English 233 - Fall, 2017

Problems in American Literature

Class Information

Instructor: Ziser, Michael
CRN: 62688
Time: M 9:00-11:50
Location: 120 Voorhies
Focus: Interdiscipline


The Forest: History, Literature, and the Environmental Humanities

Co-Taught by Professor Ziser and Professor Louis Warren (History)

Our aim is to introduce students to the methods of environmental history and literature with a set of readings about forests, primarily (but not exclusively) in North America. We will explore changing connections between people and the forest from a variety of perspectives, including not only history and literature, but the arts, philosophy, anthropology, geography, ecology, and the social sciences. Using the forest biome as a unifying focus, this seminar will take an environmental humanities approach to a range of key subjects in environmental history and representation: e.g. the archetypal symbolism of forests in hunter-gatherer and early agricultural societies, indigenous visions of the forest and the politics of indigenous dispossession, the European investment in the wood economy and the crises this engendered, the early development of the timber industry for imperial purposes, the meaning of the forest in early North American settlement cultures, the rise of professional forestry and the preservationist backlash against it, modern forestry and fire suppression in the US and abroad, the phenomenon of industrial tree farms and localized reforestation, and environmental justice in the forest, among other topics.

Note: Open to graduate students from any UCD program. Cross-listed as ENL 233 and History 202H; students may enroll through either department for credit. Students should sign up for whichever version works best with the requirements of their particular program. For English graduate students, the course fulfills the method requirement (historicism, environmental humanities) and may fulfill either the early or later national requirement, depending on the subject of the final paper. For History students, the course fulfills American history seminar requirements. Seminar paper instructions will be tailored to the home discipline of the student, and participants from all programs on campus are welcome!

Please note that the readings listed below are illustrative and tentative. A final list will be posted and sent to enrolled students this summer.


Weekly Attendance and Participation: 25%
Topical Backgrounding and Seminar Discussion Leading: 25%
Seminar paper: 50%


Forests: The Shadow of Civilization, Robert Pogue Harrison
Deforesting the Earth, Michael Williams
The Pioneers, William Fenimore Cooper
William Cooper's Town, Alan Taylor
Make Prayers to Raven, Richard Nelson
Barkskins, Annie Proulx
Forest Dreams, Forest Nightmares, Nancy Langston
Sometimes a Great Notion, Ken Kesey
Understories, Jake Kosek
The Promise of Wilderness: American Environmental Politics Since 1964, James Morton Turner
The Word for World is Forest, Ursula LeGuin
How Forests Think, Eduardo Kohn
Young Men and Fire, Norman MacLean
Reader, various