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ENGLISH 2Z03 Nature, Lit And Culture

Academic Year: Fall 2016

Term: Fall

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Susie O'Brien


Office: Chester New Hall 301

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23724

Office Hours: Wed. 1:00-3:00, Fri. 1:00-2:00

Course Objectives:

Course Structure


This is a blended course, which means that lectures will be presented in the form of online video recordings posted on Avenue to Learn, while class time will usually consist of discussion and other learning activities.  With the exception of guest speaker visits (listed below), C01 and C02 will follow the same schedule.  Tutorials, which meet for one hour each week, and will be assigned individually, will combine students from both sections. 


Course Description

"When the wolves come out of the walls, it's all over."


Neil Gaiman, The Wolves in the Walls


A place of refuge.  A fragile (or dangerous) wilderness.  A community of living things.  The saviour, victim or destroyer of human society.  A repository of economic resources.  Even a brief survey of common representations confirms the observation of cultural theorist Raymond Williams that "nature" is “perhaps the most complex word in the [English] language” (Keywords 1976), inflected with conflicting political, aesthetic, and emotional values.  At the same time as human culture fashions ideas of nature, we are ourselves biological and ecological beings, sharing a habitat with diverse other life forms, vulnerable, as they are, to the effects of environmental degradation.  Focusing on the theme of ecological habitat (and its connection to the highly charged cultural concept of home) this course will examine cultural interactions with nature in a variety of forms, with the aim of critically analyzing nature’s conflicting resonances and some of the beliefs, values, fears and desires that inform them. Among the questions we will investigate are: how do different representations of home/habitat frame problems of security, mobility, sustenance, and responsibility for humans and other living things? What concepts of identity and belonging, e.g. species, race, gender, sexuality, and class, shape the representation of nature (and vice versa)? And, finally, what socio- ecological histories do different texts/genres invite us to remember?  What kinds of futures do they allow us to imagine?



By the end of the course, students should be able to

  • recognize some of the values, beliefs, knowledges and myths that shape concepts of "culture", "nature", "home" and "habitat"
  • understand and apply concepts from the Environmental Humanities to a variety of different texts
  • recognize the role of genre in shaping the meaning of environmental(ist) culture
  • think critically about the way in which concepts of identity and belonging, e.g. species, race, gender, sexuality, and class, shape the representation of nature (and vice versa)
  • demonstrate the ability to communicate ideas insightfully and clearly in oral and written form
  • work cooperatively in groups ranging from 7-20 participants

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Required Texts:


Neil Gaiman, The Wolves in the Walls. HarperCollins

Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves.  Penguin

Susan Savage Rumbaugh, “The Gentle Genius of Bonobos” TED talk (online)

Home (online video)

Marie Clements, Burning Vision


PDFs available on Avenue to Learn

Method of Assessment:


Tutorial Participation: 20% (10% general participation, 10% tutorial assignments)  

Responses to online lectures: 5% (Questions are posed at the end of lectures; students answer questions for 5/10 lectures)

Practice Essay: 800 words 5%, due Oct.7th 

Ecocritical object: 600 words plus image, presented in class workshop Oct. 19th/21st, submitted via Avenue Oct. 28th 10%

Class participation: 5% (based on the submission of short assignments in class)

Essay: 2000 words, 30% due Nov. 11th

Take-home exam: 25% submitted via Avenue Dec. 12th (questions posted Dec. 8th)

All assignments should be submitted to the appropriate Dropbox in Avenue to Learn unless stipulated otherwise by your TA. 

Please Note the Following Policies and Statements:

Academic Dishonesty

You are expected to exhibit honesty and use ethical behaviour in all aspects of the learning process. Academic credentials you earn are rooted in principles of honesty and academic integrity.

Academic dishonesty is to knowingly act or fail to act in a way that results or could result in unearned academic credit or advantage. This behaviour can result in serious consequences, e.g. the grade of zero on an assignment, loss of credit with a notation on the transcript (notation reads: "Grade of F assigned for academic dishonesty"), and/or suspension or expulsion from the university.

It is your responsibility to understand what constitutes academic dishonesty. For information on the various types of academic dishonesty please refer to the Academic Integrity Policy, located at

The following illustrates only three forms of academic dishonesty:

  1. Plagiarism, e.g. the submission of work that is not one’s own or for which other credit has been obtained.
  2. Improper collaboration in group work.
  3. Copying or using unauthorized aids in tests and examinations.

Email correspondence policy

It is the policy of the Faculty of Humanities that all email communication sent from students to instructors (including TAs), and from students to staff, must originate from each student’s own McMaster University email account. This policy protects confidentiality and confirms the identity of the student.  Instructors will delete emails that do not originate from a McMaster email account.

Modification of course outlines

The University reserves the right to change dates and/or deadlines etc. for any or all courses in the case of an emergency situation or labour disruption or civil unrest/disobedience, etc. If a modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with an explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes. Any significant changes should be made in consultation with the Department Chair.

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

In the event of an absence for medical or other reasons, students should review and follow the Academic Regulation in the Undergraduate Calendar Requests for Relief for Missed Academic Term Work. Please note these regulations have changed beginning Fall 2015. You can find information at If you have any questions about the MSAF, please contact your Associate Dean's office.

Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities

Students who require academic accommodation must contact Student Accessibility Services (SAS) to make arrangements with a Program Coordinator. Academic accommodations must be arranged for each term of study. Student Accessibility Services can be contacted by phone 905-525-9140 ext. 28652 or e-mail For further information, consult McMaster University's Policy for Academic Accommodation of Students with Disabilities.

Academic Accommodation for Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances

Students requiring academic accommodation based on religion and spiritual observances should follow the procedures set out in the Course Calendar or by their respective Faculty. In most cases, the student should contact his or her professor or academic advisor as soon as possible to arrange accommodations for classes, assignments, tests and examinations that might be affected by a religious holiday or spiritual observance.

Other Course Information:



NB: C01 meets on Wed. 3:30-5:00 and C02 meets on Fri. 2:30-4:00.  Both sections follow the same schedule, with the exception of guest speakers, who will each offer just one lecture in the C01 OR the C02 time slot.  Students are welcome to attend guest lectures on days that their section doesn’t normally meet.


Sept. 7th/9th: Introduction


Sept. 14th/16th: Alexander Wilson, “The Culture of Nature” (coursepack), William Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness” (coursepack)


Online Lecture: Environmental Humanities


Representing Home and Habitat

Sept. 21st/23rd: Daniel Coleman, “The Broken Pine” (PDF), Rita Wong, “Watersheds” (PDF). “Where You At? A Bioregional Quiz” (PDF)


Online Lecture: The Work of Belonging: Bioregionalism


Sept. 28th/30th: Sylvia Bowerbank, “Telling Stories About Places” (PDF), Christopher W. Wells, “Reading Signs: The Language of Place” (PDF), Rita Wong, “Declaration of Intent” (coursepack)


Online Lecture: Telling Stories About Places


Guest Lectures: Chris McLaughlin (Wed. Sept 28th C01), Daniel Coleman (Fri. Sept. 30th C02)


Oct. 5th/7th: Neil Gaiman, The Wolves in the Wall, Karen Russell, “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves”


Online Lecture: Wolves in the Walls


Practice essay due Oct. 7th on Avenue


Oct. 12th/10th:  BREAK


Home Economics


Oct. 19th/21st: Mike Mikulak, "The Map and the Territory: Learning to Gardening With Nature" (PDF)


Online Lecture: The Garden I


Ecocritical Objects due Oct. 19th/21st for in-class workshop

Guest Lecture: Duncan Chambers, Date(s) TBA


Oct. 26th/28th: Jamaica Kincaid, “To Name is to Possess” (coursepack), Rachel Slocum, “Whiteness, Space and Alternative Food Practice”  (PDF)


Online Lecture: The Garden II


Ecocritical Objects due Oct. 28th due on Avenue


Nov. 2nd/4th: Leanne Simpson, “Embodying the Transformation of Idle No More.”  Interview with Naomi Klein” (PDF), “everyday climatechange” Instagram group (


Online Lecture: Climate Change


Family Values


Nov. 9th/11th: Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves


Online Lecture: Family Values


Essay due Nov. 11th


Nov. 16th/18th: Home (video), Sense of Place and Sense of Planet, by Ursula Heise (review)


Online lecture: Planetary Thinking I: The View from the Sky


Nov. 23rd/25th: Anna Tsing, “Unruly Edges: Mushrooms as Companion Species”


Online lecture: Planetary Thinking II: The View from the Ground


Environmental Justice


Nov. 30th/Dec. 2nd:  Marie Clements, Burning Vision


Online lecture: Slow Violence


Dec. 7th/9th: No class, review session


Additional course information


In addition to the information below, your tutorial leader may stipulate additional guidelines for the tutorial session.

Attendance and Participation: Success in the course depends on consistent attendance at lectures and tutorials. 20% of your final grade is based on regular, informed participation in tutorials.  5% of your grade is based on the completion of (very) short written assignments based on class activities.  In the larger group setting, it is particularly important that everyone observe rules of common courtesy, including refraining from talking, passing notes, opening pop cans, rustling papers, etc. Recreational computer use, even if silent, is also distracting to people sitting nearby.  Laptops are welcome in class for the purposes of note-taking and class-work only.  Contributions to discussion must be based on course material.  Comments should always be collegial and respectful of others in the class.

Contact: Questions about course content and assignments should be addressed to your tutorial leader or the instructor during their office hours. If you are unable to attend these office hours, you may e-mail your TA or instructor to schedule an alternative meeting time. The instructor will try to respond to short email queries within 48 hours. Messages received over the weekend will generally be answered by Tuesday. TAs may provide their own e-mail policies. All e-mail correspondence for this course must have “2Z03” in the subject heading. Please ensure that your e-mail message is addressed to your tutorial leader or instructor by name and that it includes your own name.

Inquiries concerning Assignments and Grades:  Queries about grades and other aspects of feedback on assignments should be directed to TAs during office hours or by appointment--not via email (and only after carefully reading both the comments  on the essay and the details of the assignment).  Disputes regarding grades will only be considered if students are able to present the original marked copy of the class work. For this reason, students should retain all pieces of work submitted and graded during the term.

Accessibility: I encourage you to speak to me, and to your TA, about accommodations you may require to facilitate your participation in the course. Student Accessibility Services can help with the identification of disabilities, and suggestions for specific arrangements to accommodate them.  If you already have a documented disability, please let us know as soon as possible (i.e. well in advance of assignment due dates) so we can put arrangements in place ahead of time. (NB accommodation must be made in advance of evaluation; it will not be retroactive).

Learning Technologies:  In this course we will be using ‘Avenue to Learn’ (the online learning management system at McMaster). Information regarding course assignments and expectations, changes to assigned readings, office hours, or class cancellations will be posted on Avenue, so please check it frequently.  Students who are unfamiliar with the Avenue to Learn system should review the online tips and help available at the McMaster Avenue to Learn webpage.  

Please be aware that when you access Avenue to Learn, private information such as first and last names, user names for the McMaster e-mail accounts, and program affiliation may be visible to other students in the same course. Continuation in this course will be deemed consent to this disclosure. If you have any questions or concerns about such disclosure please discuss this with the course instructor.  In addition to Avenue to Learn, some course material, including student assignments, may be posted on a class blog.  No work will be posted without the student's prior permission.