Want to read about nature in the city?

EWP 311 is a writing-intensive literature course designed for ESF students who want to read, discuss, and write about urban nature literature.

We’ll read an essay by a writer who canoes around Manhattan, an essay by a writer who contemplates Brooklyn’s Prospect Park Zoo, an interview with a woman who created a community garden, and a poem that describes a peregrine falcon diving between skyscrapers, plus other poems, stories, and essays written by city dwellers.

We will examine the city as home, as nature, and as the place where the ecological crisis has become evident.

EWP 311 Urban Environmental Literature

“There is a growing body of cultural criticism engaged with urban ecology that tends to reject mainstream ecocriticism’s focus on the genres of nature writing and pastoral, insisting on the incapacity of those genres to represent the complex interactions between political choices, socio-economic structures, and the densely-populated ecosystems that shape urban environments.” 
 Michael Bennett, Long Island University, Brooklyn

“Urban ecocriticism confronts us directly with the interconnections between environmental degradation and issues of race, class, and gender.” 
 Karla Armbruster, Webster University

“Sixty percent of all Indians live in urban areas but nobody’s writing about them.” 
Sherman Alexie

Cities were once thought to be apart from, separate from nature. Historically, the city was seen as a sanctuary from evil wilderness. More recently, urban sprawl has been constructed as a threat to nature. Recent trends in ecocriticism demand that we include urban areas as part of the total environment. The city is the place where the ecological crisis becomes evident -- and the study of environmental literature can no longer ignore this. Urban areas in the United States occupy 3.5 percent of the country but hold 75 percent of the population. They are 27 percent tree-covered. Urban forestry is the fastest segment of forestry growing nationwide.

Urban nature does exist, whether poets write about it or not. The city is the place where the borders between nature and culture fluctuate constantly. Urban literature often includes a critique of the social, political, and economic factors that threaten the health of our planet -- and as such, ought to be considered part of the canon of environmental literature.

In this course, we will look at:

1) Urban nature writing. Poets and essayists write about the flora and fauna of an urban ecosystem, the wildness that grows in gardens, parks, and backyards, the effects of wildlife and weather, the trees and birds, the cut flowers and the baking bread, and the various ways city dwellers connect to nature. We will analyze the ways in which the canon of nature literature has privileged rare and endangered species over the more abundant urban creatures and plants: cockroaches, pigeons, dandelions, maples. We will examine the relationship between literature and the physical environment, the ways in which humans interact with and write about the cityscape, and the attachment to place that roots city dwellers. A special focus in this section will be on writings about city parks, natural places which are also cultural products that reflect the ideologies of those who create them. For many writers, urban parks challenge the polarity of culture vs. nature.

2) Urban ecocriticism exposes the interconnections between environmental degradation and issues of race, class, and gender. Inner cities have often been constructed as racially demarcated urban wilderness areas. Such movements as ecofeminism and the environmental justice movement examine the ways in which the ecological crisis can be linked to other forms of domination. We will look at literature which makes these links and argues for change.

3) Environmental literature must ultimately address questions about the future: urban planning, the role of technology, and ways in which humans in urban areas can live in a community of plants and creatures. We will look at literature that regards the city as an ecosystem that includes hydrological systems, predator-prey relationships, and energy transfers. We will look at urban literature from an environmental perspective and see if we can find the ecological component that is often missing from a cultural analysis of the city.


Urban Nature (poetry) edited by Laure-Anne Bosselaar
City Wilds (prose) edited by Terrell Dixon

In additon, I'll be adding links to online articles, TED talks, webcomics, and other resources. So be sure to check the website for assignments.

Short papers

This course is designed to get you in the habit of setting aside time every week for reading. You'll be assigned readings twice each week, and I expect a written response to these readings. These response pieces are a good part of the writing you will be doing for the course. They should show that you are engaging with the readings and the class discussions. Please take them seriously.

Think of these short papers as a way to add to the conversation we will be having in the classroom.  You'll be sharing them with your classmates.

Your response could include:
Questions for class discussion
Your opinion on a topic the writer brought up
A summary of what you read
Observations about what you read
What you thought about the poem or story or essay
A piece of creative writing inspired by what you read
A list of topics you think the piece covered
Questions you might have for the author
An interesting tangent inspired by the piece
Something you researched about the author

You could:
Share a relevant experience from your life
Share relevant information from other ESF courses
Share insights you had while reading
Connect what you read to a topic we discussed in class
Go off on a worthwhile tangent
Ask questions about things you didn't understand in the reading
Critique the text
Analyze some part of the text that seemed interesting
Relate the reading to current events
Relate the reading to environmental issues

Most of the time your response will be a full page of writing, done on a computer. (Single-space the lines, but double-space between paragraphs.) But not always. Your response might be a drawing or a photograph.

Official policies and such

You are expected to attend all classes unless you are desperately sick. Most professors will understand if you miss one or two classes over the course of a whole semester, but you would be wise not to miss no more than that. If you are desperately sick and need to stay in bed, please talk to one of your classmates to find out what you missed. And check this website. Any student who misses more than two classes will be required to have a conference with the teacher.

Participating in class means more than merely showing up for class. It means coming to class awake, well-rested, and prepared.

Plagiarism is a serious offense and will be treated as such on the ESF campus. The Council of Writing Program Administrators offers this definition for plagiarism: "In an instructional setting, plagiarism occurs when a writer deliberately uses someone else’s language, ideas, or other original (not common‐knowledge) material without acknowledging its source."   A failure to acknowledge and properly cite your sources can look like plagiarism. It’s essential for you to think about your sources, evaluate whether or not the sources are credible, and document where you are getting your information from at every step of the process.

The Writing Center
The Writing Resource Center is located in 13 Moon Library. Peer tutors and graduate assistants are trained to work with you on all stages of your writing projects. This is a free resource available to support your writing. The Writing Center asks that you come prepared for your appointment by bringing your assignment, ideas, papers, and a specific area you would like to work on.

Academic Accommodations 
Students wishing to utilize academic accommodations due to a diagnosed disability of any kind must present an Academic Accommodations Authorization Letter generated by Syracuse University’s Office of Disability Services. If you currently have an Authorization Letter, please present this to your teachers as soon as possible so that they may assist with the establishment of your accommodations. Students who do not have a current Academic Accommodations Authorization Letter from Syracuse University’s Office of Disability Services cannot receive accommodations. If you do not currently have an Authorization Letter and feel you are eligible for accommodations, please contact the Office of Wellness and Support, 110 Bray Hall, (315) 470-6660 or wellness@esf.edu as soon as possible.

Inclusive Excellence Statement

As an institution, we embrace inclusive excellence and the strengths of a diverse and inclusive community. During classroom discussions, we may be challenged by ideas different from our lived experiences and cultures. Understanding individual differences and broader social differences will deepen our understanding of each other and the world around us. In this course, all people  (including but not limited to, people of all races, ethnicities, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and expression, students undergoing transition, religions, ages, abilities, socioeconomic backgrounds, veteran status, regions and nationalities, intellectual perspectives and political persuasion) are strongly encouraged to respectfully share their unique perspectives and experiences.  This statement is intended to help cultivate a respectful environment, and it should not be used in a way that limits expression or restricts academic freedom at ESF.

Learning Outcomes
After completing this course, the student should be able to:
1. Identify and discuss works of contemporary and twentieth century American nature literature in which urban nature is not merely the setting, background, or casual reference point but a central subject.
 2. Discuss literature (and other texts) in relation to the geographic and cultural aspects of place and identity in an urban setting.
3. Demonstrate knowledge of different literary elements and the creative process used by regional writers who explore urban environmental issues.
4. Analyze several forms of written expression (poem, novel, autobiography, short story, memoir, creative non-fiction, essay) and the ways in which these genres explore the relationship between nature and culture.
5. Analyze the ways in which the city has been conceptualized by the dominant literature of western culture, examining the trope of an urban wilderness and the ways in which the concept of a nature is constructed in and by an urban culture.
6. Apply knowledge of the hard sciences and the social sciences to the literary analysis of texts, looking at topics such as land use management, policy, urban planning, ecology, resource distribution, and geology.
7. Use their own writing to summarize, analyze, or respond to a text.

Grading rubric

Portfolios will be graded on your ability to demonstrate critical reading and critical thinking skills; the quality of your writing and ideas; and your ability to demonstrate you have achieved the learning objectives of the course.

“C” grade: Written work demonstrates that you have done the reading and made a strong attempt to understand and engage with the literature. You demonstrate the ability to summarize, describe, and paraphrase texts, but fail to integrate upper level thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. You present some good ideas, but fail to develop them fully.

“B” grade: Written work demonstrates thoughtful engagement with the assigned texts. You share insightful comments that show a clear understanding of the material. You are able to discuss literature within the context of cultural analysis. Your writing shows moments of upper level thinking, such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Your writing is clear, concise, and mostly free of errors.

“A” grade: Short papers are clear, focused, and coherent. The writing is polished, free of errors, and sophisticated. The content demonstrates a clear understanding of the learning outcomes of the course and reflects an in-depth engagement with literature. The writing demonstrates upper level thinking (analysis, synthesis, evaluation) and a thoughtful approach to the content. The student offers new insights, makes perceptive points, and makes connections between the text and the dominant culture. You link ideas in literature to concepts in other disciplines. You demonstrate the ability to integrate concepts, ideas, and principles. Your writing shows a breadth and depth of understanding.You were able to communicate information to your audience in a way that was creative and original. You taught the class -- and the larger community -- something. You inspired us, excited us, engaged us.

“D” grade: Writing demonstrates no upper level thinking (analysis, synthesis, or evaluation) and illustrates a superficial approach to the text. Student shows no sign of growth in thinking. Writing is not clear, concise, or coherent. Writing contains errors in standard written English that interfere with understanding.

“F” grade: Papers missing or incomplete. Student shows little evidence of engagement with literature and has little to contribute to class discussion. Student shows little understanding of the assigned texts and does not demonstrate any grasp of the learning outcomes for the course.