Faculty Profile

B Ashton Nichols

Professor of English and Environmental Studies; Walter E. Beach '56 Distinguished Chair in Sustainability Studies (1988)

Contact Information


Kaufman Building Room 192


His fields include 19th- and 20th-century British literature and contemporary ecocriticism, with an emphasis on Romantic poetry and American nature writing. He also regularly teaches courses in nature writing. His current research focuses on Romantic natural history, 1750-1850 and urbanatural roosting.


  • B.A., University of Virginia, 1975
  • M.A., 1979
  • Ph.D., 1984

2015-2016 Academic Year

Fall 2015

ENGL 101 Environment, Culture & Values
Cross-listed with ENST 111-01.Perhaps no genre of literature is as uniquely American as American nature writing. No genre can tell us as much about our environment, environmental culture, and the values that derive from and depend upon our natural environment. We will also work to define "nature" and to understand the complex connections between humans and the nonhuman environment they inhabit. Our guides will be Henry David Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey, Annie Dillard, Terry Tempest Williams, Bill McKibben, and others. The course will be a study of metaphor, poetic and prose styles, and the link between literary and naturalistic observation. Our texts will be literary; our contexts will be environmental, cultural, and ethically ecological. Are humans a part of the natural environment? Do we see ourselves as distinct from nature? Is our environment beautiful and benign (sunsets, daffodils, puffins) or ugly and destructive (hurricanes, cancer, death)? We will examine the current importance (as well as the controversial aspects) of evolutionary ideas, and we will emphasize the role played by literature in the development of our own environmental assumptions and values. Two essays and a final exam.

ENST 111 Environment, Culture & Values
Cross-listed with ENGL 101-03.

ENGL 329 Ecocriticism
Ecocriticism is a recent form of literary and cultural interpretation that has emerged out of emphasis on the relationship between humans and the natural environment. Ecocritics emphasize the role played by nonhuman nature in a wide range of texts, literary and otherwise. They also interrogate the ways that human interactions with nature (plants, animals, geology, landscapes) have affected human life and the natural world. Many ecocritics have environmentalist or preservationist agendas; others are more interested in the philosophical and cultural implications of human understanding of and impact on the natural environment. We will set literary works in dialogue with scientists and nature writers of the past two centuries and will examine the current importance (as well as the controversial aspects) of ecocritical ideas. We will emphasize the role played by literature in the development of our own assumptions and values. The course will also focus attention on critical approaches and literary methods and will help students to develop more sophisticated research skills as they move toward the senior seminar year.