As I prepare to teach “Gender in the American Renaissance” and “American Literature: Origins to the Civil War” this fall, I am also reading and preparing for my orals examination. Always eager to find new challenges for my students, I was inspired by Terry Gifford at the Naturally Emerson conference in Portugal to task my students with nature writing as part of their blog assignments this fall semester. The American experience of wilderness, as Roderick Nash and others have shown, offers a critical theme through which we can read and interpret American Literature and a history of social change. From Hannah Duston to Natty Bumppo to Fanny Fern’s Rose Clark, we can observe a lineage of testing gender lines as well as physical and mental boundaries. This is the direction in which my own work is taking me, but also a productive one to explore with students accustomed to an urban environment.
Taking Thoreau’s value of walking seriously, students this fall will be asked to go on a nature walk and attend to the sounds and sights of nature–however they define it–in addition to reflecting on poetry by authors such as William Cullen Bryant and Emily Dickinson, and music by Bartholomäus Traubeck. I’m interested to discover where students will find nature in and around New York City as we hike through a history of religious errand, self-exploration and social transgression in the American wilderness. For my own part, I will be embarking this summer on a 3-day hike through New Hampshire’s Presidential Range while reading Washington, Adams, and Jefferson, and joining a friend on Mt. Katahdin in Maine while reading Thoreau’s The Maine Woods. Now that I have a new tent and a compass, I’m ready to hit the trails to walk the walk before my students. Let the nature writing begin!