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Focusing on ecocritical approaches to literary analysis, this course will examine various authors’ portrayals of and reflections on nature in 19th century America. We will pay particular attention to how these writers respond to physical changes to their environment during the era, including Westward expansion, the destruction of the Civil War and changing landscape of Reconstruction, and the effects of Industrialization by the end of the century. Moreover, we will also consider the philosophical changes to their conceptions of nature, including the impact of Darwin’s The Origin of the Species in 1859 and the influence of the Transcendentalist movement. Whether challenging or condoning scientific views of nature, calling for preservation of an already disappearing American landscape and its endangered species, or debating the use of nature as an economic resource, American writers’ reflections on nature are not relegated solely to environmental treatises and nature writing of the era. Such responses can be seen in its various literary forms, including fiction, poetry, essays, travel writing, and journals. Their work played a crucial role in defining a distinctly “American” canon of literature, as called for by Emerson and others, as well as influencing the environmental writing that would follow in the 20th century.

John Muir with wife Louisa Wanda Strentzel and their children, c.1888

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