Course Exam—ENGL 460 (The Ecological Imagination)

English 460—Athabasca Universities’ newest course offering in the English department!  This course will allow students to investigate the links among literature, culture, and the environment while considering the role of cultural and literary analysis in the face of climate crisis and ecological complexity.  ENGL 460 is a three-credit arts or humanities course with a challenge-for-credit option.  ENGL 211 and ENGL 212 or equivalent first-year English courses are the prerequisites for this course, and it is recommended that students take at least one intermediate literature course as well.

Meet Dr. Paul Huebener: Course Coordinator and Professor

For this article, The Voice Magazine had the opportunity to interview Dr.  Paul Huebener.  Dr.  Huebener has a PhD. from McMaster University, where he studied the politics of time in literature and culture in Canada.  His curiosity led him to ponder, “how does time serve as a form of power, and what can literature teach us about it?” He notes that he was lucky to have wonderful doctorate supervisors who encouraged him to stay curious, which has now allowed him to “help students create unique questions they can be excited about.” He is involved in a variety of English courses at AU, including, but not limited to, ENGL 211 (Prose Forms), ENGL 302 (Introduction to Canadian Literature), ENGL 433 (Post-Colonial Literatures), and of course, the newest offering, ENGL 460.  Dr. Huebener is also a renowned author, with his latest work, Nature’s Broken Clocks, being nominated for several awards, in which it was a finalist for all.

In his spare time, Dr. Huebener has been learning to play the guitar, “slowly,” he says, for about twenty years.  He also enjoys the scholarly projects that he undertakes solely for his own curiosity and enjoyment stating “it’s a privilege to be able to choose how to dedicate ourselves to something we find meaningful.”

Who Should Take This Course, and Why?

Dr. Huebener mentioned in the interview that “we live in frightening times.  Despite this, human relationships with the environment are incredibly diverse and contain much cause for enjoyment and wonder.” He continues to say that “much like the environment itself, environmental literature is a diverse and complex realm … the humanities play a central role in how we understand and relate to the environment.” This realm of study allows students to engage with fascinating works of literature and other cultural texts, and studying environmental literature can “help us face our troubling times with a sense of wisdom and purpose.” Students who care deeply about climate collapse, climate justice, and finding new ways to be hopeful about the future will gain much from ENGL 460, as this course “lets us think carefully about how people imagine the ecological world and our place within in — not just in terms of ecological crisis, but also in terms of wonder and the unexpected.”

Students who enjoy a bit of creativity and a sense of freedom in their work will also benefit greatly from ENGL 460.  “Students who want to write traditional analytical essays are free to do so, but they also have the option to present their work in other forms.” Think videos, podcasts, narrated slideshows and more—if this catches your creative eye, you’re in for a treat.  “We’ve also looked for ways to reduce the emphasis on grades, so we can prioritize the process of learning in terms of students’ interests … your experience in the course will involve assessing your own work and deciding how to make projects meaningful to you.”

Course, Assignments, and Exam Details

ENGL 460 will allow students to evaluate the concerns at stake within the environmental humanities; assess the role of literature and imaginative representation in responding to ecological complexity; apply the skills of close reading and secondary research in order to assess the ways in which the assigned texts approach cultural assumptions and concepts associated with the environment; analyze the ways in which relevant literary concepts such as theme, metaphor, irony, form, and genre operate within specific texts; and create thoughtful, articulate, original analyses of the assigned texts and concepts, perhaps surprising themselves and their instructor with new insights.

ENGL 460 is divided into seven units.  Unit 1 focuses on Climate and the Imagination through the field of ecocriticism and considers works about literature, the environment, and the imagination.  Unit 2 examines Amitav Ghosh’s novel Gun Island.  Unit 3 is called Encountering the Earth and it examines works of theory, memoir, and poetry about engaging with the environment from personal and societal perspectives.  Unit 4 examines Helen Macdonald’s memoir H is for Hawk, and Unit 5 examines The Sasquatch at Home by Eden Robinson.  Unit 6, The Anthropocene and Its Erasures touches on works of theory and poetry about the geological epoch known as the Anthropocene.  Lastly, Unit 7 examines Kim Stanley Robinson’s novel, Aurora.  The readings in this course are “compelling books and other readings for students to examine.”

To receive credit for ENGL 460, students must submit all four assignments, including a brief self-reflection that is part of each of them, and receive a minimum grade of 50% on each assignment.  The first assignment is two short analytical essays, weighted at 20%.  The second and third assignments can be an analytical essay or alternative-medium assignment, both of which are weighted at 25%.  The last assignment is also an analytical essay or alternative-medium assignment, weighted at 30%.  There is no final exam for English 460.  Dr.  Huebener says that as part of your assignment projects “you can go outside and interact with your environment in a new way, you can create social media posts about representations of the environment, or you can even create a mock final exam for this course and explain how and why you would assign this exam to future students.” The assignments offer creativity and flexibility to take your work in all kinds of different directions so long as students “develop an analytical perspective on literature, culture, and environment.” Dr.  Huebener wants students to know that “this course can become whatever you make it, and we’ll be encouraging you to make the most of it.”

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