Intro to Lit: Literary History

ENG 271: Between Wilderness and Abundance: Literary Representations of Nature Across Time


In this class, we will go on a journey across time to explore how various works of literature present natural space to us. With an eye to genre conventions and literary techniques, we will examine diverse voices while reading a variety of works from classics to pieces from the fringes of the literary mainstream to find out how they address – or ignore – questions about nature and the environment. The historical background of these works will guide us through changing attitudes on themes such as colonization, commodification, indigenous worldviews, climate change, environmental activism, eco-justice, resource exploitation, and many more. By learning about the mechanisms of literary representation, we will uncover how vastly different depictions of nature both reflect the historical and cultural background of the work and often serve an underlying agenda.


But what, exactly, is nature?

An untamed wilderness full of danger and adversity?

A retreat that energizes the observer?

A refuge for solitary withdrawal and transcendence?

Boundless beauty that needs to be preserved?

A banquet waiting to be feasted upon?

A challenging terrain to be conquered?

A no-man’s-land to be settled and utilized?

A garden promising hours of leisure and tranquility?

A playground of adventurous entertainment?

A sacred vault of stories?

An endangered habitat in dire need to be rescued?

A mystery that will never cease to puzzle us?


All of these ideas and more will the subject of our investigation as we learn about strategies for reading and analyzing literature and expressing our ideas in unique and fresh arguments.