Fall 2021

21L.707 Problems in Cultural Interpretation: Writing American Nature Wyn Kelley MW 1:00-2:30p

Prereq: Two subjects in Literature or permission of instructor
3-0-9 HASS-H, CI-M; Can be repeated for credit

The image of early “America” as a pastoral garden in the wilderness has proven durable yet, given developments in environmental science, history, and ecocriticism – complicated and difficult to sustain. This class examines the history and literature of early US attempts at managing, even comprehending, its natural resources. Toni Morrison’s A Mercy frames our study of the long history of Native American and African land use that was labeled witchcraft by authors like Mary Rowlandson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and, more obliquely, Frederick Douglass. Ideas growing out of European natural history and based in observation, collecting, and taxonomy pitted Louis Agassiz against Charles Darwin and inspired Henry David Thoreau, and Herman Melville. Scientific methods drawing on botany and herbalism underwrote radical thinking in Harriet Beecher Stowe, Emily Dickinson, and Sarah Orne Jewett. As understanding of the deep historical roots of human impact on global environments emerges in the twenty-first century, these authors’ attempts to grapple with environmental challenges for which they were poorly prepared become newly relevant. Readings in a wide range of literary, historical, and scientific texts will allow students to assemble a critical archive of resources for rethinking US nature writing in the Anthropocene.