ENVIRON 355 - Southern Natures: The Making and Unmaking of Races and Environments in the US South
Section: 001
Term: WN 2019
Subject: Program in the Environment (ENVIRON)
Department: SNE Program in the Environment
Requirements & Distribution:
May not be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:

When we think of the places where important American environmental literature was written, we typically think about New England or the far West. We think of the Transcendentalism of Thoreau and Emerson or the mountain rhapsodies of Muir. Maybe we also imagine the Midwest of Hemingway or Aldo Leopold. Do we think about the South? The Caribbean? Not so much. Why would we, when we know that the plantation system established in these tropical and neotropical regions decimated landscapes and human relations there? Once we redefine environmental literature not only as writing which lionizes Wilderness, but as writing which records, argues about and imagines environmental practices and conceptions of “Nature,” and the nature/human relationship, then the plantation’s environmental and racial legacies, and the plantation‘s centrality to all of American history, are exactly why we should consider the South.

Studying the environmental and cultural histories of the U.S. South from the revolutionary period to the present, we will think about how humans (from North America, Africa, and Europe) shaped, and were shaped by, southern nature. We’ll begin with a unit on Hurricane Katrina: watch Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke and Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild; read Solnit’s Unfathomable City and Eggers’ Zeitoun. Next, we’ll consider the ways that the antebellum period, slavery and the Confederacy are memorialized in and through the landscape, tourism, and art today. Then we’ll jump back to the national origins of the plantation complex and work our way forward, reading Thomas Jefferson, Frederick Douglass, Solomon Northup, and Charles Chesnutt. Finally, we’ll end with a unit on Jim Crow eco-catastrophes as told by Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, and William Faulkner.

Here are some of the key questions we’ll address: How did the invention of races emerge from the labor that, for example, sugar or tobacco or cotton seemed to demand? How were southern landscapes altered to produce staples for a world market? How did different races move across, inhabit, spiritualize and know plantation and wilderness terrains? How did post-bellum deforestation, swamp drainage, and commercial agriculture result in Jim Crow era eco-catastrophes? How do rising sea levels and a global demand for petroleum shape the contemporary Gulf States? And how has all of this environmental and social history been represented, in promotional tracts, travel narratives, natural histories, autobiographies, short stories, novels, poetry, and films?

I very much welcome students from across the university to take this class. In past years, students in Engineering, PitE, English, Art & Design and other majors/schools have brought their academic fluencies to our conversations in really productive ways. For English majors, this course satisfies your American Literature and Identity/Difference requirements. Three 4-5pp analytical papers, terms and identification test, and final creative project.

ENVIRON 355 - Southern Natures: The Making and Unmaking of Races and Environments in the US South
Schedule Listing
001 (LEC)
TuTh 4:00PM - 5:30PM
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