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GERMAN 298 A: Topics In Literature And Culture

Meeting Time: 
MWF 12:30pm - 1:20pm
SMI 211
Joint Sections: 
ENVIR 495 A, ENGL 265 A, LIT 298 A
Jason Groves

Syllabus Description:

ENGL 265A / ENVIR 495A / GER 298 / LIT 298 A

Cultures of Extinction

M/W/F 12:30-1:20 / SMI 211

Professor Jason Groves

Office Hours (DENNY 342): Weds. 1:30-3:00 and by appt.



With the future of the Endangered Species Act at stake, this course takes a multi-disciplinary approach to understanding one of the more wicked problems of the 21st century: The Sixth Extinction. Rather than approaching this event as a discrete biological phenomenon, this course looks at how current threats to bio-diversity are implicated in, and connected to, threats to cultural diversity, in particular language loss. We will seek to understand how discourses of extinction, beginning from its “discovery” in the 18th century, are related to fraught histories of colonialism and imperialism, whose ecological and cultural effects extend into the present and threaten to shape the future.

While the course seeks to grasp the scale of the Sixth Extinction, it will also critically reflect upon, and propose alternatives to, the dominant apocalyptic narratives in which extinction is framed in the popular imagination. Course readings and critical texts drawn from across the humanities and social sciences will explore and critique various framings of “the end” in literature, art, music, and film.


English is the language of instruction and course readings. This course satisfies the diversity requirement & VPLA.



Course Reader (available at Ram’s on the Ave, 4144 University Way NE)

Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction (UW Booktore)

Ashley Dawson, Extinction: A Radical History (UW Bookstore)

Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake (UW bookstore)



This class is taught in the team learning approach Students will join groups of six or seven members that work together as a cohesive learning team throughout the quarter (teams will be formed at the beginning of the quarter and will assure maximum balance of assets and liabilities). Students are expected to attend each class period with all assignments completed by the beginning of class and ready to engage in discussing the topic of the day with their learning team, with the instructors, and with other teams. In this course, team assignments will take three main forms: discussions of readings/viewings; unit projects; and unit tests. A fourth feature of team learning is peer evaluation.

In-class discussion: During most class periods, the instructor will begin with a lecture on the assigned readings/viewings to provide background, context, and preliminary interpretive strategies. After this, groups will then launch into a discussion about the reading based on provided questions, and from there will work on group projects. The discoveries you make with each other’s help will be the true learning experience of the course.

Unit Projects: All three units will culminate with a group project. All of these five assignments will receive comments and feedback as a way of preparing for and improving your team’s final portfolio: a paginated exhibition (a book) showcasing the projects. Details about each project will be made available soon.

Testing: At the end of each unit, we will make sure students are conversant with the main philosophical ideas and literary texts that have been under discussion. Each student will take an Individual Readiness Assurance Test (I-RAT) that consists of questions about the unit’s readings, viewings, and lectures.

Peer Assessment: At the end of the quarter, team members are given the opportunity to evaluate one another’s contributions to the activities of the team in a peer assessment process (each team member is given a maximum number of points to distribute among the group). Students prepare along the way for this process by keeping an ongoing log of observations about how their team has functioned.




In addition to reading and preparing all materials before class, each student is expected to:

  • participate in class discussions and group activities on a regular basis
  • complete all of the assignments described below.

Your course grade will be calculated in the following way:

            250 points for RATs (62.5 each) = 25%

100 points for peer assessment = 10%

            300 points for team portfolio (100 points for each project) = 30%        

350 points for final group project (the book, a paginated exhibition) = 35%

Because each assignment (and each unit) builds upon the previous one, no late work will be accepted. 0.1 points will be taken off your final grade for each absence beyond two excused absences or for each unexcused absence since in-class work is essential for this pedagogy.



Attendance: In-class work is essential for this pedagogy (TBL). You have two free

absences, excused or unexcused. After that, 0.1 point will be taken off your final grade for each absence. Also, if you are absent on a test day, you will simply lose the points for that test. No retakes.

Contact And Questions:

If you cannot come to office hours, e-mail is the best way to contact myself with questions.

  • I generally do not read or respond to email during weekends or evenings.
    · I generally do not respond to emails asking questions that are answered by the syllabus.
    · I am happy to discuss your ideas or outlines for written work and group projects during office hours, but cannot read or comment on drafts of your work.

ACADEMIC INTEGRITY: The University of Washington is a community dedicated to learning. Students belonging to the community adhere to the ethical obligations outlined in the student conduct code. Plagiarism, cheating, and disruptive behavior in class violate the code, and harm everyone’s learning. Any violations of the code in connection with the course will result in referral to the University administration for appropriate action. Plagiarism of any sort will automatically result in a grade of 0.0 for the assignment as well as referral to the University administration, and may lead to harsh measures including expulsion.

ACCESS AND ACCOMMODATIONS: It is crucial that all students in this class have access to the full range of learning experiences. At the University of Washington, it is the policy and practice to create inclusive and accessible learning environments consistent with federal and state law.

Full participation in this course requires the following types of engagement:

  • the ability to complete up to 50 pages of reading for each class;
  • the ability to attend bi-weekly lectures of 30-50 minutes with 60 other students
  • the ability to work in a learning team with 6-7 students on group discussions and projects

If you anticipate or experience barriers to your learning or full participation in this course based on a physical, learning, or mental health disability, please immediately contact the instructor to discuss possible accommodation(s). A more complete description of the disability policy of the College of the Environment can be found here. If you have, or think you have, a temporary or permanent disability that impacts your participation in any course, please also contact Disability Resources for Students (DRS) at: 206-543-8924 V / 206-543-8925 TDD / e-mail /


By the end of the quarter students will have developed a better sense of the role of literature and culture in discussions around species extinction. This overall objective encompasses many particular goals as well. As a result of this class, you should be able to explain key concepts of environmentalism, identify a range of approaches to the study of the environment, read and analyze texts closely and work in teams, apply the questions in each unit to a variety of cultural contexts, improve active learning through group work and individual research.


Nota bene: teams are responsible for self-management. The instructors will not supervise student activities outside of class, mediate in the case of differences of opinion, or get involved in any way in terms of fixing group dynamics etc. Team’s self-management is part of the pedagogical goals that we strive for in this class and a modeling exercise to prepare students for future professional contexts.


Reading Schedule


Unit 1. What is Missing? (Memorials)

Week One

March 27: Maya Lin,

March 29:  Sherman Alexie, “Evolution”; “Prologue” to The Sixth Extinction (TSE)

March 31: TSE Chapters 1-2 (The Sixth Extinction, The Mastodon’s Molars)

Week Two

April 3: TSE Chapters 3-4 (The Original Penguin, The Luck of the Ammonites)

Michael Rothberg, “Theorizing Multi-directional Memory in a Transnational Age”

April 5: TSE Chapters 5-6 (Welcome to the Anthropocene, The Sea Around Us)

April 7: TSE Chapters 7-8 (Dropping Acid, The Forest and the Trees)

Special Guest Lecture: Rebecca Cummins

Week Three

April 10: TSE Chapters 9-10 (Islands on Dry Land, The New Pangea)

April 12: TSE Chapter 11-12(The Rhino Gets an Ultrasound, The Madness Gene)

April 14: TSE Chapter 13 (The Thing With Feathers); RAT #1

Week Four

April 17: Extinction: A Radical Primer, pp. 1-62

April 19: Extinction: A Radical Primer, pp. 63-102.

April 21: Presentations

Unit 2. Salvage Culture (Robinsonades)

Week Five

April 24: Arno Schmidt, Dark Mirrors I (pp. 179-209)

April 26: Arno Schmidt, Dark Mirrors II (pp. 210- 236)

April 28: Conclude Dark Mirrors

Week Six

May 1:  Marlen Haushofer, The Wall, pp. 1-30

May 3: Marlen Haushofer, The Wall, pp. 31-55

May 5: Julian Pölsler, The Wall; RAT #2

Week Seven

May 8: IRAT&TRAT; Gerald Vizenor, “Voices”

May 10: Wanuri Kahiu, Pumzi; Mark Dery, “Black to the Future”

May 12: Presentations

Unit 3: Posthuman Futures (Museum)

Week Eight

May 15: Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake, Chapters 1-3

May 17: Oryx and Crake, Chapter 4

May 19: Oryx and Crake, Chapter 5; RAT #3

Week Nine

May 22: Oryx and Crake, Chapters 6-7

May 24: Oryx and Crake, Chapter 8

May 26: Oryx and Crake, Chapter 9-10

Week Ten

May 29: Memorial Day

May 31: Oryx and Crake, Chapters 11-15; RAT #4

June 2: Class conclusion

Catalog Description: 
Introduces literary works and cultural artifacts from a variety of different traditions, cultures, and periods. Helps students to acquire basic tools for analyzing literature and culture.
GE Requirements: 
Diversity (DIV)
Visual, Literary, and Performing Arts (VLPA)
Last updated: 
January 10, 2018 - 9:20pm