Extinction: Looking back at the End of the World

The details
Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies
Colchester Campus
Full Year
Undergraduate: Level 6
Thursday 08 October 2020
Friday 02 July 2021
11 June 2020


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

How have writers, filmmakers, and artists imagined ecological disaster and the end of the world? What are our images of lost worlds and our stories of extinction, including our own as a species? In what ways have representations of apocalypse changed over the last 200 years?

The module starts with fossil finds of extinct animals and severe weather in the nineteenth century, both of which led to a sense of impending doom, before addressing twentieth-century concerns about human fertility, pandemics, machine takeover, and environmental pollution. In our own age, biodiversity loss and reports of climate change make extinction an issue more pressing than ever before, leading scientists to suggest that ours is the Anthropocene – the sixth age of mass extinction and the first geological epoch for which homo sapiens is responsible. By exploring how natural and man-made disasters have variously been conceptualised in fiction, poetry, painting, photography and film, and across disciplinary boundaries from geology to philosophy to cultural studies, this module addresses some of our deepest fears about the future of the planet and about ourselves as a species, including our complex relations to non-humans and non-living materials.

Topics and key concepts addressed on this module include: deep time, fossils, volcanism, asteroid collision, evolution, degeneration, zoonosis, contagion, bio-engineering, posthumanism, cybernetic society, Novacene, materialism, ecocriticism, animal studies, rewilding, de-extinction, dinosaurs, whales, whale oil, fossil fuels, climate fiction, petrofiction, and oil-aesthetics.

Module aims

1. To introduce students to a variety of works and genres that address extinction and the end of the world, including climate fiction, petrofiction, and disaster film.
2. To explore the changing representations of extinction in fiction, film, art, and criticism from the early nineteenth century to the present.
3. To familiarize students with major areas of inquiry in posthumanism, materialism, ecocriticism, and extinction studies.

Module learning outcomes

At the end of the module, students will:
1. Have gained an in-depth understanding of the impact of natural and man-made catastrophes on imaginaries from the nineteenth century to the present.
2. Have a critical understanding of different formal, aesthetic, and generic modes of representing ecological disaster, species extinction, and apocalypse.
3. Be familiar with salient aspects of ecocritical, materialist, and posthumanist theories and be able to apply these theories in their own reading of literary texts and films.

Module information


Atwood, Margaret, "Time Capsule found on a Dead Planet" (2017)

Bacigalupi, Paolo, "The Calorie Man" (2005)

Ballard, J.G., The Drought (1965)

Byron, George Gordon, "Darkness" (1816)

Calvino, Italo, "The Petrol Pump" (1974)

Dick, Philip K., Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968)

Ghassan Kanafani, Men in the Sun (1962)

McGuire, Richard, Here (2014)

Melville, Herman, selected chapters from Moby Dick; or, The Whale (1851)
* Merwin, W.S., "For a Coming Extinction" (1967)

Mie"¢ville, China, "Covehithe" (2011)

Poe, Edgar Allan, "The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion" (1839)

Shelley, Mary, selected chapters from Frankenstein (1831)

Shelley, Percy Bysshe, "Mont Blanc" (1816)
* Smith, Charlotte, "Beachy Head" (1807)
Snyder, Gary, "Oil" (1958)

Wells, H.G., The Time Machine (1895)

Yamashita, Karen Tei, Through the Arc of the Rain Forest (1990)


Blade Runner, dir. Ridley Scott (1982)

Children of Men, dir. Alfonso Cuarón (2006)

Jurassic Park, dir. Steven Spielberg (1993)

Lessons of Darkness, dir. Werner Herzog (1992)

Mad Max: Fury Road, dir. George Miller (2015)

Melancholia, dir. Lars von Trier (2011)

Oil Wells of Baku: Close View, dir. Lumière Brothers (1896)

Terminator 2: Judgment Day, dir. James Cameron (1991)

The Day after Tomorrow, dir. Roland Emmerich (2004)

Wall-E, dir. Andrew Stanton (2008)


Baudrillard, Jean et al., Looking Back on the End of the World (1989)

Buell, Lawrence, The Future of Environmental Criticism: Environmental Crisis and the Literary Imagination (2008)

Cuvier, Georges, Fossil Bones, and Geological Catastrophes (1796; 1812)

Dawson, Ashley, Extinction: A Radical History (2016)

Ghosh, Amitav, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (2016)

Boetzkes, Amanda, Plastic Capitalism: Contemporary Art and the Drive to Waste (2019)

Heise, Ursula K., Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species (2016)

Huggan, Graham, "Last Whales: Eschatology, Extinction, and the Cetacean Imaginary" (2017)
Huggett, Richard, Catastrophism. Asteroids, Comets, and Other Dynamic Events (1997)

Lovelock, James, Novacene: The Coming of Hyperintelligence (2019)

Mitchell, W.J.T., The Last Dinosaur Book (1998)

Morton, Timothy, Hyperobjects. Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (2013)

Petroculture's Research Group, After Oil (2016)

Rose, Deborah Bird et al., Extinction Studies: Stories of Time, Death, and Generations (2017)

Szeman, Imre, "System Failure: Oil, Futurity, and the Anticipation of Disaster" (2007)

Trexler, Adam, Anthropocene Fictions: The Novel in a Time of Climate Change (2015)

Wood, Gillen D'Arcy, Tambora: The Eruption that changed the World (2014)

Learning and teaching methods

Anticipated teaching delivery for 2020-21: Weekly two-hour lectorials (a combination of lecture, interactive seminar discussions, and self-directed workshop). All films are available on BoB (box of broadcasts) via Talis so that you can watch them in your own time.



Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Essay 1 (2,000 words)    40% 
Coursework   Online Exhibition Leaflet (700 words)    15% 
Coursework   Essay 2 (2,500 words)    40% 
Practical   Participation    5% 

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Prof Karin Littau, email:
Professor Karin Littau
LiFTS General Office



External examiner

No external examiner information available for this module.
Available via Moodle
No lecture recording information available for this module.


Further information

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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