Prof. Pamela Gossin Office: JO: 3.118
Office Phone: (UTD) 972-883-2071
Office Hours: Wednesday 6-6:50 pm; Thursday 10:30-11:30 am

A&H 3300 Sections 501 and 002
Wednesday 7:00-9:45 p.m. and Thursday 12:30-3:15 p.m.
Reading and Writing Texts: Natural Wonders


In this course we will explore the concept of "nature" through various forms of "texts" including: nature writing, nature poetry, science fiction, popular science and philosophy, music, film, visual arts, as well as actual plants, planets and animals. We will consider various ways in which "nature" and the natural environment have been configured as "books" or "texts" depicting stories of prehistoric creatures, human history, culture and technology. We will learn a variety of ways to "read" and "write" conventional and unconventional "texts".

The course will be divided into two main topical units: Earthscapes and Cosmic Spaces. Our source materials will include literary and artistic treatments of natural landscapes, flora and fauna, ecology, geology, as well as astronomy and cosmology. In engaging these materials we will ask: How do human beings use their imaginations, senses of adventure, humor, and creativity to explore and define nature? What is "natural" vs. "unnatural"? What is natural beauty and what does it mean to us? What is the relationship of humanity and the human individual to nature? Does human technology spoil, improve upon or work with nature? Does nature have "rights"?

The course format will be primarily discussion with a few descriptive or informative lectures, a number of videos, musical presentations, art and slide shows and optional field trips. There will be a variety of creative in-class activities.

*** New for Spring 1999! Dr. Marc Hairston of UTD's Hanson Space Research Center will be joining us to team-teach a special unit on environmental themes in Japanese animation and graphic novels!



1- Midterm exam, combination of essay and "objective" type questions (several varieties) 30%

2- In-class summary of paper project (3-5 minutes) and analytical and interpretative paper (5-7 pp), turned in as "final" (presentation and paper combined, 1/3rd and 2/3rds of total, respectively) 40%

3- Attendance and participation in discussion ("A" and "P") 30%

4- Optional extra credit/enrichment opportunities (these apply to your "A" grade, giving all you strong, silent types a chance for an "A" in "A and P"; may also be used to raise your grade as a "pretty good" attender/participator, to an "outstanding" one.)


REQUIRED BOOKS (All students must purchase):

Reading the Environment, ed. Melissa Walker. NY: W. W. Norton, 1994 [RE]
(An anthology of writing about nature)

Science and the Human Spirit, ed. Fred. White. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 1989 [SHS]
(An anthology of writing about different kinds of scientific investigation of nature)

There may be fewer copies available of SHS than we need; so the chapters we need will also be available for purchase as a xerox packet at Off-Campus Books. (I will provide xerox hand-outs of the first reading) *

Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind, Hayao Miyazaki (NOTE: students will be encouraged to use this text for their final paper and presentation)


OPTIONAL TEXTS: Students may opt to use one of these for their final paper/presentation project instead of Nausicaa. These should be available at UTD Bookstore and Off-Campus Books. * = especially recommended "literary" treatments of nature.

*Diane Ackerman, The Moon by Whale Light, NY: Vintage, 1992

*Barry Lopez, Arctic Dreams

James Lovell, Apollo 13: Lost Moon, 1995

Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 1997

Robin Davidson, Tracks

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Norman Maclean, Young Men and Fire


EXTRA CREDIT/ ENRICHMENT: [Get my approval first]

-- 1-2 pp report on visit to local art gallery, zoological park, botanical park, gardens.

-- 1-2 pp report on nature film, television series

-- 1-2 pp report on nature music

-- 1-2 pp report on your reading of a scientific biography or autobiography

-- 1-2 pp report on an extra "nature" book, magazine, children's book or grade school text

-- other original suggestions considered!


*NOTE: All extra credit reports need to address these two main issues:

1) What did you learn about the definition of "nature" from the activity? IE: how was nature defined?

2) How did the activity/experience relate to our course themes / discussions / readings?


Class Calendar with Daily Assignments list

Each class meeting is divided into two 1 hr. 15 min. sections, with a 15 min break in between (listed as A and B, below). I try to schedule distinctly different activities for each half so it feels like a brand new day! (yeh, right). We will discuss the reading listed for each class day ON that class day.

NOTE: I traditionally announce any changes to or deviations from the syllabus in the first 10 minutes of class and/or immediately after the break. It is your responsibility to keep track of announced changes.


Week 1: W/R Jan. 13/14

A: Introduction to the course: class cards; syllabus; course objectives; course themes. Reading journal, vocabulary journal.

B: In-class reading and discussion: The Human-Nature Interface: Loren Eiseley, "Judgment of the Birds"


Week 2: W/R Jan. 20/21: A Sense of Place -- Nature as Wilderness

A: Introductory Lecture: What is Nature?

B: How to Read "Nature. What does "analysis and interpretation" mean?

"Wilderness and Nature," RE 34-41

Henry David Thoreau, "Walking," RE 41-45

Roderick Nash "Why Wilderness," RE 74-83

Gary Snyder, "The World Is Places," RE 89-91

* Homework assignment due today: From memory, write 1 paragraph describing your favorite natural place (10 sentences minimum).


Week 3: W/R Jan.27/28: Nature as Wilderness: Desert, Mountains, "Wasteland"

A: Edward Abbey, "Serpents of Paradise," RE 51-57

Aldo Leopold, "Thinking Like a Mountain," RE 49-51

John McPhee, "Los Angeles Against the Mountains," RE 280-285

Marjorie Shostak, "Life in the Bush," RE 119-123

J. Adams and T. McShane, Miles and Miles of Bloody Africa, RE 130-142

E.O. Wilson, "Krakatau," RE 185-191

B: Video: Thomas Moran (Yellowstone artist); Fill out study sheet during video. Discussion.


Week 4: W/R Feb. 3/4: Nature as Wilderness: Lands of Ice and Snow

A: Barry Lopez, "Hunting Walrus," SHS 327-334 (or xerox packet), "Borders," RE 67-71

"The Lives of Seals," RE 286-292

Pam Houston, "A Blizzard Under Blue Sky," RE 57-62

Peter Matthiessen, "The Outlying Rocks," RE 219-222

William Cronon, "Kennecott Journey," RE 331-351

B: Music: Vivaldi and New Age musical interpretations of winter landscape.

* In class, write a 1-2 page descriptive paper inspired (or disgusted) by this music.


Week 5: W/R Feb.10/11: Nature as Garden: Forest and Woodlands

A and 2 of B:

Michael Pollan, "The Idea of a Garden," RE 191-201

Mary Oliver, "In the Pinewood, Crows and Owls," RE 256

Donald Walker, "A Logger's Story," RE 115-117

Alice Walker, "The Place Where I was Born," RE 94-98

Sarah Orne Jewett, "A White Heron," RE 351-359

2nd 2 of B: Explanation of Midterm exam format, preparation suggestions.


Week 6: W/R Feb 17/18: Nature as Garden?: The Great Plains

(class led by Evelyn Montgomery, TA)

A: * Study sheet on today's reading due at beginning of class:

Jill Ker Conway, "The West," RE 106-112

Gretel Ehrlich, "About Men," RE 112-115

Aldo Leopold, "Prairie Birthday," RE 222-226

Wallace Stegner, "Land of Hope, Land of Ruin," RE 479-483

B: Video: "Pioneers" (Willa Cather): Notice and record how the natural environment of the Great Plains is used as scene setting, plot device, symbol and in relation to individual characters (1-2 pp in-class)


Week 7: W/R Feb. 24/25: Water worlds: Rivers, Islands, Seas

(Discussion led by Evelyn Montgomery, TA)

A: Annie Dillard, Life on the Rocks: The Galapagos RE 179-184

Mary Oliver, Humpbacks RE 257-258

Elizabeth Bishop, The Fish, RE 406-408

Colman McCarthy, Still Killing Whales RE 23-25

Farley Mowat, Of Men and Whales, RE 459-465

Al Gore, Ships in the Desert, RE 468-478

B: Slide show: Landscape Painting and Photography: recurrent descriptive techniques and themes; 1-2 page in-class descriptive/interpretative paper on "what is a landscape?"


Week 8: W/R Mar. 3/4: *** MIDTERM EXAM (you will have 2 hours --MAX!) ***

* will be returned in two weeks, due to spring break next week *


*** W/R Mar. 11/12: SPRING BREAK! ***

(Start reading your book for your final project--if you haven't already! Come back from break with your topic clearly in mind)


Week 9: W/R Mar. 17/18: Animal Rights/The Human Animal

A: Peter Singer, John Mastalski, Denis Collins, in SHS 174-190

Nancy Dubler, Thomas Murray, Jeremy Rifkin, Lee Salk, in SHS 191-209

1st 2 of B: In class argument/demonstration paper: 1st person anthropomorphic narrative in defense of an animal's rights

2nd 2 of B: Go over returned exams, grading methods. Describe expectations for analytical / interpretative final paper

*** (NOTE: we may meet in EC or the auditorium on weeks 10 and 11--better A/V equipment for "big screen" video presentations. Listen for in-class announcement)


Week 10: W/R Mar. 24/25: Imagining the Environment of the Future:

A and B: Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind; Background on Miyazaki and history of anime and graphic novels. Discussion of the story of Nausicaa.


Week 11: W/R Mar 31/Apr. 1: Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind

A and B: Video of Nausicaa, Discussion


Week 12: W/R Apr 7/8: Writing workshop with Prof and TA.

Bring in your intros, thesis paragraphs, and outlines! Handouts and discussion of criteria for "good, better, best" papers and how to recognize and avoid plagiarism (which carries the death penalty).


Week 13: W/R Apr 14/15: Spacescapes -- in Literature and Science

A: Poets and Scientists "write" the universe:

Walt Whitman, When I Heard the Learn'd Astronomer SHS 271

Robert Frost, Etherealizing SHS 287

Robinson Jeffers, Star-Swirls SHS 290

Arthur C. Clarke, The Star SHS 292-298

Galileo, Observations of the Planet Jupiter SHS 80-87

Isaac Newton, The Nature of Planetary Orbits, SHS 89-90

Albert Einstein, The General Theory of Relativity, SHS 106-111

B: Spacescapes: scientific visualizations of astronomical data; space music video.


Week 14: W/R Apr 21/22: Extraterrestrial Life?

A: Carl Sagan, William Oldendorf, Stephen Jay Gould, in SHS 141-162

Duane Gish, Isaac Asimov, in SHS 210-222

B: Video: A Brief History of Time (Stephen Hawking)


Week 15: W/R Apr 28/29: *Last day of regular class*

A and B: Students will give Paper Presentations. Student class evaluations.

Week 16: W/R May 5/6: *** FINAL PAPERS DUE *** FINALLY!

Bring to our regular classroom during first 15 minutes of our usual class time (may also be turned in early to Professor G's office)