The Wildfire Syllabus

English 206, Environmental Literature, Western Carolina University, Fall 2020

To quote Paul Bové in the chapter on “Discourse” in Critical Terms for Literary Study, discourses “produce knowledge about humans and their society,” and an analysis of discourse aims to “describe the surface linkages between power, knowledge, institutions, intellectuals, the control of populations, and the modern state” as these intersect in systems of thought, and as represented in texts (55–56). What does the above passage mean? We come to an understanding of specific circumstances, peoples, events, and cultures through the media and through art. The narrative that we construct — and that we challenge — is the result of multiple, often contradictory, ways of reading events.

After Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people in 2016, a group of a scholars/activists created the Charleston Syllabus as a way of compiling primary and secondary readings for educators and the general public in order to provide context and to shape the discourse surrounding the event. The syllabus has now become a book. Following the example of the Charleston Syllabus, the UVA Graduate Coalition put together a Charlottesville Syllabus.

For this project, students in English 206, Environmental Literature, constructed a syllabus about the prevalence and destruction of the wildfires that have ravaged the western US — and beyond — during 2020 in order to analyze and contextualize the discourse generated by and about the fires. Each student was assigned a topic related to the fires, tasked with researching that topic and finding two primary sources on that topic. Each wrote a brief summation and analysis of that topic.

According to Alejandra Borunda, “climate change has inexorably stacked the deck in favor of bigger and more intense fires across the American West over the past few decades, science has incontrovertibly shown. Increasing heat, changing rain and snow patterns, shifts in plant communities, and other climate-related changes have vastly increased the likelihood that fires will start more often and burn more intensely and widely than they have in the past.

The scale and intensity of the wildfires burning across the western U.S. right now is “staggering,” says Philip Higuera, a wildfire scientist and paleoecologist at the University of Montana. More than five million acres have already burned this year — and much more may be yet to come.”

  1. Wildfires in U.S. History Prior to the 21st Century: Anna Gobble
  2. The U.S. Forest Service: Grayson Blalock
  3. North Carolina and Tennessee Fires (2016): Sophie Watson
  4. The Australian Wildfires (2019): Jack Stewart
  5. West Coast U.S. Wildfires (2020): Brandon Rice
  6. Pacific Gas and Electric and the Camp Fire: Kat McGrath
  7. Species Decimation: Alexis Ensminger
  8. Positive Outcomes of Wildfires: Demorian Smith
  9. Climate Change and Wildfires: Gabe Jones
  10. U.S. Policies: Efrain Arias
  1. Mainstream Media Coverage: Josh Jones
  2. Musicians and Wildfires: Gavin Mortenson
  3. Comedians/Late Night TV Hosts: Tanner Jones
  4. Fire Fighters: Jena Brown
  5. Social Media: Peyton Leininger
  6. Black Lives Matter and Social Media: Roman Johnson
  7. Gender Reveal Parties: Laney Justice
  8. Memes: Debbie Sawyer
  9. Politicians: Linus Norton
  10. Prisoners as Firefighters: Paiton Motley



Elle is.

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