HISTORY 642 - DR. P. DREYFUS

PROSEMINAR: AMERICANS AND NATURE

 

 

DESCRIPTION:

 

This course will investigate Americans’ perceptions of nature, their usually unconscious impact on the environments with which they interact, and their conscious efforts to reshape external nature to serve a variety of ends—moral, social, and economic.  Western industrial societies in general have constructed a categorical distinction between nature and the social order—a distinction that may be heightened in the United States by the nation’s origins as a “civilization carved out of wilderness.”  By no means universal to all societies across space and time, the conceptual separation of human society and culture from the natural world has influenced the ways that Americans have experienced, understood, and used “nature,” as well as the ways that historians have interpreted and told the story of this engagement.  We will examine this history, both in its content and in its telling.   Students will emerge with a framework for understanding the environmental relations of diverse groups of Americans, and will develop a grasp of how environmental history can be written at the intersection of multiple subfields—intellectual history, urban history, social history, and the history of “subordinate” races and classes.

 

LEARNING OUTCOMES:

 

1. Students will learn and be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the environmental history of diverse groups of Americans, and of how environmental history is written (Department Undergraduate Objective 1).

2. Students will be able to demonstrate the ability to analyze and interpret historical evidence, both primary and secondary, by their participation in class discussions and by writing a research paper (Department Undergraduate Objectives 2 & 3).

3. Students will demonstrate an ability to do extensive research in primary and secondary sources on a topic of their choice pertaining to US environmental history.  They will also be required to effectively communicate the results of this research in oral presentations and in a 12 to 15-page research paper due at the end of term (Department Undergraduate Objective 4).

 

TEXTS:

 

Shepard Krech III, The Ecological Indian: Myth and History

Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind

David Schuyler, The New Urban Landscape: The Redefinition of City Form in Nineteenth-Century America

Mark David Spence, Dispossessing the Wilderness: Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks

Diane D. Glave and Mark Stoll, editors, To Love the Wind and the Rain: African Americans and Environmental History

Donald Worster, Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s

 

Additional required reading is either on electronic reserve in the Leonard Library, or on JSTOR, or accessible by links from this sylllabus, and is designated as such in the class schedule below.

 

COURSE REQUIREMENTS:

 

The class will read and critically discuss the assigned books and each student will produce a book review on one of the assigned texts above.  Book review instructions can be found on the professor's website.  The reading is by no means exhaustive, but is designed to introduce students to important ways of looking at U.S. environmental history.  You will not be tested on the reading, but it is essential that you be prepared to discuss it in class. A central function of the proseminar is group discussion.  Students will share the responsibility for presenting portions of the assigned reading to the class and for leading discussions.  It is also expected that the reading will help you think about how to produce your own research paper.  Since the principal function of the proseminar is to provide students with the tools to engage in historical research and writing, each student will produce a 12 to15-page paper based largely on research in primary sources.  Graduate students will produce a more extensive paper after consulting the instructor. Papers must be double-spaced and word-processed in 12-point font, with endnote citations.  Research topics will focus on some aspect of American environmental history.  To facilitate topic selection, you will find an extensive bibliography of secondary sources that may help provide you with the historiographical basis for your paper at the first link on this website's "Resources for Students" page.

 

Students will meet in conference with the instructor several times over the course of the semester to discuss progress and problems with their on-going research.  The last few weeks will be dedicated to in-class presentations and student critiques of projects as they near completion.

 

Grading will be calculated on the following basis: class participation 20% (divided equally between reading presentations and research presentations), book review 20%, research paper 60%.  A late book review or late paper will automatically be discounted by one full grade level (10%).  In addition, university policy requires students who wish to receive a grade of “incomplete” to file a formal petition with the instructor.  These petitions are available in department offices.  Any student who has not completed the course assignments and has not submitted a petition will receive a grade of “U,” which represents an unauthorized withdrawal and is equivalent to an “F.”

 

CLASS SCHEDULE:

 

1/29    INTRODUCTION

 

2/5     WHAT DO WE MEAN BY NATURE?

William Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature."

Richard White, “Are You an Environmentalist or Do You Work for a Living?”

Donald Worster, “Transformations of the Earth: Toward an Agroecological Perspective in History."

William Cronon, “The Uses of Environmental History.”

 

2/12    NO CLASS MEETING - INDIVIDUAL CONFERENCES

                          

2/19    THE NOBLE SAVAGE MYTH AND PERCEPTIONS OF ENVIRONMENTAL DECLINE

Shepard Krech III, The Ecological Indian, chapters 4-7.

Kimberly TallBear, "Shepard Krech's The Ecological Indian: One Indian's Perspective."

Darren J. Ranco, "The Ecological Indian and the Politics of Representation."

Raymond Hames, "The Ecologically Noble Savage Debate."

Access at JSTOR:  Dan Flores, Review, Journal of America History 88:1, June 2001

                                              

2/26    WILDERNESS AND NATIONAL IDENTITY

Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind, chapters 4-9.

Carolyn Merchant, “Reinventing Eden: Western Culture as a Recovery Narrative.”

 

3/5    URBANIZATION AND NATURE BY DESIGN

David Schuyler, The New Urban Landscape, chapters 4-7.

Philip Dreyfus, Our Better Nature: Environment and the Making of San Francisco, Chapter 3, "Greening the City."

 

3/12    NO CLASS MEETING - INDIVIDUAL CONFERENCES

                BOOK REVIEW TODAY

 

3/19    INVENTING THE NATIONAL PARKS

Mark David Spence, Dispossessing the Wilderness

Kevin DeLuca and Anne Demo, "Imagining Nature and Erasing Class and Race."

 

3/26    SPRING BREAK

 

4/2    ENVIRONMENT AND THE HIDDEN NARRATIVE OF RACE

Glave and Stoll, eds., To Love the Wind and the Rain, chapters 1-4, 6, 9.

 

4/9   ENVIRONMENTAL HISTORY AS POLITICAL ECONOMY

Donald Worster, Dust Bowl

"Interview with Donald Worster," Daniel Kerr, U. of Kansas, 2006

 

4/16    NO CLASS MEETING - INDIVIDUAL CONFERENCES

 

4/23    PRESENTATION OF PAPERS

 

4/30    PRESENTATION OF PAPERS

 

5/7    PRESENTATION OF PAPERS

 

5/14    PRESENTATION OF PAPERS

 

TUESDAY MAY 21 – ALL PAPERS DUE BY NOON IN SCI 222