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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Literary Clues of Ecological Crisis: A Cross-Disciplinary Approach

Dr Stephen R. Johnson, Mary Stark.

Authors often portray nature as a background to the main action of a story or poem. Yet, sometimes we see clues in that background of literature that set the stage for an ecological disaster. Hints of modern ecological crisis can crop up in literature such as the works of Emily Dickinson, the journals of H.D. Thoreau or The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. This literature shows people introducing plants to new areas. These intentional and unintentional introductions can often slip past readers. Authors such as Alfred Crosby in Ecological Imperialism (1986), Mike Davis in Ecology of Fear(1998), William Cronin in Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists and the Ecology of New England (1983) and Christopher Bright in Life Out of Bounds (1998) help establish the historical context for these invasive plants. Invasive plants are not a new phenomenon—but these background plans as depicted in literature from earlier generations have flourished into real foreground menaces that are choking our wild habitats as well as our agriculture and gardens.
Globalism is creating a homogenized flora and fauna. In addition to scientific articles and books on the crisis of invasives, many recent popular books have been published such as Robert Devine’s Alien Nation: America’s Battle with Non-Native Animals and Plants (1998), Janet Marinelli’s Stalking the Wild Amaranth: Gardening in the Age of Extinction (1998), the Brooklyn Botanic Garden: Invasive Plants (1996), George Cox’s Alien Species in North American and Hawaii, and E.O. Wilson’s The Future of Life (2002). Contemporary awareness is also being raised through articles in popular press magazines such as Fine Gardening, Aquarium Fish and Harper’s. Plants are living entities with real ramifications.
If we examine the details of the natural world in the earlier literature, we can understand some of the reasons for the current crisis and perhaps take action to prevent the situation from intensifying—even to limit future problems.


Dr Stephen R. Johnson  (United States)
Assistant Professor
Division of Biology
William Penn University

Stephen is Professor of Animal and Plant Ecology with a speciality in herpetology. He also serves as field editor for Wildflower Magazine.

Mary Stark  (United States)
Chair, Department of English

Central College

  • Ecological Literacy
  • Science and Humanities
  • Interdiscipinary
  • Invasive Species

(Virtual Presentation, English)