Nature and History in America

Dr. Mark Stoll

HH 135
mark.stoll@ttu.edu   http://www.markstoll.net 
Office hours: Tuesday and Thursday 9:00-10:30
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 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 Databases A-Z link or 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 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.

We start on January 26 with introductions to each other and to the course. Then on February 2 we will begin with the first book, by Roderick Nash. 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; 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. Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind, 5th ed.
  2. Finis Dunaway, Natural Visions: The Power of Images in American Environmental Reform
  3. Adam Rome, The Genius of Earth Day: How a 1970 Teach-in Unexpectedly Made the First Green Generation
  4. Brian Allen Drake, Loving Nature, Fearing the State: Environmentalism and Antigovernment Politics Before Reagan
  5. Mark Stoll, Inherit the Holy Mountain: Religion and the Rise of Environmentalism
  6. Christopher Morris, The Big Muddy: An Environmental History of the Mississippi and Its Peoples from Hernando De Soto to Hurricane Katrina
  7. Kenna Lang Archer, Unruly Waters: A Social and Environmental History of the Brazos River
  8. Brian Allen Drake, ed., The Blue, the Gray, and the Green: Toward an Environmental History of the Civil War
  9. Nancy C. Unger, Beyond Nature's Housekeepers: American Women in Environmental History
  10. Cecilia Gowdy-Wygant, Cultivating Victory: The Women's Land Army and the Victory Garden Movement
  11. William Cronon, Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West
  12. Ellen Griffith Spears, Baptized in PCBs: Race, Pollution, and Justice in an All-American Town
  13. Kendra Smith-Howard, Pure and Modern Milk: An Environmental History since 1900
  14. Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming

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

Course Schedule

Jan 26 Introduction
Feb 2 Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind, 5th ed.
Feb 9 Finis Dunaway, Natural Visions
Feb 16 Adam Rome, The Genius of Earth Day
Feb 23 Brian Allen Drake, Loving Nature, Fearing the State
Second book:
Duncan Knox: Cotton Mather, The Christian Philosopher
Mar 1 Mark Stoll, Inherit the Holy Mountain
Second book:
Katherine Holt:
William Bartram, Travels
Mar 8 Christopher Morris, The Big Muddy
Mar 22 Kenna Lang Archer, Unruly Waters
Second book:
Keith Huffaker: John Burroughs, Signs and Seasons
Mar 29 Brian Allen Drake, ed., The Blue, the Gray, and the Green
Second book:
Emily Jackson: John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra
Paper 1 due
Apr 5 Nancy C. Unger, Beyond Nature's Housekeepers
Second book:
Aren Dobbs: Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac
Apr 12 Cecilia Gowdy-Wygant, Cultivating Victory
Second book:
Juan Vela: Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities
Apr 19 William Cronon, Nature's Metropolis
Second book:
Nam Giang: Rachel Carson, Silent Spring
Apr 26 Ellen Griffith Spears, Baptized in PCBs
Second book:
James Vice: Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
May 3 Kendra Smith-Howard, Pure and Modern Milk
Second book:
Brett Jordan: Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture
May 10 Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, Merchants of Doubt
Second book: Luke Morgan: Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma
May 17 Paper 2 due

Note: Any student who intends to observe a religious holy day should make that intention known to the instructor prior to the absence.  A student who is absent from class for the observance of a religious holy day shall be allowed to take an examination or complete an assignment scheduled for that day within a reasonable time after the absence.  See University Standard Operating Procedure 34.19.
Note: Any student who, because of a disability, may require special arrangements in order to meet the course requirements should contact the instructor as soon as possible to make any necessary arrangements. Students should present appropriate verification from Student Disability Services during the instructor's office hours. Please note: instructors are not allowed to provide classroom accommodations to a student until appropriate verification from Student Disability Services has been provided. For additional information, please contact Student Disability Services in West Hall or call 806-742-2405.

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 March 03, 2016 08:50 PM.