Tongues in Trees: Literary Forests

Overview: The course will involve close study of literature and films relating to trees, forests and forestry, employing empirical material from environmental history and theoretical concepts from ecocriticism (environmentally-oriented cultural criticism). Making good use of the proximity of primary temperate rainforest, the West Coast Trail, and contemporary and historic Huu-ay-aht forestry sites, the course will combine place-based experiential learning with historically and theoretically informed methods of cultural analysis. The questions we shall ask include: How have attitudes and interactions of humans and forests changed in modern history? What have trees come to mean in contemporary cultures (predominantly, but not solely, Canadian)? And finally: where might the entangled naturecultures of forests and human primates go next? The disciplines of English literature, cultural theory, and environmental ethics; the findings of environmental historians; the recorded experiences of Western settler-colonists, and the traditional knowledge and contemporary writings of Indigenous peoples will be brought to bear on these questions.

Research Skills: Skills developed during the course will include textual analysis, critical thinking, historical research, and place-based reflection on cultural and environmental change.

Boat Use: There will be no opportunity for students to drive boats during Tongues in Trees: Literary Forests. Boat driving is not recommended for this course. Students who wish to drive boats at BMSC must hold a PCOC and valid first aid certificate and will participate in an introductory boat check-out on the first day of orientation.

Prerequisites: 400 level course: Three (3) upper-level (300 or 400-level) English courses, or instructor permission. 500 level course: Acceptance into MA or PhD programme in the humanities, or instructor permission.

Required texts (indicative – please contact instructors for definitive list): William Shakespeare, As You Like It (Arden 2006); Selected European folk tales; Italo Calvino, The Baron in the Trees (Mariner 2001); Margaret Atwood, Surfacing (Emblem 2010); Charlotte Gill, Eating Dirt: Deep Forests, Big Timber, and Life with the Tree-Planting Tribe (Greystone 2011); Eden Robinson, Monkey Beach (Vintage 2000); Richard Atleo, Tsawalk: A Nuu-chah-nulth Worldview (UBC Press 2005).

Students who have not previously studied ecocriticism should read Greg Garrard, Ecocriticism (Routledge 2011) and/or Timothy Clark, The Cambridge Introduction to Literature and the Environment (CUP 2011). Robert Pogue Harrison’s Forests (U of Chicago P 1992) and Simon Schama’s Landscape and Memory (Vintage Canada 1996) are key critical texts.

Physical Requirements: This course will involve hikes through the rainforest, an overnight camping trip, and walking over slippery rocks in the intertidal region of the coast. We may get into and out of boats.

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