American Environmental History

Fall 2021
Graduate Only
Class Size: 15
4 Credits per quarter
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This remote program will probe the complex and shifting relationship between the environment and various peoples living on the lands currently known as the United States. Our exploration will be through the lens of the larger social, cultural and artistic histories beginning with early Native-European encounters to the present.  We will do this in part through case studies of cash crops and specific regions with an emphasis on the American West. Some of the subjects we will consider include: the larger environmental ramifications of European voyages of discovery and colonization; the impact of genocide, land dispossession, and privatization; the influence of European and Euro-American attitudes towards nature; the effects of capitalism and racialized expropriation on forests, prairies, wetlands, and agricultural systems; and the environmental impact of changes in scientific theory and practices.  Finally, we will cap our quarter with a look at contemporary issues in the 21st century, e.g. Indigenous efforts to address the impacts of white settlement on food sovereignty and ecosystem health. In the course of our studies we will explore the following theme questions.  What is environmental history and how is it different from history?  If we take seriously the notion that nature has “agency”, how does that change our study of the past?  How can social and cultural history inform our understanding of relations between people and nature?  How do social, political and intellectual trends influence how people think about nature and the relationship between people and nature?  In what ways are contemporary attitudes about nature shaped by history, both real and imagined?  To aid our inquiries, we will read both secondary works of history and primary sources. As windows into the past and a way to cultivate our visual literacy, we will also study historic maps, paintings, drawings, and photographs.  Our work will be conducted remotely with both synchronous (live) and asynchronous sessions. There will be weekly assigned readings. Assessments will be based on quizzes and participation in seminar. Each student will also complete multiple written assignments some of which will include collective online annotation of readings prior to class discussions. Students are expected to have computer and internet access in order to utilize the multiple modes of online learning (Zoom, Canvas, Hypothesis, etc.).


Fall 2021 Registration

Course Reference Numbers

GR (4): 10385

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First Meeting