BA English Literature and American Studies / Course details

Year of entry: 2022

Course unit details:
Nature in Crisis: Reading Environmental Change

Unit code ENGL21761
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by English and American Studies
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The climate crisis is the defining challenge of the twenty-first century. Across the globe, communities are confronting the break-down of ancient ecologies, witnessed through deforestation, erosion, air pollution, water toxicity, and the vanishing of thousands of plant and animal species. It is a catastrophe we have been able to see coming for a long time. This module places the contemporary climate crises in a long historical perspective. Harnessing digital methods to learn new ways of reading textual sources, we will develop a better understanding of environmental change and crisis from the seventeenth century to the present.

Please note: no technical skills are required for this unit.


  • Introduce students to key texts that have shaped and continue to influence our understanding of the environment
  • Explore the use (and abuse) of digital text mining and distant reading in the humanities
  • Introduce students to key debates and readings in environmental history and environmental literary studies
  • Guide students in thinking critically about the role of digital technology in assessing historical representations of the environment
  • Give a practical overview of the main tools and approaches used for distant reading, including printed and handwritten text recognition, corpus collation, text mining, and annotation
  • Develop interdisciplinary working practices, and to use these to help develop innovative approaches to literary, historical, and environmental study
  • Foster skills of interpretation and argumentation, and of oral, written and digital self-expression in English through seminar discussion, secondary reading, essay writing and digital skill building.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Knowledge and understanding of the role of distant reading in modern historical and literary studies
  • Critical thinking about the relationship between literature, history, and the environmental humanities
  • Demonstrate an awareness of the opportunities and limitations of close and distant textual analysis.
  • Identify questions amenable to digital distant reading and use appropriate techniques and concepts to answer them
  • Decide when a form of textual analysis can be useful for specific questions in their subject area.
  • The capacity to use distant reading in text analysis, and to think critically about how and why we make and use digital technologies in the humanities
  • Incorporate digital methodologies into the study of their degree programme

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate an awareness of the opportunities and limitations of distant reading in the humanities.
  • Evaluate different types of projects undertaken in the environmental humanities, distant reading, and text analysis
  • Recognise how distant reading can both enhance and limit our understanding of different questions in the humanities.
  • Articulate the key debates in the environmental humanities

Intellectual skills

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Critically reflect on how data selection and analysis choices influence the interpretation of textual data.
  • Apply skills and concepts learned in class to plan, develop and present a digitally-enhanced essay.
  • Engage in discussion and critical evaluation of various digital reading technologies, and decide when and how distant reading can be useful for in textual analysis
  • Think critically about the relationship between texts and non-literary environmental data
  • Present a good understanding of the texts core to historical environmental studies

Practical skills

On successful completion of this course unit, students will be able to:

  • Learn to use some of the most important tools currently employed in distant reading and develop a deeper proficiency
  • Identify a question amenable to distant reading and explore the use of different techniques and concepts to answer it
  • Collect, manipulate, and analyse different types of text
  • See a digital research project from inception to completion
  • Present an argument through visualization and narrative, combining short texts, supporting graphics, figures, and tables
  • Negotiate interdisciplinary practices and channel these towards meaningful interpretations of written sources

Transferable skills and personal qualities

On successful completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate practical skills using a range of different digital applications
  • Present information and arguments orally, verbally and visually with due regard to the target audience
  • Think creatively how to develop and communicate their work
  • Demonstrate the ability to think flexibly about their subject and approaches to it
  • Assess the relevance and importance of the ideas of others
  • Effectively manage a small independent research project

Employability skills


Assessment methods

Assessment Type Weight
Presentation 15%
Creative reflection 15%
Essay 70%


Study hours

Independent study hours
Independent study 0

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