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Academic Year: Fall/Winter 2014/2015

Term: 1

Day/Evening: D

Instructor: Dr. Susie O'Brien


Office: Chester New Hall 301

Phone: 905-525-9140 x 23724

Office Hours:

Course Objectives:

"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 the representation of nature in a variety of contemporary texts, with the aim of critically analyzing its 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?

Textbooks, Materials & Fees:

Required Texts:

Neil Gaiman, The Wolves in the Wall

T. C. Doyle, Tortilla Curtain

Barbara Kingsolver, Flight Behavior

Dionne Brand, Inventory


Some readings are available online.  If you prefer hard copies, these will be also be available as part of a second, optional coursepack.

Method of Assessment:

Tutorial participation (20%)

"Where You At" assignment: due week of Oct. 6 in tutorial (10%)

Midterm: Oct. 15 (15%,)

In-class quizzes: scheduled randomly throughout the term (5%)

Essay: 1200 words, due week of Nov. 17 in tutorial (25%)

Final exam: scheduled by Registrar’s office between Dec 5-20 (25%)

Policy on Missed Work, Extensions, and Late Penalties:

McMaster Student Absence Form (MSAF)

This is a self-reporting tool for undergraduate students to report absences DUE TO MINOR MEDICAL SITUATIONS that last up to 5 days and provides the ability to request accommodation for any missed academic work. Please note, this tool cannot be used during any final examination period. You may submit a maximum of 1 Academic Work Missed request per term. It is YOUR responsibility to follow up with your Instructor immediately (NORMALLY WITHIN TWO WORKING DAYS) regarding the nature of the accommodation. If you are absent for reasons other than medical reasons, for more than 5 days, or exceed 1 request per term, you MUST visit your Associate Dean's Office/Faculty Office). You may be required to provide supporting documentation. This form should be filled out immediately when you are about to return to class after your absence.

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.

Topics and Readings:

Tentative Class Schedule[1]


Sept. 8-10 Introduction: Where You At? Different Perspectives on Home/Habitat

"Where You At? A Bioregional Quiz" (coursepack), Rita Wong, "Watersheds" (online), Neil Gaiman, The Wolves in the Wall


Sept. 15-17 Nature/Culture


William Cronon, “The Trouble With Wilderness” (coursepack), Kate Soper , "Introduction" (coursepack), Dana Phillips, "Ecocriticism, Literary Theory, and the Truth of Ecology" (online)


Sept. 22-24  Place and Displacement


Daniel Coleman, “The Broken Pine” (online), Gary Snyder, "The Place, the Region and the Commons" (coursepack), Ursula Heise, “Deterritorialization and Eco-Cosmopolitanism” (coursepack), Jamaica Kincaid,  “To Name is to Possess” (coursepack)


Sept. 29-Oct. 1 Home Economics


Michael Pollen, "You Are What You Grow" (online), Mike Mikulak, "The Map and the Territory: Learning to Garden With Nature" (online), Alisa Smith and J.B. McKinnon, "Living on the100-Mile Diet” (online), Julie Guthman, "The Food Police" (online)


Oct. 6-8   Rachel Slocum, "Whiteness, Space and Alternative Food Practice" (online)

Oct. 6  The Garden (video screening in class)


Oct. 13  Thanksgiving, no classes


Oct. 15 Midterm


Oct. 20-22 T. C. Doyle, Tortilla Curtain


Oct. 27 Doyle, cont'd, Noël Sturgeon. “Introduction:  Developing a Global Feminist Environmental Justice Analysis to Understand the Politics of the Natural” (coursepack)


Oct. 29 Changing Habitat

Barbara Kingsolver, Flight Behavior


Nov. 3-5 Kingsolver, cont’d,

Emily Potter, "Climate Change and the Problem of Representation" (online)


Nov. 10-12 Sovereignty: Home on Native Land


Leanne Simpson, "Aambe! Maajaadaa! (What #IdleNoMore Means to Me)"

Lament for the Land: Climate Change and Mental Health in the Circumpolar World (online video, link to be provided)


Nov. 17-19 Vanessa Watt, Indigenous Place-Thought & Agency amongst humans and non-humans (First Woman and Sky Woman go on a European World Tour!) (online)

Nov. 17: Oil and Water (video screening in class)


Nov. 24-26 Planetary Belonging

Dionne Brand, Inventory

Anna Tsing, Unruly Edges (online)


Dec. 1-3 Brand, Inventory, cont'd, Review


Detailed Description of Assignments


Tutorial participation: 20%

Your tutorial participation grade (20% of final grade) is based on attendance and regular, informed participation in tutorials, which may include short written or oral assignments to be determined by your TA. 


"Where You At" assignment: due week of Oct. 6 in tutorial (10%)

The goal of this assignment is to create a story, map or inventory of your home/habitat, however you decide to define it.  It may take a number of forms, including, but not limited to:

  • a short essay (600 words max) describing your home/habitat, with reference to its location in nature and culture.
  • a map, illustration, or other creative inventory of your home highlighting its natural and cultural elements.  If you choose this option, you must include a brief description/explanation (approx. 150-200 words) of the project and how it fulfills the criteria of the assignment

If you have an approach in mind that does not conform to either of these options, please check with your TA ahead of time to determine whether it is doable.  This assignment will be graded on the basis of its demonstration of your understanding of the concepts of home/habitat and nature/culture as we have been discussing them in class, as well as the project's organization, clarity of expression and creativity.


Midterm: 15% Oct. 15

Written in class, the midterm will test your knowledge of the material covered up to and including Oct. 8.  It will consist of multiple choice and short answer questions.


In-class quizzes: 5% (5 pop quizzes worth 1% each)

Five quizzes, each consisting of a single question requiring a short answer, will be scheduled randomly throughout the course.  These will be administered at the beginning of class, so make sure to arrive on time!


Critical Essay: 25% (1200 words, due week of Nov. 17 in tutorial)

Topics will be provided no later than one month ahead of the due date.  Essays should conform to the MLA referencing system, and must cite a minimum of three critical sources at least one of which is not an assigned course reading.


Final exam: 25% (scheduled by Registrar’s office between Dec 5-20)

The exam will consist of one essay question.












[1] The instructor and university reserve the right to modify elements of the course during the term.  The university may change the dates and deadlines for any or all courses in extreme circumstances.  If either type of modification becomes necessary, reasonable notice and communication with the students will be given with explanation and the opportunity to comment on changes.  It is the responsibility of the student to check their McMaster email and course websites weekly during the term and to note any changes.

Other Course Information:

Terms of enrollment

In addition to these terms listed below, your tutorial leader may stipulate additional rules and regulations for the tutorial session.


  1. 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.  In lectures, it is particularly important given the size of the class 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 only. NB. The class ends at twenty minutes past the hour.  Knowing that everyone needs to get somewhere fast, I will try not to go overtime.  In return I ask that you refrain from closing books, opening knapsacks or leaving before the lecture is finished.

  2. < >.  You are expected to do the assigned reading prior to each class, and bring texts to lectures and tutorials.  You should come to tutorials prepared to discuss the readings.  Random quizzes administered in lectures (5 x 1%) will test your knowledge of readings.< >. Material covered in videos shown in class may comprise part of your assignments, including the final exam.  Students who are absent from class on days when videos are screened can book time to view them through the Lyons New Media Centre; however, since demand is high and access times restricted, you should make every effort to attend class screenings.< >. Assignments are due at the beginning of the tutorial in the relevant week indicated above. An essay handed in after this time will be docked one grade-point a day (incl. Saturdays and Sundays).  If an essay is worth a B+, but was handed in a day late, it will be given a B; two days, a B-; three days, a C+; and so on up to seven days. For other policies regarding submission of work, consult the First Year English and Cultural Studies Handbook (see above).< >. Plagiarism is a serious offence with serious consequences. Do not plagiarize under any circumstances! Please refer to the “Statement of Academic Ethics” (below) and the “Senate Resolutions on Academic Dishonesty” for the university policy on plagiarism. These documents are distributed at registration and are also available in the Senate Office.

    Course Evaluations. Students will be asked to complete a course evaluation at the end of the term.

  3. Retaining Assignments. Disputes regarding evaluation will only be considered if students are able to present the original copy of the class work. For this reason, please retain all pieces of work submitted and graded during the term.

  4. Contacting TAs and Professor: 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. Your TA may provide his or her own e-mail policy.  E-mail queries about information clearly explained on the course outline or on Avenue to Learn will not be answered. 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. 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 the 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.  Please send email using McMaster addresses ( and not through Avenue to Learn.

  5. < >. 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.

    Class cancellation: In the event of class cancellations, students will be notified on AVENUE TO LEARN and the English Department Website.  It is your responsibility to check these sites regularly for any such announcements.  Link:; Link: