Immoral Energy: Slavery and Fossil Fuels in the Anthropocene

Fall 2019
Kent Linthicum
ENGL 1101
Energy systems are permeated with political and ethical questions, and no historical system demonstrates that as well as transatlantic slavery. Before fossil fuels, the bodies and labor of enslaved peoples powered trade. While at first slavery helped support the expansion of fossil fuels, eventually fossil fuels replaced slavery. This course will explore the ethical/moral valences of energy systems through a juxtaposition of transatlantic slavery and modern fossil fuels. The first half of the class will focus on the abolition debate. This will culminate in the recreation of a counterfactual 1845 literary forum, using Reacting to the Past curriculum, where students will represent important historical figures debating the ideas of Douglass, Calhoun, and the U.S. Constitution. The last half of the course focuses on the modern resistance to de-carbonization the ways that resistance both parallels and diverges from the anti-abolition movement. By reading Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower (1993) and constructing a rhetorics of energy website, the class will analyze both systems to theorize a more just energy transition. Through this thematic framework we will highlight all forms of WOVEN (written, oral, visual, electronic, and nonverbal) communication as we consider the moral and cultural implications of different systems of energy. In order to develop and deploy rhetorical knowledge students will compose and design critical analyses, posters, speeches, research websites, and other texts. Other graded elements will include project brainstorms, outlines, peer review, and shorter reflections. Ultimately, the course will provide students with opportunities to discuss, practice, and reflect on rhetoric alongside the tools to critique systems of energy.
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