The Pledge of Allegiance unmistakably identifies the United States as “one Nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all,” thereby perpetuating the long-standing claim of justice as a constitutive element of the American creed. This class will investigate the nexus between justice and the environment in the United States, which has received renewed scholarly attention through the Black Lives-Matter-movement. Bringing together concepts such as Rob Nixon’s slow violence and T.V. Reed’s environmental justice ecocriticism with contemporary (transnational) American Studies theories and approaches, we will analyze selected American literary, cultural, and visual texts in terms of how they construct, contest, and imagine the distribution of environmental resources and benefits as well as environmental detriments and risks along the lines of ethnicity, class, citizenship, age, and gender, to name but a few of the critical categories involved. While we will identify historical precursors in the discourses of justice, we will mainly focus on discussions of America, justice, and the environment in the 21st century. Course materials include, among others, novels such as T.C. Boyle’s AFriend of the Earth (2000) and Edan Lepucki’s California (2014), films such as Gus Van Sant’s Promised Land (2012), and eco-photography projects such as Edward Burtynsky’s Oil (2008). A detailed list of readings will be made available in the first session. The interdisciplinary nature of this seminar will be underscored by the collaboration with the seminar “Eco/Biopolitics in Transnational American Culture,” which explores environmental and health disasters and their ideological repercussions in transnational American cultures. Students will also be asked to participate in a final student conference and given the opportunity to submit their papers for publication in a graduate journal for American Studies. Class requirement: oral presentation; Credit requirements: a presentation handout/PPT and a 10-15 page research paper.
American debates about genetically modified crops, fracking, and climate change have emphasized, representations of nature are far from unbiased accounts of the non-human environment, but inextricably entangled with cultural and historical traditions, economic motives, and political strategies. Representations of nature further come along with a plethora of ideologies that contain normative assumptions, among others, about the nation, progress, technology, science, class, race, and gender. In this course, we will investigate the intersections of these issues with the politics and aesthetics of nature representations in North American literatures and cultures. Course materials include some of the canonical texts of American literary history such as Native American creation stories, William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation (1630-1650; 1856), Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature (1836), and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), but we will also analyze contemporary cultural representations of nature as, for example, ‘cli-fi’ novels such as Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood (2009) and Nathaniel Rich’s Odds Against Tomorrow (2013), the films Promised Land (2012) and Interstellar (2014), eco-photography, and eco-activist protests. Course requirement: oral presentation. Credit requirement: a research paper in English.
Not least inspired by the election of Donald Trump, enactments of dissent expressing disagreement with political, cultural, economic, and environmental practices, norms, or ethics have become more prevalent in recent years. This class will investigate the crucial role protest has played in American history and treat a great variety of examples of how dissent has helped to shape and reshape American cultures and literatures up until today. We will pay particular attention to rather novel contemporary protest phenomena such as the rise of environmental protest, the increasing thematic intersectionality of protests, and the growing transnational trajectory of protest movements. Analyzing a broad variety of course texts (from global news media coverage to photography to life writing and literature), we will explore the specific political, aesthetic, and ethical practices of resistance and the kind of (counter) narratives of ‘America’ and the ‘American creed’ they create. In the process, we will scrutinize protest representations in terms of their specific rhetorical strategies, visual iconographies, and medial adaptations. In this course, students will be familiarized with the key concepts and theoretical approaches in the field of current American Studies lending themselves to the analyses of protest movements. A detailed list of readings will be made available in the first session. Class requirement: oral presentation; Credit requirements: a presentation handout/PPT and a 10-15-page research paper.
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