ENG4532 – The Green American Tradition

Schedule, syllabus and examination date

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Course content

We all know about ecosystems but we act as if our machines have freed us from nature and given us over to social constructions and fantasies of complete liberation. We tend to think our social and political concerns are the starting point for understanding life, rather than to imagine where we stand in the larger order of things. This reflects the rise of civilization and the age of humankind (now called the "Anthropocene"). “Complex societies” – what are they?: systems of production and control that make us feel safe and give us the illusion of complete freedom. But sometimes by reflecting on the social and technical consequences of the “mega-machine” (L. Mumford), we sense our vulnerability.

The novelist H.G. Wells shocked the self-assured Victorian world by spinning a yarn in which alien beings, possessing a technology far superior to our own, bring us very near to the “rout of civilization.” Such fears have now taken a realer more frightening form: are we not the aliens – having undergone a “severing” from nature (T. Morton) – who have introduced the technology that will bring about the ‘rout of the earth’? In this course we will examine works of classic American nature writing – explorations of beauty, place and the organic – that responded to technological and geo-environmental change by seeking to revisit “the severing” and thereby reach for other ways to define who we are.

Learning outcome

After completing this course, you:

  • can discuss the relation between technology and social and aesthetic experience of environment;
  • can consider/explore the relationality of nature, culture, environment and geography;
  • can explain the development of sensibilities of beauty, place and the organic within specific socio-cultural contexts;
  • can narrate the specific cultural and geo-environmental circumstances that lead to American nature writing 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 improved your skills in critical and intuitive reading


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.

Students enrolled in other Master's Degree Programmes can, on application, be admitted to the course if this is cleared by their own study programme.

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

The course has a capacity of 15 students.  The department will not provide additional capacity if there are more applicants.


Recommended previous knowledge

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.

Attendance is obligatory at least 8 out of 10 seminars. Additional absences must be justified by documentation. Read more about rules concerning valid excuses and how to apply for approved absences or postponements here.

During the semester, you are required to give an oral presentation in class. Read more about guidelines for compulsory activities.

You will also be given the opportunity to hand in a first draft of your term paper.


The assessment of the course is based on a term paper on a topic chosen from a list provided by the instructor.

Assessment guidelines term paper 2019.

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

Withdrawal from an examination

It is not possible to submit the same term paper a later semester. If you want to re-take your exam, you must write on a different topic.

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 2019

This course is taught irregularly


Spring 2019

Teaching language