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

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2017-18 2018-19
Canterbury Autumn
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6 30 (15)
Canterbury Spring
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6 30 (15)




Not available as wild



This module will look at a variety of texts, in a variety of forms, from the early nineteenth century to the present. The poems, essays, novels, films, paintings and autobiographies all engage with and question our relationship to the world around us. They sometimes look at nature, but more often 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.

The module is not arranged around primary creative texts, and their theoretical accompaniments, but has a more ecological approach to the idea of the creative/critical boundary which means that some weeks’ core texts may be theoretical ones (such as John Gray’s Straw Dogs). This approach is reflected in the modes of assessment where students are invited to produce either two essays, or one traditionally critical one, and one work of creative non-fiction that may encompass aspects of memoir, poetry, psychogeography or philosophy.


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

This module can be taken by standard coursework route or by dissertation. NB: students can only take ONE MODULE by dissertation in stage 3.

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

Module by dissertation:
Assessment will be in the form of:
1) a 500-word dissertation proposal (formative assessment and non-marked)
2) a dissertation of 6000 words (90%)
3) seminar performance mark (in accordance with the criteria published in the School of English Undergraduate Handbook (10%)

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.

In addition, students taking the module by dissertation will be able to:

9.5 Marshal complex knowledge and present it clearly and logically in the substantive form of a dissertation

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