Undisciplining Ecocolonialism with Leslie Marmon Silko

A beige desert horizon with mountains, brush, sand, and sky.

Lesson Plan Production Details

Developer: Diana Rose Newby Contact

Peer Reviewers: Cherrie Kwok, Jessie Reeder, Oishani Sengupta, and Emma Soberano

Lesson Plan Cluster Developer/Copyeditor: Ryan D. Fong Contact

Webpage Developer: Ava K. Bindas

Cluster Title: Undisciplining In and Through Contemporary Texts

Publication Date: 2024


This lesson plan presents approaches to teaching Leslie Marmon Silko’s 1999 novel Gardens in the Dunes in a Victorian studies context. A work of historical fiction set around the turn of the twentieth century, Gardens is an Indigenous-authored and -centered novel that offers a critique of settler colonialism with particular attention to the effects of Victorian eco-imperialism. In what follows, I outline a plan for teaching Gardens in the Dunes specifically in the context of a course on “Victorian Environments,” although Silko’s novel could find a place on the syllabi for a variety of classes in Victorian studies. The broader aims of the course envisioned here are to introduce students to the concept of “environment” as it was understood in Victorian culture; to engage with different literary modes of representing the environment; and to study how the Victorians impacted and interacted with the environment both in the metropole and abroad, including and especially in the colonies.

The concept of environment has become prominent in Victorian studies over the past five or ten years, with the transdisciplinary approaches of ecocriticism and environmental humanities continuing to shape how we examine nineteenth-century British literature and culture. This lesson plan asks: what happens if we focalize Silko, a contemporary Laguna Pueblo writer and scholar, in our critical and classroom dialogues about “Victorian environments”? By teaching Silko in an undisciplining mode, instructors can reorient both students and themselves to eco-readings of Victorian literature with a focus on the following learning objectives:

  • Engaging with Indigenous-centered perspectives on the environment; and
  • Using these perspectives as lenses for critiquing settler colonial and imperial attitudes toward and effects on the environment.

About the Novel

Gardens in the Dunes follows the story of a young Native American girl, Indigo, of the fictional Sand Lizard people,1 a tribe indigenous to the American Southwest and a bloodline that has been almost entirely eradicated by white settler colonialism. The novel begins with Indigo’s forced displacement from her home in the Mojave Desert and charts her subsequent travels in the company of an Anglo-American couple – scheming botanist Edward Palmer and failed academic Hattie – who informally adopt Indigo after she escapes from the Sherman Institute, an infamous Indian residential school. The trio’s globetrotting movements from the U.S. to England to Italy and back again are driven by Edward’s secret involvement with a group of private collectors engaged in bio-piracy. Edward’s travels – and, by association, Indigo’s and Hattie’s – map a complex network of transcolonial and transimperial dynamics crisscrossing the Atlantic in the twilight years of the Victorian period.

Gardens in the Dunes juxtaposes the ecological destructiveness of white settler culture in the Americas with the emphases on respect, sustainability, and reciprocity core to Indigenous beliefs and practices regarding the natural world. In this way, Silko’s novel can provide students with a different orientation to late Victorian-era empire than that afforded by much of the literature from the period itself, especially by attuning students to British colonialism’s ecological footprint: an impact often distorted or overlooked by Victorian travel writing, adventure fiction, or novels attentive to environmental pollution specifically in the British metropole, such as the work of Charles Dickens and Elizabeth Gaskell. Privileging an Indigenous perspective on this history, by way of Gardens, helps students name and describe the entanglement of environmental destruction with racist oppression both in the British colonies and in the U.S. under white settler domination.

Further, this lesson plan aims to get students thinking critically about literary genre and narrative form through a race-conscious lens. A sprawling and capaciously stylized novel, Gardens in the Dunes self-reflexively plays with genre, including and especially generic forms popular in the Victorian period, such as travel writing, adventure fiction, and the multi-plot novel. Silko puts these forms into rich and startling dialogue with Indigenous practices of narrating and knowing, from oral storytelling traditions and native cosmology to catalogs of agricultural techniques. The many ways in which Silko deploys, integrates, and subverts generic forms and narratorial modes raise important questions for students reading Gardens in the Victorian classroom:

  • Whose experiences and perspectives are typically privileged through each of these traditions and techniques, and whose are marginalized, misrepresented, or occluded altogether?
  • What kinds of relationships do each of these different genres foreground, explore, and help to facilitate or obstruct among different people? And between people and their nonhuman environments?
  • And what are the effects – aesthetic, rhetorical, political – of Silko’s use of generic and narrative pastiche?

Critical Frameworks and Historical Contexts

To responsibly teach Gardens in the Dunes in a Victorian classroom, instructors should begin from a place of critical self-awareness regarding their own positionality and teaching contexts. I have created this lesson plan as a white settler teaching in racially diverse classrooms at wealthy institutions (Columbia and Princeton) on stolen native lands (the ancestral and traditional territories of the Wappinger and Lenni-Lenape peoples).

Instructors should also familiarize themselves with key critical and historical frameworks, particularly those highlighted below. I provide these frameworks and representative texts both as recommended background for instructors and as potential readings for students. Some of the provided examples are specific to a class on “Victorian Environments,” although I believe all are worth engaging regardless of the header under which the novel is taught. The citational practice that I model in the list to follow – a practice of naming, centering, and distinguishing Indigenous writers, scholars, and ways of knowing – follows the same logic of race-conscious undisciplining that also underwrites how I propose to teach Gardens in the Dunes.

Indigenous Writing on Pueblo Cultures

Instructors are encouraged to practice a place-based approach to critical and historical framing of Gardens in the Dunes. In recognition of both Silko’s identity as a Laguna Pueblo writer native to Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the primary setting of Gardens in the Colorado River Basin, instructors should prioritize writings specifically by and about the Pueblo peoples of the American Southwest.

  • Joe S. Sando, Pueblo Nations: Eight Centuries of Pueblo Indian History. Clear Light Publishers, 1992.
    Born into the Sun Clan in Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico, Sando is also the author of The Pueblo Indians (1982). Pueblo Nations comprehensively charts the historical development of Pueblo cultures from their origins up through the late twentieth century.

Indigenous Writing on Comparatist Approaches to Global or Trans-Indigeneity

The framework of trans-Indigeneity is a productive one for teaching Gardens in the Dunes, as Silko’s novel roves between the perspectives and experiences of a variety of Indigenous characters not only from different tribes and regions of North America, but in some cases from different continents altogether. While Silko invites her readers to draw connections among these characters and to recognize their shared Indigeneity, teachers of Gardens should approach those connections – and help students approach those connections – with attention to the nuances of different Indigenous cultures, identities, and experiences.

  • Chadwick Allen, Trans-Indigenous: Methodologies for Global Native Literary Studies. University of Minnesota Press, 2012.
    Allen is of Chickasaw ancestry and co-directs the Center for American Indian and Indigenous Studies at the University of Washington. Trans-Indigenous proposes and illustrates methodologies for studying Native literatures from a global perspective while taking care to recognize the rich distinctions among different Indigenous populations.

Indigenous Writing on “Environment”

The scare quotes enclosing environment in this subheader signal the concept’s spuriousness in an Indigenous-centered context. Much like the term landscape, which Ji Eun Lee interrogates in her Undisciplining the Victorian Classroom lesson plan “Colonial Landscapes and Travel Narratives” (2021), the word environment implies hierarchical separation between the (human) subject and their (nonhuman) surroundings. This perceived separation is a Western construct, one at odds with Indigenous beliefs regarding the intimate, reciprocal relationship between humans and the natural world. The following texts trouble that opposition while centering and elaborating Indigenous ontology.

  • Leslie Marmon Silko, “Landscape, History, and Pueblo Imagination,” in The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology, Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm. University of Georgia Press, 1996, pp. 265-75.
    Silko’s essay details ancient Pueblo views of the cosmos and opposes these to the Western idea that the human is a “viewer” of a surrounding “landscape,” which “assumes the viewer is somehow outside or separate from the territory he or she surveys. Viewers are as much a part of the landscape as the boulders they stand on,” Silko explains, and “[h]uman identity is linked with all the elements of Creation” (265-66).
  • Paula Gunn Allen, “The Sacred Hoop: A Contemporary Perspective,” in The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology, Cheryll Glotfelty and Harold Fromm. University of Georgia Press, 1996, pp. 241-63.
    Allen was a Native American writer who identified as Laguna Pueblo, her mother’s tribe. Emphasizing the distinctions between Indigenous and Western views on environment (and, more broadly, on the nature of life), Allen links these distinctions to differences between Indigenous and Western literatures. She points to the need for “non-Indian students” to “develop critical procedures” for engaging with Indian literatures in ways that will “illuminate the materials without trivializing or otherwise invalidating them” (242): a crucial injunction for those studying and teaching these literatures in the context of an undisciplined Victorian classroom.

Indigenous Writing on Colonialism and Resistance

Although I have separated colonialism and environment under discrete headers, the two are often treated together in Indigenous scholarship. Instructors are invited to study Indigenous critiques of settler colonialism that emphasize its twinned violence toward Indigenous communities and nonhuman life. Equally, instructors should engage with writing that resists colonial practices and epistemology by advancing Indigenous knowledge, values, and praxis.

  • Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, “Land as Pedagogy: Nishnaabeg Intelligence and Rebellious Transformation,” Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 2014, pp. 1-25.
    Simpson is a Mississauga Nishnaabegwriter and scholar and a current faculty member at the Dechinta Center for Researchand Learning in Yellowknife, Canada. Against Western education’s entrenchment and complicity with(in) settler-colonial structures of knowledge and power, Simpson presents a pedagogy of liberation grounded in Nishnaabeg culture and oriented toward what can be learned “both from the land and with the land” (7).
  • Jodi Byrd, The Transit of Empire: Indigenous Critiques of Colonialism. University of Minnesota Press, 2011.
    Byrd is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and a current faculty member at Cornell University. In their book’s introduction, Byrd names the harmful tendency of contemporary scholarship on colonialism and imperialism to treat “indigenous peoples” as “the ultimate deferral,” as “signposts and grave markers along the roads of empire” (7). Rather than treat Indigeneity as “signpost” or “grave marker” and thus perpetuate the violence of colonial logics, instructors and students should recognize the continued existence of Indigenous populations often represented as absent or extinct. As part and parcel of that recognition, instructors should center the writing and scholarship that are continually being produced by Indigenous populations yet subjected to regular habits of “deferral” in white-dominated academic spaces.

Indigenous Writing from the Victorian Era

  • Sarah Winnemucca, Life Among the Piutes: Their Wrongs and Claims. Forgotten Books, 2018.
    Born in Nevada around the middle of the nineteenth century and a member of the Northern Paiute people, Winnemucca published Life Among the Piutes in 1884. The first known English-language memoir by a Native American woman, Life Among the Piutes also serves as a history of the early interactions of Winnemucca’s tribe with white settler populations. Much of the book’s purpose was to raise awareness of Northern Paiute suffering under settler colonialism; at the same time, and controversially, Winnemucca views assimilation with white culture as necessary for the survival of her people.
  • Zitkála-Šá, American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings. Penguin Classics, 2003.
    A collection of writings published between 1890 and 1922, this volume brings together the Sioux author’s memoirs, essays, and poetry and constitutes a major record of Native American life and culture at the turn to the twentieth century. Across these writings, Zitkála-Šá reflects on the ongoing internal conflict she experiences between the traditional Dakota culture into which she was born and the white settler culture into which she was assimilated by her education: a conflict that students will also recognize in the character and experiences of Indigo in Gardens in the Dunes.

Critical Resources on the Sherman Institute

The Sherman Institute, where Indigo is temporarily imprisoned in Gardens in the Dunes, is a real Indian residential school that has been operating under various names and in different locations (primarily in Riverside, California) since 1892. The project of the Sherman Institute and other such “schools” was one of forcibly assimilating Indigenous children into white settler culture. Instructors are encouraged to consult educational resources that document the history of the Sherman Institute through an Indigenous-centered lens.

  • Clifford E. Trafzer, Jeffrey A. Smith, and Lorene Sisquoc, Shadows of Sherman Institute: A Photographic History of the Indian School on Magnolia Avenue. Great Oak Press, 2017.
    A work of history whose co-author Sisquoc – a descendant of the Mountain Cahuilla and a member of the Fort Sill Apache tribe – was raised at Sherman and is now Curator of the Sherman Indian Museum in Riverside, CA.
  • Christina Rice, “The Sherman Institute of Riverside, California: A History in Photos,” Los Angeles Public Library Blog, 1 Nov. 2017.
    A digitized collection of over 250 images documenting Sherman’s history.
  • Sherman Institute, Riverside, California.” States of Incarceration.
    A short video pairing footage from the 1915 silent film Viewing Sherman Institute for Indians at Riverside, CA, with a 2004 recording of ceremonial Paiute music honoring the lives lost at the Institute.

Victorian Studies Scholarship Centering Indigeneity

  • Ryan Fong, “The Stories Outside the African Farm: Indigeneity, Orality, and Unsettling the Victorian,” Victorian Studies 62, no. 3, Spring 2020, pp. 421-432.
    Analyzing the oral traditions of the Khoisan people of southern Africa and the treatment of these traditions in Victorian-era practices of ethnology and philology, Fong’s work presents and models a self-reflexive attempt to “develop[] a reading practice” whereby practitioners of Victorian studies can “unlearn[] the settler norms of our field” and “more ethically engage[] with Indigenous ways of knowing” (423).

Scholarship on Gardens in the Dunes

  • Yeonhaun Kang, “The Garden in Motion: Botanical Exchange and Transnational Collaboration in Leslie Marmon Silko’s Gardens in the Dunes,” Studies in American Fiction Volume 46, no. 1, Spring 2019, pp.103-29.
    Kang reads Gardens with an eye toward how Silko represents the “dynamics between botanical imperialism and transnational environmental networks [as] mediated by the garden” (105).
  • Rebecca Tillett, “The Necessity of Lived Resistance: Reading Leslie Marmon Silko’s Gardens in the Dunes in an Era of Rapid Climate Change," Studies in American Indian Literatures 32, issue 1/2, Spring/Summer 2020, pp. 188-208.
    Tillett’s reading of Gardens explores the contrast that the novel draws between Indigenous gardening practices and imperial, patriarchal, capitalist domination of the natural world. Centering the former, Tillett reads Gardens as “an articulation of alternative sustainable ways of being (and seeing) for an extra-textual world informed by the realities of climate crisis” (189).

Teaching Strategies and Activities

To frame Gardens in the Dunes for students in the Victorian classroom, instructors might draw on any of the above texts as paired readings that can aid students in generatively and conscientiously engaging with Silko’s novel. In a class on “Victorian Environments,” I would use the following texts in particular to scaffold students’ introduction to the novel:

  • Silko, “Landscape, History, and Pueblo Imagination”
  • Allen, “The Sacred Hoop: A Contemporary Perspective”
  • Simpson, “Land as Pedagogy: Nishnaabeg Intelligence and Rebellious Transformation”

Excerpts from these readings can help students develop a critical framework for interpreting not only the environmental and cosmological but also the political implications of Silko’s descriptions of Indigenous attitudes toward nonhuman life. Students can use this framework to engage with early passages in Gardens that establish the principles of stewardship, respect, and reciprocity underlying the Sand Lizard people’s relationship with the environment, such as this description of the tribe’s approaches to subsistence farming:

Grandma Fleet told them the old gardens had always been there. The old-time people found the gardens already growing, planted by the Sand Lizard, a relative of Grandfather Snake, who invited his niece to settle there and cultivate her seeds. Sand Lizard warned her children to share: Don’t be greedy. The first ripe fruit of each harvest belongs to the spirits of our beloved ancestors, who come to us as rain; the second ripe fruit should go to the birds and wild animals, in gratitude for their restraint in sparing the seeds and sprouts earlier in the season. Give the third ripe fruit to the bees, ants, mantises, and others who cared for the plants. A few choice pumpkins, squash, and bean plants were simply left on the sand beneath the mother plants to shrivel dry and return to the earth. Next season, after the arrival of the rain, beans, squash, and pumpkins sprouted up between the dry stalks and leaves of the previous year. Old Sand Lizard insisted her gardens be reseeded in that way because human beings are undependable; they might forget to plant at the right time or they might not be alive next year. (Gardens in the Dunes, 15)

The instructor might then invite students to compare the critical significance of this passage with a scene in which Indigo’s sister discovers that the garden of a white Mormon neighbor has been razed by other white settlers:

Beyond the garden gate where the orchard had been, the grass and wild aster grew taller than the girls; but all of the wonderful peach and apricot trees had been chopped down, their dry remains overgrown with weeds. Sister Salt knelt down to examine a dry branch, and among the dead twigs and leaves she found a tiny shriveled apricot. She felt herself give way inside; something broke, and she was overwhelmed by the loss of something that fed so many hungry beings as the orchard had – at the destruction of something as beautiful as the peach and apricot blossoms in the spring. If this was what the white people did to one another, then truly she and the Sand Lizard people and all other Indians were lucky to survive at all. These destroys were out to kill every living being [. . .] (Gardens in the Dunes, 61)

The conjunction of these two early passages can be used to help students name and discuss the contrast Silko draws between Indigenous and white settler-colonial attitudes toward the nonhuman world. Further, the instructor can draw students’ attention to how Silko links colonialism’s extractive treatment of environment with white settler destruction of Indigenous human life. Both points are important to emphasize in an undisciplined Victorian classroom, as they offer critical race-conscious ways of interrogating the concept of “Victorian environments.”

Students can take up and extend the forms of interrogation that Silko’s novel enables by applying them to Victorian-era texts that center white settler-colonial epistemologies and accompanying beliefs regarding the hierarchical relationship of humans to the nonhuman world. Possible points of comparison include the following texts, which students might read as excerpts or in full:

Albert Millican, Travels and Adventures of an Orchid Hunter

Millican’s 1891 travelogue recounts the white British writer’s orchid hunting expeditions to Latin America (namely Colombia) in the late nineteenth century. Orchid hunting and orchid mania were major phenomena in the Victorian period, sending British plant collectors all over the world in search of the coveted flowers, with significant impact on both nonhuman environments and Indigenous populations. Students might read select excerpts from Millican’s text alongside an orchid hunting episode that Silko folds into Gardens in the Dunes as backstory for the white settler botanist Edward Palmer.2

As an in-class exercise, students can be placed into groups, each assigned a different pair of passages from Gardens and Travels and Adventures (such as those excerpted below), and prompted to contrast their formal elements and representational choices. The instructor might direct students to the following moments in Gardens in the Dunes:

  • A passage in which the narrator describes the dynamics between Indigenous Amerindians and “white brokers” who violently exploit the former’s knowledge of the environment in order to “corner the market” on wild orchids (133).
  • A scene in which a group of white orchid hunters, having obtained the specimens they sought, burn down a large area of riverside jungle so that “[r]ival hybridizers would be stymied when they sent out their plant collectors now that this Pará River site was destroyed” (142).

Instructors can then prompt students to compare the above passages from Gardens to resonant moments in Millican’s orchid hunting travelogue:

  • A passage in which Millican comments on the “ease” with which he and other orchid hunters can obtain the flowers because “Indians bring large quantities of plants into the city for sale at a very nominal price, instead of the poor plant-collector having to brave all the dangers of the forest (as in other districts) only to obtain a few dozen of plants” (28-29).
  • A passage in which Millican notes how the Colombian landscape has been transformed over time by orchid hunters’ pillaging, which requires subjecting Amerindian laborers to dangerous working conditions (115).

Prompts for this group work and ensuing class discussion might include:

  • What do you notice about the language that Millican uses to describe orchids? How about the language that he uses to describe the nonhuman environment beyond or besides the orchids themselves? And how does he describe the “natives” or “Indians” in Colombia?
  • Compare this language to Silko’s in the orchid hunting flashback sequence. What similarities and differences do you notice? What is the significance of Silko’s descriptive choices?
  • Consider the role of narratorial perspective in the orchid hunting flashback sequence in Where is it limited to the perspective of the orchid hunter, Edward? Where does it exceed that limitation? What are the effects in each case?

This exercise can in turn scaffold a conversation about literary genre, as Silko’s subversive deployment of the travelogue form represents just one of many instances of generic pastiche in Gardens.

H. Rider Haggard, King Solomon’s Mines

This work of late-Victorian adventure fiction encapsulates the hallmarks of a genre that Silko employs in order to interrogate in Gardens in the Dunes. In the context of a course on “Victorian Environments,” the instructor might assign King Solomon’s Mines either immediately prior to or immediately following Gardens, enabling students to leverage the critical framework that Silko helps them develop toward a (re)examination of environment in Haggard’s novel.

As with Millican’s travelogue, students can compare Haggard’s and Silko’s narrative treatments of native environments and Indigenous populations. Further, students can draw on Silko’s characterization of the botanist Edward Palmer to critique Haggard’s serial protagonist, the world-traveling, big game-hunting, adventure-seeking Allan Quatermain, who embodies a masculinized ideal of the late-Victorian white imperial subject. At the same time that Silko uses Edward to draw out the hegemonic and extractive dynamics that define this subject’s relationship to colonial landscapes, the slow vitiation of Edward’s character over the course of Gardens – his repeated professional failures, his apparent sexual impotence, and his ever-weakening body – suggests the artifice of the white imperial adventure hero as a cultural construct, as well as the fundamental lifelessness of colonial projects and their underpinning ontologies.

Assignments and Assessment

Teaching Gardens in the Dunes in an undisciplined Victorian classroom should involve assessing how students fulfill a few basic objectives:

  • Analyzing the novel through a race-conscious lens
  • Demonstrating a place-based understanding of the novel and Silko’s positionality as author
  • Critically situating the novel in relation to Victorian literature and culture
  • Using the novel to interrogate the forms, themes, and values of Victorian texts

Beyond or alongside standard essay assignments, instructors might give students the option of a creative project. In the “Victorian Environments” course, which concludes with Gardens in the Dunes, a creative assignment can ask students to revisit one of the novels that they read earlier in the semester (for example, King Solomon’s Mines) and identify an opportunity for critical reframing of how environment is represented in that novel.

With “critical reframing,” I have in mind a mode of interpretive reorientation in the spirit of Silko’s presentation of the orchid hunting episode in Gardens in the Dunes. This episode mobilizes subversive strategies of description and narration to destabilize the governing perspective of the white settler orchid hunter, undermine his ways of knowing, elevate Indigenous epistemologies, and focalize colonialism’s environmental footprint. By encouraging students to read this episode as a critical reframing of Victorian-era narratives such as Millican’s Travels and Adventures of an Orchid Hunter, the instructor lays the groundwork for students to propose and/or compose their own critical reframing of another novel assigned for the course.

There are at least two possibilities that the instructor could consider as approaches to this assignment:

  1. Students can write a short narrative that performs a critical reframing of a scene, passage, or element of another assigned novel. This reframing might narrate their chosen scene, passage, or element from a different perspective than the dominant one in their selected novel; or, their reframing can tell a story that fills a gap in the novel’s narrative.
  2. Students can write an extended project proposal that presents the research they would want to perform in order to produce a critical reframing of the kind described in option #1. The major components of this proposal can include an outline of the imagined narrative and an annotated bibliography.

In either case, students’ work should be accompanied by a critical reflection in which they articulate the scholarly aims of their project, connect these aims to the literary and theoretical content of the course, and consider the implications of their reframing from multiple angles, including and especially the angle of the student’s own positionality.

Instructors are encouraged to talk with students about the political and ethical risks of any project to reframe or retell stories that have been overlooked by standard narratives and histories. As an aid to these conversations, students might read works such as Saidiya Hartman’s essay “Venus in Two Acts,” which names the intellectual and moral challenges of attempting to write about people whose lives and experiences were violently excised from historical archives. The instructor can prompt students to use part of their critical reflection to discuss how Silko negotiates these challenges in Gardens in the Dunes, and to identify what we might learn from the novel’s example.


  1. Scholars have noted that the Sand Lizard people are based on the real-life tribe of the Hia C-ed O’odham, otherwise known as the Sand Papago or Sand People, “who were forced out of their traditional desert lands by the drought caused by the damming and rerouting of the local river in the 1920s” (Tillett, “The Necessity of Lived Resistance: Reading Leslie Marmon Silko’s Gardens in the Dunes in an Era of Rapid Climate Change,” Studies in American Indian Literatures vol. 32, no. 1/2, Spring/Summer 2020, p. 191). Back to text
  2. As far as I’ve seen, Silko has not named specific historical sources that she consulted while researching for Gardens in the Dunes, so it would be worth explaining to students that Millican’s travelogue may not have been an actual source text for Silko’s novel. Silko does note, however, that she read a great deal about Victorian plant collectors, and Millican’s travelogue is one of the only surviving book-length accounts written by an orchid hunter during that period. For Silko’s discussion of this research, see Ellen Arnold and Leslie Marmon Silko. “Listening to the Spirits: An Interview with Leslie Marmon Silko.” Studies in American Indian Literatures vol. 2, no. 10, Fall 1998, pp. 1-33. Back to text


I’m grateful to Ryan Fong for the invitation to contribute to this cluster, and for guiding me as I developed my lesson plan. I also want to thank the other contributors for stimulating conversations about our work during the drafting process. In particular, Jessie Reeder, Cherrie Kwok, Oishani Sengupta, and Emma Soberano offered constructive feedback on drafts of this lesson plan.

Developer Biography

Diana Rose Newby is a Postdoctoral Lecturer at Princeton University, where she teaches writing classes that explore issues and methods in the environmental humanities. She earned her PhD in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University, where her commitment to pedagogy was recognized with the 2020 Presidential Teaching Award. In 2021 she co-founded the open-access publication Teaching Citational Practice: Critical Feminist Approaches, and her writing on pedagogy was also featured in the handbook Teaching Gradually: Practical Pedagogy for Graduate Students, by Graduate Students. Also in 2021, her essay "Orchidelirium, Undisciplined: Reading the Victorian Colonial Archive with Leslie Marmon Silko" was awarded the "Expanding the Field" Essay Prize by the Northeast Victorian Studies Association. Other essays and reviews can be found in Lit Hub, Synapsis: A Health Humanities Journal, ELH, Genre, Literature and Medicine, Texas Studies in Literature and Language, and the edited collection Culture and Medicine: Critical Readings in the Health and Medical Humanities.

Tile/Header Image Caption

Detroit Publishing Company. Mojave Desert, near Barstow, Calif. Postcard, 1907. New York Public Library, The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection. The New York Public Library believes that this item is in the public domain under the laws of the United States.

Page/Lesson Plan Citation (MLA)

Diana Rose Newby, dev. “Undisciplining Ecocolonialism with Leslie Marmon Silko.” Cherrie Kwok, Jessie Reeder, Oishani Sengupta, and Emma Soberano, collab. peer revs.; Ryan D. Fong, les. plan clust. dev./copyed. Undisciplining the Victorian Classroom, 2024, https://undiscipliningvc.org/html/lesson_plans/contemporary_undisciplining_ecocolonialism.html.