Observations on the “Mini-Syllabus: Writing the Anthropocene”

By Alina Scott

/ (ænˈθrɒpəˌsiːn) /: the Anthropocene a proposed term for the present geological epoch (from the time of the Industrial Revolution onwards), during which humanity has begun to have a significant impact on the environment

Authors David Carlin and Nicole Walker’s Mini-Syllabus does more than introduce readers to the literature on the Anthropocene. The authors suggest that some hope for success in addressing climate change can be found in drawing from the push and pull between humanity and the forces of nature — and they have created a resource to help others do the same.

Writers map this world from what we like to imagine is the pristine pastoral. They map the world from the gritty city. Rarely, do these two worlds overlap. But in this course, we will read authors whose work explores how these maps overlap, how the impact of humans affects every corner of the natural world and also how the natural world never abandoned the human one. Nature is everywhere. [So are humans. Humans write about themselves as much as humans make the world temperatures serve their comfort needs.] But, since humans are the only ones who read what humans write, we are going to read and write about the way humans pushed nature into their special comfort zone—and the way nature is pushing back.” 

Carlin and Walker make a moving observation: “Here is the thing about the Anthropocene: Our imaginations brought us here. Perhaps there is hope that imagination, or stubbornness, that will get us out of here. “ So said, so done. 

Carlin and Walker’s syllabus includes a diverse set of literature which effectively bridges the divide between academic and non-academic ways of thinking. Doing so helps them speak to the issues of despair and hope in Anthropocene. 

The syllabus includes nonfiction works by Donna Haraway’s, such as Staying with the Trouble and  Timothy Morton’s Hyperobjects, both of which are also included in the Radical Hope Syllabus. (See Patrick Reed’s Expecting the Unexpected, Damian White’s Design, Hybridity and Just Transitions,  Tania Katzscher’s Looking at the Ordinary). 

They also include works of fiction such as Tana French’s In the Woods, Jesmyn Ward’s Salvage the Bones, and Terese Svoboda’s Great American Desert. Suggested poetry includes newly appointed U.S. poet laureate Joy Harjo’s Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings and Jake Skeet’s Eyes Bottle dark with a mouthful of flowers

The syllabus also includes extra-literary resources like Graphic Art on Climate change (Stubborn: Words by Elizabeth A. Povinelli, Illustrations by Clara Bessijelle Johansson) and 12 Artists On Climate Change: A Dozen Artistic Responses to One of the Greatest Threats of our Time (August 2018). 

The syllabus is itself a creative and academic project, and its readings are both approachable and honest. “The texts combine despair with imagination because at rock bottom, and that’s when, supposedly, you build yourself back up,” the authors say. “We will read across genre because in the Anthropocene, we need every tool of the imagination to document it, elegize it, learn from it, undo it and build something less anthrocentric back up.”

This is a wonderful project that would pair nicely with the Radical Hope Syllabus and we thank the authors for their work.

Access the full syllabus here: https://entropymag.org/mini-syllabus-writing-the-anthropocene/


Image credit: Polar bear on ice flow in Wager Bay (Ukkusiksalik National Park, Nunavut, Canada) by Ansgar Walk, Wikimedia Commons 

Living In Good Relation with the Environment: A Syllabus of Radical Hope

Description This syllabus emerged from a conference course with one of the initial Radical Hope contributors and organizers, Dr. Erika Bsumek. Each week featured readings from already submitted syllabi now available on radicalhopesyllabus.com.

While it began with the intention to test the usefulness of each syllabus and case study across disciplines, I quickly found more and more overlap as the weeks progressed. Each author brought their own set of influences to the discussion of radical hope, the RH syllabi quickly formed a cohesive whole. My experience is a testament to both the usefulness of this tool and the importance of it being taught in classes wishing to touch on topics related to the environmental humanities.

My section of the syllabus is a result of the readings I’ve completed for this course, my own understanding of radical hope, and how I have come to understand the readings and individuals who contribute to the discussion of maintaining radical hopefulness accompanied by action, in the face of environmental degradation, catastrophe, and despair.

Jamal Galves, the Manateeman, Swims with West Indian manatee | via Oceana Belize

How do you define radical hope? I’d define radical hope as a conscious effort to acknowledge the degradation of culture or environment, secondly, a willingness to educate oneself and others, and finally, a belief in the humanity and the application of sustainable environmental practices. Radical hope requires some level of thinking beyond the present, acknowledging the failures and successes of the past, and being open to the action that knowledge demands.

Jonathan Lear’s Radical Hope (2006) opens the door to the discussion of vulnerability and ethics in the face of cultural devastation. The vulnerability facing the Crow Nation featured in Lear’s work can be applied to broader discussions of environmental degradation and change that is often accompanied by despair. Rather than dwell in despair, Carsten Wergin suggests respectful and careful listening to others. I’d like to suggest turning our ears toward the Garifuna in Belize as the representation of radical hope and persistence.

How do you see radical hope emerging or playing out in your case study? The Garifuna are mixed-race descendants of West African, Central African, Island Carib, European, and Arawak people. Persecution led them to island hop until they settled along the Caribbean Coast in Honduras, Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Facing persecution in the lands they now inhabit, and often bearing the brunt of environmental change, over fishing, and overpopulation, Garifuna peoples are also advocates of change (See Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Collective: Watina, “Net Loss: Are We Drowning our Future?”, Cayetano’s “Drums of My Fathers”)

Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Collective | Photo by Tony Rath



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Translation of Andy Palacio’s Watina



  • On Place, Land, and Meaning:
    • Bsumek, Erika Marie. Nation-States and the Global Environment: New Approaches to International Environmental History. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2013.
    • Farmer, Jared. On Zion’s Mount: Mormons, Indians, and the American Landscape. Harvard University Press, 2010.
    • Farmer, Jared. “Glen Canyon and the Persistence of Wilderness.” The Western Historical Quarterly 27, no. 2 (1996): 211-22. doi:10.2307/970618.
  • Radical Hope & Place:
    • Lear, Jonathan. Radical Hope: Ethics in the Face of Cultural Devastation. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2006.
    • Basso, Keith H., 1940-2013. Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language among the Western Apache. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1996.
      • I’d recommend reading Lear and Basso’s books together.
Water Protectors at Standing Rock |  Photo via HonorEarth.org