Courses

Expos 20.218; 219: Expository Writing 20: Humans, Nature, and the Environment

An intensive seminar that aims to improve each student’s ability to discover and reason about evidence through the medium of essays. Each section focuses on a particular theme or topic, described on the Expos Website. All sections give students practice in formulating questions, analyzing both primary and secondary sources and properly acknowledging them, supporting arguments with strong and detailed evidence, and shaping clear, lively essays. All sections emphasize revision.

Deforestation, overpopulation, pesticide use, toxic oceans, endangered species, global warming. How are we to make sense of the many environmental problems facing the Earth today? Although the sciences provide a factual account of environmental threats and ways of countering them, scientific facts seem not to be enough, since artists, writers, filmmakers, and even scientists find themselves turning again and again to their imaginations to respond to the environmental predicaments of industrial society. They may be doing what English Romantic poet Percy Shelley powerfully described 200 years ago as an essentially human and creative impulse: “to imagine that which we know.” How, then, have creative minds imagined – in essays, books, and movies – the very idea of nature, the place of humans in it, and their power to change the environment? In this course, we will consider both the possibilities and the problems that writers and filmmakers have imagined about human interactions with the natural world. We begin with the nineteenth century, when Romantic writers were urgently contemplating the meaning of nature in an age of increasing industrialization. In the first unit we interpret “Walking” (1862), the naturalist Henry David Thoreau’s seminal nature essay that imaginatively explores the concept of wildness. In the second unit we will critically compare the literary approaches of two popular books by scientists – Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962), and James Lovelock’s The Revenge of Gaia (2006). Through shocking critiques that draw upon the power of the imagination, both writers, in different ways, have tried to inform the public of the harm being done to nature in the hope that this harm can be averted. And in the final unit we will examine the techniques of documentary movies about relationships between humans and animals – Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man (2005) in which the filmmaker takes issue with the self-proclaimed environmentalist Timothy Treadwell who strove to protect bears in the Alaskan wilderness, and Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s Blackfish (2013) in which she delivers a brilliant polemic against the Sea World corporation and its treatment of captive killer whales.

Notes: Students must pass one term of Expository Writing 20 to meet the College's Expository Writing requirement.

Professor: 

Martin Greenup

Season: 

Fall

Days: 

M
W

Time: 

10:00-11:00; 11:00-12:00

Course ID: 

116353

Research Areas: 

  • [Course titles in brackets] indicate that the course is not scheduled to be taught during the 2016-2017 academic year, but may be offered in an alternate year.
  • An asterisk (*) before a course number indicates that a student must obtain the instructor's permission in order to enroll in the course.

Harvard University
Center for the Environment

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Email: huce@environment.harvard.edu
Phone: (617) 495-0368

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