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.


HTML (optimized for viewing on screen, with active links)

PDF (optimized for printing)

Email Announcements Sent to Class List Server



Please note that for all handouts listed below, the HTML version is more attractive for onscreen viewing, complete with a relevant banner illustration on top, whereas the PDF version is much more densely packed and is designed to be printable on a single sheet of paper. 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.

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

Christopher Wells' website and video about Car Country

Kate Wersan's Tips for Reading Christopher Wells's Car Country PDF

Cronon Foreword, "Far More Than Just a Machine," for Christopher Wells's Car Country PDF

Handout #2: A Path Out of Town: Reading the Madison Landscape PDF HTML

Handout #3: The World That Coyote & Raven Made PDF HTML

Handout #4: Migration, Disease, & Death PDF HTML

Handout #5: Co-Invasion: Some Bigger Creatures PDF HTML

Handout #6: Selling Animals PDF HTML

Handout #7: A World of Fields and Fences PDF HTML

Handout #8: The Flow of the River PDF HTML

Handout #9: Mountain Gloom, Mountain Glory PDF HTML

Romanticism Readings PDF

Handout #10: The Machine in the Garden PDF HTML

von Thunen's Rings Handout PDF

Agricultural Time Series (Black and White) PDF

Agricultural Time Series (Color) PDF

Handout #11: Hunters and Hunted PDF HTML

Handout #12: Even the Oceans Fail PDF HTML

Handout #13: Archival Landscapes: An Introduction to Your Place Paper...and to UW-Madison Libraries PDF HTML

Handout #14: The Conservation Vision PDF HTML

Handout #15: Nurturing Nature: The Child in the Garden PDF HTML

Handout #16: Planning Against Disaster PDF HTML

Handout #17: Strategic Resources and the Population Bomb PDF HTML

Handout #18-19: Parks, Wilderness, and Leopold's Land Ethic PDF HTML

Handout #20: The Fallout of Silent Spring PDF HTML

Handout #21: Environmentalism Triumphant? PDF HTML

Handout #22: Regulation to the Rescue PDF HTML

Handout #23: Energy Crises PDF HTML

Handout #24: People Who Live in Glass Houses PDF HTML

Handout #25: Toxic Torts and Environmental Justice PDF HTML

Handout #26: Environmental Backlash PDF HTML

Handout #27: That Which We Tame PDF HTML

Place Paper Assignment

Description of the Place Paper assignment (excerpted from syllabus)

Collection of past students' Place Papers

Kelly King's Tips for Successful Place Papers. This handout was prepared by TA Kelly King to help students in her discussion sections in 2005, and I've decided to make it available again.

Tour Times for Wisconsin Historical Society and UW Archives:

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

Wednesday, 10/21, 4:00-5:00pm
Thursday, 10/22, 4:00-5:00pm
Monday, 10/26, 4:00-5:00pm
Tuesday, 10/27, 9:00-10:00am
Wednesday, 10/28, 4:00-5:00pm

UW-Madison Archives, 4th Floor, Steenbock Library, 550 Babcock Dr.:

Monday, 10/26, 4:00-5:00pm
Tuesday, 10/27, 12:00-1:00pm
Wednesday, 10/28, 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