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English 3110, Spring 2016

Our Place in Nature

2016 is a year of dire emergency for the earth, a time when drastic and dramatic measures must be taken so that our planet remains habitable.

This class will directly address the immediate crisis of climate change.  We will learn about global warming, not only the science, but also about how culture, literature, writing, and performance influence our understanding and create possibilities for actions.

The title of this course is evocative.  What, indeed, in 2016, is "our place in nature"?

Following geologists many now refer to the epoc we are living in as the Anthropocene, a time when human beings are profoundly changing the planet we are living on.

Perhaps, to be more precise, we should say we are living in the Capitalocene; as Jason Moore describes:

The Anthropocene makes for an easy story. Easy, because it does not challenge the naturalized inequalities, alienation, and violence inscribed in modernity’s strategic relations of power and production. It is an easy story to tell because it does not ask us to think about these relations at all. The mosaic of human activity in the web of life is reduced to an abstract Humanity: a homogeneous acting unit. Inequality, commodification, imperialism, patriarchy, racial formations, and much more, have been largely removed from consideration. ... Are we really living in the Anthropocene, with its return to a curiously Eurocentric vista of humanity, and its reliance on well-worn notions of resource- and technological-determinism? Or are we living in the Capitalocene, the historical era shaped by relations privileging the endless accumulation of capital?  (Capitalocene)

This Honors College class is experimental and the syllabus provisional and under development.  Students are invited to join in my research, scholarship, and writing about addressing climate change in English language arts classes and supports the book project I am working on and coauthoring, tentatively titled, Teaching About Climate Change: Reading, Writing, and Making a Difference.

After initially studying Bill McKibbon's Eaarth, the class is divided into a series of units where students will have significant freedom to choose reading and activities as we study contemporary writing about climate change, traditional nature literature, "cli fi" -- climate fiction and film, young adult literature and mass media, and forms of writing and performance and how they can be intrepreted to address climate change.

Students will keep blogs, and, through the class blog and blogroll, read and comment on each other's thinking. Students will develop a collaborative wiki that will be an ongoing resource.

Course Success

Since the class is discussion-based, attendance and preparation are essential to your own learning and to the learning of your classmates. Missing any classes will affect your learning. Missing 3 classes or more will lower your grade and missing 5 classes may lead to failing. Study my philosophy regarding discussion, preparation, participation, attendance, grading, and learning!

Your final course grade will be an average of grades for the major assignments, listed and weighted below.

This course will follow WMU policies regarding academic honesty.

WMU has many resources to foster student health and well being. If at any point in the semester if you feel stress, English 3110 does offer free on-line therapy from Eliza!

My office is 723 Sprau Tower, 387-2605. Office hours are before and after class and by appointment. You can always reach me via email.



McKibbin, Bill. Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough New Planet (St Martins, 2010)

Additional reading and viewing selected by students from lists provided by the professor. This will involve students collaborating with others, planning ahead, acquiring materials in timely ways, using the library, and spending money needed to purchasing additional books.

Major Assignments


Update to 2016 Presentation (10%) Due: 1/20              

Class Blog (25%)

Class Wiki (25%)

Writing, Performance, and Action Assignments, to be determined (25%)

Final Essay (15%) Due: 4/25

Electronic Syllabus

Jan 11: Introductions

1. Write a blog post to introduce yourself.

Jan 13: A New World

1. Read carefully through the entire on-line syllabus. Bring any questions about the syllabus and assignments to class.

2. Join our class phone message system, Remind by sending this message, "@486b9a" to this number "81010" using your cell phone (your cell phone number will remain private).  [If you do not have a cell phone you can send a blank email to 486b9a@mail.remind.com and receive email messages instead of phone messages.]

3. Read Eaarth, Preface and Chapter 1: A New World.

4. Write and post a blog post on the chapter and respond to classmates' blogs.

Jan 18: Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Jan 20: Planet Eaarth

1. Read Eaarth, Chapter 2: High Tide.

2. Read selection from Don't Even Think About It (passed out in class).

3. Write a blog post on the chapter and respond to classmates' blogs.

4. Work on Update to 2016 Presentation

Jan 25: Planet Eaarth Con't

1. Read Eaarth, Chapter 3: Backing Off

2. Begin Update to 2016 Presentations

Jan 27: Planet Eaarth Con't

1. Finish Eaarth, Chapter 4: Lightly, Carefully, Gracefully

2. Finish Update to 2016 Presentations

3. Write a blog about your Update research and respond to other blogs.

Feb 1: Contemporary Discussions of Climate Change

1. Read: First 100 pages of your climate change book.

2. Write a blog about your climate change book and respond to others.

Feb 3: Contemporary Discussions of Climate Change Con't

1. Finish your climate change book and collaborative wiki post.

Feb 8: Contemporary Documentaries about Climate Change

1. View a full length documentary film about climate change.  Possible films include: An Inconvenient Truth, Chasing Ice, Trading on Thin Air, What a Way to Go, Out of Balance, The Denial Machine, The 11th Hour, The Island President, Meat the Truth, Six Degrees, Wasteland, Death of the Electric Car, Climate of Doubt, Merchants of Doubt, This Changes Everything, Fossil Free, A Climate of Change, The Cross of the Moment, Oil and Water, Momenta, Fracured Earth, The Future of Energy, Our Rising Oceans, Earth on Fire, Drop in the Ocean, other?  (Some Internet search may be needed to find specific films.  Some may require using Netflicks, Amazon, paying a small fee, or may not be available yet for open release. Many can be seen at Top Documentary Films.)

2. Write a blog about the film you watched and respond to others.

Feb 10: Classic Environmental Writers & Climate Change

1. Read: A classic environmental writer, 2 students per writer.

2. Write a blog about your writer and respond to others.

Feb 15: Classic Environmental Writers & Climate Change, Con't

1. Continue reading

2. Start a collaborative wiki page about your writer.

Feb 17: Classic Environmental Writers & Climate Change, Con't

1. Contine reading and work on wiki.

Feb 22: Classic Environmental Writers & Cli-Fi Fiction Con't

1. Finish wiki page about your writer

2. Read: Climate Change Short Stories.
Required: Rich-"Hermie," Atcheson-"How Close to the Savage Soul," May-"The Audit," Atwood-"Time Capsule Found on the Dead Planet," Bacigalupi-"The Tamarisk Hunter"
Optional: Donoghue-"Double Double," Cooper-"Everlast."

3. Start Cli-Fi Novel

Feb 24: Cli-fi Novel

1. Read: A Contemporary Cli-Fi novel

2. Write a blog about your writer and respond to others.

Feb 29: Cli-Fi Novel Con't 

1. Read: Finish reading

2. Write a wiki page about your novel.

Mar 2: Young Adult (YA) Cli-Fi

Mar 7-11: Spring Break

Mar 14: YA Cli-Fi and Cli-Fi Film

1. Finish YA Cli-Fi novel

2. View a Cli-Fi Film

3.  Write a wiki post directed to teachers about your YA novel or Cli-Fi film.

Mar 16: YA Cli-Fi and Cli-Fi Film, Con't

1. Write a blog post about your YA novel or film, and respond to others

Mar 21: Media and Climate Change

1. Read Don't Even Think About It and/or identify a Media Project or Projects to work on

Mar 23: Media and Climate Change, Con't

Paul Clements visits

Mar 28: Media and Climate Change. Con't

Mar 30: Writing about Climate Change

Apr 4: Writing about Climate Change, Con't

Apr 6: Performance and Climate Change

Apr 11: Performance and Climate Change, Con't

Apr 13: Taking Action

Apr 18: Taking Action, Con't

Apr 20: Taking Action, Con't

Apr 25-29 Finals Week

Apr 25 (Monday) 5:00-7:00: Final Essay Due: Discussion of Course and Reflections