Environmental literature program gains international reach

9/22/2009 - By: Mary Hunton

Scholars from all over the world have been coming to the University of Nevada, Reno for the Literature and Environment Program. China, Taiwan, Japan, and Korea are only a few of the countries that have sent grad students and professors overseas. The program has been growing, and this year has seen a noteworthy increase in the number of international scholars coming to Nevada to continue their studies.

“Every year we seem to have several international visitors,” said Scott Slovic, one of the professors in charge of the program, “but this is a particularly active year, with about a dozen graduate students and professors coming here to work with the literature and environment community.”

Among those scholars is Pat Louw, a lecturer at the University of Zululand in Mtunzini, South Africa. Louw is staying in Reno for three weeks for her studies, and she is focusing on eco-criticism in relation to other literary theories.

“Partly I’m looking at eco-feminism and different feminist theories,” Louw said, “and also looking at ways the landscape is constructed in relation to identity, formation, and subjectivity.”

One primary area that Louw is studying, and also giving a lecture about on Wednesday, Sept. 23, is social environment and justice. She has looked specifically at two women of color and many of the issues they have had to overcome in their lives.

“These two women were victims of cultural interaction between the first colonial settlers from Holland and the native inhabitants of the islands,” Louw said. “I’m going to look at social and environmental justice from a historical perspective, and I’m also going to look at the way both nature and humans are exploited and dominated by the European Imperial powers and the way that is constructed in various texts.”

Louw, like the other international scholars, was sent here by her institution on study leave and given a travel grant to make the journey. After a meeting with Slovic last December, she decided to spend her study leave here.

“I contacted Professor Slovic when I was in San Francisco for the MLA, and he agreed to meet me,” Louw said. “Then I arranged to come (to Reno) when I had my study leave.”

Reno has many appeals to an eco-critic, especially one from a country with a somewhat similar environment. The landscape of Nevada has given Louw some new ideas.

“I am fascinated by the desert,” she said, “and I would like to do some research on desert literature in South Africa to compare with the desert literature here in the Southwest.”

However, the location is only part of the attraction the University has to offer. According to Louw, there are many talented eco-critics within the Literature and Environment Program. She is also impressed with the number of different international scholars and the diverse insights they bring to their common area of research.

“I think it’s very productive to have all these different thoughts,” Louw said. “I really must commend this department for making it possible for people to come here and exchange ideas. I wish I had more time here.”


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