History 273
Introduction to American Environmental History
University of Oregon
Spring 2003 Course Syllabus

Savannah, Georgia, ca. 1734.

Monday & Wednesday,10:00-11:20, 207 Chapman.
CRN 34945

Matthew Dennis, Department of History, 357 McKenzie Hall
Office Hours: M, W, 11:30-12:30.

This course will introduce students to the dynamic field of environmental history, presenting essential concepts, concerns, and methods in the context of American history. Units will address environmental issues in vastly different historical settings, ranging from the Pre-Columbian world to the modern, industrial United States. Because of the breadth of its focus, the course complements and extends both United State history (HIST 201-3) and world history (HIST 120-2), and helps prepare students for advanced work in history courses across the history department curriculum, as well as in Environmental Studies.

Within the last few decades, environmental history has emerged as an important sub-field. Though it is defined variously by practitioners, at base it studies the relationship between humans and their physical environments, understanding such relationships as "dialogues" between societies and the material (including the "natural") circumstances of their existence. Some environmental historians emphasize culture and intellectual themes, exploring the ways that people have understood and represented the natural world and shaped it in culturally specific ways. Others stress the essential economic foundations of environmental relationships, focusing on the need to procure subsistence, comfort, and wealth and the implications that such production has on physical and natural environments. Still others have cast attention on the politics and policy of humans' relationships with their environments, and how social and political life--situated in landscapes--is often the object of negotiation and struggle. Finally, others have seen environmental history as the study of ecology, with people considered as essential (if sometimes disturbing) elements within nature. Students will be acquainted with these various approaches and the implications of different sorts of environmental history, while situating their learning in the study of American history.

Course Format and Assignments
The course will combine lecture with discussion, often weaving the two together to make class sessions interactive. Lectures will generally build upon--not simply recapitulate--readings. Students are responsible for completing reading and written assignments by the time indicated on the syllabus. These assignments will often provide the basis for class activity; students are expected to attend all class meetings and participate actively. Students must complete all assignments in order to pass the course. There will be three exams, as well as occasional short homework assignments and quizzes.

Academic integrity is important. I will hold all students to the University of Oregon "Standards of Conduct." Plagiarism will not be tolerated; all work must by your own, written for this class.

Required Course Readings
Carolyn Merchant, Major Problems in American Environmental History (1993).
Ted Steinberg, Down to Earth: Nature's Role in American History (2002).
Richard White, The Organic Machine: The Remaking of the Columbia River (1995).

Books are available at the University of Oregon Bookstore. Additional primary source readings may be made available on the web. Check the course website regularly.

Lecture and Reading Schedule

Week 1 (March 31-April 2): Introduction; What is Environmental History?

  • Introduction; Varieties and Questions of Environmental History (M).
  • Colonialism: History and Environmental Impact (W)--Reading: Major Problems, 1-22, 32-63; Steinberg, Down to Earth, ix-xii, 3-7.

Week 2 (April 7-9): Colonialism and Ecological Revolution.

  • American Colonial Contests as Environmental History (M)--Reading: Major Problems, 65-77; 94-109; Steinberg, 11-38.
  • "Improving Nature" (W)--Reading: Major Problems, 133-44, 148-63; Steinberg, 39-51.
  • Discussion Questions.

Week 3 (April 14-16): Agriculture and Extraction.

  • Commodity Production, Slavery, and Market Revolution (M)--Reading: Major Problems, 209-18; Steinberg, 55-88; 99-115.
  • Expansion, the West, and Capitalist Integration (W)--Reading: Steinberg, 116-37, 175-89; Major Problems, 292-304, 314-23.

Week 4 (April 21-23): Industrialization.

  • Beginnings of Industrialism in New England and Beyond (M)--Reading: Major Problems, 189-98.
  • Tuesday April 22: Earth Day.
  • Exam 1, Wednesday April 23.

Week 5 (April 28-30): Urbanization.

  • American Cities in the Age of Industry (M)--Reading: Steinberg, 157-72; Major Problems, 414-26.
  • Growth, Spread, Sprawl (W)--Reading: Steinberg, 175-225; Major Problems, 426-42; 383-85.

Week 6 (May 5-7): Aesthetics and Ideology.

  • Nature and Nationalism (M)--Reading: Major Problems, 170-207, 250-51, 295. Questions on Thoreau.
  • Wilderness, Garden, Park (W)--Reading: Major Problems, 390-412.

Week 7 (May 12-14): Conservation and Preservation.

  • Conservation and Preservation (M)--Reading: Major Problems, 338-66, 387-89; Steinberg, 138-56.
  • Exam 2, Wednesday, May 14.

Week 8 (May 19-21): Ecology and Environmentalism.

  • Emergence of Ecology (M)--Reading: Major Problems, 444-83.
  • Emergence of Modern Environmental Movement (W)--Reading: Major Problems, 484-520; Steinberg, 226-38.

Week 9 (May 26-28): Environmental Politics, National and Global.

  • Monday May 26: Memorial Day Holiday.
  • Contemporary Environmental Politics (W)--Reading: Major Problems, 523-46; Steinberg, 239-85.

Week 10 (June 2-4): Columbia River Case Study.

  • Environmental History of the Oregon Country (M)--Reading: Organic Machine, ix-xi, 1-29.
  • Remaking the Columbia River (W)--Reading: Organic Machine, 30-113.

Finals Week: Exam 3, Tuesday, June 10, 10:15.