Clouds, Waves & Crows: Writing the Natural, 1800 to the Present - EN684

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2018-19 2019-20
Canterbury Spring
View Timetable
6 30 (15)




Not available as wild



For about 2.3 million years of human history there was no such thing as nature writing. Then suddenly, 250 years ago it became one of the most popular literary forms and it has not gone away. Why is this? Why was there a sudden interest in nature that is evidenced in letters, poetry, autobiography, fiction, painting, film and philosophy?
One answer might be that for the first time in the entire history of our species we were becoming estranged from our surroundings. This exciting module will familiarise you with some of the debates this field has generated in its relatively short life. As you acquire experience on the module, and develop new ways of seeing the world around you, you may even, as many students have done before you, have a go at some nature writing yourself as there is an option to write a piece of creative non-fiction as one of the modes of assessment. You will receive guidance and advice on doing this throughout the module.
The reading on the module is chosen and arranged for you to build an expertise in ecological writing and debates, inviting you to look again at nature, ask what it is, what do we use it for, what is our relationship to it, what does it mean for us, what do we make it mean and to what ends, or what is the role that language plays in creating or representing our role in the world? Moreover, while nature may be seen to be something 'out there' the module seeks to ask how it is connected to our understanding of identity, history, or sexuality.


This module appears in:

Contact hours

The module will be taught through 10 x 2-hour seminars and 10 x 'third hour' which will consist of lectures, workshops, and other activities

Method of assessment

100% coursework: seminar performance (10%), two 3000-word essays (45% each)

Preliminary reading

Cregan-Reid, Vybarr (2016) Footnotes
Gray, John, (2003) Straw Dogs
Hardy, Thomas, –(2009) Selected Poetry, (1878) Return of the Native
Forster, E. M. (1971) Maurice
Thomas, Edward, – (2013) Selected Prose and Poetry
Woolf, Virginia, –(1931) The Waves, Selected Essays
Laing, Olivia,(2011) To the River
Macfarlane, Robert, (2013) The Old Ways
Clare, John, (1987) Selected Poetry and Prose
Morton, Timothy, (2007) Ecology Without Nature
Bate, Jonathan, (2000) The Song of Earth
Keiller, Patrick, (dir.) London, (1997) Robinson in Space, Robinson in Ruins

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

See the library reading list for this module (Medway)

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this module students will be able to demonstrate the following subject specific learning outcomes:

1. develop skills that will enable them to work creatively, theoretically and productively across a variety of 'texts' that engage with ecological issues, - including genres such as autobiography, painting, the novel, film, poetry, and nature writing.
2. develop a conceptual understanding of the different literary traditions and movements out of which the texts arise, and how these in turn might be articulated within, and interrogative of, our relationship with notions of nature and place.
3. develop a systematic understanding of a range of theoretical, aesthetic, and cultural perspectives towards the study of nineteenth-, twentieth-, and twenty-first century nature writing.
4. develop complex and historically situated approaches to concepts such as nature, ecology, evolution, animal, and human, coupled with an appreciation of those terms' uncertainty and ambiguity.
5. further develop the capacity to structure nuanced arguments centred on the close relationship between aesthetics, landscape and the body in literature.

On successful completion of this module students will be able to demonstrate the following generic learning outcomes:

1. An ability to apply close reading techniques to a range of literary texts and, to a lesser extent, paintings and films, and to make productive comparisons between them.
2. Development of the skills necessary for participating in group discussions and giving oral presentations.
3. A capacity for self-directed research and the ability to discuss, evaluate and creatively deploy secondary critical and theoretical perspectives.
4. An ability to construct original, articulate and well-substantiated arguments.

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