Abby L. Goode is Assistant Professor of English at Plymouth State University. Currently, she is writing a book about the history of sustainability, agriculture, and population control in American literature. Her research appears or is forthcoming in venues such as Early American Literature, Studies in American Fiction, ESQ: A Journal of Nineteenth-Century American Literature and Culture, and American Studies in Scandinavia. She teaches courses in American literature, critical theory, wilderness literature, writing and sustainability, and American food issues.
What is sustainability? And how has American literature shaped our understanding of this concept, in ways both surprising and disturbing? This interactive program begins with a discussion of current ideas about sustainability. Then, we will go back in time to examine Thomas Jefferson's vision of American agricultural abundance, which he contrasted with an overpopulated and under-resourced Europe. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, writers such as Walt Whitman and Charlotte Perkins Gilman drew on Jefferson's agrarian vision to respond to sustainability crises of their time. But in so doing, they depicted selective breeding and racial "improvement" as the solution to population crises and the path to agricultural plenty. We will explore this particularly eugenic conception of sustainability and discuss what new or different versions of sustainability might prove more useful in our current moment.This program is also available as an online presentation.
New Hampshire Humanities programs are made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this these programs do not necessarily represent those of the NEH or New Hampshire Humanities.