Thursday, April 17, 2014

American Environmental History

I sometimes teach a course in American Environmental History.  The course syllabus is below.   It's getting a little long in the tooth.  Any ideas for a fix-up?

Honors American Environmental History


This course covers how Americans have interacted with the environment from the contact period through the present. The course is thematic and covers the following topics: land, animals, food, water, and energy. In each topic we ask the following questions: How did people interact with their environment? How did they change it? How did it change them? How did those changes lead to other changes? We seek to explore the cycle described by historian William de Buys, “in adapting to the environment,” he argues “societies change it both purposefully and by accident, and in turn adapt to the changes they have wrought - sometimes by changing the environment still further...”.

The course materials

There are three required books for this course that are available for purchase at the school store: Changes in the Land, by William Cronon, The Dust Bowl by Donald Worster, and The Organic Machine, by Richard White. In addition to these materials, there are numerous handouts and videos. Because of the large amount of supplemental materials, if you know you are going to be absent prior to a class, please let me know ASAP so that I may get the relevant materials to you prior to your absence. When possible, videos and such will be available on line. If you miss class unexpectedly, any handouts will have your name written on it and will be placed in “the box.” It is your responsibility to pick-up materials out of “the box” when you return. We will also hopefully be bringing a number of guest speakers to class. You are expected to have a notebook dedicated to this class for taking both reading notes and classroom notes. You should always bring your notebook and the day’s reading with you to class.

Course expectations

You will come to class each day having read the assigned reading and thought about it. You will have annotated the reading either in the text or in your notebook. During class discussions, you are expected to participate fully as a speaker and listener. All work should be handed in on-time. Extensions are granted only before the assignment is due. Please re-read the section of your school’s handbook regarding senior extensions. Unless otherwise stated, all work to be handed in should be typed. Essays and outlines may be handed in via paper or electronically. Some other assignments may only be handed in electronically. If you need to hand something into me and you can’t put it in my hands, please leave it in my mailbox in the faculty room (near the library). Never leave anything on my desk. Items left on my desk or chair will not be counted as handed in on time.

Classroom Etiquette

You are expected to be ready to start class at the proper time. Should you arrive late please take your seat quietly and save notes or explanations for the end of class so as not to interrupt others. You are expected to be a diligent listener as well as an active participant. While spirited debate is encouraged, you are reminded that it is the ideas under discussion and not the character of your classmates.
Avoid personal attacks. Sexist, homophobic, and racist language will not be tolerated except as dictated by primary source material.

Example, correct use: "In the document, the author repeatedly uses the terms 'Japs' and 'Slants' to refer to the enemy. I think he does this so as to make them more hateable and thus easier to kill."

Example, incorrect use: "The dropping of the Atomic Bombs forced the Japs to surrender."

A note on plagiarism

Please familiarize yourself with the plagiarism statement in your school’s handbook. Please note that Springside maintains a subscription to an anti-plagiarism software package and by enrolling in Springside or CHA and this class you give me permission to use it. In addition, please be aware that plagiarism takes many forms, whether it be copying from the internet, a book or article, or another student. Because we encourage collaboration, some students become confused as to where the line is between collaboration and plagiarism. Some examples are below:

Acceptable collaboration: Student 1: “Will you read my paper?” Student 2: “Sure…, I find your thesis statement confusing.”

Acceptable collaboration: Student 1: “Will you read my paper?” Student 2: “Sure…, your thesis statement should read ‘The market economy destroyed the buffalo’ rather than ‘The buffalo were destroyed by the market economy’ so that the actor is the subject of the sentence.”

Unacceptable collaboration Student 1: “Will you read my paper?” Student 2 “Sure…, Your thesis statement should be, ‘The market economy destroyed the buffalo’ not ‘The buffalo nickel destroyed the buffalo.’”

Note how in the two acceptable collaborations, the peer editor does not change the meaning of the author’s work.


Grading is on a total points system in each quarter. There will be at least 7 graded items in the quarter including class participation. Major graded items are announced in advance. Reading quizzes (aka surprise quizzes) may not be announced in advance. Major assignments include items such as quizzes, tests, idea maps, google tours, essay outlines, essays, graded discussions, and anything else I can think of.

Research Projects

There are two research projects.  One small research project on where do cities get their water from and a second more major project on where food comes from that you will work on over both quarters.  Details on both these projects will be given at the appropriate time. 

Course Outline

Introduction (1 week) What is Environmental History? What is a landscape? What do I see when I look around? What does it mean? Key terms: Landform, landscape.

• J. B. Jackson – “The Term Itself” from Landscape in Sight
Activities and Graded Items
• Map exercise
• Vocabulary quiz
• Walk in the Wissahickon and response paper

Land How did Indians and colonists perceive the landscape of New England differently. What changes did colonization bring?

• William Cronon Changes in the Land
• Primary documents of Puritan sermons on wilderness.
Activities and Graded Items
• Visual representation of Indian and puritan landscapes.

Animals What caused the extinction of the buffalo? Other species? How are species saved?

Isenberg and Flores on the Buffalo extinction
Manliness and Civilization selections
• Jenny Price “When Birds where Hats” in Flight Maps
Activities:  Graded discussion

Food The Dust Bowl

• Donald Worster, The Dust Bowl (selections)
• James Gregory American Exodus selections
• The Grapes of Wrath (selected movie scenes)
Activites and Graded Items
• Listening party Woody Guthrie Dust Bowl songs

Water What role has water played in the development of the American West? Who controls it and how?

• Marc Reisner Cadillac Desert (selections)
Activities and Graded Items
• Google tour:  where your water comes from.
• Policy position statement advising President Obama on water policy

Energy What work does nature do? What work should it do?

• Richard White The Organic Machine
• J. R. McNeil Something New Under the Sun (selections)
• Changes in the Landscape: Energy Development in Western New Mexico
• Richard White “Are You an Environmentalist or Do You Work for a Living?” in
Activities and Graded Items
• Listening party Columbia River songs by Woody Guthrie
• Essay on The Organic Machine
Graded discussion. 

1 comment:

  1. Did I recommend to you Thomas Slaughter's The Natures of John and William Bartram?