Study in the Alps!

Join our week-long interdisciplinary seminar on American Environmental History, 25.8.-1.9.2019. […]


Nature and Environment in Nineteenth-Century American History, Literature, and Culture

(Die Entdeckung der Umwelt: Natur und Kultur im Amerika des 19. Jahrhunderts)

Prof. Dr. Christine Gerhardt, Prof. Dr. Sabine Freitag

The nineteenth-century marks a key moment not only in the history of American literature and culture, but also in the development of America’s environmental thought. This upper level seminar addresses key aspects of American environmental history in a decidedly interdisciplinary fashion, combining theoretical concepts and approaches from the fields of Historiography with those of American Literary and Cultural Studies. We will first discuss the two fields’ respective conceptual frameworks and methods (environmental historiography, and environmental literary and cultural studies). From this double perspective, we will then explore issues such as the environmental significance of the Westward movement, the settler-colonial warfare against Native Americans, the emergence of ecology and other increasingly specialized natural sciences, key arguments of early conservationist and preservationist debates and controversies over the first national parks, and links between slavery, Civil War, and views of the nonhuman environment. Our discussions will be based on a wide range of readings, including classic nature essays, autobiographical texts, regionalist short stories, nature poems, and slave narratives. Students have to read all texts before the beginning of the seminar week.


This compact seminar (Blockseminar) offers a unique chance to study formative aspects of American environmental history in the special atmosphere of a study retreat in the French Alps (Chalet Giersch, Manigod), from Aug. 25 (Sunday) – Sept. 01 (Sunday) 2019. We can accommodate 18 students (ideally 9 from History, 9 from English/American Studies).

Seminar Dates:

  • Pre-meeting on April 30, 2019, 4:45 p.m. in room U9/01.11 (attendance required)
  • August 25 (Sunday) – September 1 (Sunday)


The seminar will be held in German and English, so students need to be able to read and discuss texts in both languages. Each student will give a 20-minute presentation and write a final research paper.

Our reading list includes:

  • George Perkins Marsh, from Man and Nature (1864)
  • James Fenimore Cooper, from The Pioneers (1823)
  • Susan Fenimore Cooper, from Rural Hours (1850)
  • Henry David Thoreau: from Walden (1854); "Walking" (1861) and "Wild Apples" (1862)
  • Walt Whitman, from Leaves of Grass (1855; 1891/92) and Specimen Days (1882)
  • Emily Dickinson, selected poems (1859-86)
  • Henry Bibb, from Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, an American Slave (1849)
  • Sarah Orne Jewett, "A White Heron" (1886)
  • John Muir, from The Mountains of California (1875)
  • Mary Austin, from The Land of Little Rain (1903)

The final reading list will be discussed during the information meeting.