Extinction: Looking back at the End of the World

The details
Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies
Colchester Campus
Undergraduate: Level 6
Monday 13 January 2025
Friday 21 March 2025
18 May 2022


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 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, dinosaurs, volcanism, asteroid collision, evolution, degeneration, bio-engineering, posthumanism, Novacene, Anthropocene, Plantationocene, plastics, fossil fuels, petroculture, and climate fiction.

Module content note: some of the works we study may include violence. Please contact the module supervisor if you have any questions.

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, 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 and posthumanist theories and be able to apply these theories in their own reading of literary texts and films.

Module information

• Byron, “Darkness” (1816)
• Calvino, Italo, “The Dinosaurs” (2010) and “The Petrol Pump” (1974)
• Duffy, David and John Jennings, Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower: A Graphic Novel Adaptation (2020)
• Niviâna, Aka and Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner, “Rise” (2018)
• Wells, H.G., The Time Machine (1895)
• Yamashita, Karen Tei, Through the Arc of the Rain Forest (1990)

• Lessons of Darkness, dir. Werner Herzog (1992)
• Melancholia, dir. Lars von Trier (2011)
• Plastic Bag, dir. Ramin Bahrani (2009)
• Pumzi, dir. Wanuri Kahiu (2009)
• Terminator 2: Judgment Day, dir. James Cameron (1991)
• The Day after Tomorrow, dir. Roland Emmerich (2004)
• Wall-E, dir. Andrew Stanton (2008)

• Allon, Fiona et al., The Temporalities of Waste: Out of Sight, Out of Time (2021)
• Atwood, Margaret, “It's Not Climate Change It's Everything Change” (2015)
• Boetzkes, Amanda, Plastic Capitalism: Contemporary Art and the Drive to Waste (2019)
• Bozak, Nadia, Cinematic Footprints: Lights, Camera, and Natural Resources (2012)
• Brassier, Ray, “Solar Catastrophe: Lyotard, Freud, and the Death-Drive” (2003)
• Buell, Lawrence, The Future of Environmental Criticism: Environmental Crisis and the Literary Imagination (2008)
• Chakrabarty, Dipesh, “Whose Anthropocene? A Response” (2016)
• Cuvier, Georges, Fossil Bones, and Geological Catastrophes (1796; 1812)
• Dawson, Ashley, Extinction: A Radical History (2016)
• DeLanda, Manuel, War in the Age of Intelligent Machines (1991)
• Ghosh, Amitav, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (2016)
• Haraway, Donna and Anna Tsing, Reflections on the Plantationocene (2019)
• Heise, Ursula K., Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species (2016)
• 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)
• Nixon, Rob, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (2011)
• Petroculture’s Research Group, After Oil (2016)
• Szeman, Imre, “System Failure: Oil, Futurity, and the Anticipation of Disaster” (2007)
• Yaeger, Patricia, “Literature in the Ages of Wood, Tallow, Coal, Whale Oil, Gasoline, Atomic Power, and Other Energy Sources” (2011)
• Whyte, Kyle, “Indigenous Climate Change Studies: Indigenizing Futures, Decolonizing the
• Anthropocene” (2017)
• Wood, Gillen D’Arcy, Tambora: The Eruption that changed the World (2014)

Learning and teaching methods

2-hour lectorials per week


This module does not appear to have a published bibliography for this year.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Assignment 1: Exhibition Leaflet (700 words)    15% 
Coursework   Assignment 2: Essay (2,000 words)    80% 
Practical   Participation Mark    5% 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Prof Karin Littau, email:
LiFTS General Office, email Telephone 01206 872626



External examiner

Dr Andrew Birtwistle
Canterbury Christ Church University
Reader in Film and Sound
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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