Module Catalogue 2021/22

SEL3409 : Planetary Imaginations: Literature in the Time of Environmental Crisis

  • Offered for Year: 2021/22
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Ella Mershon
  • Owning School: English Lit, Language & Linguistics
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
Pre Requisites
Pre Requisite Comment


Co Requisites
Co Requisite Comment



This module will introduce students to the interdisciplinary study of literature and the environment through a sustained engagement with the concept of the Anthropocene, the new epoch that marks the advent of humanity’s emergence as a planetary, geological force.

It has four main aims:

•       To develop a close familiarity with the idea of the Anthropocene, as well as its counter-concepts;

•       To explore how the Anthropocene challenges the binary logic of nature and culture, science and literature;

•       To develop an interdisciplinary approach to the Anthropocene by beginning to draw out connections and comparisons across disciplinary boundaries;

•       To analyze and articulate the unique resources of the literary imagination for conceiving, structuring, and interpreting humanity’s relationship to the earth.

Outline Of Syllabus

This module examines the entanglement of human and earth histories on an increasingly imperiled planet. While this entanglement has prompted geoscientists to speculate that we have entered a new geological epoch—the Anthropocene—this term also raises significant questions for literary studies as it suggests that we can no longer decouple “culture” from “nature.” Taking up the intervention of the human into earth systems, this module will use the provocation of the concept of the Anthropocene to consider how literature can help us understand, imagine, and interpret our relationship to geo-histories that eclipse the scale of human life. 

This module will begin in the nineteenth century, when the widespread use of fossil fuels launched modern industrialization, when imperial powers "scrambled" to seize natural resources across the globe, and when the scientific discoveries of geological and evolutionary timescales revolutionized historical consciousness. We will discuss Victorian literature and scientific thought to understand how emerging generic and narrative conventions shaped representations of the human’s place in inhuman timescales. In the latter half of the module, we will turn to the twenty-first century and consider how postcolonial, Black, and Indigenous writers address these Victorian legacies that continue to shape the contemporary literary imagination.

Readings from Victorian literature, such as H. G. Wells, The Time Machine and Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness, will be read alongside excerpts from nineteenth-century geology and evolutionary biology as well as contemporary environmental literature and ecocriticism. Readings from contemporary literature will include N. K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season and Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, Iep Jaltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter.

KEYWORDS: Anthropocene; climate crisis; nature/culture; literature/science; environmental justice; race and environmental racism; Indigenous literature and traditional knowledge; science fiction and speculative fiction; poetry

Learning Outcomes

Intended Knowledge Outcomes

For a student to successfully complete this module they will need to demonstrate that they have developed:

•       An understanding of the key debates surrounding the Anthropocene and its counter-concepts;

•       An awareness of the ways in which the Anthropocene challenges the binary logic of nature and culture, science and literature;

•       An ability to make connections and comparisons across disciplinary boundaries;

•       An ability to analyze literature’s role in conceiving, structuring, and interpreting humanity’s relationship to the earth.

Intended Skill Outcomes

At the end of the module students should be able to:

•       Recognize how writers deploy various rhetorical and narrative devices to marshal arguments about key concepts, problems, and questions related to the course topic;

•       Assess and use primary and secondary materials evidence to structure complex arguments, ask pertinent questions, and make nuanced distinctions;

•       Write coherent and compelling arguments that push beyond summary to analysis, demonstrating independent and critical thinking in clear prose; and

•       Contribute to debate and discussion in class.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture111:0011:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion401:0040:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading721:0072:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching112:0022:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyStudent-led group activity111:0011:00Weekly study group work
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study441:0044:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Lectures introduce students to the texts, providing key historical contexts and interpretive frameworks.

Small group sessions offer students the opportunity to sharpen their critical and analytical skills; to review concepts from lecture; and to express their own opinions and ideas.

Study groups are preparatory and exploratory: they offer students the opportunity to explore set readings and discussion questions in a collaborative setting.

Reading Lists

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1M30Mid module essay, 1500 words
Essay1A70Final essay, 2500 words
Formative Assessments
Description Semester When Set Comment
Oral Presentation1MGroup Presentation (prepared as a group or, where appropriate & only with prior agreement from the module leader, individually)
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

*Summative Assessment*
1) Students will be required to submit a short mid-semester essay (30%) that is designed to help students prepare for the final essay.

2) The final essay assessment (70%) tests students on their written argumentation, their successful acquisition of the module's key knowledge outcomes, and their understanding of the historical and social contexts of Anthropocene literature.

*Formative Assessment*
1) Group presentation. Working in groups, students will create a 10-15 minute presentation that will summarize a secondary reading, connect the secondary reading to the primary reading, and pose a series of questions designed to launch small group discussion.


Past Exam Papers

General Notes


Disclaimer: The information contained within the Module Catalogue relates to the 2021/22 academic year. In accordance with University Terms and Conditions, the University makes all reasonable efforts to deliver the modules as described. Modules may be amended on an annual basis to take account of changing staff expertise, developments in the discipline, the requirements of external bodies and partners, and student feedback. Module information for the 2022/23 entry will be published here in early-April 2022. Queries about information in the Module Catalogue should in the first instance be addressed to your School Office.