Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Environment, Globalization and the Contemporary Novel

ENGL 200.302
instructor(s):
MW 3:30-5:00 pm
fulfills requirements:
Sector 2: Difference and Diaspora of the Standard Major
Sector 6: 20th Century Literature of the Standard Major
Junior Research Seminar Requirement of the Standard Major

How do environmental concerns and globalization intersect, and how do contemporary novelists address this relationship? Ecosystems and corporations cross national borders, igniting controversies about industrial agriculture, toxicity, biodiversity, and the use of natural resources. Global power dynamics render certain populations disproportionately vulnerable to environmental risks. What role can fiction play in reconceptualizing environmentalism based on its relations with race, class, gender, and citizenship? How can we use literary research to contribute to broader discussions of the environment? 

This course addresses these issues through four crucial novels for anyone interested in the environment: Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People (2007), Zakes Mda’s Heart of Redness (2000), Abdelrahman Munif’s Cities of Salt (1984, transl. Peter Theroux 1987), and Ruth Ozeki’s All Over Creation (2003). While ranging globally in the locations addressed, we zoom in on these texts to practice research skills. The junior research seminar involves students in the research methods that the discipline of literary studies demands, such as: working with primary sources and archival materials; reviewing the critical literature; using online databases of historical newspapers, periodicals, and other cultural materials; exploring relevant contexts in literary, linguistic, and cultural history; and studying the etymological history and changing meanings of words.

Research exercises throughout the semester will culminate in a final project: either a 10-15 page scholarly essay or a creative project. Topics might include: literary or media techniques for representing disasters; humor in environmental fiction; Global South environmental movements; race, class, and gender in environmental literature; language, translation, and literary reception; literary style in the digital age. Students are also free to design their own topics in consultation with the instructor. In any case, the final project will emerge out of each student’s independent research agenda.