History / Geography / Environmental Studies 460
AMERICAN ENVIRONMENTAL HISTORY
LECTURER: Bill Cronon, 5103 Humanities (also 443 Science Hall).
SECTION LEADERS: Bill Cronon, Garrett Nelson, Tony Pietsch, John Suval, Kate Wersan.
Bill's Phone: 265-6023. This has an answering machine on which you can leave messages if I'm not in. No calls to my home telephone number, please. A much better way to contact me is via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, but please do this sparingly; I receive 80-100 emails per day and it's all I can do (and sometimes quite a lot more!) to keep up with them all.
Bill’s Website: Bill’s website is at www.williamcronon.net, and the page for this course can be found at http://www.williamcronon.net/courses/460.htm. Be sure to bookmark and keep track of this link, since the page has many handouts and other materials helpful for students in the course. If you happen to lose track of it, a Google search of “William Cronon 460” is likely to yield this page as the top hit.
Office Hours: 9:45-11:45am Wednesdays, 5103 Humanities, first come first served. I would prefer to see you during regular hours, but will try to meet with you at other times if necessary. Please don't just stop by my office if you need to see me at times other than my office hours, however; email me first and make an appointment. I generally meet with students for appointments in 443 Science Hall.
TA Offices: Email is the best way to get in touch with your section leader if you need to contact them. Garrett Nelson’s email address is email@example.com ; Tony Pietsch’s is firstname.lastname@example.org ; John Suval’s is email@example.com ; and Kate Wersan’s is firstname.lastname@example.org . They will circulate office hours and locations at the first section meeting of the semester.
LECTURES will be held on Mondays and Wednesdays, from 2:30-3:45pm, in 3650 Humanities.
Environmental history studies the changing relationships between human beings and the natural world through time. Despite being numbered at the 400-level, this course is intended as an introduction to this exciting and relatively new field of scholarship, with no prerequisites. It assumes no background in American history, geography, or environmental studies, and offers a general survey that can be valuable for students interested in any of these fields, from entry-level undergraduates through advanced graduate students. Although the course is intended to be challenging, it is also meant to be fun: any student willing to attend lectures, do the readings, and work hard should be able to enjoy and do well in it. Our central premise throughout will be that much of the familiar terrain of American history looks very different when seen in environmental context, and that one can learn a great deal about history, geography, and the environment by studying them together. All too often, historians study the human past without attending to nature. All too often, scientists study nature without attending to human history. We will try to discover the value of integrating these different perspectives, and argue that the humanistic perspectives of historians and geographers are absolutely crucial if one hopes to understand contemporary environmental issues.
We will be approaching American environmental history from at least three different angles. First, we will ask how various past human activities have depended on and interacted with the natural world: how have natural phenomena and resources shaped patterns of human life in different regions of the continent? Second, we will trace the shifting attitudes toward nature held by different Americans during various periods of their nation's history: how have the human inhabitants of this continent perceived and attached meanings to the world around them, and how have those attitudes shaped their cultural and political lives? Finally, we will ask how human attitudes and activities have worked together to reshape the American landscape: how have people altered the world around them, and what have been the consequences of those alterations for natural and human communities alike? At the same time, we will be tracing the evolution of environmental politics in the United States, so that the course is also a history of conservation and environmentalism in our nation’s political life down to the present.
A NOTE ON THE READINGS
This syllabus provides a detailed outline of what we'll be covering in the course, and we strongly advise you to refer to it often as you plan your studying. Readings are extensive, but they are generally not difficult; they have been chosen as much as possible to be fun and provocative as well as informative. All required texts are available at the University Bookstore. They are as follows (call numbers are included):
William Cronon, Changes in the Land, GF 504 N45 C76 2003
Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, QH81 L56 1966
David Stradling, Conservation in the Progressive Era: Classic Texts, QH76 C6545 2004
Donald Worster, Dust Bowl, F786 W87
Strongly recommended is Wayne C. Booth, et al., The Craft of Research, 3rd edition, Q180.55 M4 B66 2008.
I have cut the number of required textbooks quite significantly this year in an effort to reduce costs for students; at the same time, the number of online readings has increased, as you’ll see when you study the syllabus below. All required textbooks are available on reserve in Helen C. White library and/or at the Wisconsin Historical Society Library. You needn't purchase all of them, and you should feel free to read library copies or share books with classmates if you prefer. Other readings are available as course handouts or on electronic reserve either via your My UW page or on my personal website. Please be sure you know how to access e-reserve readings and find my website by the end of the first week of classes.
The midterm exam counts for 20% of your grade, and the final for 25% of it; the first paper counts for 5%; the place paper for 30%; and section participation for the remaining 20%. Please note in particular that we take section participation very seriously in this course. Learning how to talk intelligently and enthusiastically about significant subjects is actually one of the most important skills you can learn in college, and this course is a great place to work on that skill. We'll be dealing with interesting readings about historical subjects that have important implications for our present and future, so it shouldn't be hard for you to come to section with questions and comments you'd like to share with other members of the group. Try to make a special effort to get to know not just your section leader, but the other students in your section. We promise this will not only make the course more enjoyable, but will add a lot to what you learn as well.
There will be two exams, a midterm and a final, each covering their respective halves of the course in their objective sections; the final will also require you to write comprehensive essays covering the course as a whole.
FIRST PAPER: (2 double-spaced pages; 3-4 pages for Honors undergrads and graduate students):
This brief initial writing assignment asks you to use one or more primary documents from the colonial period to support an argument about an environmental historical theme of your own choosing. We’ll supply a small selection of rich, evocative sources. You’re to use one of them to write a short essay explicating the document and using it to support a well-argued claim about American environmental history prior to 1800. The assignment is fully described here:
THE PLACE PAPER (5-6 double-spaced pages; 6-10 pages for Honors undergrads and graduate students):
This is due at the beginning of lecture on Monday, November 19, and is intended to give you an opportunity actually to do environmental history yourself as a way of synthesizing what you've learned from the entire course. In it, you are to choose some place--either located in Madison or somewhere you know well from your home or travels--and write a brief essay discussing your interpretation of some aspects of its environmental history, using the themes and perspectives we’ve studied in class. Because this is a relatively brief paper, you’ll need to think carefully about what parts of your chosen place you wish to explore in your essay: it is far better to discuss a few aspects well than many aspects superficially. Write a description or tell a story that will explain to the reader how this place came to have the shape and qualities it has today. You should think of this paper as an exercise in historical, geographical, and environmental interpretation, asking you to read a small patch of landscape as a document of past environmental change. Just as importantly, your place should illustrate one or more important themes drawn from the course as a whole, so please be careful to think carefully about which course themes can help you interpret the past of your place—and which aspects of your place can illustrate the themes of the course.
Since we'd like you to be thinking about this paper from the very start of the semester, we'd like to offer you some suggestions for the how best to approach it. Remember that a key aspect of this assignment is for you to gain experience trying to “read” an actual landscape while comparing what you find in that place today with historical documents that will help you interpret how it was different in the past. We fully understand that you don’t know enough environmental history to construct a complete or fully accurate narrative of environmental changes that have shaped your chosen place. What we’re looking for instead is that you take a long, careful look at the place and try to see it with unfamiliar eyes, taking nothing for granted but looking at everything you see there as if you’d never seen it before. Then ask how the things you see might have come to be there. As the first lecture of the course suggests, the trick is to ask as many questions as you can about landscapes you ordinarily take for granted. (Remember, you can go back and reread that first lecture, which is printed as an essay called "Kennecott Journey" in the book Under an Open Sky: Rethinking America’s Western Past, edited by myself; a PDF version of it is even more conveniently available on the course page of my website.) Use materials from the readings and from the lectures to help you think about the kinds of questions you want to ask, and do the best job you can answering these questions using the evidence you can find on the ground.
To help you learn the research skills you’ll be using in investigating and writing about your place, a group of my graduate students and I created a special website on “Learning Historical Research” which I would encourage you to explore and read carefully: www.williamcronon.net/researching/. It has many tips and suggestions that are likely to be helpful to you not just for this paper but for work you do in other courses as well. You are also strongly encouraged to read Wayne Booth, Gregory Colomb, and Joseph Williams’ classic The Craft of Research as early in the semester as you can.
If you’re having trouble choosing a place to write about, consider these suggestions right here in Madison; most can easily be applied to other locations as well:
- Walk along a railroad track for a mile or more (the one behind the Kohl Center that has become a bike path west of the campus power plant would be a good choice) and think about its relation to the surrounding landscape. Ask how adjacent sites relate to the railroad, and how those relations may have changed with time. In what ways does the railroad divide the surrounding land, and in what ways does it connect it? How might these divisions and connections have changed with time?
- Spend an hour or two in a cemetery and see what you can learn from it as a historical document (the ones on both sides of the Speedway, just beyond Madison's West High School on Regent Street, are excellent for this exercise). What can you learn about the lives of those who are buried there: how long they lived, how they died, what their family relations were, etc.? What does the cemetery tell you about their attitudes toward life, death, and their place in the natural world? How does the physical form of the cemetery itself (as opposed to individual graves) reflect cultural attitudes toward nature?
- Drive or bike west from the UW stadium along Regent Street, Speedway, and Mineral Point Road until you’re well out into the agricultural countryside (if you can, go as far as Pine Bluff, or even to the point where the road finally ends at Highway 78, which would be a round trip of 20-30 miles). As you ride, look very closely at the changing spatial arrangement of streets, buildings, and settlement patterns. How do houses change? Look at their sizes, styles, presence or absence of garages and porches, nearness to neighboring houses, sizes of front and back yards, relation of residential and non-residential buildings, etc., etc. Look at the presence or absence of green space. As you drive west, you’re essentially moving through neighborhoods that were built in each succeeding decade of the twentieth century. The spatial changes you see directly reflect chronological changes in the history of Madison’s built environment and its relations to the surrounding landscape.
- Try comparing two different residential neighborhoods in Madison and writing a brief paper on the key differences you notice between them. The City of Madison’s Department of Planning & Development has put together a good series of walking tours you can take of historic neighborhoods in the city, easily accessed as downloadable documents from http://www.ci.madison.wi.us/planning/walkTour.html . You might try taking one or more of these tours, and then write about what you see along the way. Just be careful not to write a paper that only reports what you learn from the tour booklet; be sure to look at what you see and write about the landscape itself, supplementing the guide with additional library research wherever possible.
- Find the “Lost City” in the southeast part of the UW Arboretum and see what you can figure out about its past. This is an old failed subdivision from the early twentieth century which is now completely overgrown (it could be harder to find in deep snow!). You can find a map of where to locate it in the Arboretum visitor’s center, and you could read about its past in Nancy Sachse’s book, A Thousand Ages, QK 479 S16 1974.
- Walk to the end of Picnic Point and spend time looking at the skyline of Madison. Think about the different human elements that make up that skyline, and ask yourself how and when they might have come to be there. Then go examine those same elements close up and read what you can from their sites. You may benefit from exploring the very detailed and prize-winning website for UW-Madison’s Lakeshore Nature Preserve, which includes a great deal of environmental historical information at http://www.lakeshorepreserve.wisc.edu/.
Remember, the most important goal of this assignment is to look at a place, ask questions about it, and think about its past with reference to the historical and geographical phenomena you’ve learned about in this course. This is much harder when you’re worrying about it in the abstract than when you’re actually doing it. It really doesn’t matter what place you pick. You could literally go to anywhere in Madison or your hometown and take a random walk through a neighborhood, thinking about everything you see along the way, and write a great paper based on it.
We ask you to explore your place not just in the present, but in the past. Although you can partly do this by looking for remnants of the past in the place as it is today, you’ll also need to do significant archival research to locate old documents—newspapers, maps, travelers’ accounts, photographs, advertisements, and so on—that will give you insight into what your place was like in the past. For instance, looking at old photographs can be wonderfully suggestive about how your place has changed in the past.
If you’re writing about Madison, there are a couple excellent photographic histories of the city and the university on reserve at Helen C. White Library: David Mollenhoff’s Madison: A History of the Formative Years, F589 M157 M64 1982, 2003; and Arthur Hove’s The University of Wisconsin: A Pictorial History, LD 6128 H68 1991. There should be copies not just on reserve but in the non-circulating reference collection; multiple copies of Mollenhoff’s book are in the Geography Library in Science Hall and the Wisconsin Historical Society Library as well. Even if you only spend half an hour looking through these, they could be extremely helpful to you, especially if you’re having trouble with the assignment.
There are a number of ways you could learn more about your chosen place. The suggestions I’ve listed below relate mainly to Wisconsin places, but most would be equally well suited to other parts of the country as well.
- Look at old photographs. The State Historical Society’s Iconographic Collection (located in the Archives on the 4th floor) has a vast collection of images of places from Wisconsin and elsewhere. Nothing is better than a picture for helping you see a past place and relate it to the present.
- Look at a series of maps of your chosen place to see how it has changed over time. The Cartographic Collection of the Geography Library in Science Hall can be very helpful here. Aerial photographs might also be very suggestive if they’re available.
If you've chosen an urban place, check out the amazing collection of bird's-eye views, most published during the nineteenth century, that have been digitized on the Library of Congress's American Memory website. The URL for these is: `http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/gmdhtml/gmdhome.html . Check under "Cities and Towns" and search for the place about which you're writing, but don't hesitate to explore other parts of the website as well. The American Memory website is an extraordinary source for digital documents: photos, maps, texts, almost anything you can think of. There’s a comparable collection of Wisconsin bird’s-eye views at http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/whi/feature/birdseye/ .
- In the late 1920s or early 1930s, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources produced an extraordinary series of “Land Inventory Maps” which show the uses of land for every township in the state. These are available at the Archives of the Wisconsin Historical Society, and can help you understand changing rural land use. (You can read more about these maps at http://steenbock.library.wisc.edu/general/bordner.html, and access the actual maps athttp://uwdc.library.wisc.edu/collections/EcoNatRes/WILandInv under “Land Economic Inventory.”
If you want to go even further back in time, you could look at the original land survey records of the 1830s and 1840s, getting a rough sense of what the land looked like when the first American surveyors came through to impose the grid system upon it. These maps, along with the original surveyors notes, are now also available on-line, so you can peruse them for places you know at http://libtext.library.wisc.edu/SurveyNotes/ .
- Track the changing population of the place in the manuscript census, which is available for every year between 1840 and 1930 except 1890 (for which the census records were destroyed in a fire). Microfilms of the census for every state in the country are available at the Historical Society. These will tell you who lived in a place, their family relationships, their birth places, their occupations, etc. If you’re writing about a rural place in Wisconsin, you should also look at the manuscript records of the Agricultural Census, which give you a complete picture of the crops and animals raised on every farm in the state during the census years. These are in the Historical Society too, in the back left corner of the Reading Room.
- If you’re studying an urban area, look at old city directories, which often list the residents and businesses of a community not just alphabetically but according to their street address. A directory enables you almost literally to walk down the same street in the past that you’ve walked down in the present, seeing how the people and businesses have changed in the interval. See http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/hp/buildings/citydir.asp for tips.
- Look at old county atlases or histories for your place. These were published for many counties in the Midwest primarily in the 1870s through the 1890s, so can give you lots of interesting information about your place during the nineteenth century. The Historical Society has an excellent collection.
- And of course: talk with people who have lived in your place for a long time.
IMPORTANT: BEWARE OF PLAGIARISM!
It is very important for you to keep track of, acknowledge, and be respectful of the sources you use in writing your place paper. The Web has made it so easy for students to copy and paste information they find online that it may be tempting for you simply to paste some of this material into what write. Don’t EVER do this. Plagiarism is a very serious ethical infraction—pretending that someone else’s work is your own—and will get you into serious trouble if it’s discovered. To learn more about plagiarism and how to avoid it, consult the following online resources:
UW-Madison Writing Center: http://writing.wisc.edu/Handbook/QuotingSources.html
Yale Writing Center: http://writing.yalecollege.yale.edu/understanding-and-avoiding-plagiarism
IMPORTANT: LAPTOP POLICY
Because the majority of lectures take place in a darkened room with PowerPoint presentations, because bright laptop screens are distracting to other students in this environment, and because the temptation to multitask has become so enormous now that wireless connections to the Internet are available in most lecture halls, the use of laptop computers, cell phones, or other screen-based devices is not permitted during lectures or discussion sections. If you have a medical reason for needing to use a laptop or other screen-based device that has been authorized by the McBurney Center, please let us know.
If you are a McBurney student who needs any special accommodations for the course, please make sure your section leader is aware of your situation as early in the semester as possible, and well in advance of any examinations for which accommodations will be required.
WEEKLY OUTLINE OF LECTURES AND ASSIGNMENTS
IMPORTANT: In the following outline, lecture topics are arranged into thematic "weeks" that do NOT correspond with ordinary calendar weeks, so don't be confused about this. For the purposes of this course, most "weeks" consist of a Wednesday lecture, the following Monday lecture, and the following section; this way, all discussion sections will be assured of having heard the same lectures and done the same readings by the time they meet. Occasionally (usually right before an exam), one of these thematic "weeks" may involve a number of lectures less than or more than two. The parenthetic number after each week's title is the approximate number of pages of reading assigned for that week.
Week 1: GETTING STARTED WITH ENVIRONMENTAL HISTORY (46)
5 Sept: Ghost Towns, Ghost Lands: In Search of Environmental History
SECTION: Introductions to each other and to the course.
If you’d like, you can reread Bill’s opening lecture, the original version of which is a published essay: William Cronon, “Kennecott Journey: The Paths Out of Town,” in William Cronon, George Miles, and Jay Gitlin, eds., Under an Open Sky: Rethinking America's Western Past (New York: W. W. Norton, 1992), 28-51, which is also available on Bill’s website as a link under “Other Resources” on our course webpage. For maximum benefit, it’s probably best to do this after you’ve heard the lecture.
Week 2: THINKING ABOUT PLACES, PEOPLE, AND THE PAST (282 plus website reading)
10 Sept: The World That Coyote and Raven Made
SECTION: Learning to read a landscape: walking tours of campus.
Be sure in the next week or two to explore and read as much of the “Learning Historical Research” website at www.williamcronon.net/researching/ as you can.
Read Wayne C. Booth, et al., The Craft of Research in the next couple weeks as background preparation for work on your place paper.
Week 3: INVASIONS (46)
12 Sept: Migration, Disease, and Death
17 Sept: Co-Invasion: Larger Creatures and Human Choices About Them
SECTION: Alfred W. Crosby, “Virgin Soil Epidemics as a Factor in the Aboriginal Depopulation in America,” William & Mary Quarterly, Third Series, 33:2 (April 1976), 289-99. (Online Library Reserve)
William M. Denevan, “The Pristine Myth: The Landscape of the Americas in 1492,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 82:3 (1992), 369-85. (Online Library Reserve)
Charles C. Mann, “1491,” Atlantic Monthly, 289:3 (March 2002), 41-53. (Online Library Reserve)
Thomas Vale, 1998. “The Myth of the Humanized Landscape: The Example from Yosemite National Park,” Natural Areas Journal, 18:3 (1998), 231-236. (Online Library Reserve)
William Denevan, “The ‘Pristine Myth” Revisited,” Geographical Review (October 2011), 576-91. (Online Library Reserve)
WEEK 4: REMAKING THE LAND (228)
19 Sept: Selling Animals
24 Sept: A World of Fields and Fences
SECTION: Cronon, Changes in the Land, xi-185 (of 20th anniversary edition, including Afterword). (If you buy a used copy of the first edition of the book, the new Afterword is available in our Online Library Reserve.)
WRITING DUE IN SECTION THIS WEEK: First Paper Assignment: You’ll be given a small number of evocative primary documents of the kind that Cronon relied on to write Changes in the Land. Your task is to select one of these documents and write a two-page paper analyzing it closely and using it as evidence to support an environmental historical argument.
WEEK 5: THE COUNTRY AND THE CITY (8)
26 Sept: Mountain Gloom, Mountain Glory: Sublime and Picturesque
1 Oct: In-class screenings of films about romantic landscapes and ideas of nature.
SECTION: Romanticism handout (available as PDF download from course web page)
WEEK 6: RETHINKING NATURE
3 Oct: The Flow of the River: Industrial Revolutions
8 Oct: The Machine in the Garden: Agricultural Revolutions
SECTION: Come prepared with questions and insights to review for the mid-term exam.
WEEK 7: LANDSCAPES OF DEATH
10 Oct: Hunters and Hunted
15 Oct: Even the Oceans Fail
SECTION: No Section Meetings This Week, but do start reading Stradling for next week.
WEEK 8: MID-TERM EXAM, AND MOVING FORWARD WITH YOUR PLACE PAPER
15 Oct: EVENING REVIEW SESSION FOR MIDTERM EXAM, 7:00-8:30pm
17 Oct: MID-TERM EXAM
22 Oct: Exploring Past Landscapes: An Introduction to Your Place Paper...and to UW-Madison Libraries
SECTION: In section this week, you’ll be asked to talk about the place you’ve chosen for your final paper, and the themes from the course that you think you’ll be able explore while writing about how your place has changed over time. Please start reading Stradling for next week.
NB: During the next couple weeks, the staff of the Wisconsin Historical Society will offer tours of their collections, which are absolutely invaluable for your place paper. Be sure to take one of these tours if you possibly can.
WEEK 9: PROGRESSIVE CONSERVATION (116)
24 Oct: The Conservation Vision
29 Oct: The Child in the Garden
SECTION: Stradling, Conservation in the Progressive Era: Classic Texts, vii-106. (read entire book carefully)
If you're interested, explore Library of Congress's American Memory website on early history of conservation: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/ammem/amrvhtml/conshome.html.
WEEK 10: SEEING LIKE A STATE (168)
31 Oct: Planning Against Disaster
5 Nov: Strategic Resources and the Population Bomb
SECTION: Worster, Dust Bowl, 3-97, 182-254 (skim remainder if you have time).
WEEK 11: RACHEL CARSON AND A NEW ENVIRONMENTALISM (3)
7 Nov: The Fallout of Silent Spring
12 Nov: In-class screenings of Silent Spring documentaries
SECTION: Carson, “A Fable for Tomorrow” (Online Library Reserve)
(Discuss documentary and oral excerpt from Rachel Carson's Silent Spring this week; reading is light so you can be researching and working on your place paper.)
WEEK 12: TOWARDS EARTH DAY
14 Nov: Environmentalism Triumphant?
19 Nov: Regulation to the Rescue
SECTION: No section this week (Thanksgiving break)
WRITING: PLACE PAPERS DUE AT START OF LECTURE ON MONDAY, NOVEMBER 19.
WEEK 13: WILDERNESS AND THE LAND ETHIC (78)
21 Nov: Public Parks and Pleasuring Grounds (guest lecture by Garrett Nelson)
22 Nov: THANKSGIVING
26 Nov: Wilderness and the Land Ethic
SECTION: Leopold, Sand County Almanac, 6-19, 127-9, 137-41, 237-95. (If you're using another edition, read essays entitled "Good Oak," "Red Legs Kicking," "Thinking Like a Mountain," and Part IV, "The Upshot").
WEEK 14: UNCERTAIN FUTURES (online reading)
28 Nov: Toxic Torts
3 Dec: Energy Crises
SECTION: Students will give oral reports on the most important findings from their place papers this week.
WEEK 15: DILEMMAS THAT DO NOT GO AWAY
5 Dec: Environmental Backlash
10 Dec: Climate Change: People Who Live in Glass Houses
12 Dec: That Which We Tame
SECTION: Looking back, summing up, and preparing for the final exam.
WRITING: Optional place paper revisions due by final section.
REVIEW SESSION FOR FINAL EXAM: MONDAY, DECEMBER 17, 7:00-8:30pm
FINAL EXAM: MONDAY, DECEMBER 19, 10:05am-12:05pm