded to e:Vision to meet the University’s marking deadlines.


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.