History 476 

AMERICAN ENVIRONMENTAL HISTORY

Dr. P. Dreyfus

 

This course examines the history of Americans’ interactions with the physical environment of the current United States from the European colonial period to the present. We will address a number of inter-related questions. How have natural environments established parameters for human economic and social activity? How have human beings interpreted and then reshaped their environmental surroundings in an effort to satisfy their perceived needs? How have different groups of human occupants of American soil interacted in their quest to manage, control and distribute the resources of the land? What impact has "race" and gender exerted on perceptions of our place in and relationship to the non-human environment?

Students will have an opportunity to answer these questions through exposure to some of the best current literature in the field, and will additionally have a chance to consider some of the philosophical and political issues surrounding resource use as the class studies the views of advocates such as John Muir and Aldo Leopold, as well as late-twentieth century environmentalism and government policy.

 

REQUIREMENTS

  1. Participation in class discussions (10% of course grade) - You must be prepared to discuss the assigned readings and films. You will earn credit based upon the quantity and quality of your participation, in other words, on what you can add to our collective understanding of the material we are studying. Be aware that the point-value of fruitful participation can make a difference of on entire grade-point on your final average.
  2. Analysis of in-class films (20% of course grade) - You are obligated to write five (5) single-page, double-spaced, typed response papers to the films viewed in class. This means that you may choose which five films you wish to review. Since these films are not always designed as environmental history tools, it is your job to view them through the lenses of an environmental historian. Papers are due the class meeting after viewing. No late papers will be considered for any reason. See separate instructions below.
  3. Mid-term examination (35% of course grade) - Two class sessions will be set aside for the completion of an essay-style examination. You will have a choice of questions. This will be a closed-book, closed-note test to which you must bring a completely empty examination booklet on each testing date. Examination booklets will be collected by the professor at the beginning the examination period and redistributed randomly to eliminate the risk of improper behavior. The best preparation for exams is regular attendance, good note-taking, and keeping up with your reading.
  4. Final take-home essays (35% of course grade) - Your final exam will be prepared at home, based on essay questions distributed to you three weeks prior to the due date. Late papers will be discounted one full grade level. Your answers must be typed, double-spaced, and total approximately ten (10) pages of writing. The questions will be broad and will give you an opportunity to be thoughtful and creative in your responses. No information sources will be required other than those assigned for the class. Consequently, no footnoting is required.
  5. Graduate students will produce a historiographical paper on some subfield of environmental history in lieu of the film reviews.  See the instructor for consultation. Late papers will be discounted one full grade level.

 

REQUIRED TEXTS

William Cronon, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England.

Philip Dreyfus, Our Better Nature: Environment and the Making of San Francisco.

Andrew Hurley, ed., Common Fields: an environmental history of St. Louis.

Carolyn Merchant, ed., Major Problems in American Environmental History, 3rd edition.

Donald Worster, Rivers of Empire.

Several additional articles are required reading, as noted in the schedule below, and are available on Electronic Reserve.

 

CLASS SCHEDULE

Classes will follow a professor-moderated discussion format of assigned readings. Lectures will cover unassigned material or amplify assigned material and are important for proper exam preparation. Lectures may not be tape-recorded.

 

Week of January 29 -           INTRODUCTION

Week of February 5 -       PHILOSOPHIES OF ENVIRONMENTAL HISTORY

Readings: Merchant, Major Problems, Ch.1; Cronon, Changes in the Land, Part I; Worster, Rivers of Empire, Ch.2

Week of February 12 -       NATIVES & SETTLERS IN THE COLONIAL ERA

Readings: Merchant, Ch.2: documents 4-5 & Martin essay; Dreyfus, Our Better Nature, chapter 1, "Coyote's Children;" Cronon, Part II (complete book by time of mid-term)

Film: Chesapeake Planter: A Dialogue on Early American Farming AV#82738

Week of February 19 -     SLAVERY, CAPITALISM & THE AMERICAN SOUTH

Readings: Merchant, Ch.4: documents 2-7, Craven & Carney essays; and Ch.7: documents 1-3, 7 & all essays.

Film: Digging for Slaves.      AV#86616

Week of February 26 -    19TH CENT. PHILOSOPHIES OF NATURE & CIVILIZATION

Readings: Merchant, Ch.6: all documents & Heiman essay.

Lecture on Thomas Cole & Henry David Thoreau.

Film: American Visions 3: The Wilderness and the West      AV#87583

Week of March 5 -    THE CALIFORNIA GOLD RUSH

Readings: Merchant, Ch.8: documents 3-6 & Teisch essay.

Lecture on economic and social impact of gold mining.

Film: The Story of the Gold Rush.       AV#86176

Week of March 12 -          TRANSFORMATION OF THE TRANS-MISSISSIPPI WEST

Readings: Merchant, Ch.9: documents 1-4 & all essays; Worster, Ch.3.

Lecture on federal land and Indian policy.

Week of March 19 -        TURN-OF-THE-CENTURY URBAN LANDSCAPES

Readings: Dreyfus, Our Better Nature, Ch. 2, "Urban Genesis," and Ch. 3, "Greening the City;" Corbett, "Draining the Metropolis," in Hurley; and Hurley, "Busby’s Stinkboat and the Regulation of the Nuisance Trades,1865-1918" in Hurley.

Film: America by Design: The Street        AV#80980

Week of March 26 -          SPRING BREAK

Week of April 2 -            MID-TERM EXAMINATION

Week of April 9 -         POLLUTION & REFORM IN THE "PROGRESSIVE ERA"

Readings: Merchant, Ch.12: documents 1-6; and on E-reserve: Maureen Flanagan, "The City Profitable, the City Livable: Environmental Policy, Gender, and Power in Chicago in the 1910s," Journal of Urban History 22, (Jan.1996): 163-190;  Harold L. Platt, "Invisible Gases: Smoke, Gender, and the Redefinition of Environmental Policy in Chicago,1900-1920," Planning Perspectives 10 (Jan. 1995): 67-97; Robert Gottlieb, "Urban and Industrial Roots: Seeking to Reform the System," from Gottlieb, Forcing the Spring (2005); Elizabeth Blum, "Women, Environmental Rationale, and Activism During the Progressive Era," from Glave & Stoll, eds., To Love the Wind and the Rain (2006).

Week of April 16 -       CONSERVATION,  PRESERVATION & THE EMERGENCE OF ECOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVE

Readings: Merchant, Ch.10: documents 1-6; Ch.11: documents 1-5; Ch.13: documents 1-3, Clarke essay.

Lecture on John Muir and Gifford Pinchot.

Film: Wilderness Man: John Muir.      AV#88391

Week of April 23 -     CALIFORNIA WATER

Readings: Dreyfus, Ch. 4, "Water."

Lecture on the S.F./Hetch Hetchy and L.A./Owens Valley water controversies.

Film: Thirsty City.     AV#88362

Week of April 30 -      POLITICS,  ENVIRONMENTAL "REPAIR" & ECOLOGY IN THE MID-TWENTIETH CENTURY

Readings: Merchant, Ch.13: document 5; Ch.14: document 1; Joel Tarr and Carl Zimring, "The Struggle for Smoke Control in St.Louis," and Rosemary Feurer, "River Dreams," in Hurley, ed.; Report of the Great Plains Drought Area Committee (August 1936).

Lecture on Aldo Leopold and the evolution of ecological consciousness at mid-century

FINAL EXAMINATION INSTRUCTIONS DISTRIBUTED

Film: The River       AV#61563

Week of May 7 -        THE EMERGENCE OF CONTEMPORARY ENVIRONMENTALISM

Readings: Merchant, Ch.14, documents 2-5, Rome essay; Dreyfus, Ch. 5, "The Quest for Livability."

Lecture on the Reagan Environmental Counter-Revolution.

Film:  Rachel Carson's Silent Spring          AV#83799

Week of May 14 -       RACE, CLASS & ENVIRONMENTAL INEQUALITY

Readings: Merchant, Ch.15, documents 1-3, McGurty essay; and Andrew Hurley, "Floods, Rats, and Toxic Waste," in Hurley. 

Film:  Four Corners: A National Sacrifice Area       AV#84558      

                                            DISCUSSION AND REVIEW FOR FINAL ESSAYS 

                                         

FINAL ESSAYS & GRADUATE PAPERS DUE TUESDAY, MAY 21 BY NOON IN SCI 222

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

SUGGESTIONS FOR FILM-RESPONSE PAPERS

You may find it helpful to consider one or more of the following questions when reviewing films:

How do different economic and social systems shape human perceptions of nature?

How may experiences of nature be shaped by class, race or gender?

What is the connection between methods of resource use and social relationships?

Is there such a thing as optimum use?

Can or should a balance between the human and non-human environments be restored?

What kind of assumptions about society and nature underlie the stories in the film?

How are environmental values conveyed through the medium of film? Is there such a thing as historical objectivity?

What are your emotional responses to the film and what images did you find most compelling and why?