Designing Nature’s Futures: Reading the Environment in Speculative Fiction and Art
Lit 290 / Eng 190 / CulAnth 190
Professor: Dr. Amanda Starling Gould

How might speculative fiction, art, and film be used to seed popular culture with deep roots of sustainability, environmental awareness, and eco action? What can art, film, and literature teach us about the environment and environmental justice? How are nature’s futures being designed in contemporary art and fiction?

In this class we will examine texts, from novels and news stories to graphic novels and performance art, to explore how global environmental issues are registering differently in cultures around the world. Instead of focusing on post-apocalyptic narratives, we will focus on stories that treat environmental change as radically ordinary. Over the course of the semester, we will map sustainable inventions, invent sustainable solutions, and get our hands dirty at the Duke Farm. 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.

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, the Duke Farm, the Duke Environmental Arts and Humanities Network, or the Duke Smart Home.