HM 326 - Nature Writing 



This course explores the idea of American nature writing from a variety of perspectives.  We will read traditional and contemporary examples of nature writing in order to examine the ways in which this genre—and its cultural function—has changed with our increased awareness of the influence of humans on the non-human world. 

At the heart of our exploration lie such questions as: What does it mean to represent the non-human world through language?  What role do language and literature play in our understanding of the relationship between humans and our physical environment?  What do cultural texts (literature, film, visual art, etc.) reveal about this relationship and how it has changed over history?  Why has traditional nature writing been so dominated by white voices, and what perspectives do other voices offer?  How have more recent writers challenged traditional paradigms of the human/nature relationship through writing?

Our reading and discussion will be complemented by regular writing, through which we will analyze various writers’ responses to the natural world.  At the same time, we will write about our own experiences of and insights about the world around us.  Written projects will include keeping an informal journal and writing both analytical and creative essays (or combinations both).  Significant time will be spent outside the classroom.



Nature Writing: Reading and Writing the Natural World Syllabus

Spring 2013 


Instructor: Carol Dickson

Goals & Objectives

to consider the intersections of the natural world, language, cultural expression, ecology, and history; in particular; to consider how literature both reflects and shapes human attitudes toward the non-human world and ecological understandings; to read widely in the genre of nature writing, broadly defined; to strengthen our writing and self-expression skills by writing frequently, both literary analysis and creative non-fiction; to continue to develop analytical and critical thinking skills; to continue to develop critical reading skills and become sophisticated and sensitive readers of our own and others’ writing; to continue to gain confidence and poise in presenting our ideas in class, both formally and informally.

Readings & Films (Final decisions to be made in consultation with class group.)

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Camille Dungy, ed.  Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Writing

Packet of selected essays, poems, and excerpts from longer works.  (See attached for some of the possibilities.)  

Selected films (for example: Sean Penn, Into the Wild; Werner Herzog, Grizzly Man; Errol Morris, Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control)

Full-length collection of essays (or stories or poems) of your choice.



Reading notebook/field journal—in which to record your responses to the reading, to class, to the natural environment; in which to ask questions and write poems; in which to draw observations of the world around you; in which to discuss or critique a passage; in which to think.  (Bring your notebook to class every day.  I will collect it twice during the semester.)

Mini-essays—Each week you will write at least one page of formal prose (both creative non-fiction and analytical).

Revised and expanded essay.  You will revise and expand one mini-essay into a more developed essay.

Focus project—You will choose one of the writers we have read to explore in more depth.  You will read a full-length work by this writer’s work and lead a class discussion.

Final creative essay—an extended piece of original creative non-fiction.



Classes will be conducted seminar-style and will typically consist of discussion, in-class writing, and an occasional lecture.  Discussion will be largely student-led; always come to class prepared to ask questions, offer comments, raise ideas, and point to specific passages from the day’s reading.  We will regularly spend time outside—both on campus and farther field trips—and we will occasionally watch a film relevant to an issue at hand.


Your grade for the class will be based on the quality, thoroughness, and thoughtfulness of your written and spoken work combined with the extent and quality of your participation in class discussion.  Revision—your willingness, literally, to “re-see” your work—is a key component, as is participation in draft workshops.  (It goes without saying that unexcused absences, habitual lateness, or late work will affect your grade.)

Class participation: 20%

Reading/field notebook: 10%

Mini-essays: 20%

Expanded essay: 10%

Focus project: 20%

Final creative essay: 20%

Academic Honesty

You are expected to be familiar with the Sterling College Academic Honesty Policy, found on pages 44-45 of your student handbook.  It reads, in part, “all students are expected to exhibit honesty in completing classroom and laboratory work.”  In addition, “plagiarism will not be tolerated.”  If the concept or words you are using are “borrowed or copied from any source, whether electronic, print, recorded, or spoken word, the original source must be acknowledged.”  If you are ever unsure about when and how to cite another’s ideas or words, ask me.


A Note on Learning Styles and Learning Support

Students bring a variety of learning styles to class.  We do our best to support different learning modes by mixing lecture, discussion, hands-on work, and visual information.  Please feel free to let me know which modes work best for you—I will do my best to accommodate your learning style.   If you have a learning challenge or documented disability, please let your teacher know and check in with Leland Peterson, Learning Support Coordinator.  Leland can help you determine accommodations that can be helpful in this course (adapted from the Sterling College Student Handbook, page 46).  For more information about learning support resources on campus, see pages 58-59 in the Student Handbook.