Jennifer Atkinson

Jennifer Atkinson

Associate Teaching Professor

Ph.D. English Language and Literature, University of Chicago
M.A. English Language and Literature, University of Chicago
B.A. English and History, University of California Santa Barbara
Office: Husky Hall 1316
Email: jenwren@uw.edu
Phone: 773-350-8364
Website: drjenniferatkinson.com


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 the biotic community is both a science and an art.  While disciplinary boundaries can encourage us to frame environmental issues as a scientific problem requiring technological solutions, I ask students to consider the social and cultural dimensions of those problems -- specifically how literature, philosophy, and the arts shape environmental thought.

My classes emphasize integrative learning. Studies in literary analysis and environmental ethics are enhanced by service learning and other field experiences throughout the Puget Sound region. When they're not analyzing cultural texts in the classroom, students spend time outdoors and reflect on experiential/embodied 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 philosophy, ecocriticism, film and the visual arts, and history. This approach allows students to examine different forms of environmental representation and different material environments—from forests and gardens to inner cities and the fantasy spaces of science fiction—as they relate to dynamics of power, inequality, memory, identity, resistance, and social and environmental justice. 

Recent Courses Taught

  • BIS 345 American Environmental Thought
  • BIS 356 Ethics and the Environment
  • BIS 371 Twentieth-Century American Literature
  • BIS 293 Environmental Anxiety and Climate Grief: Building Resilience in the Age of Consequences
  • From Andes to Amazon: Biodiversity, Conservation and Sustainability in Peru (UW study abroad seminar)
  • BCORE 104/110 Our Home in the Forest: Ecology, Literature and Culture
  • BCORE 104/107 Place & Displacement in the Americas: Human Rights, Culture and Ethnicity
  • BIS 361 Studies in American Literature: “Place & Environment”
  • BIS 499 IAS Portfolio Capstone
  • BISSKL 375 Academic Research and Writing Seminar


In recent years my research has turned toward the emotional and mental health impacts of climate disruption and environmental loss. My seminar on "Eco-Grief and Climate Anxiety" has been featured in The Seattle Times, Los Angeles TimesHigh Country NewsThe Washington Post, GristMedium, NBC News, and many other publications and podcasts. In an effort to connect this work to the broader public I regularly give lectures on the topic and am collaborating with partners beyond the university (activists, psychologists, educators, and scientists) to provide resources and workshops on navigating the emotional terrain of our climate crisis. This year I received a grant from the Rachel Carson Center in Munich to co-facilitate an interdisciplinary series focusing on Eco-Grief and the Climate Generation. This project, titled "An Existential Toolkit for Climate Justice Educators," will launch in summer 2020.

I am also the author of Gardenland: Nature, Fantasy and Everyday Practice (University of Georgia Press, 2018), a book that explores American garden literature as a "fantasy genre" where people enact desires for community, social justice, joyful labor, contact with nature, and more vibrant and democratic cities. The project examines a wide variety of texts, from popular garden books and environmental writing to literary fiction and nonfiction (works by Thomas Jefferson, Henry David Thoreau, Willa Cather, John Steinbeck, Jamaica Kincaid, Toni Morrison, and Leslie Marmon Silko), “guerrilla gardening” manifestos, Hollywood film, garden advertisements, and works of science fiction.  As Gardenland moves across different historical moments where different fantasies shape the way we imagine and relate to our gardens, I show how a seemingly-specialized genre actually tells a much bigger story about who we are and the kinds of anxieties and desires that draw us to the soil. Ultimately, I argue, gardens are a place where people seek to inhabit modes of thought and practice otherwise suspended in daily life. Following its publication, this book was featured in the Smithsonian Institution's 2018 lecture series.

In other scholarly publications I have explored topics including the role of "multi-sensory" experience in environmental education, representations of nature in utopian literature, and the ecology of terraforming in science fiction. 

Selected Publications


"The Art of Grieving: Environmental Humanities in the Age of Eco-Anxiety" (under review, 2020)

Gardenland: Nature, Fantasy and Everyday Practice. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 2018.

“Multi-Sensory Experience and Environmental Encounter: Rethinking the Sustainability of Humanities Education.” Interdisciplinary Environmental Review, Vol. 16, Nos. 2/3/4 (2015), 253–266. 

“Comedies of Surplus.” Earth Perfect? Nature, Utopia, and the Garden. Ed. Annette Giesecke and Naomi Jacobs. London: Black Dog Publishing (2012), 258-271.

“Seeds of Change: The New Place of Gardens in Contemporary Utopia.” Utopian Studies, Vol. 18, No. 2 (2007), 237-260.