American Environmental History

Dr. Mark Stoll

HH 135     742-1004 ext. 250
mark.stoll@ttu.edu     http://www2.tltc.ttu.edu/stoll
Office hours: Monday 11:00-1:00 and Friday 11:00-12:00
and by appointment

Course Description

This course is a graduate level introduction to significant scholarship in American environmental history, from the pre-colonial era to the present. We will meet for weekly discussions, focusing on historical interpretations, themes, and conceptualizations, with special attention to sources, argumentation, and methods employed in research and exposition. By the end of the semester you will have a solid foundation in the field.

Readings and Coursework

I have carefully selected readings to cover major themes in the American environmental historiography, to expose you to representative works of important scholars, and in sum to constitute a very good starter or reference library of environmental history for your bookshelf. Everyone will read all assigned works with care and critical attention, coming to class ready to engage in active discussion. In addition, you will be asked to write a short paper on ten of the fourteen core monographs. In reading, seek out the book or article's key thesis (and summarize it in a few sentences). Also, you should be alert to its structure and rhetoric, note the claims made for advances over previous studies (relationship to the "literature"), and sketch out the conceptual or theoretical apparatus employed (identify "keywords" and the ways they are employed). Finally, you should assess the work's evidentiary base, the scope and scale of the study within the context of the issues and events it addresses, and its relationship with other aspects of American history. Analysis of the book in this way prepares you for critical discussion and clear writing. Ideally you should each come to class with several questions written out for us to address as a group; I will have a sizable list of such questions as well, so we should have ample resources to work from.

Book reviews can aid the reading process. Look for them especially in such major journals as the Journal of American History, American Historical Review, Reviews in American History, and H-Net (Humanities Online), along with such specialized journals as Environmental History and Environment and History. You can access on-line and hardcopy indexes to journal articles at the library, and many of these journals are available through the Internet or the library Website, particularly through the databases America: History and Life and ArticleFirst. Go to top of page Book Review Digest is a more general but often useful resource that is available via the "Find Articles" link on the library homepage. On the same Webpage is a link to Go to top of pageBook Index with Reviews on a trial basis, which you might also try.

Class Organization

The structure of the course centers on a core book each week, fourteen monographs in all. Each week we will spend the first two-thirds of our time (roughly 3:00-4:40) critically assessing the core study. Following a 15-minute break, one student will present a summary and critique of a second, supplementary work that relates to the main book (20-25 minutes). Then we will close with comparative comments and thoughts on research initiatives this discussion has opened up.

We start on January 10 with introductions to each other and to the course. Then on January 17 we will begin with the first book. The number of presentations will depend on the number of students signed up for the course: if fewer than 7, each will do two; if more, each will do one. The total number of presentations then will vary. You will sign up for a second book on the first day of class.


Weekly Papers

To promote discussions of substance, each student will prepare each week a rough analysis of the major text or outline of how one should approach it, what questions one should ask of it, how it contributes to the historical literature, and so on. This rough analysis or outline should not be a polished paper, but should be enough of a position paper to guide your contributions to the discussion. Position papers will be collected at the end of each session.

All class members may take four "vacation days" from writing during the term. Simply hand in a sheet of paper with your name and "vacation day" typed on it, instead of the paper. You may well wish to correlate your days off with your presentation dates.

Book Paper

Each student will write one paper over the book he or she chose to present in class. The paper will discuss the book's main argument or purpose, its historical context, its author and his or her significance, and the its reception, impact, and place in the literature of nature and the environment. Students should consult reviews, biographies, articles, and other secondary literature to construct this paper of 12 to 16 pages in length. The primary goal is the fullest possible expansion of the work's significance.

Unless some disaster intervenes, I will return all papers at the next class session, with comments and grades. If the initial version of your paper is in need of substantial work to meet graduate level standards, I will return it to you with an "R" designation (for rewrite), then will grade the revised version when it is re-submitted the following week.


Grades for this course will be based 30% on your book paper, 40% on your weekly papers, 10% on your presentation, and 20% on the quality of your contributions to class discussion. For double presenters, the proportions will be 30, 30, 20, and 20.

Course Schedule

Jan 10 Introduction
Jan 17 Ted Steinberg, Down to Earth: Nature's Role in American History
Second book: William Bartram, Travels
Paul Coleman, presenter
Jan 24 Brian Donahue, The Great Meadow: Farmers and the Land in Colonial Concord
Second book: Henry David Thoreau, The Maine Woods
Justin McNamara, presenter
Jan 31 Andrew C. Isenberg, The Destruction of the Bison: An Environmental History, 1750-1920
Second book: George Perkins Marsh, Man and Nature
Feb 7 Aaron Sachs, The Humboldt Current: 19th Century Exploration and the Sources of American Environmentalism
Second book: John Muir, The Mountains of California; or The Yosemite; or Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf; or My First Summer in the Sierra; or Steep Trails
Amanda Owens, presenter
Feb 14 Susan R. Schrepfer, Nature's Altars: Mountains, Gender, and American Environmentalism
Second book: Mary Austin, Land of Little Rain
Nicky Kalina, presenter
Feb 21 Donald Worster, Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s
Second book: Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
Tom Fedeli, presenter
Feb 28 Barbara L. Allen, Uneasy Alchemy: Citizens and Experts in Louisiana's Chemical Corridor Disputes
Second book: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
Tom Fedeli, presenter
Mar 7 Michael Lewis, ed., American Wilderness: A New History
Second book: Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
Justin McNamara, presenter
Mar 21 Linda Nash, Inescapable Ecologies: A History of Environment, Disease, and Knowledge
Second book: Paul Ehrlich, Population Bomb
Nicky Kalina, presenter
Mar 28 Dianne D. Glave and Mark Stoll, eds., "To Love the Wind and the Rain": African Americans and Environmental History
Second book: Barry Commoner, Closing Circle
Amanda Owens, presenter
Apr 4 Craig E. Colten, An Unnatural Metropolis: Wresting New Orleans From Nature
Second book: Bill McKibben, The End of Nature
Paul Coleman, presenter
Apr 11 Ted Steinberg, American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn
Second book: Michael Pollard, Second Nature
Aaron Riley, presenter
Apr 18 Janisse Ray, Ecology of a Cracker Childhood
Second book: Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge
Aaron Riley, presenter
Apr 25 Book Paper due

Americans With Disabilities Act: Any student who, because of a disabling condition, may require some special arrangements in order to meet course requirements should contact the instructor as soon as possible to make necessary accommodations. Students should present appropriate verification for Disabled Students Services, Dean of Students Office.

The professor reserves the right to change this syllabus at his discretion. Changes will be announced in class and posted at the Web address listed above.

This page was last updated on Thursday October 25, 2007 02:27 PM.