Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Place is complex, and it undergirds and influences our fictional and nonfictional narratives in ways we often fail to recognize. In this dissertation, Lowell Wyse argues for a more holistic understanding of place's role in literature while asking what it means to read environmentally€”spatially, ecologically, and historically. Drawing from ecocriticism, which emphasizes the biological world, and geocriticism, which privileges the spatial, Wyse proposes a hybrid "ecospatial" criticism, with a particular emphasis on the role of maps in reading for place. With individual chapters on the nonfiction of William Least Heat-Moon, John Steinbeck's Salinas Valley fiction, Richard Wright's Native Son, and the central New Mexico novels of Willa Cather, Leslie Marmon Silko, and Ana Castillo, this project demonstrates how maps, travel guides, biographies, and environmental history can contribute to new understandings of literary place(s) on the continental, regional, and local scales.

The underlying message of this dissertation is that place matters, both in the world and in the text. To the extent that we fail to understand the cultural, ecological, and spatial dynamics of place, we miss the many significant ways that social and environmental issues overlap. This project thus aligns neatly with the message of the environmental justice movement and the related branch of ecocriticism. It also stands as a corrective to the relative indifference of the ecocritical and geocritical communities to each other's core concerns.