Nowadays, when we think about the interaction between human beings and nature, we tend to focus on environmental damage: deforestation, pollution, climate change and the catastrophes to which it has contributed. In this course, however, we will study literature that represents the interaction between humans and the natural world as joyous, sublime, revelatory, and mutually sustaining. We will traverse the Lake District with William Wordsworth, Walden Pond with Henry David Thoreau, and the Grand Canyon with Lauret Savoy. We will trace a breathtakingly long and moving tradition of writers of color crafting stories, poems, and picture books about animals and plants, space and place, from Aesop, Phillis Wheatley, and Paul Laurence Dunbar to Lucille Clifton, Thylias Moss, and Ada Limón.
Without denying that human beings have damaged the world we inhabit—and that certain groups have been systematically barred from enjoying equal access to its beauty and bounty—we will focus on the role that wonder, ease, and joy might play in helping us to envision new modes of being with ourselves and engaging with others and an ever-changing environment. To that end, each student will contribute to a collective “Local Knowledge Project” that enjoins each of you to choose a nearby natural site to visit and revisit, research and write about as winter segues into spring. By mid-May, you will have reworked these short essays into a longer piece of creative nonfiction that chronicles your personal engagement with this locale over time, in a way that makes use of rhetorical tropes and other literary techniques that we will have identified in the work of the essayists and poets whose craft we will marvel at and puzzle over during our seminar-style class discussions.
This version of 21L.449 counts toward the pre-1900 requirement for the Literature Minor and Major. It also satisfies the HASS-A GIR and serves as an approved elective for MIT’s Environment and Sustainability Minor. [Pre-1900]