2013-2014 Theme:
Transatlantic Ecologies

This year’s theme, “Transatlantic Ecologies,” explores the complex and developing connections between ecological and global thought in the early modern period. When discussing burgeoning forms of early modern ecological awareness, how should we account for the complex networks of knowledge construction in the Atlantic world resulting from the confluence of European, African, and Amerindian cultures? And, how do nonhumans figure into this network? Namely, how do we account for the influence of diverse new world ecologies and changing conceptions of land, space, animal consciousness, and ecological interdependence? Broadly, we are studying moments of early modern literature, history, and culture that explore how Atlantic peoples came to view themselves as world citizens through their interactions with nature, and as natural citizens through their interactions with an increasingly but inconsistently networked Atlantic world.

2013-2014 Events

Theme-Related Courses

Spring 2014

ENGL 128EN | Going Postal: Letter-Narratives (Undergraduate)
“Going Postal: Letter-Narratives” examines fictional uses of the letter form, with its built-in paradoxes of absence and presence, private and public, and engages recent critical work on epistolarity and postality. We’ll orient ourselves to stories told in letters and stories told about letters through eighteenth-century examples of novels and poems, including works by Austen, Laclos, Montagu, Pope, and Richardson, then move ahead to Hoffmann, James, and Pynchon.

ENGL 165EM | Political and Ecological Invention in Early America (Undergraduate)
How did America become what it is? Americans, who they are? How did the colonial project – which included the idea of moral purification, the economic development of a new natural world, and encounter with native peoples – reshape the colonizers? We will explore these questions by reading a wide range of texts from the first 3 centuries of settlement. How does John Winthrop’s sermon envision America as “a city on the hill” that would become an exemplary beacon of light to a fallen world? To explore the hidden costs of this vision, we will read some of the tolerant, pro-Indian writing of the founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams, as well as tales of early settlement by Nathanial Hawthorne. (“Young Goodman Brown”) To explore early American relationships to nature, we’ll read selected natural history writing from William Byrd (Secret History of the Line), J. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur (Letters from an American Farmer), and John James Audubon (Ornithological Biography and Birds of America), attending to the tensions between utility, beauty, and ecology, on the one hand, and the role of the individual, on the other. The writing of two American founders – Benjamin Franklin (Autobiography) and Thomas Jefferson (Notes on the State of Virginia and the Declaration of Independence) – will allow us to take account of the difference between American and European practice of politics and science. Finally, we will turn to three nineteenth-century authors of the “American Renaissance.” Each offers an imaginative exploration of the tensions between humans and nature: Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature, Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, and Herman Melville’s “Billy Budd” and “Benito Cereno.” Facing increasing industrialization, environmental degradation, and the ongoing disenfranchisement of Native Americans and African slaves, each writer developed a distinctive critique and updating of America’s heroic project: to invent itself in a new world.

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