How to take measure of place is a question that has long resonated in the American imagination, and thiw course considers both the geography and the voices that provide the foundation for current environmental writing. The Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons by John Wesley Powell, The Maine Woods by H. D. Thoreau, and Travels in Alaska by John Muir offer occasion to discuss the sublime, scientific discovery, and emerging ideas of the value of nature. A transcendentalist, Thoreau also appraised the natural world as a surveyor; the purpose of Powell’s river journey was geographic and geologic documentation, yet hardship made it something very different; and if Muir found the imprint of god’s hand across the natural world, he was also an early advocate of biocentric equality. Students will be asked to consider how scientific inquiry and a view to the sublime coincided in the thinking of these writers; and explore those ways in which their divergent perspectives are the groundwork for American understanding—and misunderstanding—of our relations with the natural world.
Corequisite: Students are required to be in attendance at all Literature evenings and Poetry at Bennington events in the second half of the term (most Wednesday evenings at 7:00pm).