History, Geography, and Environmental Studies 460
American Environmental History

Environmental history studies the changing relationships between human beings and the natural world through time—probably a very different approach to history from what you studied in high school. Despite being numbered at the 400-level, this course is intended as an introduction to this exciting and still relatively unfamiliar field of scholarship, with no prerequisites. It assumes little or no background knowledge of 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 essential if one hopes to understand contemporary environmental issues.


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Lecture Handouts:

These handouts typically become available at least a few days before a lecture is delivered, though occasionally they may get revised very close to the time of the actual lecture. You may find it helpful to print out these notes before coming to lecture to be able to add your annotations to them while listening to lecture.

Handout #1: Ghost Landscapes: Getting Started with Environmental History HTML

Handout #2: The World That Coyote and Raven Made HTML

Handout #3: Migration, Disease, and Death HTML

Handout #4: Co-Invasion HTML

Handout #5: Selling Animals HTML

Handout #6: A World of Fields and Fences HTML

Thoreau's Journal Entry for January 24, 1855 HTML

Handout #7: Mountain Gloom, Mountain Glory HTML

Romanticism Readings PDF

Handout #8: The Flow of the River: Urban-Industrial Revolutions HTML

Handout #9: The Machine in the Garden HTML

von Thunen's Rings Handout PDF

Agricultural Time Series (Grayscale) PDF

Agricultural Time Series (Color) PDF

Handout #10: Hunters and Hunted HTML

Handout #11: Even the Oceans Fail HTML

Handout #12: The Conservation Vision HTML

Handout #13: Nurturing Nature: The Child in the Garden HTML

Handout #14: Planning Against Disaster HTML

Handout #15: Strategic Resources and the Population Bomb HTML

Handout #16-17: Parks, Wilderness, and the Land Ethic HTML

Handout #18: The Fallout of Silent Spring HTML

Handout #19: Environmentalism Triumphant? HTML

Handout #20: Regulation to the Rescue HTML

Handout #21: Energy Crises HTML

Handout #22: Toxic Torts and Environmental Justice HTML

Handout #23: Environmental Backlash HTML

Handout #24: People Who Live in Glass Houses HTML

Handout #25: That Which We Tame HTML

First Paper Assignment:

Francis Higginson's "A Catalogue of Such Needful Things as Every Planter Doth or Ought to Provide to Go to New England" (1630): PDF

Tour Times for Wisconsin Historical Society:

Wisconsin Historical Society, 816 State St. (across street from Humanities Building; meet on first floor):

Wednesday, 18 Oct, 4:00-5:00pm
Thursday, 19 Oct, 4:00-5:00pm
Monday, 23 Oct, 4:00-5:00pm
Tuesday, 24 Oct, 9:00-10:00am
Wednesday, 25 Oct, 4:00-5:00pm

Other Resources:

Essay: William Cronon, "Kennecott Journey: The Paths out of Town," in Wiliam Cronon, George Miles, Jay Gitlin, eds., Under an Open Sky: Rethinking America's Western Past (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1992), 28-51. PDF

Sample Midterm Exam Essay Questions, Fall 2015

  • Midterm Exam PDF
  • Sample Answer #1 to Question #1 PDF
  • Sample Answer #2 to Question #1 PDF
  • Sample Answer to Question #2 PDF
  • Sample Answer to Question #3 PDF