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Writing as a Naturalist (Fall Offering)

Coordinator/Contact:  William Magrino

Course Description:
There will be two different sections of Writing as a Naturalist offered in the Fall.  The first (taught by Paul Hammond) will be similar to the Summer course described above.  The other (taught by Leslie Rapparlie) will be more like the traditional section described below.

 Writing as a Naturalist involves writing based on natural observation to develop your skills in reading, observation, and writing.  Though the course is designed to meet the needs of students in the natural sciences (including those majoring in Natural Resource Management and Environmental Science), it should be a very good class for anyone interested in the environment and the world around them.

The course will begin with attention to the readings, about which you must produce a short essay.  During this time, you will also begin keeping a nature journal to record general observations, observations in response to specific assignments, observations made on a class excursion, and the observations you make as part of your project.  Before midterm, you will begin to develop a focused, independent project involving observation of an animal, place or other specific part of the natural world. There will then be a short midterm paper about your project in response to the writings of a specific naturalist (or naturalists) who has already written on the subject.  In the last third of the class, you will develop and write your independent project where focused natural observation is combined with a response to your independently researched reading to produce an original work of natural history.

Course Texts:
Text selections are determined each semester by the instructor, but may include any of the following:
Bernd Heinrich, Ravens in Winter
Robert Sullivan, The Meadowlands: Wilderness Adventures on the Edge of a City
Joanna Burger, A Naturalist along the Jersey Shore
Clare Walker Leslie and Charles Edmund Roth, Nature Journaling: Learning to Observe and Connect with the World Around You
Bernd Heinrich, The Trees in My Forest
Bernd Heinrich, One Man's Owl
Niko Tinbergen, Curious Naturalists
Edward Lueders, ed., Writing Natural History: Dialogues with Authors
Christopher Manes, In the Presence of Others
June Osborne, The Cardinal

Course Requirements:
Short Writing Portfolio
Students will be asked to keep a portfolio of short writing to be collected periodically and graded. Short assignments will generally involve close observation of specific assigned natural phenomenon or responses to readings.  Some assignments will be drafted or written during class or during class field trips. Some instructors may ask students to post their short assignments online in a class forum.

Nature Journal
All students are expected to keep a nature journal, which should help them in developing their projects for the course. The nature journal will generally be collected with the final project as a way of validating your field observations.

Midterm Assignment and Annotated Bibliography
All students will develop and work on a project of their own design. Each project must involve research, field observation, and writing. The midterm assignment is to write a short version of the project with an annotated bibliography of sources. Some instructors may allow students to submit projects in alternate forms, such as web sites.

Final Project
For the final project, students must combine research and field observation to develop a written study of some natural phenomenon, animal, or place. The final project will generally take the form of a 15 to 20 page (or more) paper with bibliography. Some instructors may allow students to submit final projects in alternate forms, such as web sites.

Topics for the final project will be individually chosen and developed in conversation with the instructor. A wide range of topics are available, and the only requirements are that they involve field observation and research using more traditional primary and secondary sources of information."Field" studies can be conducted in the laboratory, on the farm, at the bird-feeder, in the local forest or nature sanctuary, or even at a local zoo. For example, students could study the habits of a local bird species (such as Cardinals or House Finches), using library research and field observation of birds to write the final project. As part of the study, students might want to set up a bird feeder to increase their likelihood of observing birds.  "Research" for the final project can also take many forms. Some students may find that interviews with local experts are more useful in developing the project than library research. For example, students could study the natural history of a local forest. To understand the history of the site,they can engage in library research (in local archives, perhaps) and examine the trees and other natural evidence, but they may find that interviewing local residents or local historians would provide more immediately useful information to complete the project.

Contact Us

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Rutgers Writing Program
Murray Hall, Room 108
510 George Street
New Brunswick, NJ 08901 

TEL (848) 932-7570
FAX (732) 932-3094