English - Free topic E: Climate and the Environment in American History & Literature - Wilderness Wonderland & Big Two-hearted River

Course content

 Wilderness Wonderland: Climate and The Environment in American History (Joe Goddard).

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: Climate and the Environment in American History follows the fraught 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, suffocating cities, fragile planets, acid rain, asphyxiated forests, flaming rivers, dying seabirds, increasingly climate susceptible and 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 have also grappled with an understanding of the wild. Theories, representations, and actions combine in this course to explore the rise of environmental and climate thought during the twentieth and twenty-first century, and to follow the development of historical thought relating to this interaction.


Big Two-Hearted River: Climate and 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, ecofeminism,  environmental racism, 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, Ward and in films like Into the Wild (dir. Penn, 2008) and Deliverance (dir. Boorman, 1972)

Classes, with particular emphasis on reading primary and secondary texts, oral discussion and developing proficiency in English.

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

Feedback by final exam (In addition to the grade)
Peer feedback (Students give each other feedback)
Type of assessment
Portfolio, A joint portfolio uploaded in digital exam: Deadline June 2nd 2023
Type of assessment details
• A presentation at a student conference in the course ‘Big Two-Hearted River: Climate and the Environment in American Literature’. In relation to the presentation the students will submit (a) a power point presentation, (b) a synopsis of the presentation and (c) a bibliography. The total length of these should be approx. 10 pages. This activity counts as ½ of the final grade.
• Final essay (11-15 pages) on set question(s) in the course ‘Wilderness Wonderland: The Climate and 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


Course number
Programme level
Full Degree Master
Full Degree Master choice

1 semester

See schedule
Study board of English, Germanic and Romance Studies
Contracting department
  • Department of English, Germanic and Romance Studies
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Humanities
Course Coordinators
  • Inge Birgitte Siegumfeldt   (6-7c726e707e7649717e7637747e376d74)
  • Joseph Goddard   (7-71796e6e6b7c6e4a727f7738757f386e75)
Saved on the 19-04-2022

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