Current and Upcoming Courses


2016-2017 Academic Year

Spring 2017

Undergraduate Courses

ENGL 110, Approaches to Literature (3 credits)

Instructor: Dr. Scott MacKenzie

Art and Nature

One of the most enduring principles of European cultural traditions that trace their heritage to Aristotle and Plato has been the relationship between art and nature. Does art, as Aristotle claimed, imitate nature? Does it (according to Hamlet) “hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature”? Isn’t that really just the same thing, and wasn’t Hamlet having trouble telling the difference anyway? Or does nature, as Oscar Wilde declared, imitate art? Finally, after 2,500 years of dispute, this class will resolve the question. Or maybe not, but we will use the art/nature relationship as a theme to guide our discussion of a variety of literary forms from a variety of historical eras, and we will investigate whether there may be alternative ways to understand both the purposes of literature and how the human relates to the non-human. The art-nature binary has been significant to much more than just matters of aesthetic appreciation. Its implications can be found in philosophy, the sciences, and in politics. If, as many thinkers argue, we are entering a post-human age, what will happen to our conceptions of nature, and how does art contribute to them?

ENGL 120, Literature and Criticism (3 credits)

Instructor: Dr. Deanna Kreisel

Literature of the Anthropocene

An enriched course in English studies meant for students with a passion for reading; it is particularly suited to students intending to pursue an Honours or Major degree in English. In weekly lectures and discussions, we will read literary and critical texts dealing with climate change and the environment from a variety of historical periods and geographical places. You will be encouraged to read deeply, to reflect on and practise a variety of critical approaches to the texts you read, and to extend your abilities as thinkers, speakers, and writers. Authors will include William Wordsworth, Henry David Thoreau, H. G. Wells, Margaret Atwood, Sigmund Freud, Jamaica Kincaid, Charles Dickens, John Ruskin, Jeff VanderMeer, and others.

ENGL 435W, Topics in the Literature of the Long Nineteenth Century (4 credits)

Instructor: Dr. Margaret Linley

Making Nineteenth Century Literary Environments

“Nature never did betray/The heart that loved her”
William Wordsworth, “Tintern Abbey” (1798)

“Nature, red in tooth and claw/…shriek’d against [God’s ] creed”
Alfred Tennyson, In Memoriam (1850 )

“By the plague-wind every breath of air you draw is polluted, half round the world”
John Ruskin, “Storm-Cloud of the Nineteenth Century” (1884)

This course examines nineteenth-century British writing about nature and the environment in the context of our present situation of ecological crisis and digital saturation. We will consider this situation in terms of processes that were set in motion, or intensified, in the nineteenth century, when extraordinary expansions of industrial technology and the worldwide web of communication forged ever tighter links between metropolitan and colonial spaces and places. We will explore some of the ways nineteenth-century writers already understood the idea of nature to be inextricable from culture. We will reflect along with them on what nature, including human nature, is or may be. We will engage the period’s forceful literary commentaries on industrialization and its consequences together with no less affecting indirect expressions of unspecified mourning and unaccountable loss. Most importantly, we will ask why and how these formulations matter today.

ENGL 490, Literature Majors Seminar (3 credits)

Instructor: Dr. Robert Rouse

Cli-Fi: Climate Fiction, or How Do We Witness Disaster?

In recent years a new genre of speculative fiction has become increasingly popular; one that examines the impact of humans on the natural environment, and which speculates on the impacts of continuing climate change on modern human civilization. Cli-Fi – or Climate Fiction – has become a genre of pressing importance in recent years, acting as both a meditation upon and a warning against the now-inevitable impacts of global climate change. In contrast with post-Barthean notions of authorial agency, Cli-Fi also speaks with the urgency of activism; authors speak of their intent to make a difference, to change behaviours, to sound the warning bells that will engage change. Texts will include short stories, novels, and film, and will be read in conversation with critical and scientific writing. The course seeks to answer the question of how do we witness the disasters to come?

Graduate Courses

ENGL 502A-002, Studies in Criticism (3 credits)

Instructor: Dr. Robert Rouse


This course will provide a graduate level introduction to Ecocritical Theory and Practice in the discipline of English. We will begin by examining the origins of of Ecocriticism alongside the rise of western environmentalism in the 1960s and 70s, before tracing the development of Ecocritical theory and the establishment of the field of Literature and the Environment in the 1990s, through to our own moment and the rise of the Environmental Humanities. Topics will include eco-poetry, ecofeminism, material ecocriticism and the ontological turn, intersectional ecocriticisms, debates about the Anthopocene, and the rise of Climate Fiction as a genre.

The course will not cover any one period of literature, but will instead seek to equip students with the theoretical and methodological tools to read ecocritically across literary material of their own choosing. Assessment will include a theoretical reading journal, a number of short response papers, and an analytical research paper.

ENGL 830, Studies in Medieval Literature (3 credits)

Instructor: Dr. David Coley

The Black Death and the Literature of Medieval England

John Froissart’s terse summation of the fourteenth-century plague pandemic, “in 1347 a third of the world died,” turns out to be an understatement. Recent estimates culled from chronicle and documentary evidence as well as from modern epidemiological techniques put the mortality figures for the Black Death between 50 and 60 percent of Europe’s population, reaching even higher in the hardest hit regions. The demographic aftershocks of the catastrophe, a population collapse from which Europe would not fully recover until the mid-sixteenth century, affected every aspect of late-medieval life, causing or catalyzing many of the religious, economic, political, and social upheavals still used to mark the hazy line separating the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Curiously, while writers on the Continent frequently address the event of the plague directly — we might cite Giovanni Boccacio’s long description of disease’s progress through Florence or Guillaume Machaut’s moving lament for “great heaps of women, youths, / Boys, old people, those of all stations . . . dead from the buboes” — the literature of post-plague England shows a surprising reserve in dealing with the pestilence. True, Chaucer sets his “Pardoner’s Tale” in Flanders during an outbreak that “hath a thousand slayn” (CT VI 679) and Langland mentions “kene soores / As pokkes and pestilences” (B.20.97-105) near the conclusion of Piers Plowman, but the comparison between the subdued references in English poetry and the graphic evocations of the disease in Continental writing tends to reinforce the opinion, expressed most influentially by Siegfried Wenzel, that “the medieval plague experience left a surprisingly small and unremarkable imprint on the artistic consciousness and imagination in England.”

This course will focus on several major English works of the post-plague period, including the Canterbury Tales, The Book of the Duchess, Piers Plowman, and the writings of the Gawain-Poet, as well as less canonical works like Wynnere and Wastoure, The Plarlement of Thre Ages, and The Disputacione betwyx the Body and Wormes, in order to reassess the relationship between the Black Death and Middle English literature. In doing so, it will also engage with the growing body of criticism, both heavily theoretical and deeply historicist, striving not only to establish connections between plague and poetry, but also to understand the frequently understated and sometimes surprising forms in which those connections were manifest, the ways in which medieval English poets represented a traumatic event that fundamentally exceeded representation, the words they used to speak the unspeakable.

ENGL 833, Studies in Victorian Literature (3 credits)

Instructor: Dr. Margaret Linley

Digital Humanities and the Ecological Turn

The current expansion and exploration of digital space through such developments as cloud computing, big data, and the internet of things is paralleled by a profusion of ecological metaphors. This is especially evident in the emerging digital humanities. But the ecological framework that shapes the discipline’s paradigmatic self-understanding and underlying assumptions, in often surprising and fascinating ways, has largely fallen under the critical radar.

This course will take up the challenge of understanding what’s at stake in the systemic presence of ecological metaphors circulating throughout digital culture today and especially in the field of digital humanities, from the trees Franco Moretti cuts from “evolutionary theory” (Graphs, Maps, Trees) to proliferating “genetic texts,” “media species,” and “born digital objects.” We will begin by tracing developments in modern ecological thought in selected nineteenth-century literature (Wordsworth, Ruskin, Rossetti, Morris), evolutionary biology, and physics through the late twentieth-century media ecology movement and cybernetics. We will then follow this legacy in the work of Moretti alongside Matthew Jockers, Bethany Nowviskie, Katherine Hayles, and Jussi Parikka among others. We will ask what it means to think about digital ontologies in terms of species – with life cycles spanning birth, evolution, and extinction and with complex interactions involving enmeshments, mutations, migrations, and adaptations across platforms and through time. We will enrich our reading further with recent developments in global and postcolonial ecocriticism and theory, including Bruno Latour on the anthropocene, Jane Bennett on vital materiality, and Ursula Heise on eco-cosmopolitanism.

From digging, mining, and mapping data to the border zone interchanges enabled by interfaces – at both its depths and surfaces, ecology functions at the very nexus of the digital and the humanities. This course explores how ecological metaphors help us grasp the expansiveness and complexity of digital ecologies and provide a crucial epistemological grounding. At the same time, we will also want to consider how these functional, and at times inspirational, metaphors may also raise the limits of our comprehension as well as our political response to the increasing dynamism that lies at the heart of human experience in the digital age.

The seminar includes a hands-on opportunity to explore key ideas of the course in a digital ecology created out of a corpus of nineteenth-century texts about nature, travel, and emergent environmental consciousness.

Summer 2017

Graduate Courses

ENGL 831, Studies in Renaissance Literature (3 credits)

Instructors: Dr. John Craig & Dr. Tiffany Werth
Emails: &

Renaissance Reformations: religion, print, and the natural world

creation-by-cranachImage: Creation by Lucas Cranach the Elder. From the Original Luther Bible, 1534.

 Introduction to Huntington Library Archives (field module): May 2128

Simon Fraser University summer session 26 June  – 2 August 2017

The invention of the printing press and the publication of William Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament in 1526 changed how the English understood and interacted with the world around them. As religious doctrine splintered into competing truth claims, observation of the natural world, what Brian Ogilvie calls a “culture of describing,” gained momentum. The term “nature” and the human relationship to the non/human realms of animal, vegetable, and mineral as well as that of the supernatural realm (gods, demons, angels, saints) came under scrutiny. This course explores how the three forces of an emergent technology (print), church reform, and the “new philosophy” would redefine the early modern human engagement with his/her environment. Viewing the Renaissance as a key moment in the long history of environmental narratives, the course aims to consider how seemingly recent concerns about the anthropocene may have roots reaching back to the world of Renaissance literature.

Our course begins with our medium of contact between then and there (Renaissance England) and here and now (West Coast, North America, 21st Century): the printed text usually experienced as a modern critical edition or even ebook. Our exploration starts by deconstructing our modern notions of “book.” We start with an introduction to one of the richest archives for early modern printed books and manuscripts in North America, the Huntington Library, where we will encounter texts shorn of their editorial interventions. Guided by curators of the Huntington collections, students will be introduced to early modern books and learn how these primary materials can be used to build critical arguments. Students will also learn to read a variety of sixteenth century hands (Italic, Chancery and Secretary) in preparation for a palaeographical assignment.  Finally, helped along by Lucas Erne’s Shakespeare’s Modern Collaborators students will edit a selected passage from one early modern text. Through this exploration, we will raise questions about how the book itself might be an ecological agent, enmeshed within a network of social and material entities.

 From the material conduit of the book we next turn to a consideration of how early modern texts, manuscript and print, raise questions pertinent to today’s environmental concerns. We will consider theories of ontology—such as what makes a being, is matter stable or metamorphic, where are the boundaries between the human and non/human, and what determines humans’ relationship to their environs? In our reading, we will explore some of the seminal texts of Renaissance literature—including various translation of the Bible, Pico Della Mirandola’s theory of humankind, the alchemical formula for the Philosopher’s Stone, Sir Thomas More’s vision of Utopia, selections from Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, and one of Shakespeare late plays—alongside contemporary approaches such as posthumanism, new materialism, ecocriticism, and environmental history.

 Situated within the ongoing SFU / UBC Oecologies’ research collective (, this course will introduce students to early modern English literature at a graduate level as well as encourage students to engage with the provocative ways in which premodern culture imagined its interpellation with the creaturely and non/human world.

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