Nature is … well, nature – right? It turns out that how people perceive nature – both in terms of what it is and what ends it serves – varies tremendously according to time, place, and cultural orientation. In this course we will seek to gain an appreciation of how nature has been understood in America, from the exploratory period of Lewis and Clark, through the scientific advances and social upheavals of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, all the way to the present day. Texts for the course will include scholarly articles, first-person narratives, fiction, poetry, and documentary film. The course aims to provide the student with both a sense of historical scope and cultural breadth.
The three main texts listed below are available at the University Bookstore:
Henry David Thoreau, Walden, Yale University Press, 2006 (ISBN 9780300110081)
Jack London, The Call of the Wild, Puffin Classics, 2008 (ISBN 9780141321059)
Cormac McCarthy, The Road, Vintage, 2006 (ISBN 9780307387899)
Additional readings are available online through Course Reserves at the Marriott Library. These are required reading. Please print up the readings, organize them into a “booklet,” and bring them to class as you would any other hardcopy text.
Course Requirements and Grade Distribution:
30% - 2 Mini-tests (15 multiple choice/short answer questions each)
15% - Midterm Take-Home Assignment
30% - Final Assignment*
25% - Daily Attendance and Engagement (includes 4 typed symposia responses)
* The final assignment for the course will take the form of an imagined dinner party. Working in small groups, students will bring to life a gathering of three authors or characters we have encountered this semester and recreate their (hopefully dynamic) conversation on a topic or topics relating to nature/the environment. I anticipate that most papers will be in the form of a dramatic dialogue, with the identity of each speaker clearly indicated – though other formats are possible.
There are two parts to the assignment: a brief class presentation and a written paper. The presentation may be viewed as a “dry run” for the written paper, and an opportunity to receive valuable feedback in advance of turning in the written paper.
All students will present to the class within a group. However, students may subsequently opt to hand in a group paper (collaboratively authored) OR may hand in a paper authored independently. The written paper may be in whole or in part based on the presentation and the feedback received therefrom.
The presentation accounts for one-third of the final assignment grade, and the paper accounts for the remaining two-thirds of the final assignment grade (ie: 10% and 20% of the totalcourse grade respectively).
More detailed instructions will be forthcoming, of course, but let me know if you have any questions (or budding ideas) about the assignment as the semester progresses.
Drawing upon fiction, nonfiction, prose poetry, and film, the spring LEAP course will focus upon border crossings. Sometimes this will entail a literal, physical movement across political boundaries, reflecting the restless modern impulse to establish a sense of place in the world. Yet we will also come to understand borders in a more figurative sense, as represented by the limits and prohibitions against which people strive. Finally, bridging these concepts, we will reflect upon how human identity is constructed and defined in terms of physicality, race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, etc. – and the myriad “crossings” that complicate identity formation, both within individuals and within communities. Along the way, we will compass a diverse array of human experience (and at least one monster’s) while becoming fluent with terms like alienation, displacement, and hybridity. The final project for the course will challenge students to grapple with these concepts on a more personal level.
The five main texts (all paperbacks) listed below are available at the University
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (Penguin Classics, ISBN: 9780141439471)
Charles Baudelaire, Paris Spleen (New Directions, 9780811200073)
Robert Louis Stevenson, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde ((Signet Classics, ISBN:
Richard Wright, Black Boy (Harper Perennial, ISBN: 9780061443084)
Art Spiegelman, MAUS I: A Survivor’s Tale (Pantheon Books, ISBN:
A few additional readings may be provided to students by the instructor as the semester progresses.
40 points -Written Assignments
20 points - short mid-term paper (see Class Schedule for the two deadline options)
20 points - final project*
2 tests: 15 points each
20 points-Attendance and Participation (including group panel debates**)
10 points-Quizzes (unannounced quizzes based on the readings and classroom discussion
2 extra-credit points (optional): visit a religious/spiritual house of worship (mosque, Buddhist temple, synagogue, etc.) that you have never visited before and that is otherwise unfamiliar; snap a few pics on site – if or as permitted – and then write a brief paragraph summarizing your experience (must be turned in by the last day of class, to receive credit).