ENGL 4590.06H: “Modern Literature and the Anthropocene.”


The last several years have witnessed a surge of interest in the relationship between cultural production and the Anthropocene.  The archive for pursuing that relationship is sizable and ever growing: early documentary films, the global spread of modernism and the avant-garde, the rise of environmental writing and activism, early science fiction, and the combination of emergent and residual literary forms all make this an incredibly vibrant area of inquiry.  This class will ask how the migration of the Anthropocene from the sciences into the humanities initiates new challenges and possibilities for the objects we study and the methods we bring to bear on them.  We will take up a wide range of texts as we wrestle with questions around nature and culture, energy and geopolitics, scale, periodization, planetarity and aesthetic mediation.  

ENGL 4321: “Environmental Literatures, Cultures, and Media”


In Fall of 2016 the Anthropocene Working Group declared that there is sufficient evidence to demonstrate that humans have exited the Holocene, the geological epoch of the last 11,700 years that was characterized by climatic stability and incredibly swift human development.  The Anthropocene declares that human activity has forced the Earth system for the first time beyond natural variability.  Energy extraction, large scale agriculture, atomic testing, urban growth, deforestation, and mass consumption among other factors have altered the cryosphere, the biosphere, and the atmosphere.   The rapid rate of biodiversity loss has led many to claim we are living in the midst of the Sixth Extinction.  Global inequality, food insecurity, war, and migration have all been amplified by ongoing changes to the climate.  What will constitute a livable future on such a changing planet? What cultural resources do we have to begin imagining other ways of relating to humans and to nonhuman nature? What cultural resources do we need to create?  

This course begins by suggesting that the discourse around our environmental crisis is itself part of the crisis: “sustainability” presumes the economic systems and social forms that created the crisis can solve it; “resilience” encourages us to create capacities to endure harsh, ever worsening conditions. These discourses limit our imaginative capacities for a more desirable, livable, and just world.  We will ask how reframing the planetary crisis around “livability” can generate other ideas, practices, and imaginaries.  

ENGL 4554: “Human Rights and Environmental Justice” 


Do we have a right to more fossil fuels if their use will make the planet less inhabitable for future generations?  Should we be having children in the era of climate change?  Should the nation-states historically responsible for the majority of carbon emissions pay reparations to the poorer states suffering from a warming planet?  How do we address environmental racism? What do the wars, revolutions, and refugee crises across the globe have to do with the environment?  The most contested human rights issues of our young century overlap with our ongoing environmental crisis and, in the process, force us to rethink the “human” and the concept of “rights.” This course asks how claims for human rights acquire or lose authority in the context of environmental crises.  We will focus on a global archive of fiction, creative non-fiction,  films, philosophy,  activist events, and artistic production.  

ENGL 7860: Graduate Seminar, “Aesthetics and the Anthropocene”


The Anthropocene is the proposed name for our current geological epoch, the first in which human activity has dramatically altered atmospheric, hydrologic, biospheric, and other Earth systems.  The recognition that humans are a geologic force poses enormous challenges to knowledge systems built around the segregation of historical time and geological time, human and nonhuman nature, and social relations and environment. In many ways, the reality of the Anthropocene strikes at the very heart of the Humanities, which has long privileged human thought, feeling, action, and cultural production.

This class will perform two tasks: first, we will consider the ways the environmental humanities are reshaping modern and contemporary literary studies; second, we will explore the unique ways artworks internalize, configure, disclose, and conceal the realities of life in the Anthropocene.  We will take up a range of genres, forms, and aesthetic practices–early documentary film, global modernist fiction, activist writing, visual art, petro-aesthetics, dystopic imaginaries and “”cli-fi””–as we try to develop alternative literary histories and reading practices for the Anthropocene.

ASCI 1138: Freshman Seminar, “Culture and Climate Change”

Climate change has emerged as one of the most urgent and complex dilemmas of the 21st century. Despite the incredible amount of data accumulated by scientists, thinking about climate change and telling its story has proven enormously difficult. For those reasons, many scientists have emphasized the importance of culture for understanding the changing relationship between human life and the environment. This class will examine a wide range of cultural forms and practices, including fiction, documentary film, ethnography, graphic narratives, digital artworks, and visual art. These works will invite all of us to see climate change from multiple perspectives and geographical sites in order to understand its complexity and to see the interrelations between our activities and the lives of those in distant locales and near futures. We will take up two sets of questions: first, how has climate change shaped cultural forms, practices, and ideas at local, national, and global scales? How are the manifold effects of climate change experienced at the level of everyday life? Second, how do cultural forms disclose the human and ecological costs of climate change? Can they offer unique and useful ways to narrate and to conceptualize climate change? As we explore these questions, we will also take time to consider the increasing collaboration between the sciences and the humanities on environmental issues and try to initiate such collaboration and exchange among ourselves.

Authors and filmmakers to include: Margaret Atwood, Ben Okri, David Mitchell, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, Gaia Vince, Helen Simpson, Sophie Calle, and others.


ENGL 4590.07H: Petro-Aesthetics: Oil and Literature, Film, and Art Since 1945

No resource has shaped the modern era like oil.  On one hand, oil has powered economic growth and technological development; on the other hand, the environmental and human consequences have been dire and, in some cases, irreversible.  Although oil has saturated modern history and culture, we have just begun to examine the aesthetics of oil.  What forms of representation make visible the contradictions of living in a world powered by oil?  What is it about oil as a material substance and a figure of modern life that makes it so difficult to narrate or represent?  In this class, we will explore some of the most provocative artworks that have engaged with oil directly and indirectly.   Our geographical focus will range across the Caribbean, Nigeria, the Middle East, Alberta, and North Dakota.  We will draw on a vast range of cultural works–magical realist fiction, experimental novels, documentary film and photography, performance art, museum exhibitions and curatorial practice–to map the patterns and differences that structure oil cultures and economies across the globe.  Possible texts include: Ben Okri Stars of the New Curfew; Nawal El Saadawi Love in the Kingdom of Oil; Patrick Chamoiseau Texaco; Edward Burtynsky and Alec Soth’s documentary photography; Jesse Moss’ film The Overnighters; museum exhibitions on North Dakota’s oil boom in Chicago, IL and Fargo, ND; the performance art collective Liberate Tate; and Andrei Molodkin’s installations and sculptures.  We will also read histories of oil production, recent work in ecocriticism and environmental humanities, and some political theory.