ENG2532 – The Green American Tradition

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Course content

Key words – frontier, industrialization, commodification, nature, wildness, wilderness, natural landscape, place, modernization, modernity

This course in American Studies and the Environmental Humanities considers how the development of an industrialized, technologically sophisticated society has shaped culture and the relation to nature. The course has been inspired by environmentalism, which arose as a political movement and an academic specialty from the 1970s, as an attempt to develop a greater awareness of the interaction of natural processes and human societies. But the larger purpose of environmentalism – the examination of the technologies and values that mediate our relation to nature – has been stifled in recent years by those who link environmentalism to postmodern politics or to bureaucratic politics; our attention has been focused almost exclusively on climate change – in the process missing the deeper meaning of an environmental perspective.

To be clear: this course is not concerned directly with the problems of contemporary environmentalism. We proceed instead by developing a retrospective view through writers who constitute what has been called a green American tradition in writing. It is green because it is broadly concerned with an attempt to encompass life; it is American because it was a response to American conditions and possibilities. There can be no lasting separation between society and writing, but neither is one reducible to the other. Accordingly, this course roots perception of environment by writers in American social and material life. We examine the history of environment as an “externality.” Environment encompasses all of us, in the sense that its exploitation is the basis for our survival, but it also has become the object of ruthless mistreatment and more recently of soulless management. Historically, the conquest of the American west, the triumph of industrialization, the commodity revolution, the mechanization of agriculture produced an unprecedented disconnect between culture and nature. Yet ironically by doing so the captains of American industry and society inadvertently provoked a reaction and as writers recalled the earlier American pluralism and localism they created an imaginative space to reclaim human feelings – toward exploration and freedom, beauty, intuition, holism, place-awareness, and toward the unplanned and uncalculated. These writers produced a virtual transformation in the understanding of the human relation to our surroundings – expressed in relation to what is commonly called “the natural world.” Although the potential for change suggested by many of these writers has not been realized in the political sense and might well be inappropriate for our own time, it remains a body of literature that is perhaps one of the more important examples of nay saying to the world that relentless commodification and modernization is creating for us.

Learning outcome

After completing this course, you:

  • have an insight into the relation between the imagination and the social world
  • can reflect on the dangers to humanity and the biosphere posed by doctrines of automatic technological progress, consumerism and rule by experts 
  • have good skills in critical and intuitive thinking and writing


Students who are admitted to study programmes at UiO must each semester register which courses and exams they wish to sign up for in Studentweb.

If you are not already enrolled as a student at UiO, please see our information about admission requirements and procedures.

Admission to the course is required to attend seminars.


Recommended previous knowledge

Background knowledge in American culture and history as well as British and/or American literature is recommended. The following courses are particularly helpful: ENG1506 – American Civilization, ENG1304 – American Literature or equivalent courses.

Good reading skills in English and a foundation in one or more of the following disciplines: history of ideas, social geography, literature, American history and politics.


Seminar, two hours per week for 10 weeks, 20 hours in total.

Obligatory activity:

You will be given the opportunity to hand in a first draft of your paper, and receive feedback on this.


Access to teaching

A student who has completed compulsory instruction and coursework and has had these approved, is not entitled to repeat that instruction and coursework. A student who has been admitted to a course, but who has not completed compulsory instruction and coursework or had these approved, is entitled to repeat that instruction and coursework, depending on available capacity.


The exam consists of a term paper. You are required to write ca. 10 - 12 pages. 

Submit assignments in Inspera

You submit your assignment in the digital examination system Inspera. Read about how to submit assignments in Inspera.

Use of sources and citation

You should familiarize yourself with the rules that apply to the use of sources and citations. If you violate the rules, you may be suspected of cheating/attempted cheating.

Language of examination

The examination text is given in English, and you submit your response in English.

Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F is a fail. Read more about the grading system.

Explanations and appeals

Resit an examination

For those who want to retake their exam: Since this exam includes a term paper, you must follow the classes and write a new paper in order to qualify. Admission depends on capacity.

Withdrawal from an examination

It is possible to take the exam up to 3 times. If you withdraw from the exam after the deadline or during the exam, this will be counted as an examination attempt.

Special examination arrangements

Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.


The course is subject to continuous evaluation. At regular intervals we also ask students to participate in a more comprehensive evaluation.

Reports from periodic evaluations (in Norwegian)

Facts about this course






Spring 2018


Spring 2018

Teaching language