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2019/20 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

ENGL32113 The Wild: Literature and the Environment

20 creditsClass Size: 21


Module manager: Dr Tess Somervell

Taught: Semester 1 (Sep to Jan) View Timetable

Year running 2019/20

Pre-requisite qualifications

Please note: This module is restricted to Level 2 and 3 students. Enrolment priority will be given to Level 2 students for a restricted period (as detailed in the School’s Module Handbook).

This module is approved as a discovery module

Module summary

This course will be centred on the individual reading and group discussion of six interesting and challenging literary texts, the newest of which dates from within the last decade and the oldest from approximately 2000-700 BC. We will read them alongside some shorter creative texts and a variety of critical and theoretical material, including works of literary criticism, history, and philosophy. The module should suit students from any discipline with an interest in the relationship between culture and ecology. As with all literature modules, the main prerequisites for success are the ability to take on large volumes of reading with confidence and pleasure, and the closely related ability to write clearly and fluently


This module investigates some crucial moments in the history of writing about wilderness. It will enable students to reflect on concepts of ‘the wild’ in an informed and sophisticated fashion, and to think about the role played by the idea of wilderness in the development of human societies, and in the destruction and protection of the non-human environment. It involves close scrutiny of a varied and exciting group of literary texts, alongside an exploration of how fundamental cultural concepts, and the words used to describe them, can change from one era to another.

Learning outcomes
By the end of this module, students should be able to:
- understand the major themes and controversies in scholarly and activist debates about the status of wilderness
- demonstrate a nuanced understanding of a selection of ancient and modern works of wilderness literature
- analyse the artistic and intellectual complexities inherent in the literary representation of the wild
- assess the significance of conceptions of wilderness for broader ecocritical and environmentalist concerns
- articulate a matured perspective on literature and wilderness in an extended essay, displaying an appropriate command of scholarly writing


This module reflects on the abiding human fascination with wilderness, and its promises of liberation and rebirth. Innumerable creative artists have been seduced by the thought of untamed places and powers, while dramatic alterations in views about 'the wild' have borne witness to societies' shifting fears and desires. We will study an exceptionally diverse group of texts, from the Epic of Gilgamesh - the most ancient of all literary masterpieces - to contemporary non-fiction, via classics of the wilderness tradition from Britain and America. Along the way, we will encounter conservatives and revolutionaries, shamans and empire-builders, all of whom try to imagine a stark otherness beyond humankind's control

The larger purpose of the course is to introduce students to one of the newest and most exciting fields of literary study. Ecocriticism, or environmental criticism, responds to our growing awareness of worldwide ecological crisis. Just as other modern critical traditions have called attention to problems of gender, race, and class, so ecocriticism explores the ways in which literary texts reflect and affect the non-human world. This module will allow us to investigate how ideas about wilderness might be in dialogue with fundamental beliefs about nature, gender, and civilization; how cultural shifts might give rise to environmental destruction or protection; and how language itself, or literary language in particular, might prove to contain an irrepressible wildness of its own.

Teaching methods

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Private study hours185.00
Total Contact hours15.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)200.00

Private study

Teaching will be through weekly seminars (10 x 1 hour) plus five informal hour-long lectures.

Private Study: Reading, seminar preparation, essay writing.

Opportunities for Formative Feedback

- Seminar contribution.
- Feedback on unassessed essay of 1700 words

Methods of assessment

Due to COVID-19, teaching and assessment activities are being kept under review - see module enrolment pages for information

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
EssayThis module will be assessed by one essay of 4000 words (including quotations and footnotes). One unassessed essay of 1700 words is also required. This does not form part of the assessment for this module, but is a requirement and MUST be submitted. Students who fail to submit the unassessed essay will be awarded a maximum mark of 40 for the module (a bare Pass).100.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

The reading list is available from the Library website

Last updated: 30/07/2019


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