American Environmental History

Dr. Mark Stoll

HH 135     742-3744
mark.stoll@ttu.edu     http://courses.ttu.edu/mstoll/
Office hours: Tuesday 8:30-9:30 and Thursday 11:00-1:00
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 recent 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 JSTOR, 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 "Electronic Resources" link on the library homepage (select "Find Databases" from the dropdown menu).

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 3:00-4:50) 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.

We start on January 17 with introductions to each other and to the course. Then on January 24 we will begin with the first book, by Mark Fiege. You will sign up for a second book on the first day of class.


Weekly Notes

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. Aim to make them a good resource for future reference for such purposes as papers or comprehensive exams.

Very importantly, add comments of your own as they occur to you during the reading. Set them off in some obvious manner (e.g., with an asterisk or in a different font, or in some other way). These comments can be of any sort of thing that occurs to you, such as comments, connections to other things you've read in this or other classes, disagreements with the author, or other thoughts that the text may inspire. Students will 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. Also, the notes do not need to be extensive or many pages long to do the job.

Grading of the notes will be on the following basis:
A: Good, complete, useful notes, with comments
B: Good notes, but unsatisfactory or missing comments
C: Poor or incomplete notes


Students will write two historiographical-type papers over the books read together and those presented to class. The papers will discuss selected books and bring out their themes, evidence, strengths, weaknesses, and so forth, and analyze ways they complement, conflict with, or advance over each other. The papers are due in class after Spring Break and in my office by 5:00 on the last day of finals.

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 are not required, but if used, must 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.

Graduate-level writing should have no major problems in grammar and punctuation. If you suspect your paper is weak in those areas, I strongly encourage you to ask for help from the University Writing Center, which can either help you online or in person.


Students will select one book on the first day of class to present to the class. A presentation should inform the rest of the class about the book's thesis, argument, evidence, impact, and significance. No great research is necessary, but reference to book reviews, historiographies, and similar works would be necessary to gauge the full importance of a work. The purpose of these presentations is to acquaint the class well enough with works of foundational literature familiar that they could discuss them intelligently in a paper. I highly recommend that students practice their presentations before class, to make sure that the presentation is strong and fits within the time allotted. The class would be expected to take notes over the presentations.

Grading of presentations will be on the basis of the cogency and clarity of the presentation as well as coverage of the main points mentioned above. Presentations that run longer than 25 minutes will be docked a letter grade.


Grades for this course will be based 40% on your papers, 30% on your notes, 10% on your presentation, and 20% on your contributions to class discussion.


  1. Mark Fiege, Republic of Nature
  2. Charles Mann, 1493
  3. John R. McNeill, Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620-1914
  4. Virginia DeJohn Anderson, Creatures of Empire: How Domestic Animals Transformed Early America
  5. Laura Dassow Walls, The Passage to Cosmos: Alexander Von Humboldt and the Shaping of America
  6. David Stradling, Making Mountains: New York City and the Catskills
  7. Paul S. Sutter, Driven Wild: How the Fight against Automobiles Launched the Modern Wilderness Movement
  8. Duncan Maysilles, Ducktown Smoke: The Fight Over One of the South's Greatest Environmental Disasters
  9. Thomas G. Andrews, Killing for Coal: America's Deadliest Labor War
  10. Jill Lindsey Harrison, Pesticide Drift and the Pursuit of Environmental Justice
  11. David A. Biggs, Quagmire: Nation-Building and Nature in the Mekong Delta
  12. Char Miller, ed., Cities and Nature in the American West
  13. Susanne Freidberg, Fresh: A Perishable History
  14. Theodore Steinberg, Acts of God: The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America. 2nd ed.

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

Course Schedule

Jan 17 Introduction
Jan 24 Mark Fiege, Republic of Nature
Jan 31 Charles Mann, 1493
Feb 7 John R. McNeill, Mosquito Empires
Feb 14 Virginia DeJohn Anderson, Creatures of Empire
Russ Hambright: William Cronon, Changes in the Land
Feb 21 Laura Dassow Walls, The Passage to Cosmos
Caleb Crow: Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind
Feb 28 David Stradling, Making Mountains
James Vice: Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature
Mar 7 Paul S. Sutter, Driven Wild
Becky Bonine: Alfred Crosby, Ecological Imperialism
Mar 21 Duncan Maysilles, Ducktown Smoke
Paper 1 due
Mar 28 Thomas G. Andrews, Killing for Coal
Apr 4 Jill Lindsey Harrison, Pesticide Drift and the Pursuit of Environmental Justice
Heather Botello: Joel Tarr, The Search for the Ultimate Sink
Apr 11 Theodore Steinberg, Acts of God
Hai Nguyen: Mart Stewart, "What Nature Suffers to Groe"
Apr 18 David A. Biggs, Quagmire
Katelin Farquhar: Donald Worster, Dust Bowl
Apr 25 Char Miller, ed., Cities and Nature in the American West
Sean Webb: Richard White, The Organic Machine
May 2 Susanne Freidberg, Fresh: A Perishable History
David Scherer: Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert
May 14 Paper 2 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 April 04, 2013 11:34 AM.