English - Free topic E: Wilderness Wonderland and Big Two-Hearted River

Course content

Wilderness Wonderland: The Environment in American History.

As the first European feet pressed upon American earth, settlers disagreed over the utility and bountifulness of the environment. Some settlers saw howling wilderness, while others drank in a new Eden. In the ensuing centuries, Americans have continually questioned the nature of the place they lived in, and wondered over its effects upon them. Two defining events have framed Americans’ recent musings: the closing of the frontier in the 1890s, and the imminent possibility of destruction from when the first Atomic bombs thudded into Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. A third looms in the form of global warming.

Wilderness Wonderland follows the dialog between humankind and nature. It looks at the interplay and friction between Genesis and Armageddon in American thought, by passing through primary, secondary, and popular sources from history, literature, and popular culture. Dammed rivers, dust bowls, killer bees, dead fish, air pollution, irradiated beaches, dying cities, fragile planets, acid rain, asphyxiated forests, flaming rivers, dying seabirds, storm-ravaged coasts, and melting ice caps star in compelling cameos. Leading human such as F.L. Olmstead, Gifford Pinchot, John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Rachel Carson, Paul Ehrlich, Richard Nixon, Oil Sheiks, Edward Abbey, Al Gore, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, grass roots groups, agencies, offices, and many others also grapple with the wild. Theories, representations, and actions combine in this course to explain the rise of environmental thought during the twentieth century, and to follow the development of historical thought relating to this interaction.


Big Two-Hearted River: The Environment in American Literature (I.B. Siegumfeldt)

As Hoagland points out, Americans have always ‘taken their wounds to the wilderness for a cure, a conversation, a rest.’ We will discuss a broad spectrum of verbal and visual manifestations of this so-called ‘Big Two-Hearted River Tradition’, beginning with transcendentalism and pastoralism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and ending with twenty-first century representations of nature, the environment and climate change in texts that have become increasingly dystopian. The course is informed by the perpetually growing field of hybrid genres and diverse voices in ecocriticism, econarratology and ecopoetics. We will look specifically at the relationship between nature and literature and address questions concerning mutual inspiration, influence, imitation in literary texts by such writers as Emerson, Dickinson, Hemingway, McCarthy, Franzen, and in films like like Into the Wild (dir. Penn, 2008) and Deliverance (dir. Boorman, 1972)

This course only leads to exams Free Topic 1, Free Topic 2 and Free Topic 3.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
Type of assessment
Portfolio, A joint portfolio uploaded in digital exam: Deadline June 8th 2022
A power point presentation (5-8 slides) at a student conference based on a synopsis and bibliography (3-5 pages) in the course ‘Big Two-Hearted River: The Environment in American Literature’. Slides, synopsis and presentation count as ½ of the final grade.
Final essay (11-15 pages) on set question(s) in the course ‘Wilderness Wonderland: The Environment in American History counts as ½ of the final grade.
Criteria for exam assessment

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Class Instruction
  • 56
  • Preparation
  • 353,5
  • English
  • 409,5