Remaking Nature: Eco Media and the Environment (in the Age of the Anthropocene)

Duke Summer 2017 6-Week Course Draft Syllabus & Schedule

Amanda Starling Gould

Remaking Nature: Eco Media and the Environment (in the Age of the Anthropocene)


What can digital media teach us about compost, climate change, and environmental justice? What happens when we flip that question and ask what climate change, compost, and environmental justice can teach us about digital media? In this class we explore how our conceptions of “Nature,” “Environment,” and now, “the Anthropocene” are cultivated through media(ted) images and environmental rhetoric. We use the methodological toolbox being developed by the emerging Environmental Humanities practitioners who merge ecocriticism—the critique of literary and multimedia representations of ‘Nature’—with hands-on field work to produce a material intervention into the traditional split between humans and the environment. Our media texts may include films, graphic novels, data visualizations, videogames, environmental sensors, and digital social media. To integrate practice into our theory, we visit the Duke Farm, to learn more about that compost question, and we actively participate in digital environmental eco-media to explore how social action and activism can remake our notions of Nature in an Age when humans have become a detrimental geological force. Along the way we ask questions about how ecomedia constructs notions of race, class, citizenship, sustainability, social/environmental justice, and ethical responsibility.

Course Attributes: ALP, CZ, CCI, EI, STS

Tentative Course Schedule

Unit 1: The Invention of Nature, Introduction to Eco Media: How do we come to know what “Nature” is? With the growth of technomedia – and increasingly mobile technomedia – as a dominant form of communication, environmental issues are now being communicated How does visual language shape our ideas of “Nature,” and about our relationship(s) with and within it?

Thursday May 18: Class orientation, Introduction to EcoMedia

  • Prepare: Glance through the course website and bring any questions to class
  • In Class
    • Clips from The Matrix, Mad Max
    • An Inconvenient Truth
    • Nature in Videogames
    • Demo of Using Social Media / Websites if needed

→   Assignment – Participate: Choose a medium (or two) that you feel comfortable using. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Email Listservs – all are fair game. Follow EcoMedia sites like @everydayclimatechange, @greenpeace, @sierraclub, @NorthCarolinaEE, etc. I’ll provide a list for you to choose from and will ask you to discover a few of your own. Keep an eye on these as we’ll discuss what you’ve seen over the next few weeks and more directly in Unit 4.

Monday May 22: Introduction to EcoMedia Theory & Environmental Rhetoric

  • Prepare: Read assigned selections from Ecomedia: Key Issues, Rust, Monani and Cubbitt
  • Prepare: Read assigned selections from After Nature, Jed Purdy
  • In Class:
    • Avatar
    • Take notes about how this differs from The Matrix, MadMax, and Inconvenient Truth using the terminology and frameworks you encountered in your two readings, Ecomedia and After Nature.
    • Discussion of Avatar if time permits

Tuesday May 23: EcoMedia Theory & Environmental Rhetoric Continued

  • Prepare: Read “What Do Students Need to Know About Rhetoric?,” Hepzibah Roskelly
  • Prepare: Watch “Why the “natural” label is a bunch of all-natural bull,” Holly Richmond
  • Finish assigned readings for Monday if you have not already
  • Prepare: Bring in an example or two of recent ecomedia representations that you’ve come across in the past few days.
  • In Class:
    • Discussion of the Environmental Rhetoric in Avatar, Inconvenient Truth, MadMax, and the Matrix.
    • Explore a selection of recent news media
    • Mini-Lecture: Environmental Rhetoric & Discourse/Visual Analysis 101:
    • Discussion: How does our language – both visual and textual – shape our notions of “Nature,” and about our relationship(s) with and within it?

Optional Readings: Excerpts from Ecospeak: Rhetoric and Environmental Politics in America; Excerpts from Ecosee: Image, Rhetoric, Nature


Unit 2: What is ‘Environmental Humanities’?

Thursday May 25

  • Prepare: Read “Humanities for the Environment – A Manifesto,” Poul Holm, Adamson, et al
  • Prepare: Read “Thinking Through the Environment, Unsettling the Humanities” Deborah Bird
  • In Class:
    • Discussion of the readings
    • Collaborative explorations of Keywords for Environmental Studies, Adamson et al
    • With a partner, begin to prepare an Issue Analysis to present next Tuesday in class.

→  Assignment – Analyze: Issue Analysis

Monday May 29 – Memorial Day, No class. Finish Issue Analysis and Prep for Tuesday


Unit 3: The Anthropocene: Analyzing Anthropocene Natures: What is the Anthropocene? Who is using it? To what ends? How does the Anthropocene trouble our notions of the Anthropocene? How do/should we live in the Age of the Anthropocene? What role does “Nature” play in current and future cultures? What role do humans play? How do we live in this new Age?

Tuesday May 30: Introduction to the Anthropocene

  • Prepare: Read assigned selections on the Anthropocene.
    • Selections of both old (the first mentions of the Anthropocene in contemporary news media) and recent news media on the Anthropocene
    • Selection of articles from the International Commission on Stratigraphy’s Working Group on the Anthropocene including those by Crutzen & Stoermer, Haff (Duke), Richter (Duke), Zalasiewicz, Steffen that span the history of the term’s use and evolution up to the very latest being released in summer 2017.
    • Selections from Shock of the Anthropocene: The Earth, History and Us, Bonneuil and Fressoz
    • “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin” Haraway
  • In Class:
    • Issue Analysis Presentations
    • Discussion of the Anthropocene
    • Discussion: Does the Anthropocene change your analysis of the issue you’ve chosen?
    • If time permits, check the web for visual representations of the Anthropocene

Thursday June 1: Living in the Anthropocene

  • Prepare: Read assigned selections from Human-Nature Interactions in the Anthropocene, Marion Glaser
  • Prepare: Read assigned selections from A Manifesto for Living in the Anthropocene, Gibson, Fincher and Rose (eds.)
  • In Class:
    • Discussion of living in the Anthropocene
    • Check the web for visual representations of the Anthropocene
    • Discussion of the visual rhetoric of the Anthropocene
    • Discussion of Race, Class, and Citizenship in the Anthropocene


Unit 4: Remaking Nature: Art, Action, Activism

Monday June 5: Prototype Design Challenge!

  • In Class:
    • Collaborative Design Sprint – Challenge to be announced at the start of class
    • Present your designs

→    Assignment (IN CLASS) – Create: Collaboratively Design a Solution Prototype

Tuesday June 6: Art, Action, and Activism

  • Prepare: Read selections from Art in the Anthropocene
  • Prepare: Read selections from Gabrys, Program Earth
  • In Class:
  • Rare Earthworks (short film)
  • Eco Comics: Author/Scholar Nick Sousanis – Skype with Nick?
    • Eco Media and Social Activism: What have your social media feeds been up to?
    • Eco Sensors and Citizen Science

Thursday June 8: MIDTERM

  • Prepare: Finish your Photo Essays. They are due TODAY!
  • In Class:
    • Tour of the Duke Smart Home
    • Presentations of your Photo Essays

→   Assignment – See/Capture: Photo Essay Due

Monday, June 12: Environmental Justice

  • Prepare: Read selections on Environmental Rhetoric & Social Justice
  • Prepare: Read selections reflecting on the successes and failures of the Environmental Movement
  • In Class:
    • Short Film: Environment & Social Justice
    • Discussion: Successes & Failures of the Rhetoric of the Environmental Movement and their consequences on issues/conditions of race, class, and citizenship
    • Discussion: How do your social media feeds reflect on these issues?
    • Discussion: What can we do?

Tuesday June 13: Project Group Conferences to discuss final projects

Thursday June 15: Environmental Justice and Digital Media

  • In Class: Social Media project


Unit 5: Sustainable Solutions, Digital Stewardship

Monday June 19: Sustainable Media

  • Selections from Sustainable Media
  • In Class:
    • Case Studies: We’ll apply what we’ve learned to evaluation certain environmental websites

Tuesday June 20: Permaculture

  • Prepare: Read Maria Puig de la Bellacasa on Compost
  • Prepare: Read selections on Permaculture
  • In Class
    • Inhabit (film)
    • Discussion of Permaculture, Media, and Sustainable (and Just) Cultures

Thursday June 22: Duke Farm!

Monday June 26: Last Class.

  • In Class
    • Reflections on the Course: What did we learn? How can we be more ethical global citizens?
    • Present final projects
    • Collaboratively design our online web journal

Tuesday June 27: Reading Day

Thursday June 29: Finals Due Date

→   Assignment – Demonstrate & Collaborate: Final Project: Create an entry for our online Keywords Companion.


*Note: This is just a draft of our tentative course schedule*