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Literature, Environment, Activism

Module titleLiterature, Environment, Activism
Module codeGEO3147
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Dr Laura Smith (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

The Literature, Environment, Activism module explores the creative and quietly subversive political performances of environmental writing-as-advocacy, within a predominantly North American context. This module explores how nature and environmental writing can be politicised in defence of public lands and the idea of wilderness—whether by writers themselves, or by conservationists, activists, policymakers, and others. We will study the intersections of page and place through a selection of nonfiction environmental texts from the mid-nineteenth century onwards that have informed and moulded on-the-ground land conservation practices, or contributed to environmental regulation and legislation. We will also look at how fiction—such as climate fiction and speculative fiction, and the graphic novel—has emerged as another platform for commentary on the environmental condition. This module offers geographical approaches and tools to help students explore the contributions of environmental writing to conservation campaigns, and its place in wider environmental activism and protest narratives. We will ask questions of ‘literature,’ ‘environment,’ and ‘activism,’ and the intersections between them. We will examine the connections between writers and places, and the many ways literature is responding to ecological crisis and disaster.

Module aims - intentions of the module

In this cultural geography module, students will develop a critical understanding of how nature and environmental writing becomes politicised in defence of the land—whether by writers themselves, or by conservationists, activists, policymakers, and others. We will encounter a range of activist literary texts from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, and from across the continental United States.

This module aims:

  • To introduce students to the creative practices and performances of environmental writing-as-advocacy
  • To enable students to apply their geographical knowledge in a practical manner in order to critically engage with environmental activism and advocacy narratives
  • To provide students with an opportunity to creatively respond to e.g. an environmental writer, a piece of activist-writing, or an environmental issue/scenario

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Describe the place/contribution of environmental writing in narratives, practices, and performances of environmental activism, advocacy, and protest
  • 2. Reflect on the synergies and distortions between the landscape on the page and the landscape in place
  • 3. Summarise key debates in ecocriticism and literary geography
  • 4. Combine creative and academic writing (and visuals) to present your work to different audiences

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Illustrate and discuss the contested and provisional nature of knowledge and understanding
  • 6. Describe the nature of explanation within human geography, allowing for the critical evaluation of arguments, assumptions, and abstractions, to make correct judgments, to frame and successfully solve a problem

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. Formulative and evaluate questions, and identify and evaluate approaches to problem-solving
  • 8. Identify, acquire, evaluate, and synthesise material from a range of sources
  • 9. Formulate a sustained and reasoned argument
  • 10. Communicate ideas, concepts, and theories effectively and fluently in class or online by written, oral, and visual means
  • 11. Develop independent learning skills, including self-directed reading, literature searches, and time management
  • 12. Reflect on the process of learning, and evaluate personal strengths and weaknesses

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

The different blocks of the module all address the interplay between literature—environment—activism. Whilst the syllabus content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover a combination of the following themes/topics:


Part I. A landscape, a writer, and a conservation nonprofit


Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) and Walden Pond, Massachusetts…

John Muir (1838-1914) and Yosemite National Park, California…

Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) and the Leopold Shack and Farm, Wisconsin…

Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1890-1998) and the Florida Everglades…

Katie Lee (1919-2017), Edward Abbey (1927-1989), and Glen Canyon, Utah…


Part II. Environmental literature in conservation politics


Carson’s (1962) Silent Spring, DDT, and the U.S. environmental movement

‘This little book made a difference:’ Chapbooks, the writer-activist, and the story of two Utah national monuments


Part III. Environmental disasters, environmental justice, and literary activism


Writing the Exxon Valdez oil spill

Writing Hurricane Katrina

Writing Deepwater Horizon


Part IV. The politics of eco-fiction


The environmental imagination in ‘cli-fi’ and speculative fiction

Environmental activism and the graphic novel

Environmental ethics in children’s literature

How board games could save the environment


Part V. Wildcard


Class choice of theme/topic




Half-day field class (Week 5, travel restrictions/social distancing permitting):


Ted Hughes Poetry Trail, Stover Country Park, Bovey Tracey / Through an online field experience, we will explore the Ted Hughes Poetry Trail in Stover Country Park, a Local Nature Reserve in Bovey Tracey, outside Newton Abbot, Devon. This online field experience offers the opportunity to explore, in place, some of the intersections between literature and landscape. Sixteen ‘poetry posts’ along the trail display poems by Ted Hughes (1930-1998, Poet Laureate 1984-1998) on environmental themes. A shorter Children’s Poetry Trail adds further animal poems, with illustrations by Raymond Briggs.



Zine workshops (Weeks 7, 9, 11):


After Reading Week (Week 6), the module offers more ‘hands on’ learning through a set of in-class workshops and surgeries. In these sessions, students will have the opportunity to participate in an in-class workshop led by the module convenor and other human geography staff/members of the department’s Cultural and Historical Geographies research group. Subsequent workshop time will be set aside to allow students to prepare their final zine projects. Students will be taught the creative skills to develop their own zines (a zine is a short magazine that is self-published—for more information on the power of the zine as a tool for engaged research, see Bagelman and Bagelman 2016). Students will be encouraged to pursue a final project that they find genuinely important and interesting. Students will also have the (optional) opportunity to share their work in a GEO3147  ‘zine collection’ event.

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching11Lecture
Scheduled Learning and Teaching11Book Club (reading seminar)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching4Online field experience (Stover Country Park, Bovey Tracey, exploring the Ted Hughes Poetry Trail)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching2Zine-making workshop
Scheduled Learning and Teaching2Workshop/surgery for zine idea
Guided Independent Study120Preparatory reading, activities, researching and writing formative and summative assignments


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Zine proposal5 slidesAllVerbal

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Zine (mini magazine)508-page mini magazine (size A2 paper)AllWritten
Critical Commentary502,000 wordsAllWritten


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
ZineZineAllAugust Ref/Def
Critical Commentary Critical Commentary AllAugust Ref/Def

Re-assessment notes

Deferral—if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped, and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral—if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to re-submit the relevant assessment. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Reading seminar set texts (e.g. chapters/sections) will be set by the module convenor each week.

Indicative module reading list:

  • Bagelman, J.J. and Bagelman, C. 2016. ‘Zines: Crafting Change and Repurposing the Neoliberal University.’ ACME 15.2: 366-392.
  • Buell, L. 2005. The Future of Environmental Criticism: Environmental Crisis and Literary Imagination. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
  • Buell, L. 2001. Writing for an Endangered World: Literature, Culture, and Environment in the U.S. and Beyond. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
  • Buell, L. 1995. The Environmental Imagination: Thoreau, Nature Writing, and the Formation of American Culture. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
  • Daniels, S., DeLyser, D., Entrikin, J.N., and Richardson, D. Eds. 2011. Envisioning Landscapes, Making Worlds: Geography and the Humanities. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
  • McKibben, B. Ed. 2008. American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau. New York, NY: Library of America.
  • Nash, R.F. 2014 [1967]. Wilderness and the American Mind. Fifth Edition. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
  • Payne, D.G. 1996. Voices in the Wilderness: American Nature Writing and Environmental Politics. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England.
  • Philippon, D.J. 2005. Conserving Words: How American Nature Writers Shaped the Environmental Movement. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.
  • Satterfield, T. and Slovic, S. Eds. 2004. What’s Nature Worth? Narrative Expressions of Environmental Values. Salt Lake City, UT: University of Utah Press.
  • Slovic, S. 1992. Seeking Awareness in American Nature Writing: Henry Thoreau, Annie Dillard, Edward Abbey, Wendell Berry and Barry Lopez. Salt Lake City, UT: University of Utah Press.
  • Turner, F. 1989. Spirit of Place: The Making of an American Literary Landscape. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.
  • Weik von Mossner, A. 2017. Affective Ecologies: Empathy, Emotion, and Environmental Narrative. Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press.
  • Zapf, H. 2016. Literature as Cultural Ecology: Sustainable Texts. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

ELE page:

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Activism, advocacy, ecocriticism, environmental history, environmental humanities, environmental literature, environmental politics, environmental protest, literary geographies, nature, wilderness

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date