First Year Seminar 1111: With and Without Nature

University of Denver

Fall 2020

Course blog:


Hurricane Dorian aftermath, Bahamas, Sept. 2019. Source: Joe Skipper, Reuters.

“…to say ‘nature writing’ is to say ‘water swimming.’  We are nature, too, and the recent descension of this discipline into an academic genre is troubling, the evident distance between writer and subject rather too convenient.” — Jim Harrison

“[Nature] inspires a painfully limited set of responses in ‘nature writers’ – reverence, awe, piety, mystical oneness.” –Joyce Carol Oates


Instructor: Brad Benz, PhD                                            

Mtg Place and Time: Sie Complex 1110, MW 12-1:50

Office: AAC 380K

Office Hrs: by appointment

Email: bradley (dot) benz (at) du (dot) edu

 Texts and Materials

  • Anderson, Lorraine, et al, eds. Literature & the Environment, 2nd  NY: Longman, 2012.
  • Galvin, James. The Meadow. NY: Holt and Co., 1992.
  • Wright, Richard. Uncle Tom’s Children. NY: Harper Perennial Classics, 1991.
  • Your email and your blog


Course Description

Jim Harrison famously states that “to say ‘nature writing’ is to say water swimming.” His point? Humans are nature, too. Using sustainability and interconnectedness as organizing principles, this FSEM explores the natural world, asking students to examine humanity’s position with, against, and without nature. Students will read as eco-critics and write as green rhetors. The substantial reading list will include at least two books, and numerous short stories, poems, essays, and films. Students will also conduct regular field trips by studying a local outdoor green space, one they will visit regularly, researching the site in a hands-on manner, and recording their findings in a lengthy writing project – a multimedia naturalist’s site journal. The site journal will ask students to study their site from a number of perspectives, including ones they may not already be familiar with (for example, historical, eco-feminist, and scientific).


Learning Goals

  • Engage in critical inquiry in the examination of concepts, texts, or artifacts.
  • Effectively communicate the results of such inquiry.



  • Reading (and more reading)

The readings will be the backbone of the course and will form the basis of most class sessions. They are exciting, challenging, provocative, and ultimately worthwhile; rereading is strongly recommended.  I expect preparation.


  • Reading Quizzes

Quizzes will cover reading comprehension and will account for nearly a third of your final grade.  There will be numerous unannounced quizzes throughout the semester. Quizzes cannot be made up, but you may drop your lowest quiz score at the end of the quarter.



  • Canvas Discussion Posts

Using Canvas, students will complete six discussion posts, which will address the One Book, One Prompt, a response to the Destinations Trip to the Denver Art Museum, as well as responses to assigned readings, films, and other materials from the course. Your posts should respond to the initial prompt. Your audience will be your classmates, and I will assess your posts on their relevance, thoughtfulness, timeliness, and polish. Late discussion posts will be accepted up to one week after they are due and will receive up to 50% credit.


  • Community Service Project: DU Trash Audit

The class will collaborate with the DU Center for Sustainability and conduct a trash audit for select campus buildings. On the day of the event, the class will not meet in our classroom, but at the trash audit location. We will complete a training beforehand and then sort and divert a campus building’s waste to landfill, compost, and recycling. More details will be provided in class.


  • Exams

There will be two in-class exams, which will consist of passage identifications from the films and readings, as well as short answer, and longer essay questions. The exams will be open book and open note, but your laptops, iPads, and phones are not allowed. So consider this policy if you’re buying digital copies of the books.

  • US Environmental History and Politics: Group Presentations

Small groups will lead a presentation and discussion of major events/topics/issues in US environmental history and politics, roughly 20-30 minutes in length, with the bulk of that time being class discussion. Groups are expected to research their topic, offer a brief historical overview of their topic (its origins, evolution, impacts, and current status), include a multimedia portion (up to 5 minutes of video clips, music, visual representations, etc.), and then lead a class discussion. Groups will be expected to meet out of class to prepare, including meeting with the instructor prior to the presentation. Groups will receive one grade; slackers sink the group ship. The grade will be based on the depth of research, the quality of presentation, and the equal participation from group members.

Course Policies

  • Attendance:

Fundamental to your success in the class, you should plan on attending every class period having completed the day’s work.  Each student is allowed two absences: no questions asked; no apologies necessary.  Each additional absence lowers your final grade a half a letter grade (20 points): thus, absence three turns you’re A into an A-, absence four your A- into a B+, and so on. Similarly, showing up halfway through the class or leaving halfway through counts as a full absence, not a half attendance.  Habitual tardiness will hurt your final grade.


  • Grades

You must complete the second exam and site journal to pass the course. Your final grade will be calculated as follows.


  • Quiz                                                                                        100
  • Exam 1                                                                                     70
  • Exam 2                                                                                    70
  • Naturalist’s Site Journal (including draft deadlines)    80
  • Canvas Discussion Posts (6@10)                                      60
    • Group Presentation                                                       20
      • Total                                                                      400*

*Note: Attendance policy overrides your final points.


Grading Scale
    B+ 352-357 C+ 312-319 D+ 272-279    
A 376-400 B 332-351 C 292-311 D 252-271 F 0-239
A- 358-375 B- 320-331 C- 280-291 D- 240-251    



  • Expectations and Participation: Since we come from different backgrounds, participation is best measured in qualitative – not quantitative – measures. So let’s try and create an environment where everyone contributes equally and respectfully. I expect you to follow these guidelines in online environments as well.


  • Laptop/IPad Policy: Bring your laptop to every class, as we will regularly use them. However, be prepared to have them closed during class time when instructed.


  • Cell Phones and Other Electronic Devices: You have plenty of time to use your cell phones and Ipods outside of class. So please turn them off and put them away when you enter the class. The first time your cell phone rings, hums, vibrates, rattles, beeps, ringtones, texts, or whatever, you’ll bring snacks (cookies or brownies, etc.) for your colleagues to the next class period. The second time your phone goes off, you’ll order and buy pizza for everyone (both a meat and a vegetarian pie). The third time, the class will meet at a fine dining establishment – your treat.


  • Canvas and Course Blog: The class will use Canvas, an online course management system, in a number of ways, including housing the reserve readings, discussion posts, and the gradebook. The course blog will contain electronic copies of the syllabus and schedule as well as the major assignments, handouts, and other materials.


  • Plagiarism and the Honor Code: I follow the Council of Writing Program Administrators definition of plagiarism, which states, “In an instructional setting, plagiarism occurs when a writer deliberately uses someone else’s language, ideas, or other original (not common-knowledge) material without acknowledging its source.” For more information about this definition, go to


DU’s Honor Code also maintains that all members of the university must use the work of others in good faith.  Students who have plagiarized an assignment will receive an F on that assignment, and the instructor will inform the FSEM coordinator and the Office of Community and Citizenship Standards.  As a result of these communications, further action may be taken.  Any subsequent documented acts of plagiarism may be subject to more severe actions, including suspension or dismissal from the university.  For more information, go to


  • University Writing Center: The Writing Center provides writing support for students at all levels of study–first-year to graduate. In free, 45-minute consultations, graduate and advanced undergraduate consultants work with writers on any piece of writing, for any purpose, at any stage of the process. Consultants take a collaborative and non-evaluative approach: they work with you to help you develop strategies for improving your writing in light of your specific assignments, goals, and needs. Consultations are available at the Writing Center (located in Anderson Academic Commons 280), Sunday through Monday, including evening hours on many days, from the first day of classes through the second day of. Please visit Writing Center schedule page to sign up for an appointment.


  • Students with Disabilities: If you have a documented disability, please inform me during the first two weeks of the course and provide documentation from DU’s Disability Services Program. I will make every reasonable accommodation for you so that you are able to succeed in this course. For more information, go to


  • Observation of Religious Holidays: Students wishing to observe a religious holiday not celebrated on the academic calendar may do so provided advanced written notice is given the instructor during the first two weeks of the quarter. With advanced written notice, the absence will be considered an excused absence.  For additional information, contact DU’s Center for Religious Services ( ).


  • Out of Class Assistance: If you want to talk about the course or anything else, please arrange an appointment with me via email.

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