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

  • Offered for Year: 2020/21
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Ella Mershon
  • Owning School: English Lit, Language & Linguistics
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


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, and when the scientific discoveries of geological and evolutionary timescales revolutionized historical consciousness. We will discuss the literature and scientific thought of the Victorian era in order to better 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 these same concerns continue to shape the contemporary literary imagination.

Readings from Victorian literature, such as H. G. Wells, The Time Machine, John Ruskin, “The Storm Cloud of the Nineteenth Century,” 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, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, Iep Jaltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter, and Chantal Bilodeau, Sila.

Teaching Methods

Module leaders are revising this content in light of the Covid 19 restrictions.
Revised and approved detail information will be available by 17 August.

Assessment Methods

Module leaders are revising this content in light of the Covid 19 restrictions.
Revised and approved detail information will be available by 17 August.

Reading Lists