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Wild Things – Wilderness in the Anthropocene


Disclaimer: due to the coronavirus pandemic, this course description might be subject to changes. For the latest updates regarding corona virus, please check this link.

Topics: Wilderness debate, environmental conservation, re-wilding.
Disciplines: Philosophy, history, literature, art, anthropology, environmental studies, and urban ecology.
Skills: Researching, analysing, generating solutions, reflecting, independent learning, resilience

Admission requirements:

This course is an (extracurricular) Honours Class: an elective course within the Honours College programme. Third year students who don’t participate in the Honours College, have the opportunity to apply for a Bachelor Honours Class. Students will be selected based on i.a. their motivation and average grade.

On the one hand “wilderness” seems more popular than ever. Over the last decades the tourist, food, health and entertainment industries have shown a sharp increase in the market value of wilderness. The same trend is noticeable in environmental conservation efforts that are labeled ‘re-wilding’. On the other hand, wilderness-areas are quickly losing ground. Where humans once used fences to protect themselves from the wild, nowadays national parks are fenced off to protect the last pristine wild places. In the Anthropocene, the era in which human civilization shapes has shaped the face of nature, wilderness seems to become something of bygone times.

In Rambunctious Garden (2011) author Emma Marris states that every ecosystem on Earth has been influenced by humans to a greater or lesser extent. This applies even to the most inhospitable places. Think of the growing garbage heap on top of Mount Everest and the plastic bags at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Not only has wilderness seemed to have seemingly completely disappeared, even the notion of wilderness has come under scrutiny. Philosophers and environmental historians have unearthed conceptual problems of a philosophical, ecological and cultural nature. In the influential article The Trouble with Wilderness (1995) the environmental historian William Cronon even goes so far as to label wilderness as a ‘complex cultural construct’ born in the minds of man.

This Honours Class will take a multidisciplinary approach to deconstruct and analyze the concept “wilderness”. Through (guest) lectures, excursions and presentations students will examine, research and discuss wilderness in philosophy, history, literature, art, anthropology, environmental studies, and urban ecology.

Course objectives

Upon successful completion of this course, students will acquire:

  • Insight into a variety of perspectives on the topic of wilderness;

  • The ability to analyze and evaluate literature from multiple disciplines with a view to addressing different perspectives and problems regarding wilderness;

  • The ability to give a clear and well-founded oral and written text on research results in correct English;

  • The ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of others and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it;

  • The ability to participate in current debates on the topic of wilderness in different subdisciplines;

  • The ability to participate and contribute in a discussion of the meaning and preconceived notions in the concept of wilderness.

Programme and timetable:
The sessions of this class will take place on Wednesdays (17.00 - 19.00), starting on March 1. The class also includes two excursions on Saturdays, March 25 and April 8.

Session 1: March 1
Session 2: March 8
Session 3: March 15
Session 4: March 22
Excursion 1: Saturday, March 25
Session 5: March 29
Session 6: April 5
Excursion 2: Saturday, April 8
Session 7: April 12
Session 8: April 19
Session 9: April 26
Session 10: May 3

Lipsius building, room 1.18

Reading list:
Literature will be announced in class and via Brightspace.

Course load and teaching method:
This course is worth 5 ECTS, which means the total course load equals 140 hours:

  • Seminars: 6 seminars of 2 hours (participation is mandatory);

  • Excursion: 3 excursions of 2 hours;

  • Guest lectures: 3 lectures of 2 hours;

  • Literature reading: 5 hours/week;

  • Assignments & final project: 55 hours.

Assessment methods:

Brightspace and uSis:

Brightspace will be used in this course. Upon admission students will be enrolled in Brightspace by the teaching administration.

Please note: students are not required to register through uSis for the Bachelor Honours Classes. Your registration will be done centrally.

Registration process:

Submitting an application for this course is possible from Monday 31 October 2022 up to and including Sunday 20 November 2022 23:59 through the link on the Honours Academy student website.

Note: students don’t have to register for the Bachelor Honours Classes in uSis. The registration is done centrally before the start of the class.

Norbert Peeters: