Graduate Courses

University of British Columbia
ARTH 537: Transhumans, Animals, Monsters: Renaissance/Early Modern Hybrids
Professor: Dr. Joseph Monteyne
Winter 2020 (Term 2)

Dipesh Chakrabarty’s first thesis in his often cited article ‘The Climate of History: Four Theses’ Critical Inquiry 35:2 (Winter, 2009) is that anthropogenic explanations of climate change serve to announce the breakdown of a long established and veritable Humanist distinction between natural history and human history. Established as an aspect of modern thought and consciousness this notion constructs human beings as ‘entities’ capable of speech and civilization, with everything in nature, especially animals, positioned as ‘non-entities’, soul-less, lacking in reason, purely sensual, with a life that is nasty, brutish, and short. Currently, in the humanities, there is a great deal of critique directed at the idea that the line between humans and animals is so clearly determined, and this seminar is designed to focus on the early modern period (1400-1800), an era during which the visual art and culture is teeming with hybrids of the transhuman, beast, and monster. Beginning with Ovid, the early modern sourcebook for stories of metamorphosis between humans, animals, and even plants, we will explore Renaissance theories of hybridity, animal anatomies, the closeness between apes and humans, the monstrous human and physiognomy, menageries at princely courts, animals souls and the materiality of painting, aristocratic horses as political allegories, and interspecies sensuality in the eighteenth century. The literature on the boundary between humans, beasts, and the in-between is vast for the period of 1400-1800 and growing everyday—we can only make small intervention in our readings and weekly discussions. The hope is that students will expand on these themes in their research papers, and push them further into analyses of how racial, sexual, geographical, and other types of difference intermesh with human-animal difference in early modern art and visual culture.

Undergraduate Courses

University of British Columbia
RMST 420C: Think Like a Forest: A Dialogue Between Pre-Modern Worldviews, Environmental Humanities, and Indigenous Knowledge
Professor: Dr. Daniela Boccassini
Fall 2020 (Term 1)

How do we think? Are we aware of the kind of thinking we entertain? What kind of world do our individual and collective, conscious or unconscious thought-processes generate? we even have a choice in the orientation of our thinking patterns, and if we do, does it matter to know we can choose how to think?

Recent scientific research on plants and forests has shown that plants are dynamic, ever-evolving creatures that know how simultaneously to respond to their own inner pattern while remaining adaptive to the environment; that know how to grow in resilience and flexibility by developing a vast web of relations, both visible and invisible. In becoming who they are, plants also generate and foster complex ecosystems around them: they support communities of deeply interconnected yet also wildly diverse living species, including our own. In other words: plants know how to give to life infinitely more than they take from it. Without plants and their way of living/thinking, we humans would simply not exist.

Somewhat like an old-growth forest, pre-modern Europe produced a vast corpus of texts and images that mirror and teach an organic way of thinking and of becoming. In this course we will deepen our understanding of these expressions of ecologically-oriented, transformative worldviews. Our approach will be complemented and supported by select readings in contemporary environmental humanities, and in North-American Indigenous perspectives on education as the human path to wholeness.

ENGL 347: Renaissance Literature: Experiments and Experimental Writing in the Renaissance
Professor: Dr. Vin Nardizzi
Fall 2020 (Term 1)

Did you ever wonder what cats got up to at night, when their humans are asleep? Are you interested in the secrets of alchemy? Have you ever made a list of all the things that you wish you knew but know that you don’t yet? If yes to any of these questions, then this is the class for you.

This course introduces students to discourses and practices of curiosity, ignorance, skepticism, knowledge-making, secret-keeping, and scientific and literary experimentation in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. We’ll examine texts by familiar figures (Thomas More, Francis Bacon, Montaigne, Margaret Cavendish) alongside writers you’re less likely to recognize (Hester Pulter, William Baldwin, Thomas Shadwell). Through our readings, which will include poems, plays, recipes, travel documents, and essays, we’ll investigate possible relationships among science, gender, domesticity, and colonialism in the Renaissance. We’ll also be particularly interested in thinking about the scientific practices of experiment – a word which derives from the Latin verb “to try” – as also tryings-out of new forms of writing.
ENGL 490: Literature Majors Seminar: Plant Blindness
Professor: Dr. Vin Nardizzi
Fall 2020 (Term 1)

According to science educators and some environmental writers, plant blindness is a condition unique to Homo sapiens. In a nutshell, the concept describes humanity’s alienation from the botanical world in modernity; it is an inability to see – and so to care for – the plants that surround and provide for them.

We’ll spend our time examining this universalizing statement about humanity’s constitutive incapacity. In this ecocritical seminar, we’ll first review the scientific literature as well as its uptake in more popular forms of environmental writing. Second, we’ll read samples from foundational critical texts in disability theory (Mel Y. Chen and David T. Mitchell and Sharon L. Snyder) and indigenous environmentalism (Robin Wall Kimmerer) that will help us to identify the underlying assumptions and limitations of this vision of humanity’s blindness. Finally, we’ll turn to representations of plants themselves, as they appear in cinema, in sound recordings, and in a bouquet of literary experiments, to investigate how these texts and technologies may have contributed to (or departed from) modernity’s alleged inattention to plants. We’ll watch the documentary The Secret Life of Plants, which features a soundtrack by Stevie Wonder, and we’ll read Roald Dahl’s “The Sound Machine,” John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids, Ursula K. Le Guin’s “Vaster than Empires and More Slow,” and Richard Powers, The Overstory.

ENGL 393: Ecocriticism: Climate Strike!
Professor: Dr. Vin Nardizzi
Winter 2020 (Term 2)

On 27 September 2019, it is reported that (at least) 100,000 British Columbians, including UBC students, went on strike, marched to Vancouver City Hall, holding signs protesting against climate injustice and calling for immediate action in response to climate emergency. This was, of course, not a local event. The strike was global in scope. Nor was it a singular event: other such actions occurred in March, May, and September 2019. These events garnered media attention, were supported (or not) by politicians and organizations the world over, and were also not without controversy. It will be the business of this course to reflect on the climate strikes of 2019

We’ll examine the various media of the climate strikes, from social media, print reportage, TV appearances, and even homemade signs. We’ll also review the specific environmental goals of the strikes as well as their critiques, from the right and from the left. Importantly, we’ll want to explore what a strike is. Some guiding questions for us on this topic will include: what is the history of the labour strike as a collective action? What are its parameters of inclusion and exclusion? How have general strikes been represented in literature and film? What might the future hold for such actions during a global pandemic?

Readings will include writings, speeches, and media recordings by Karl Marx, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Autumn Peltier, Greta Thunberg, Audre Lorde, among others. We’ll also have occasion to look at an account of the 1919 General Strike in Winnipeg and to read excerpts from Kim Stanley Robinson’s cli-fi novel, New York 2140, which features a “rent strike” in a city submerged by heightened ocean waters.

University of Alabama
EN 433: Advanced Studies in British Literature – Renaissance Oecologies
Professor: Dr. Elizabeth Tavares
Fall 2020 (Term 1)

Designed for advanced English majors, a special topics course that focuses on issues in British literature. This course explores the environmental rhetoric and politics of the early modern period (1500–1800) in England. With particular attention to the histories of imperialism and colonial exploitation, this course investigates the ecological, economic, and cultural relations among humans and nonhumans in the premodern world. By developing, through a series of interlocking tasks, a culminating conference paper for a student-driven special issue, students will have the opportunity to employ a specific theoretical lens (ecocriticism) as a means to interrogate the relationship between literature and environment.

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