Approaches to Teaching the Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson

Mark C. Long and Sean Ross Meehan. New York: MLA, 2018

A leader of the transcendentalist movement and one of the country’s first public intellectuals, Ralph Waldo Emerson has been a long-standing presence in American literature courses. Today he is remembered for his essays, but in the nineteenth century he was also known as a poet and orator who engaged with issues such as religion, nature, education, and abolition. This volume presents strategies for placing Emerson in the context of his time, for illuminating his rhetorical techniques, and for tracing his influence into the present day and around the world. Part 1, “Materials,” offers guidance for selecting classroom editions and information on Emerson’s life, contexts, and reception. Part 2, “Approaches,” provides suggestions for teaching Emerson’s works in a variety of courses, not only literature but also creative writing, religion, digital humanities, media studies, and environmental studies. The essays in this section address Emerson’s most frequently anthologized works, such as Nature and “Self-Reliance,” along with other texts including sermons, lectures, journals, and poems.

Teaching North American Environmental Literature

Laird Christensen, Mark C. Long, Fred Waage. New York: MLA, 2008

From stories about Los Angeles freeways to slave narratives to science fiction, environmental literature encompasses more than nature writing. The study of environmental narrative has flourished since the MLA published Teaching Environmental Literature in 1985. Today, writers evince a self-consciousness about writing in the genre, teachers have incorporated field study into courses, technology has opened up classroom possibilities, and institutions have developed to support study of this vital body of writing. The challenge for instructors is to identify core texts while maintaining the field’s dynamic, open qualities.

The essays in this volume focus on North American environmental writing, presenting teachers with background on environmental justice issues, ecocriticism, and ecofeminism. Contributors consider the various disciplines that have shaped the field, including African American, American Indian, Canadian, and Chicana/o literature. The interdisciplinary approaches recommended treat the theme of predators in literature, ecology and ethics, conservation, and film. A focus on place-based literature explores how students can physically engage with the environment as they study literature. The volume closes with an annotated resource guide organized by subject matter.

“More than a study of nature writing, this collection of essays examines the influences that have shaped the field, such as African American, American Indian, Canadian, and Chicano literature.”

Book News

“Teachers in settings from advanced high schools to community colleges and full undergraduate programs in American literature and environmental studies will want to use this book. It will prove a landmark in environmental literary pedagogy.”

—Louise Westling, University of Oregon