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Unit information: American Nature Writing in 2020/21

Unit name American Nature Writing
Unit code ENGL30130
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Malay
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of English
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit will introduce students to major developments in American writing and thinking about the environment between 1800 and 1975. It will consider some of the persistent tensions and paradoxes of American nature writing, explore the relationship between politics and literature, and also examine the often strained and ambivalent responses writers had to technological developments such as stop-motion photography, telegraphic communications, and the completion of the Pacific Railroad. By the end of the unit, students should have a broad but also intricate understanding of major events in American history and the way these events shaped and moulded writing about landscape and the more-than-human world.

Students will be given the opportunity to submit a draft or outline of their final, summative essay of up to 1,500 words and to receive feedback on this.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of the unit, students will be able to:

  1. demonstrate advanced knowledge and understanding of American nature writing in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries;
  2. articulate the connections between literary texts and the political, cultural and historical contexts in which they are produced;
  3. discriminate between and analyse different critical perspectives on this literature;
  4. demonstrate skills in close textual analysis, argumentation, and critical interpretation using evidence from primary texts and secondary sources appropriate to level H;
  5. develop capacity to respond to literary texts in creative and imaginative terms, both as a writer and a reader.

Teaching details

Teaching will involve asynchronous and synchronous elements, including group discussion, research and writing activities, and peer dialogue. Students are expected to engage with the reading and participate fully with the weekly tasks and topics. Learning will be further supported through the opportunity for individual consultation.

Assessment Details

  • 1 x 3500 word essay (100%) [ILOs 1-5]

Reading and References

Henry David Thoreau, Walden,

John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierras

Mary Austin, The Land of Little Rain,

Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony

Edward Abbey, The Monkey Wrench Gang

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek