1.0 Course Description, Objectives, & Texts

1.1 Course Description

Lit 290 / Eng 190 / CulAnth 190

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.

Class Attributes: (CCI) Cross Cultural Inquiry, (EI) Ethical Inquiry, (ALP) Arts, Literature & Performance, (CZ) Civilizations

1.2 Required & Optional Course Texts

Pacific Edge, Kim Stanley Robinson
Ecotopia, Ernest Callenbach
Green Earth: (The Science in the Capital), Kim Stanley Robinson
The World We Made: Alex McKay’s Story from 2050, Jonathon Porritt
Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler (Optional)
Seeds of Change, ed. John Joseph Adams (Optional. We’ll be reading Nnedi Okorafor’s short story “Spider the Artist.”)

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
  • Read art, film, and literature for the stories they tell about our environmental futures
  • Interrogate pathways for integrating theories and methods from the environmental sciences and sustainability studies into humanistic inquiry
  • 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: Visioning Board

4. EcoMedia Challenge

5. 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: 20%
EcoMedia Challenge 10%
Final Project & Presentation: 20%

The remaining 25% of your grade will be derived from class preparation, in-class participation and discussion, 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.