“The best literature complicates nature,” Paul Walker, assistant professor of English at Murray State, said of a new course for undergraduate students.
“Literature and the Environment” is a course concerning the study of literary works from different cultures and periods focusing on the environment, its inhabitants and their survival.
The course, originally taught by a visiting professor, was revived in Spring 2010 after a long hiatus. Since its revival, it has been offered twice with Walker as professor. The class is scheduled to be offered every three semesters.
The students registered in the class are predominately English majors or minors and is now required for the new sustainability studies minor offered at the University. Walker said he hopes this will bring in more diversity and opinions to future ENG 371 courses.
“Reading these books invoke emotion and can make it come alive,” Walker said.
During a class session he compared it to a person who has never seen an area, but stories and the way they are told can connect the reader to the wilderness.
“It’s really interesting how the environment has affected literature over time,” said Corbet Hall, senior from Murray who is taking the class. “There’s a lot to learn from their relationship that we should consider and apply toward the way we live now.”
Class discussions twice a week allow students to present their opinions on the stories read.
“The class has greatly opened my eyes to the role of environmental literature in exploring humanity’s approach to the land that sustains it,” said Kellie Money, sophomore from Louisville, Ky. “Overall, I believe this class has encouraged a greater sense of self-discovery when examining personal interactions with nature, and evaluating those interactions accordingly.”
Walker said his favorite part of teaching the class is “a combination of being able to re-read books that I love and see the excitement of those who are reading it for the first time.”
“This process ultimately resulted in an ecological awareness that I would never have achieved without the opportunity to view the environment through an analytical, literary lens,” Money added.
Enlightening the reader encourages a human relationship with nature, Walker said.
“The potential to change the world is small, but the heart of changing it is how we individually interact with our environment and nature,” Walker said.
Recycling and conservation are important, Walker said.
“The real problems are in the corporations, for example companies that produce plastic,” Walker said.
To improve the emotional connection between literature and the environment, Walker said people have to be passionate outside a car, getting people outside to walk or ride a bicycle, to enjoy fresh air.
Suggested Reading List
•”Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” by Annie Dillard
•”The Sound of Mountain Water” by Wallace Stegner
•”A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There” by Aldo Leopold
•”Walden” by Henry David Thoreau
•”Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson
•”Encounters with the Archdruid” by John McPhee
•”Why I Wake Early” by Mary Oliver
•”A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf” by John Muir
•”The Unsettling of America” by Wendell Berry
•”Desert Solitaire” by Edward Abbey