British nature writing: its history and changing perspectives

Course Dates: 25/02/20 - 24/03/20
Time: 18:00 - 19:30
Location: International House

This course focusses on non-fiction nature writing from British naturalists, taking its cue from Gilbert White's Natural History of Selborne at the end of the eighteenth century through to Nan Shepherd, Richard Mabey, Roger Deakin and beyond into the twenty-first century. We will explore the changing purposes of nature writing and how scientific and technological developments have altered our relationship with the natural world. Looking at nature through others' eyes will also give us increased knowledge and appreciation of the flora and fauna of the British landscape.


What is the course about?

The course will look closely at some some classic and some less well known natural history writers and examine their historical contexts, their aims and how changing scientific understanding and technological facilities have changed the way we engage with nature. The course will debate whether the key themes have changed from celebration of God's creation to campaigning against humankind's destruction. Is nature writing now merely a consolation for a largely urban readership or is it a valuable contribution to recording and understanding nature in its own right?

What will we cover?

Key topics will include:
Historic background to writing about nature
Gilbert White and his influence
The Victorian parson naturalists
Moving from rural to urban life - Richard Jefferies and early 20th century writers
Mid 20th century - nature in crisis?
Nan Shepherd and Roger Deakin - descendants of White?
Nature writing of consolation and campaigning.

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

- Identify some changing themes in British nature writing between the 18th and 21st centuries
- Recognise some scientific and social changes which have influenced nature writing
- Explore a wider range of nature writers from across the period
- Debate the purpose for both writers and readers of nature writing
- Recognise and appreciate some of the species selected for special attention by the nature writers.

What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

This is a general interest course suitable for anyone who enjoys exploring nature through the written word and in more practical ways. It may also appeal to anyone hoping to produce their own nature writing, in fiction or non-fiction. There are no special skills required apart from a facility to read and discuss in English.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

Extracts from a wide variety of texts will be supplied in a pack in the first class for reading week by week. Visual and audio material will be included in the classes to enhance identification of species. A bibliography will be supplied and students will be encouraged to read beyond the extracts and also to suggest other nature writers to be introduced to the group.

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

No other costs. Bring something with which to take notes.

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

General information and advice on courses at City Lit is available from the Student Centre and Library on Monday to Friday from 12:00 – 19:00.
See the course guide for term dates and further details


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Yes I would recommend this course and already have.
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Tutor Biographies
Carmel Elwell

Carmel Elwell has a first degree in History and an MA in Victorian Studies. She has taught history at City Lit for over 15 years and she is also the Science and Natural History coordinator. She has become increasingly interested in the social and cultural changes which have affected how historians write about individuals in biographies and what constitutes a ‘radical’ position. Her recent research into British nature writing from the eighteenth century to today tracks also the scientific and technological changes which create a complex relationship between humans and the rest of the natural world. Reading from Gilbert White (born 1720) to Robert Macfarlane (born 1976) creates the bridge from historical texts to current anxieties about what record we will leave for future historians.

Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.

Book your place

Course Code: HS187

Tue, eve, 25 Feb - 24 Mar '20

Duration: 5 sessions (over 5 weeks)

Full fee: £79.00
Senior fee: £79.00
Concession: £35.00

Or call to enrol: 020 7831 7831

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Any questions?
or call 020 7492 2652

Please note: we offer a wide variety of financial support to make courses affordable. For more information visit our online Help Center. You can also visit the Information, Advice and Guidance drop-in service, open from 12 – 6.45, Monday to Friday.