Faculty and Staff

Jennifer Atkinson


Associate Director of the Pre-Major Program and Discovery Core

B.A. English and History, University of California Santa Barbara
M.A. English Language and Literature, University of Chicago
Ph.D. English Language and Literature, University of Chicago
Office: Husky Hall 1316
Phone: 773-350-8364
Email: jenwren@uw.edu
Mailing: Box 358530, 18115 Campus Way NE, Bothell, WA 98011-8246


Area of focus: Environmental Humanities

My teaching explores the intersection between American literature, culture, and Environmental Studies.

I believe that developing a more sustainable relation with our biotic community is both a science and an art: while disciplinary boundaries can encourage us to frame environmental crisis as a scientific problem requiring technological solutions, my courses ask students to consider how social attitudes, values and practices arise out of our imaginative lives. We take both a historical and aesthetic approach to studying the myriad (and often surprising) ways that literature, philosophy and the arts shape environmental thought and practice.

The courses I teach in IAS are integrative as well as interdisciplinary: studies in literary analysis and environmental ethics are enhanced by service learning, collaboration with community organizations and other “field experiences” throughout the Puget Sound region. These integrative learning opportunities allow students to directly engage with and draw connections between the political, professional, aesthetic and experiential dimensions of human relations to our more-than-human world.

Fiction and creative nonfiction remain the primary objects of inquiry in my teaching, but all of my courses take an interdisciplinary approach to literary and environmental studies, drawing on works from critical theory, urban studies, philosophy, ecocriticism, utopian studies, nature writing and other works of environmental advocacy. This broadly inclusive approach allows students to examine different forms of spatial imagination and different material environments—from forests and frontiers to inner cities, tenement buildings and the fantasy spaces of science fiction—as they relate to problems of class struggle, race and displacement, gender, memory, and literary form.

Before teaching at the college level I was a volunteer instructor in Brazil, working with the social justice organization ADESOL to improve educational opportunities among inner-city kids. Watching these students develop their skills as critical thinkers and writers was a transformative moment in my career path, and I continue to draw inspiration from this group of marginalized students who used limited resources to become more empowered participants in a society that often excludes their voices.


While my early research focused on nature-writing and environmental narrative, I have increasingly turned to the literary geographies of everyday experience, production, and urban struggle. Most recently, I have been looking at some of the social histories embedded in American garden writing, which include the modernization of agriculture and mechanization of labor, urban growth, the rise of environmentalism, and everyday acts of resistance to the legacy of industrialization. I am currently at work on a book that tracks the literary history of the garden as both a spatial symptom of the dominant mode of production and a zone of alternative experience within the structure of daily life. My project tracks this history from 1850 to the present, exploring the works of writers like Willa Cather, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Jamaica Kincaid and John McPhee, as well as popular gardening publications and utopian writing. While established imaginaries of space tend to equate the meaning of gardens with the escapist and apolitical, I use this archive to reevaluate cultivation as a practice that intensifies and complicates some of the key contradictions of capitalist modernity—divisions between work and leisure, nature and culture, waste and value, and the private and common.