First Year Seminar 1111.95: With and Without Nature

University of Denver, Fall 2017

Course blog:

“…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

Meeting Place and Time: Sturm Hall 251, MW 12-1:50

Office: AAC 380K

Office Hrs: by appointment


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.
  • 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.

  • Naturalist’s Site Journal

By the end of the first week of school, you should choose an outdoor site that you will observe and study many times over the term.  The location of the site is up to you (up in the mountains, a spot on the South Platte or in Observatory Park, a favorite campsite or hiking trail), but it should be a place that you can get to easily and often.  That is, don’t choose a site that will be inaccessible because of snow or distance.  Once you’ve chosen your site, you should plan on going there six to eight times over the course of the term (the “field trips” for the class).  When you’re there, pull out your journal and fill its pages with your thoughts, analyses, and ruminations. Or just hang out, observe closely, and come home and write about the site, the (changing) surroundings, the flora and fauna, the wildlife, the sounds, the smell, the feel, or whatever’s on your mind.  You are required to take many pictures, ones that capture your site, and you’re encouraged to sketch, draw, and make short videos. You should formalize your journal by typing up the best entries, weaving in your photos, drawings, and videos, and publishing them on your blog.  Expect to share your draft blog entries with your colleagues for feedback. In the last weeks of the class, you’ll synthesize and condense your best entries, photos, and mementos, and assemble them into a cohesive, organic final product. I expect the equivalent of 10-12 double spaced pages of polished prose (not counting photos, videos, drawings, and artifacts).

  • Canvas Discussion Posts

Using Canvas, students will complete five discussion posts, which will address the 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: Mount Trashmore

The class will participate in Mount Trashmore, a campus trash audit spearheaded by the DU Center for Sustainability. On the day of the event, the class will not meet in our classroom, but at the Mount Trashmore location, where we will participate in the trash audit. 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.

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. To decipher your grade, divide your total points by 400.

  • Quiz                                                                                       130
  • Exam 1                                                                                  70
  • Exam 2                                                                                  70
  • Naturalist’s Site Journal (including draft deadlines) 80
    • Canvas Discussion Posts (5@10)                              50


*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 pizza for everyone (both a meat and a vegetarian pie). The third time, the class will meet at a fine dining establishment – your treat.
  • and Course Blog: The class will use Canvas, an online course management system, in a number of ways, including housing 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. To make an appointment, call 303-871-7456, or go to MyWeb / Student / Writing Center. 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 for hours and additional information.
  • Students with Disabilities: If you have a documented disability that will impact your performance in this class, 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 talk to me after class and we can arrange an appointment. Please contact me via email outside of class.


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