ENGL 265 A: Introduction To Environmental Humanities

Imperialism, Colonialism and The Environment in World Literature

Meeting Time: 
MW 10:30am - 12:20pm
DEM 126
Lubna Alzaroo

Syllabus Description:

Imperialism, Colonialism and The Environment in World Literature

ENGL 265: Imperialism, Colonialism and The Environment in World Literature

Class time: Mon&Wed 10:30-12:20

Instructor: Lubna Alzaroo

Email: lubnaa@uw.edu

Office hours: Monday 12:30-2:30 ART 353 (or by appointment)


Course description:

In his 2017 article “Colonialism makes hurricanes hit the Caribbean harder” professor of geography Levi Gahman, reflecting on the recent bout of hurricanes hitting the Caribbean, suggests that disaster risk is determined by both a place’s susceptibility to natural disaster and its social vulnerability. We tend to think of events like hurricanes, floods, and droughts as "natural disasters” but their impacts actually reveal a lot of social history. In different places around the world, vulnerability to ecological disaster continues to be shaped by the legacy of colonialism.

People around the world have suffered and continue to suffer from the violence wrought by colonialism, nationalism and imperialism. Discussions regarding the effects of colonialism, nationalism and imperialism on global ecology have been fairly recent however. This course aims to explore the connections between environmental narratives and the fraught history of colonialism. The central focus will be on the U.S. within its settler colonial history and as an imperial power, however we also seek to place our discussion in a broader global context. This course will deal with literature from the U.S., India and Brazil that deals with issues of environmental degradation and colonialism and imperialism. We will start with the effect of colonialism on the environment and then move to ways conservationists can be sometimes seen as complicit with colonial structures of power. As a result, we will discuss the way the U.S conservation model gets exported abroad. The aim of the class is not paint environmental movements in a negative lens or diminish their significance, on the contrary it aims to explore different critiques of environmental movements precisely because of their significance in combating anthropogenic climate change. We will do this through reading a range of novels, nonfiction, film, in order to think about how these different forms help us imagine different responses to the challenge of achieving social equality and preserving our vulnerable ecologies in an unjust world. This course satisfies the University "W" requirement.


Class Objectives:


  1. Students are able to contextualize and analyse the materials or topics covered, historically, politically, culturally. (Analytical; Writing; Disciplinary)
  2. Students gain and/or build on basic research traditions and skills. Students develop more familiarity with library resources and electronic or on-line media may be critical to their improvement. (Analytical; Disciplinary; Writing)
  3. Students develop more sophisticated discussion and presentation skills in the interest of being better able to construct and defend their own arguments or interpretations. (Analytical; Disciplinary; Writing)



Required texts:

Karen Tei Yamashita Through the Arch of the Rainforest

Linda Hogan Solar Storms

Amitav Ghosh The Hungry Tide


Course requirements:

  • Canvas discussion post and response (20%): Weekly response paper on text we are discussing.
  • Participation (20%): Participation in class discussions and group work.
  • Final paper (40%): 6-7 page paper
  • 2 short papers (2-3 pages) that builds on the response paper (10% each)



Canvas discussion post (20%):

Throughout the quarter you are required to submit 5 posts to Canvas, and substantively engage with/respond to 5 posts by your peers. You must submit your post by 12 am Thursday night.


Canvas post (250-350 words)

Your posts should open with a critical question you have regarding the text (such as “What is the symbolism of the dam in the text, and why is this significant?” or “How does this text invite us to think about X or Y, and why is this significant?”---and more). You should turn to, and incorporate, evidence from the text in attempt to work through your question. This might look like performing a directed close reading of a passage, or bringing together threads woven throughout the text in different places.  You do not need to arrive at a thesis by the end of your post--the purpose of these posts are to provide you low-stakes opportunities to practice textual analysis, and test your ideas out on your peers and I. You may revise and extend the questions you pursue in these posts to your short assignments and final.


Due by 12 am on Thursday (see calendar)


Post Responses (150-200 words)

Your responses should build upon, question, challenge, or clarify the posts they respond to. In other words, strive to substantively engage with your peers in ways that generate rich discussions about our course materials and their relationships to the larger world.

Due by 12 pm on Friday (see calendar).



Participation Grade (20%):

Class discussions are critical components to literary and cultural studies courses. They’re the spaces we will think aloud together and test out tentative readings (or interpretations) of course materials. I encourage you to come to class each day with some questions, comments, and readings about the texts assigned for the day. How does this text fit within the larger framework of the class? How is it in dialogue or revision with other course texts and cultural objects? What is its historical and cultural context, and how might this inform our understanding of the text? It will be largely up to you and your peers to determine how generative these conversations are. I will occasionally give reading quizzes but If it is clear that everyone is staying abreast of the reading, we will not have reading quizzes.


You have the chance to earn participation points in class each day for contributing to class discussion, coming to office hours, small group work, active listening/viewing, and other short, low-stake, in-class assignments.


2 short papers (10% each;20% total):

You will submit 2 (2-3 page) essay that builds on one of your canvas discussion board posts. You will practice making a claim, by connecting a literary component to a historical or political issue. In addition to the 2-3 page essay, you should include a Word Cited page. You will hand them in on their due date (see calendar). I will allow you to revise one of these papers if you want to improve your grade. A more detailed prompt will be provided via Canvas.


Final essay (40%):

Your final essay will be a 6-7 page essay which makes a claim related to one of the course themes. It should include a discussion of at least one story-component (literary or otherwise) and how it relates to the historical discussion you provide. You should use at least 2 sources from the syllabus and at least 2 sources from your own research. In addition to the 6-7 page essay, you should include a Work Cited page. Part of this assignment will be writing a 1 page proposal about what you think your final paper will be about that is ready by November 27th, the final essay is due on Sunday December 10 at midnight. A more detailed prompt will be provided via Canvas.



  1. Central Purpose: Does your introduction clearly convey a central argument or line of inquiry that readers would find worthwhile? Is your purpose or argument one that can be supported primarily through close reading literary texts?
  2. Organization: Does the opening sentence of each body paragraph clearly convey that paragraph’s central claim? (We call these “topic sentences,” but we should call them “argument sentences.”) Is each body paragraph unified around that ‘mini’ claim and coherent? Do the paragraphs clearly relate to/build upon one another to create a sense of logical, persuasive development throughout?
  3. Evidence: Do you closely reference the literary texts that are the objects of your analysis? Do you quote from them frequently?
  4. Textual Analysis/Close Reading: Do you do something with the evidence you provide? Do you explain how you read it (which will differ from how others read it), and then connect your reading or analysis of the evidence to the argument of your paper? Do you pay attention to the writers’ use of language, to patterns, and/or to stylistic/formal features of the texts?

Bonus Criterion: Stakes. The “stakes” of an essay are its claim(s) for significance. By the end of your body paragraphs, you will have (hopefully) clearly conveyed your argument about a literary text or set of texts and your supporting analysis to readers. In the conclusion, you should focus on stakes—that is, why readers should care about the argument of your essay.


THE GRID On papers for this class you'll find (in addition to end comments) a set of four numbers (i.e. 3 2 3 4). These numbers correspond to each of the criteria described above. The point of these numbers is to give you a quick mini-grade on each of the criteria we use to score papers. As I assign each number, I have in mind the following general sense of what they mean:


1 Not enough sense of this category to be functional in college-level work. (e.g., a paper that hasn’t any specific evidence to explain or clarify the argument.)

2 A sense of what this category is asking for, but not much more. (e.g., a paper that offers specific evidence, but doesn't analyze or develop it sufficiently to be effective.)

3 Functional success with this category, but not yet showing full control. (e.g., some exploration of a few quotations, but without substantial analysis, or without consistency.) 4

4 Functional success with this category, with some lapses and/or inconsistencies. (e.g., full exploration of evidence, but without clear relevance to central purpose.)

5 Success with this category but a success not rhetorically integrated throughout the draft. (e.g., a paper with a good sense of how to use evidence and to develop it far enough to make it useful to the argument, but not well deployed throughout the paper.)

6 Full success with this category. (e.g., a paper with insightful and well-developed evidence, all relevant and effectively informative.)


These criteria scores aim to help you see which skills you’re really crushing and which you might focus on next time. A paper is more than the sum of its parts, so the relationship between these numbers and the final score you get will not always be exact (I don't just add them up); however, there is a very strong correlation. Four 6's, for example, would undoubtedly earn a 4.0.


Department of English Statement of Values

The UW English Department aims to help students become more incisive thinkers, effective communicators, and imaginative writers by acknowledging that language and its use is powerful and holds the potential to empower individuals and communities; to provide the means to engage in meaningful conversation and collaboration across differences and with those with whom we disagree; and to offer methods for exploring, understanding, problem solving, and responding to the many pressing collective issues we face in our world—skills that align with and support the University of Washington’s mission to educate “a diverse student body to become responsible global citizens and future leaders through a challenging learning environment informed by cutting-edge scholarship.”

As a department, we begin with the conviction that language and texts play crucial roles in the constitution of cultures and communities.  Our disciplinary commitments to the study of language, literature, and culture require of us a willingness to engage openly and critically with questions of power and difference. As such, in our teaching, service, and scholarship we frequently initiate and encourage conversations about topics such as race, immigration, gender, sexuality, and class.  These topics are fundamental to the inquiry we pursue.  We are proud of this fact, and we are committed to creating an environment in which our faculty and students can do so confidently and securely, knowing that they have the backing of the department.

Towards that aim, we value the inherent dignity and uniqueness of individuals and communities. We aspire to be a place where human rights are respected and where any of us can seek support. This includes people of all ethnicities, faiths, genders, national origins, political views, and citizenship status; nontheists; LGBQTIA+; those with disabilities; veterans; and anyone who has been targeted, abused, or disenfranchised.




Late Work Policy

Assignments should be submitted to the “Assignments” page on Canvas by the due date and the due time. If you turn in the paper late, I will not give you written feedback on it, and you will lose half of a point (on a 4.0 scale) for each day past the deadline. If an emergency situation arises, e-mail me or come talk to me and we will work something out.

Paper Length

Each essay must be ABSOLUTELY no shorter than minimum length requirement and no longer than the maximum length requirement. I mean that; don’t test me. If your essay falls outside either of these limits—but especially the lower limit—it will be considered late and subject to the policy above.

Office Hours and Email

My office hours—Monday: 12:30-2:30, in Art 353—are a set time each week during which you can come to me with questions, concerns, and/or budding ideas you want to sort out. I am also happy to address questions or concerns by email, and aim for a 24-hour (max) turnaround.

Technology Policy

You may bring a laptop or tablet to class to access our course readings and website, and to take notes. You may not, however, browse social media sites or other websites during class discussion. Abusing this policy will not only affect your own learning in the classroom, it is extremely distracting to other students. If I find that this electronic policy is being taken advantage of, I will ask you not to bring your device back into the classroom, as well as deduct participation points from your participation grade for the day. If you feel you may be easily distracted by using your electronic devices in the classroom, print the materials off ahead of time and LEAVE YOUR ELECTRONICS AT HOME! If you feel they will enhance your learning experience in enabling ways, feel free to bring them with.


Plagiarism, also known as academic dishonesty, is presenting someone else’s ideas or writing as your own. I encourage you to refer to other people’s thoughts in your writing for this class; just be sure to cite them properly. Remember, improper citation counts as plagiarism. We’ll go over proper citation in class, but if you ever have any questions about how to cite or about whether you need to cite something, play it safe and ask me. As a matter of policy, any student found to have plagiarized any piece of writing in this class will be immediately reported to the College of Arts and Sciences for review.

Zero Tolerance Policy

Racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination and bias are hurtful and unacceptable. There is no tolerance for words, speech, behavior, actions, or clothing/possessions that insult, diminish, demean, or belittle any individual or group of persons based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual preference, ability, economic class, national origin, language, or age. Academic freedom, freedom of speech, and freedom of discourse DO NOT protect racism or other acts of harassment and hate. Violations of this Zero Tolerance Policy may result in removal from the classroom and actions governed by the student code of conduct will be taken.



The Odegaard Writing and Research Center (OWRC) offers free, one-on-one help with all aspects of writing at any stage in the writing process—including the “I have no ideas for this paper and don’t know where to start” stage. To make the best use of your time there, please bring a copy of your assignment prompt with you and double-space any drafts (or brainstorming notes, outlines, etc.) you want to bring in. The OWRC is located in Odegaard Undergraduate Library room 121. Book your appointments early at http://depts.washington.edu/owrc/ .


 The CLUE Writing Center in Mary Gates Hall is open Sunday to Thursday from 7pm to midnight. The graduate tutors can help you with your claims, organization, and grammar. You do not need to make an appointment, so arrive early and be prepared to wait.



If you need accommodation of any sort, please let me know so that I can work with the UW Disability Services Office (DSO) to provide what you require. This syllabus is available in large print, as are other class materials. More information about accommodation may be found at http://www.washington.edu/admin/dso/.


wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ – Intellectual House
Intellectual House is a longhouse-style facility on the UW Seattle campus. It provides a multi-service learning and gathering space for American Indian and Alaska Native students, faculty and staff, as well as others from various cultures and communities to come together in a welcoming environment to share knowledge. Located at 4249 Whitman Court, Seattle, WA 98195.  http://www.washington.edu/diversity/tribal-relations/intellectual-house/



Preventing violence is everyone’s responsibility. If you’re concerned, tell someone.

  • Always call 911 if you or others may be in danger.
  • Call 206-685-SAFE (7233) to report non-urgent threats of violence and for referrals to UW counseling and/or safety resources. TTY or VP callers, please call through your preferred relay service.
  • Don't walk alone. Campus safety guards can walk with you on campus after dark. Call Husky NightWalk 206-685-WALK (9255).
  • Stay connected in an emergency with UW Alert. Register your mobile number to receive instant notification of campus emergencies via text and voice messaging. Sign up online at www.washington.edu/alert

For more information visit the SafeCampus website at www.washington.edu/safecampus.



Course schedule:




Wednesday September 27

Intro to the course


Monday October 2:


Tuck and Yan (Decolonization is not a Metaphor) excerpt.


Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (page 9 and 10)


Levi Gahman, “Colonialism makes hurricanes hit the Caribbean harder”  


An Indigenous People’s History of the U.S Chapter 6


Wednesday October 4:

Solar Storms (11-80)

William Cronon Changes in the Land Chapter 1



Discussion post 1

Due Thursday

Monday October 9:

Solar Storms (81- 195)


Wednesday October 11:

Solar Storms  (196- 255)


Discussion post 2

Due Thursday

Monday October 16:

Solar Storms (256- finish)



Wednesday October 18:

Avatar (2009)



Short paper 1 Due Friday 

Monday October 23:


Discussion about Avatar 



Wednesday October 25:

Documentary: Awake, A Dream from Standing Rock 

Discussion post 3

Due Thursday

Monday October 30:


Discussion of Awake 





Wednesday November 1:

The Hungry Tide (3-142)

Discussion post 4

Due Thursday

Monday November 6:

 The Hungry Tide





Wednesday November 8:


The Hungry Tide Finish (255-329)

The Authoritarian Biologist by Ramachandra Guha

Short paper 2

Due Friday 

Monday November 13:

Karen Tei Yamashita Through the Arc of the Rain Forest

(page 3-70)



Wednesday November 15:


Through the Arc of the Rain Forest  (70-102)


Discussion post 5

Due Thursday

Monday November 20:


Through the Arc (105-161)





Wednesday November 22:


Class cancelled 


Monday November 27:



Proposal for final paper due


Wednesday November 29:


 Conference about final paper

Research the Anthropocene

Monday December 4


Through the Arch of the Rainforest Finish (161-212)



Wednesday December 6












Catalog Description: 
Introduces the study of the environment through literature, culture, and history. Topics include changing ideas about nature, wilderness, ecology, pollution, climate, and human/animal relations, with particular emphasis on environmental justice and the unequal distribution of environmental crises, both globally and along class, race and gender lines.
GE Requirements: 
Diversity (DIV)
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Writing (W)
Last updated: 
January 10, 2018 - 9:52pm