BA English Literature / Course details

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Victorian Ecologies: Scale, Atmosphere, Crisis

Course unit fact file
Unit code ENGL35452
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by
Available as a free choice unit? No


This course introduces students to a range of nineteenth-century texts and ideas that mobilise, in various ways and through different forms, questions about the relations between humans and non-human worlds at a time of tremendous ecological, economic, political, racial, and social change. The module engages with ‘keywords’ that speak both to radical changes in Victorian culture and the legacy of these changes today, asking students to think alongside the Victorians about the scale of the human and its limits across political, ecological, philosophical, ideological axes. We will consider how forms of nineteenth-century literature address, shape, and convey scales of ecology and catastrophe in precise, imaginative, and pressing ways, finding ways to strategically connect the legacies of the nineteenth century with our own time of crisis. 


• To consider ecology in terms of nonhuman, human, social, political, empiric, economic forms and to consider how ecology might relate to literary forms and genre (poetry, novel, lyric science fiction, realism)
• To provide students with a range of literary-critical, theoretical, and historical ways of thinking about nineteenth-century ecology, as well as how these ideas continue to structure how we think through and relate to questions of ecology. 
• To consider how issues including but not limited to race, class, gender and sexuality, age, religion, and dis/ability might relate to the above.  

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this course, students will be able to:
• Think in independent, critical, and theoretically inflected ways about questions of ecology, economy, and empire as they relate to nineteenth-century literature, science, and culture. 
• Interrogate the overlapping ‘forms’ of ecology, economy, and empire in nineteenth-century texts, with a focus on questions of scale, atmosphere, and crisis, and to relate these questions to the climate crisis now.  
• Give an informed account of the formal conceptions of ecology across a range of nineteenth-century writings, with a confident understanding of terms such as ‘anthropocene’, ‘commodity’, ‘capitalocene’, ‘form’, ‘scale’, and their importance for scholarly thinking at the cutting-edge of the environmental humanities and beyond. 

Intellectual skills

• Advance persuasive, well-structured, and critically informed arguments, both orally and in writing.
• Ability to think through both broad and precise questions about, and relations between: forms of literature and science, the connections between ecology, economy, and empire, and the ways in which literature establishes its own forms of ecology. 
• Ability to strategically connect historical cultural, literary, and scientific ideas with present day concerns about the interfaces between human and nonhuman ecologies. 

Practical skills

By the end of this course, students will be able to:
• Identify, interpret, and discuss a wide range of textual forms and genre, including scientific, lyric poetry, novels, theory.
• Carry out independent research.
• Develop speaking and listening skills through seminar participation, and develop confidence in public speaking and the sharing of ideas. 

Transferable skills and personal qualities

• Initiative: students will be expected to work on their own initiative in order to read and research texts/topics. 
• Leadership: there will be opportunities for students to take the lead in seminar discussions. 
• Organisation: students will need to develop methods for mapping out and managing their time in an effective way. 
• Teamwork: students will be required to work effectively as part of small groups. 
• Presentation: there will opportunities for students to develop their skills of oral presentation and public speaking.  
• Written communication: students will be expected to submit written work that is lucid, well-structured, and persuasive. 
• Creativity/innovation: students will be encouraged to think in innovative, original ways about their approach to literary and cultural texts. 
• Research: students will need to retrieve, scrutinise, sift, evaluate, summarise, and synthesise large amounts of information in preparing for classes and assignments.  

Employability skills

Analytical skills
As well as calling upon students to develop and practice the transferable skills listed above, this module will give them the opportunity to think explicitly about how such skills might feed into their employability after the undergraduate degree.
Group/team working
To this end, students will be asked to reflect upon their participation in the module in small groups, and to give a short presentation (unassessed) on how the skills and knowledge they have gained might be applicable to working in a graduate role of their choosing. This will ensure that all students finish the module will a clear sense of how its Aims and Intended Learning Outcomes might play into their approach to the jobs market after leaving university.

Assessment methods

Close reading essay - 40%

Research essay - 60%

Feedback methods

Feedback method 

 Formative  or


Oral feedback during office hours (upon arrangement) Formative 
Written feedback on close reading and research essays Summative 
Oral feedback on essay plans and essays (upon arrangement) Formative/Summative
Oral and peer-group feedback in seminars Formative 


Recommended reading

Dipesh Chakrabarty, ‘The Climate of History: Four Theses’, Critical Inquiry, 35 (2009), 197–222

Ecological Form: System and Aesthetics in the Age of Empire, ed. by Nathan K. Hensley and Philip Steer (New York: Fordham UP, 2018)

Allen MacDuffie, Literature, Energy, and the Ecological Imagination (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2014), pp. 66-86

Jesse Oak Taylor, ‘Specters of Capital: Our Mutual Friend and the Economy of Smog’, The Sky of Our Manufacture: The London Fog in British Fiction from Dickens to Woolf (Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 2016) 

Tim Watson, ‘Creole Realism and Metropolitan Humanitarianism’, Caribbean Culture and British Fiction in the Atlantic World, 1780–1870 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), pp. 17-65 

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Fieldwork 3
Lectures 11
Seminars 22
Independent study hours
Independent study 164

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