Andrew McMurry


Photo of Andrew McMurry
PhD English, Indiana
MA English, Waterloo
BSc Biology, Wilfrid Laurier

Extension: 42121
Office: HH 265


I’ve always been fond of plants, animals, and books. I thought the plants and animals were at the top of my list, so I did an undergraduate degree in biology. But I couldn’t ignore the fact that I was better at reading and writing than sampling and dissecting, so I switched over to the humanities at the graduate level. Nothing goes to waste, however, and many of the ideas I developed for my first book, Environmental Renaissance, are drawn from my continuing interest in the life sciences. That book tried to do (too) many things: provide an introduction to social systems theory and cybernetics; reevaluate several canonical 19th century American literary texts; explore the politics of environment; and exhume Thoreau’s brain using concepts from cognitive science and poststructuralism. I also found the time to talk about bottled minnows, huckleberries, Al Pacino, and Saturn (the defunct car company, not the planet).

My second book, Entertaining Futility, also had a modest agenda: to critique our dumb present and bleak future, with a few laughs thrown in. What’s my argument? I guess you might say—as I do say in the book—that “We’re on the cusp of something, certainly a cascading worldwide environmental catastrophe, but maybe, too, a kind of second enlightenment in which we’ll finally see, to our great consternation, that the long march of civilization has always been contained within a longer frogmarch toward oblivion.” Subtopics include climate, Cthulhu, trees, and Twitter.

I regularly teach courses on environmental literature, as well as rhetoric, critical discourse analysis, and semiotics. Other areas in which I have less expertise but am willing to opine include horror film and fiction, superheroes, weather, hockey, pumpkins, swords and sorcery, farming (dairy and ant), bricolage, false consciousness, pessimism, catastrophes (esp. world-ending), fish-mongery, listicles, and soup (theory and practice).

I like interdisciplinary work because it helps us avoid déformation professionnelle or what Kenneth Burke dubbed “trained incapacity,” a kind of an occupational blindness associated with becoming familiar with one thing very deeply but many other things superficially or not at all. Overspecialization in the humanities, aping the model of science, sometimes divorces the life of the mind from real life. Despite the risks (looking foolish being the chief one), we must step outside the metaphors and narratives that form our intellectual safe zones. I am happy to talk with students about projects, dissertations, and kludges that blur lines and remix knowledges.

Selected publications

“Standing Up to Trump, with Thoreau.” Thoreau in an Age of Crisis: Uses and Abuses of an American Icon. Henrik Otterberg, Kristen Case, and Rochelle L. Johnson, eds. Brill/Wilhelm Fink, 2021.

“The Higher Latitudes of the American Renaissance.” Climate in American Literature and Culture. Michael Boyden, ed. Cambridge UP, 2021

“Ecocriticism and Discourse.” Routledge Handbook of Ecocriticism and Environmental Communication. Scott Slovic, Swarnalatha Rangarajan and Vidya Sarveswarna, eds. New York: Routledge, 2019.

Entertaining Futility: Despair and Hope in the Time of Climate Change. Texas A & M Press, 2018.

“Trumpolect: Donald Trump’s Distinctive Discourse and Its Functions” in Reading Donald Trump: A Parallax View of the Campaign and Early Presidency. Jeremy Kowlaski, ed. Palgrave/MacMillan, 2018.

“Rhetoric and Environment.” Oxford Handbook of Rhetoric. Michael MacDonald, ed. Oxford University Press. 2015.

“Media Moralia: Reflections on Damaged Environments and Digital Life.” Oxford Handbook of Ecocriticism. Greg Garrard, ed. Oxford University Press. 2014.

“The Moods of Climate Change, with Thoreau.” The Concord Saunterer. Vol 21. 2013.

“Sociological Systems Theory and Literature.” Traditions of Systems Theory. Darrell Arnold and Robert King, eds. Routledge, 2013.

Fellowships & Awards

  • Faculty of Arts Outstanding Performance Award
  • UWaterloo Learning Initiatives Fund Grant
  • UWaterloo Social Sciences and Humanities Research Grant
  • Canada Foundation for Innovations Co-recipient
  • Brittain Postdoctoral Fellowship

Current research

  • Usable Transcendentalism: a book of six chapters, each of which enlists a major figure from the American Transcendentalist movement (including Thoreau, Emerson, and Margaret Fuller) in the cause of contemporary environmental issues. For example, “Emerson/Animal Man” considers Emerson’s humanism/anthropocentrism in the context of the animal rights positions staked out by Grant Morrison in his comic Animal Man.
  • “Donald’s Dictionary: His Best Words and Phrases”: a critical discourse analysis of Donald Trump’s idiolect borrowing the format of Ambrose Beirce’s Devil’s Dictionary.

Areas of graduate supervision

  • Environmental philosophy and rhetoric
  • American studies and American literature
  • Semiotics and discourse analysis
  • Horror fiction and film
  • Comics and graphic novels