American Environmental History

Dr. Mark Stoll

HH 135     742-3744
mark.stoll@ttu.edu     http://courses.ttu.edu/mstoll/
Office hours: Tuesday 11:00-1:00 and Thursday 8:30-9:30
and by appointment

Course Description

Environmental history is one of the most recent fields in history, and it is today one of the fastest growing around the world. 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 reading, seek out the book or article's key thesis (and be able to 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 (identifying "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 pageBook Review Digest is a more general but often useful resource that is available via the "Database" link on the library homepage. An excellent resource for older books is JSTOR.

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 6:00-7:50) critically assessing the core study. Following a 10-minute break, one student will present a summary and critique of a second, supplementary work (20-25 minutes). Then we will close with comparative comments and thoughts on research initiatives this discussion has opened up.

About half of the presentation should tell about the book and its contents, while the other half should deal with the book's context in the author's life and work and in its time period, and its greater significance. I highly recommend that students practice their presentations before class, to make sure that the presentation is strong and fits within the time allotted.

We start on January 9 with introductions to each other and to the course. Then on January 16 we will begin with the first book, by Jared Diamond. The number of presentations will depend on the number of students signed up: if less 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 write notes over the week's reading (not required of the second book, however). These notes should cover important contents and points each week's book makes, as well as many of the points mentioned above in connection with reading strategies. Add comments and arguments of your own as they occur to you during the reading. Students will then hand in a copy of their notes each week. Your notes are not a polished paper, but rather they demonstrate to me your understanding of and interaction with the text. Grading of the notes will be on that basis. Also, the notes do not need to be extensive or many pages long to do the job.

Book Paper

Each student will write one paper over one of the books 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 its reception, impact, and place in the literature of American environmental history. Students should consult reviews, secondary sources on the author or book, articles, and other secondary literature to construct this paper of 8 to 16 pages in length. The primary goal is the fullest possible expansion of the work's significance.

Use 12-point Times Roman or Times New Roman, double-spaced, with 1" margins all around, or 1-1/4" margins right and left, with page numbers in the margin. Do not add extra space between paragraphs. If your word-processing program does that automatically, adjust the Paragraph settings. Footnotes and bibliography should conform to Turabian standards. Turabian's Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations is widely available at most bookstores and in the reference section of libraries.

The book paper will be due in class THREE WEEKS AFTER YOUR PRESENTATION, or the last day of class, whichever comes first. Students may rewrite their papers for a better grade, if they so desire. Rewrites are due two weeks after the graded paper is returned, or on the last day of finals, whichever comes first.


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


Second Books (list to choose from on first day of class)

Course Schedule

Jan 19 Introduction
Jan 26 Michael Lewis, American Wilderness: A New History
Feb 2 Charles Mann, 1491
Feb 9 Jack Kirby, Mockingbird Song
Feb 16 Richard White, The Organic Machine
Feb 23 Martin V. Melosi, The Sanitary City: Urban Infrastructure in America from Colonial Times to the Present
Mar 2 Steven Stoll, Larding the Lean Earth: Soil and Society in Nineteenth Century America
Mar 9 Karl Jacoby, Crimes Against Nature
Mar 23 Robert W. Righter, The Battle Over Hetch Hetchy
Mar 30 Donald Worster, Dust Bowl
Apr 6 Neil M. Maher, Nature's New Deal
Apr 13 Adam Rome, Bulldozer in the Countryside
Apr 20 Eileen Maura McGurty, Transforming Environmentalism
Apr 27 John Soluri, Banana Cultures
May 4 Joachim Radkau, Nature and Power

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 Tuesday January 19, 2010 02:09 PM.