1.0 Course Description, Objectives, & Texts

1.1 Course Description

How can we seed the humanities with the deep roots of sustainability, environmental awareness, and eco action? What might compost or e-waste have to teach us about global ecologies and environmental justice? How might we use Permaculture—a profoundly interconnected set of ethical design principles that we’ll borrow from natural farming—as a model to initiate more mindful everyday life and scholarly practices? In this class we will examine texts, from novels and news stories to graphic novels and videogames, to explore how global environmental issues are registering differently in cultures around the world. Instead of focusing on post-apocalyptic fiction, we will focus on texts that treat environmental change as radically ordinary. We will trace the patterns, and possible solutions, that emerge when we apply environmental humanities methods to complex ecological issues like sustainability, environmental justice, climate change, waste, energy, global health, and water, and begin thinking ecologically about vital planetary interconnections.

In our hyperlinked digital age, we are more physically connected than we think: the cell phones in our pockets begin in mineral mines in Africa and end as electronic waste in China; the “Cloud” where we save our data now has a carbon footprint that rivals, and will soon pass, that of the aviation industry; the casing of our laptops is made of ocean-polluting petroleum-based plastic. Today more than ever we need models for thinking critically about our own personal responsibilities and ethical commitments as citizens involved in physically-entangled global ecological systems. The culminating assignment will be an interdisciplinary research project that integrates course readings, outside research, and innovative design to meaningfully reflect on our individual connection to the larger world. Projects might include such elements as community eco-partnerships, global social activism, multimedia reflections, speculative design projects, land-based art or performance, written reports, graphic narratives, and collaborations with Sustainable Duke, Duke Farm, the Duke Environmental Arts and Humanities Network, or the Duke Smart Home.

Class Attributes: (EI) Ethical Inquiry; (STS) Science, Technology, and Society; (R) Research; (ALP) Arts, Literature & Performance; (CZ) Civilizations

1.2 Required & Optional Course Texts

Oil on Water, Helon Habila (required)
Keywords for Environmental Studies, eds. Joni Adamson, William A. Gleason, and David N. Pellow
Stonefish, Keri Hulme
Rime of the Modern Mariner, Nick Hayes
Love in the Anthropocene, Dale Jamieson and Bonnie Nadzam
Fifty Degrees Below, Kim Stanley Robinson
Carbon Diaries, Saci Lloyd

Other texts will be made available online and/or on our password-protected Sakai page

1.3 Course Objectives

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Apply techniques of environmental humanities inquiry and literary analysis to interrogate and create contemporary literary forms
  • Demonstrate an understanding of environmental writing and culturally-situated environmental concerns
  • Critically consume and evaluate public environmental discourse and academic ecocritical prose
  • Engage global environmental social media and popular rhetoric, being sensitive to how culturally-specific local and global contexts shape different ways of acknowledging, approaching, and understanding environmental issues
  • Produce non-traditional (re)mediated forms of cultural, literary, and artistic (eco)criticism

2.0 Course Assignments & Expectations

2.1 Course Assignments

1. Weekly Blog, due on Fridays by 11:59pm (exceptions will be noted on the schedule)

2. Contribution to a Collaborative Solutions Map

3. Midterm Issue Analysis

4. Final Project

Please see the Assignments page for more details. Students are encouraged to make use of the Duke University Writing Studio and Duke’s MPS and Computer Labs. You can find details and schedule an appointment at the Writing Studio at You can find hours and locations of the labs here: More details on the requirements and resources for each writing assignment will be distributed in class and posted on our course website.

2.2 Grading

The grading breakdown is as follows:

Course Blogging: 15%
Solutions Map: 10%
Midterm Issue Analysis Essay: 20%
Final Project Prep & Presentation: 10%
Final Project & Presentation: 30%

The remaining 15% of your grade will be derived from class participation, attendance, weekly responses, and other assignments. Assignment specifics and expectations will be detailed in the Assignments section of our website and our syllabus. If you have questions about how an assignment will be assessed, it is your responsibility to contact me with questions. I am happy to clarify assignment requirements at any time.

2.3 Attendance

Class discussion and collaboration are essential parts of this seminar. It is important that you come to each class having already read or watched the required materials and having already tried the assigned tools/games/e-works. You should be prepared to discuss these in class and, on the assigned days, to show-and-tell us about your media experimentation.

Attendance in this class is mandatory. You should plan on attending every class. You are allowed two unexcused absences over the course of the semester. After that, your class participation will drop a letter grade for each additional unexcused absence. Upon the fifth unexcused absence, you will receive a failing grade for the course. Please try to submit the proper documentation, according to the T-Reqs website, required for excuse of absences:

2.4 Email

I will use Sakai to send class emails and the default address on file in the Sakai system is your account. Please check your Duke email account at least once a day in case there are any last-minute announcements or disruptions. If you do not regularly check your Duke account, I recommend you set up email forwarding so that Duke messages are fed into your preferred email account. It is your responsibility to contact me if you are NOT receiving class communication.

2.5 Laptops, iPads, & eReaders

I encourage the use of all of these devices as long as they are used for class purposes only. Non-class use of your device will result in grade deductions. We meet for just a short duration each class period and I expect you to respect our time together.

2.6 Honor Code & Peer Collaboration

Students are expected to abide by the terms of the student code of academic conduct, available in your undergraduate bulletin or online at I urge you all to examine this material and consult me with any questions you may have about plagiarism or academic integrity before it becomes an issue.

Ignorance of what constitutes plagiarism is not an acceptable excuse for plagiarism. Academic dishonesty of any kind will not be tolerated and will result in a failing grade for the course.

Over the course of the semester, you will be invited or required to collaborate with your classmates. Failure to do so with integrity, honesty, due responsibility (i.e. be sure to hold up your end of the task), and respect will result in grade deduction.

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