Disaster: Crisis and Environmental Justice in Literature and Culture

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  • Session A: July 10 - July 22, 2017
  • Session B: July 24 - August 5, 2017


  • 1:30 p.m. - 4 p.m.


  • English and Writing


  • Brooke Stanley

Environmental problems weigh on the public imagination as more natural disasters devastate cities and countries worldwide. How are environmental crises represented in arts and culture? We think of disasters as quick—and earthquakes and hurricanes often are. But how can we react to disasters that are slow, such as global warming? How do we understand and address the human factors involved in “natural” disasters, particularly in an era of human-induced climate change? What roles do race, class, gender and citizenship play in experiences and representations of crisis? How do disasters look from an environmental justice perspective?

Addressing these and other questions, this class engages with contemporary representations of disaster across a range of genres and media, including fiction, creative nonfiction, documentary and feature film, popular music, poetry, photography, and sculpture. Our module centers around four disasters. Three come from contemporary history: Hurricane Katrina; the Shell Oil genocide in the Niger Delta; and Japan’s 1995 Kobe earthquake. We turn finally to imagined futures, considering environmental apocalypse narratives. In addressing these disasters, we examine cultural products as diverse as Haruki Murakami’s short stories, Beyoncé’s music, Ogaga Ifowodo’s poetry, and Roland Emmerich’s blockbuster film The Day After Tomorrow. What techniques do different types of texts use for representing environmental disasters? What audiences do they reach?

Students not only learn about pressing environmental and social issues, but will also think transnationally. Exposure to authors and artists from a variety of countries (including Nigeria, Japan, Kenya and the United States) can foreground our responsibilities as citizens of nations and of the globe. Students gain critical thinking skills, analyzing how the arts both reflect and influence public opinion on environmental issues. You develop a toolkit for engaging with a variety of genres and media. Students practice both critical writing and creative work, the latter taking either written, visual or sonic form. These skills help you excel in college-level English, film, humanities, communications and environmental studies. No prerequisites are required for this module.

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