Author Archives: Sarah Hildebrand

NYPL Archives: The Bryant-Godwin Papers

By: Sarah Hildebrand

I visited the New York Public Library’s archive of the Bryant-Godwin Papers. This collection is fairly expansive – 25 boxes worth of material including letters, diaries, manuscript drafts, notes, newspaper clippings, financial/legal records, and photographs. As many of you probably know, the NYPL has strict procedures for working with its materials, so I requested to look only at box 20, which contains William Cullen Bryant’s notebook and notes on agriculture and gardening. William Cullen Bryant was a 19th century poet and editor of the New York Evening Post; he also played a role in the creation of Central Park. I was interested to see how his observations of and interaction with the natural world may have informed his writing process and affected the production of meaning in his poetry, much of which would fall under the category of nature poems.

While in some aspects the NYPL has become a most horrid tourist trap (I’m always disappointed by its initial loudness and the presence of gift shops on the first floor), it also works surprisingly hard to keep the riff raff out of the archives. The building itself is a bit difficult to navigate if you’re actually looking for information rather than photo-ops. Few tourists would simply happen to stumble upon, let alone into, the Manuscripts and Archives Division, which is not only located at the end of an off-shooting hallway, away from the main corridor, but requires you to buzz in and wait to be escorted inside. This certainly says something about the privilege of, and access to, education/information. Something about checking all my items at the ground floor, minus a clear plastic bag and laptop, made me feel a bit like a felon, despite the conspicuous nature of my “breaking in” to the library.

Once arriving inside the Archives Division (and after signing-in several more times) I was presented with the box of items I had requested. I was instructed to only remove one folder from the box at a time and to keep everything in order (even though there didn’t appear to be much order to begin with). Inside the folders were William Cullen Bryant’s to-do lists of gardening chores – planting, transplanting, propagating. Various lists of plant species within his garden, as well as fastidious detailing of their locations. Several lists of “flowers in bloom” at Roslyn (his estate) on particular dates in October, sporadically throughout the years 1866-1877, as well as comments on that year’s weather. Next were various newspaper clippings on agriculture – mulching, pruning, cultivating, manuring, protecting against cuculio (a type of invasive insect), setting fence posts. It became clear that Bryant spent copious amounts of time both observing the outside world and actively laboring in it. Based on the plethora of newspaper clippings (an entire journal pasted with clippings, alongside a stack of free-floating articles), he was certainly interested in the natural world from a scientific perspective, as well as an aesthetic one.

While I didn’t stumble upon anything particularly relevant to my own projects, it was interesting to handle some 150-year-old documents and see what we have/haven’t learned about tree and plant care in that time. While some of the clippings were almost comically inaccurate (a combination of poor pruning cuts based on ill-researched newspaper articles probably led to the increased rate of tree disease and insect outbreaks he discovered at his estate) others were alarmingly informed. It is no wonder that Bryant constantly struggled to maintain his garden, and was careful to take his own copious notes about its progress. He was likely aware that a lot of his agricultural practices were somewhat experimental, and thus endeavored to document the outcomes and learn as much from his own experience as from what he read in the papers – knowledge that certainly came to inform his poetry.

Collaboration in DH and the English Department

One topic I’ve been hoping we’d eventually discuss in class is that of collaboration… which I feel might be particularly pertinent to discussions of DH; although it also pervades many (most?) subfields of literary studies. Many of the articles from Debates in the Digital Humanities seem concerned with the idea of defining DH. The definitions that struck me as most innovative or interesting had to do with the necessarily interdisciplinary (as Christina mentioned) and collaborative nature of the field. In “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s It Doing in English Departments?” Matthew Kirschenbaum writes that the “digital humanities is also a social undertaking. It harbors networks of people who have been working together, sharing research, arguing, competing, and collaborating for many years.” Meanwhile, Alan Liu writes in “Where Is Cultural Criticism in the Digital Humanities?” that “Ultimately, the greatest service that the digital humanities can contribute to the humanities is to practice instrumentalism in a way that demonstrates the necessity of breaking down the artificial divide of the ‘two cultures’ to show that the humanities are needed alongside the sciences to solve the intricately interwoven natural, technological, economic, social, political, and cultural problems of the global age.” Both of these scholars define DH and its potential for success as being based on the foundations of social networking and an open flow of information unbounded by disciplinary borders. It strikes me that, while the term “interdisciplinary” has become somewhat of a catchphrase within English departments – likely in an attempt to further justify the value of our work and make it more meaningful to the “real” world – very few of these allegedly interdisciplinary projects actually go so far as to collaborate with scholars outside the home field. It seems most literary scholars are often discouraged from even working with each other, let alone colleagues from other departments. True interdisciplinary collaborations are often avoided, even when doing so clearly has a negative impact on scholarly progress. This issue seems particularly resonant in Ecocriticism, which, although rooted in science and environmental studies, fails to directly interact with those scholars even as that refusal threatens to delegitimize it (after all – what do a bunch of English majors know about environmental management?).

It then seems ironic to me that some of the resistance towards DH seems to stem from the fact that it actually does incorporate collaborative processes of becoming – a discussion of which would certainly regress back to our previous conversations on the touchy subject of “evaluating” scholarly work, especially as a means to tenure-track promotion. It seems clear to me that we need to be rethinking these standards, and figuring out how to assign greater value to collaborative projects – probably starting at the level of the graduate school (collaborative seminar papers? Collaborative dissertations?) and working our way up into the administration of the universities. Does anyone have thoughts on how we could better assign credit/prestige to scholars who take part in collaborative works? Or on what we could do as graduate students to encourage the department to foster a more collaborative environment?


Annotated Bibliography – Ecocomposition

By: Sarah Hildebrand

These sources are mostly part of a project for my course on Postwar Women Writers and Intellectuals where I will be examining the “place” of women writers. I am interested in using theories of ecocriticism, ecofeminism, and ecocomposition to draw attention to how the materiality of location affects the writing process and creative production of female intellectuals such as Virginia Woolf and Adrienne Rich.

Aronson, Anne. “Composing in a Material World: Women Writing in Space and Time.” Rhetoric Review 17.2 (1999): 282–99. Print.

Aronson compares the views of Virginia Woolf and Ursula LeGuin in terms of the material circumstances required for women to write. While Woolf is famous for her claim that a woman needs both an independent income and a room of one’s own, LeGuin argues that a woman can write so long as she has pen and paper, and that any interruptions she may experience only add to the depth of her writing. Taking up a case study of adult female undergraduates, Aronson explores the gendered conditions of space and time that encapsulate their writing processes, ultimately siding with Woolf by concluding that the material conditions of women’s lives often negatively impact their experiences as writers due to their lack of privilege.

Connolly, Colleen. “Ecology and Composition Studies: A Feminist Perspective on Living Relationships.”   Ecocomposition: Theoretical and Pedagogical Approaches. Ed. Christian R. Weisser, Sidney I. Dobrin, and Marilyn M. Cooper. Albany, NY: State U of New York P, 2001. 179–91. Gale. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.

Connolly integrates ecofeminism into her take on compositional pedagogy, drawing awareness to issues of diversity and difference. She provides an overview of ecofeminism that explains the connection between the oppression of nature and that of women, suggesting that these oppressive structures are interrelated and often reinforce each other. Pedagogically, she believes that by assigning writing assignments that address practices of “othering” not only in terms of the social world, but the natural one, students will gain an increased understanding of hegemonic power structures and of their relationships to the world in which they live.

Cunha-Giabbi, Gloria da. “Ecofeminismo Latinoamericano.” Letras Femeninas 22.1/2 (1996): 51–63. Print.

This article provides an overview of ecofeminism from the perspective of the United States and explains why its framework does not necessarily translate to Latin American literature due to the different cultural conceptions of nature between these two regions. Although in Latin America nature is also feminized, its conception has otherwise gone through two phases, the first of which envisioned that same nature as capable of trapping or destroying man, while in the second wave, nature came to be imagined as a savior that protected man from social injustice. When nature is oppressive, it oppresses everyone, not only women. And when it is being destroyed, it is by both genders. The author also describes the role of many indigenous churches in fostering a view of nature that is inextricably tied to the survival of man, which is not as prevalent in the U.S. where ecocritics struggle to collapse the nature/culture binary.

Dobrin, Sidney I. “Writing Takes Place.” Ecocomposition: Theoretical and Pedagogical Approaches. Ed. Christian R. Weisser, Sidney I. Dobrin, and Marilyn M. Cooper. Albany, NY: State U of New York P, 2001. 11–25. Gale. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.

Dobrin offers a discussion of ecocomposition and crafts the catch phrase “writing takes place,” suggesting that the writing process is inseparable from the place in which it occurs. He argues that the location of writing affects the type of writing that is produced, as no writer can ever remove him or herself from the environment physically, culturally, socially, or often legislatively. Dobrin makes a case for ecocomposition within the field of rhetoric and composition studies, encouraging these scholars to engage with the “hard” sciences more fully, as an ecological framework has already pervaded the field via place-based metaphors (“the nature of writing,” “the classroom environment,” etc.). Writers are affected by location, and their discourse is subsequently altered by it.

Dobrin, Sidney I., and Christian R. Weisser. “Breaking Ground in Ecocomposition: Exploring Relationships between Discourse and Environment.” College English 64.5 (2002): 566–89. Print.

This article traces the history of ecocomposition and its ecocritical roots, providing a literature review of works that have taken up the subject thus far in order to preface the authors’ own present working definition. Dobrin and Weisser usefully posit that we must preserve natural places in order to preserve our own depth of discourse as the natural world and our writing process/language systems are mutually dependent. They encourage thinking ecologically about composition – the process of writing as part of an ecosystem of writers/readers/teachers, and of course places. However, Dobrin and Weisser also problematically attempt to wholly separate ecocomposition from ecocriticism (despite the former’s admitted roots in the latter), refusing to label it as a subfield and claiming arbitrary (and often inaccurate) differences in what seems an unnecessary attempt to further legitimize their own field.

Nixon, Rob. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011. Print.

Rob Nixon calls readers’ attention to what he defines as “slow violence” – violence that occurs without spectacle and often over an extended period of time. While particularly highlighting the prevalence of slow violence in the context of environmental catastrophe, such as climate change, he also connects it to trauma studies and issues of domestic abuse and PTSD. Nixon points to the often overlooked nature of slow violence and its victims while raising the question of how we might develop more compelling narratives of these events in order to increase awareness and inspire people to take social and political action. I am especially interested in his claim that “A locked door can be a weapon” (16), as this is a recurring image in the work of Virginia Woolf.

Puleo, Alicia H. “De ‘eterna ironía de la comunidad’ a sujeto del discurso: Mujeres y creación       cultural”. Nuevas masculinidades Ed. Marta Segarra and Angels Carabí. La Coruña,               Spain: Icaria, 2000. 65-82.

This article traces the feminine voice over the course of the past fifty years in Western society from a place of marginalization to one where it has become a subject of discourse, ultimately forcing men to redefine what it means to be human. Puleo points to the exclusion of women in the sphere of cultural creation, which in turn affected female identity. She uses Hegel to frame readings of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex to confront the issue of female identity. Puleo also touches on ecofeminism and how our systems of hierarchies have reinforced gender inequality. Her ultimate goal is to prove that by allowing females to become the subject of discourse, we provide men with a mirror in which to reexamine themselves; thus reconstructing both male and female identity.

Reynolds, Nedra. Geographies of Writing: Inhabiting Places and Encountering Difference. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2004. Print.

Reynolds examines composition through the lens of cultural geography, contemplating how our movements, travels, or lack thereof contribute to the writing process. She draws attention to the materiality inherent in composition as our locations affect our knowledge and modes of production. Reynolds takes up the issue of how technology has affected our public spaces, and discusses maps/mapping our movements as useful tools for rethinking education. While she doesn’t provide many examples of pedagogical practices that could help bridge the perceived divide between writer and place, she usefully draws attention to the ways in which we live, and write, through geography.

Solomon, Julie Robin. “Staking Ground: The Politics of Space in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas.” Women’s Studies 16.3/4 (1989): 331. Print.

Solomon explores Woolf’s spatial metaphors in A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas to comment on the social and political importance of space in the lives of women. She draws attention to the contradictory ways these metaphors are deployed in Woolf’s works, claiming that while in the earlier work Woolf encourages women to work from within the patriarchal system through adaptation, in the latter she rejects the system entirely in order to form the Society of Outsiders and accomplish equality through subversion. Solomon grounds her arguments in the theoretical frameworks of Michel de Certeau and Claude Levi-Strauss and their concepts of tactics and bricolage.

Weisser, Christian R. “Ecocomposition and the Greening of Identity.” Ecocomposition: Theoretical and Pedagogical Approaches. Ed. Christian R. Weisser, Sidney I. Dobrin, and Marilyn M. Cooper.  Albany, NY: State U of New York P, 2001. 81–95. Gale. Web. 1 Nov. 2014.

This article focuses on the relationship among composition, identity formation, and the environment. Weisser claims that not only are we (and our writing processes) affected by our social relationships, but by the physical spaces in which we live. Although some scholars have begun to awaken to this idea, little has been done to integrate it into composition theory as the idea of language itself continues to be viewed as a human-centered affair. Weisser offers a brief history of the field of rhetoric and composition in order to hypothesize that to come to a greater understanding of our own identities we must more fully analyze the relationships our discourse has with nonhuman nature.

State of the Field Report: Ecocriticism

By: Sarah Hildebrand


Environmental Humanities: “Environmental Humanities is an international, open-access journal that aims to invigorate current interdisciplinary research on the environment. In response to a growing interest around the world in the many questions that arise in this era of rapid environmental and social change, the journal publishes outstanding scholarship that draws humanities disciplines into conversation with each other, and with the natural and social sciences.”

ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment: “ISLE seeks to explore the relation between human beings and the natural world, and publishes articles from literary scholars, environmental historians, specialists in the visual and performing arts, environmental philosophers, geographers, economists, ecologists, and scholars in other fields relevant to ‘literature and environment.’ The journal also publishes poetry, fiction, and literary nonfiction pertinent to its thematic focus.”

Journal of Ecocriticism: “The Journal of Ecocriticism is an open-access, peer-reviewed electronic review of ecocriticism and ecoliterature.”

Poecology: “Poecology is a literary journal and online resource for contemporary writing about place, ecology and the environment, with a particular interest in poetry.”

The Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE) has compiled a comprehensive list of other ecocritical and environmental journals here:

Books Published in the Last Two Years:

Gaard, Greta, Simon C. Estok, and Serpil Opperman, eds. International Perspectives in Feminist Ecocriticism. New York: Routledge, 2013. Print.

Kilcup, Karen L. Fallen Forests: Emotion, Embodiment, and Ethics in American Women’s Environmental Writing, 1781-1924. Athens: U of Georgia P, 2013. Print.

Lejano, Raul, Mrill Ingram, and Helen Ingram. The Power of Narrative in Environmental Networks. Cambridge: MIT P, 2013. Print.

Morton, Timothy. Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2013. Print.

Waldron, Karen E. and Rob Friedman, eds. Toward a Literary Ecology: Places and Spaces in American Literature. Plymouth: Scarecrow P, 2013. Print.

Annual Conferences:

As it turns out, ecocritical organizations largely gravitate towards the Biennial Conference. The Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE), the European Association for the Study of Literature, Culture, and the Environment (EASLCE), and the Association for the Study of Literature, Environment & Culture – Australia & New Zealand (ASLEC-ANZ) all host Biennial Conferences that center around the subject of literature and the environment.

However, there are also always ecocritical panels (organized through ASLE) at the annual American Studies Association and Modern Language Association conferences.

University Press Series:

University of Illinois Press Series on The Environment and the Human Condition

Eastern Washington University Press Series on Environmental and Ecological Issues for Scholarly and Popular Audiences

University of Virginia Press Series entitled Under the Sign of Nature: Explorations in Ecocriticism

Wilfrid Laurier University Press’s Environmental Humanities Series (Canadian)

Speaker Series:

Oecologies Speaker Series sponsored by Green College at the University of British Columbia.

Sustainability Studies Speaker Series at Stony Brook University

Tuesday Ecocritical Lecture Series II hosted by the University of Central Florida’s College of Arts & Humanities

Scholarly Blogs: – Ecocritic Timothy Morton’s blog – An blog managed by the ecocritical reading group at Stellenbosch University – A blog maintained by Adrian Ivakhiv, who teaches Environmental Thought and Cultural Studies at the University of Vermont

Twitter Accounts Maintained by Scholars in the Field:

@wcronon – William Cronon

@billmckibben – Bill McKibben

@TempestWilliams – Terry Tempest Williams

Twitter Accounts Maintained by Institutions Related to the Field:

@CarsonCenter – The Rachel Carson Center: “International center furthering research in the environmental humanities”

@EnvHistJournal – “Environmental History is an international journal dedicated to exploring the history of human interaction with the natural world”

@EnvHumanities – “Environmental Humanities is an international, open-access journal that aims to invigorate current interdisciplinary research on the environment”

@PlacesJournal – Places Journal: “Public scholarship on architecture, landscape, and urban design”







Hacking the Academy: On the Physical Space of Education

In Hacking the Academy: New Approaches to Scholarship and Teaching from Digital Humanities edited by Daniel J. Cohen and Tom Scheinfeldt, interesting claims are made about the physical space of the educational institution. In “Dear Students,” Gideon Burton writes: “The campus for your education isn’t made principally of buildings and books; it’s made mostly of microchips and media. Any other school is a satellite now, subordinate to the main, digital campus where you reside and thrive.” Burton de-emphasizes the material classroom by labeling it “subordinate,” drawing attention instead to the way technology has created a seemingly limitless virtual place of learning, which we reside in long before entering college, and never escape post-graduation. In his justification of what he believes will be the timely demise of the resume, he goes on to claim that: “Cyberspace is already more real to you than the physical space of your college campus—and it is becoming so for your future employers.” By using this rhetoric, he continues to establish a structural hierarchy in which the digital clearly trumps the material world by being “more real” and thus, presumably, more valuable.

While I agree that cyberspace plays an increasing, and often beneficial, role in education, I find myself hostile to the idea that it could ever outweigh or replace the physical environment. I believe the material classroom, as well as the wider college campus, is still pivotal to the learning process – providing elements that get lost when translated into cyberspace. There is still something to be gained from interacting face-to-face with peers, professors, and material objects that cannot be replicated through online learning. I’m wondering why Burton feels the need to pit these two worlds against each other as opposed to allowing one to complement the other. I would not consider cyberspace “more real” than the physical space of a campus, nor would I try to claim that cyberspace is irrelevant to education. What I’d prefer would be to discover a more helpful way of linking the material and immaterial worlds that would allow students to envision the direct consequences their online activity has on the physical environment and vice versa.

In this line of thinking, I am seconding Michael Welsh in “From Knowledgeable to Knowledge-able” who, instead of labeling the physical campus obsolete, suggests: “we need to start redesigning our learning environments to address, leverage, and harness the new media environment now permeating our classrooms.” It’s not that the material environment has become useless, or will soon be discarded, but that we are no longer utilizing it to its fullest potential. Welsh explains that “there are many structures working against us” and that “Our physical structures were built prior to an age of infinite information.” Considering the age of our educational institution’s architecture, it is no surprise that it could now use some updating. As technology changes our lifestyles, it also alters the ways we interact with our environments – especially those we have built ourselves. Thus, how we construct those environments also needs to change. The question that remains is how to do this. How do we best integrate technology and the digital world into our classrooms? Is there a way we can orient the physical space of a campus towards these goals? How would this alter the aesthetics of education?