American Environmental History: People on the Land
Taos Pueblo, beneath the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, New Mexico.

What do we value in our nation?

money tree
bookSyllabus – on line – digger
Stieglitz, upstate New York; photograph, 1922.


J. V. Siry, Ph.D.

Time: Noon, Monday, & Wednesday. Bush – 208



Roosevelt and Muir

President Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir in Yosemite Valley National Park, 1903.


SYLLABUS for ENV–380.01: American Environmental History

"Busy as we are from childhood
tilling Mother Earth, we peasants have no time to let any nonsense
settle in our heads. Our only trouble is that we haven't land
enough. If I had plenty of land, I shouldn't fear the Devil himself!"

Leo Tolstoy, "How Much Land Does a Man Need?"

Connectict River

The Connecticut River.
Spring, 2015
Location: Bush Science Center, Room 208
Class Meeting time is Mon.-Wed., 12:00 PM – 1:15 PM

learn Instructor: Joseph V. Siry, Ph.D. Office: Beale 105, e-mail joseph vincent siry, 407.646.2648

Office Hours: Mon. & Wed. 2:00 PM-4:00 PM, Tues. 12:30 PM-2:30 PM, + by appointment.

Grading: Letter grade based on close reading, writing, & assignments. 4 credit hours, CRN 10172.

I. Rationale:

The current situation of how human settlements alter their surroundings is a point of departure for environmental history. Environmental history is the study over time of human interaction with the natural world. Complementary to other historical disciplines, it emphasizes the active ecological role nature plays in influencing social and economic affairs. Environmental historians study how humans both shape their environment and are shaped by conditions; especially land and water.

II. Course Aims and Outcomes:


To think critically from the perspectives of ecology and history by demonstrating examples of how national movements for land acquisition lead to the development of conservation of natural resources and the spread of twentieth century environmental protection policies.

Specific Learning Outcomes:

Student Learning Outcomes for American Environmental History are in the cognitive domain.
By the end of this course, students will demonstrate proficiency in six or more of these areas.

1. Active participants should verbally demonstrate and explain in writing the origins, deployment, and extent of the United States land survey system of 1785.

2. Verbally present from a prepared script artistic and photographic portrayals of our national land-use patterns or landscape changes across time.

3. Active participants should explain an analogy in writing portraying the specific qualities of settlement patterns including, urbanization, agriculture, or use of natural resources.

4. Demonstrate in writing defining qualities of different values in America with respect to the ecological measures of land, air, and water resources.

5. Explain verbally and in writing by analyzing the clash between preservation and conservation with examples, from significantly different sources.

6. Delineate in writing contingent concepts related to the contrasting and cumulative impacts of suburbanization on land-use and land-use changes in the twentieth century.

7. Place in chronological order at least a dozen more significant events and people that reveal growing concerns for protecting national lands, waters, forests, & wildlife from 1800 to 1980.

8. Accurately articulate in writing Henry David Thoreau's significance to the development of the arts and sciences with respect to American thought and attitudes about land.

The study of America's natural environment in the past, in retrospect, is a story about land-use and land use changes created by the needs of a people to thrive and not merely survive. To comprehend the enduring character of how generations of Americans sustained their changing social needs this course examines the cultural and natural resources as embodied in land to better recognize the crossroads whereat we now stand.

As Elizabeth Ann R. Bird has said "From [environmental] histories we can infer the modes of thought and behavior that are more likely than others to be detrimental to the environment we want to live in. A primary element of such histories should be the social analysis of scientific knowledge construction, because many technologies that are science-based cause so many environmental problems."

Elizabeth Ann R. Bird, "The Social Construction of Nature: Theoretical Approaches to the History of Environmental Problems," Environmental Review 11, no. 4 (Winter 1987): 255-264, quotation on p. 255.

We read in order to actively discuss and examine the ideas shaping our national character as portrayed by authors: Crosby, Pursell, Worster, Emerson, Thoreau, Austin, & Bates. We do so in order to use written discourse to delineate, explain, & judge competing beliefs of wealth that altered attitudes towards resources.

Each of these writers has proposed important foundations for ecological history.
But students may demonstrate their understanding of these writings by an ability to clearly distinguish the contrasting and complementary qualities of movements for the protection of rivers, wildlife, or scenic protection as they emerged in the nation's past.

III. Grades:

All assignments are graded with careful attention to each of these criteria: {CLIFS}

C clarity, coherent conceptual focus, spelling, grammar & logical consistency.
L length & development of your arguments, evidence, ideas, or presentations.
I information on facts from the class texts, library research, or interviews.
F frequency of examples or substantiation from texts, lectures, notes & readings.
S subjects developed as argued in a thesis, introduction, summaries, & conclusion.

learn Students in passing the course are expected to demonstrate six of the learning outcomes in their submissions.

  1. Participation in every class by presenting text based passages & questions 20%
  2. Frequent posting (weekly) to the class wiki [150 words minimum] 15%
  3. Three open-book exams ( Siry, Egan, & Rome texts ) 30%
  4. An Essay (drafted submitted & redrafted) on protecting ecosystems. 25%
  5. Verbal, rehearsed & formal presentation based on the final essay. 10%

IV. My Assumptions, Format and Procedures:

As your instructor, I want to communicate personal assumptions and/or biases regarding the course content for you, the participating students, to know up front because your comprehension is crucial to my success.

I am here to entice, excite, & encourage your imagination and capacities to excel in learning new concepts and practicing your writing and speaking abilities in efforts to generate meaningful discourse. My purpose is to support your inquiring intellect with significant concepts in a coherent and challenging manner. I anticipate you will ask probing questions so we all actively work together to overcome the challenges the course material may pose for you in achieving superb performance levels based on all of the readings.

Active learning.
Keep in mind that participation in this course involves not only alertness and verbally contributing your ideas, but also listening respectfully without interrupting other speakers who proffer their views on the assigned texts. Paying attention to others and to me is a sign of respect that I will reward. The use of electronic media, texting, or web browsing for other than class purposes is rude since texting, internet surfing, e-mailing, or being digitally inattentive to our discussion during class meetings robs us of your contributions to our discourse and counts as an absence. You may regularly contribute verbally your analyses to enrich our class discussions. I do not tolerate side conversations during class time when other people are already speaking. I reserve the right to guide us back to the author's meaning from the readings assigned for that session. My hopes are that serious participants exceed the customary habits of arriving promptly to class having read the assigned texts for that meeting day by discussing concepts arising from these readings. I expect you may consistently share passages, questions, or insights from the authors when so motivated on the Wiki site.

Punctuality and late papers.
Do submit all course work on the day the assigned work is due. Late papers cannot earn the same credit as those received on time in fairness to the punctual students. This is really because we discuss what you have written in the class the day the essays are due. Try to plan ahead, always start at least 2 weeks before papers are due, back-up your work as you write, and keep a printed copy of all notes & drafts.

Paper format.
The look of any graduate school paper is always professional with an accurate date and page numbers indicating when the document was completed. I ask you to place a cover page with your name, phone number, essay title and an abstract of two to three sentences covering the substance of your essay for purposes of privacy because I make extensive comments on your work. Spelling & grammar errors are unacceptable. The format for the papers should be typed, double-spaced, 12 point sized in Arial or Times fonts. All papers are to have a maximum of one-inch margins & a minimum of 22 lines per page.

Formal papers.
All essays have a title based on the paper's contents and clearly marked page numbers [preferably in the upper right hand corner of the pages]. The cover page should have: your full name, phone number, and the date this draft was completed. Do separate the text from a page listing of the literature cited and any notes figures, or graphs you use. Ms. Robertshaw in the Olin Library Writing Center can provide you with a copy of Instructions for Authors. Endnotes or footnotes are preferred rather than the use of parenthesis with author, date, and pages. A final, revised and corrected, essay paper for the term is due on or before April 27, 2015. You submit a draft for my comments no later than April 6. I anticipate that the best parts of your writings and papers will be shared or verbally presented in class and parts will be posted on the Wiki.

V. Course Requirements:

learn 1. Class attendance and participation policy is based on you and the importance of your personal contributions during class and outside of class by posting your responses to class discussion on the course wiki. I often begin the class with a prompt based on the assigned reading for that day. I ask you to write about that prompt in order to record your response to the author's ideas. Response to my e-mails is part of this policy. During class I pass around an attendance sheet (which I tally up at the need of the term to determine the frequency of your accurate responses to a question I pose on the sheet). On that page you are asked a question about the readings for that session and you have the opportunity to answer the enquiry.

learn 2. Course readings:

(a) Required Texts:

Marshes of the Ocean Shore, Joseph V. Siry
Land of Little Rain, Mary Austin
The Worst Hard Times, Timothy Egan
The Bulldozer in the Countryside, Adam Rome

The use of these texts in a final essay should demonstrate verbally and in writing concepts based on analysis of the challenges posed by the dust bowl to agrarian values and suburbanization to ecological measures of impact on land and water resources.

(b) Background readings, course readings available on line:
In addition to three open book examinations, students will contrast verbally and in writing the different descriptions of Ralph Waldo Emerson in New England and W. E. B. Dubois of the Georgia Black belt with respect to the agricultural use of land, when beginning Egan's Dust Bowl book .

learn 3. Assignments book

(a) The pictorial analysis. What are the minimum requirements? Select a series of paintings or photographs we have used in class and compare them to photographs or paintings you research:

(1) Create a storyboard with chronological sequencing of one portrayal to the next.

(2) Interpret the material used by describing the scene, tie that to ideas in the text, & convey the changes that occurred speculating on the impacts of land-use based on the readings.

(b) Essay – In writing and revising this paper based on all of the authors, you should pay particular attention to the development of ecological understanding of land and water protection in the rise of conservation. Use all of the authors to convey what you think triggered and sustained the preservation and conservation movements that led to environmental protection today.

(c) Three open-book and open note exams are based on the required texts: Siry, Egan & Rome.

Calendar please go here or check the Blackboard™ syllabus copy.

VI. Grading Procedures: Grades are earned based on the work you submit expressing comprehension of land-use from the books by use of multiple examples & especially contrasting one author's ideas with the others.

(best) 90-91-92 A- 93-94-95-96 A  
(better) 80-81-82 B- 83-84-85-86 B 87-88-89 B+
(average) 70-71-72 C- 73-74-75-76 C 77-78-79 C+
(deficient) 60-61-62 D- 63-64-64-66 D 67-68-69 D+
(unacceptable) 59 & lower Failure  

The quality of your writing grades is based on a rubric that is posted on Blackboard™ for you to review before you submit a paper. I count the number of references and frequency of citations in all of your papers.

The quality of your class participation grade is derived daily from your particular references to the texts when speaking. By reading or referring to extensive passages in the books, or to information from use of the class web site or wiki, you may improve your participation grade for the days you are in class. The goal here is for you to practice verbal communication skills in order to inform yourself and others of a book's meanings.

VII. Academic accountability, honesty, and writing with integrity.

Cheating, borrowing ideas, or copying without proper citation diminishes the integrity of any writing. The habitual resort to these less than responsible practices amounts to plagiarism–a most serious academic offense of novices and experts alike. By the use of words or ideas that are not your own and are insufficiently accredited, or not acknowledged at all, you undermine an essay’s reliability. The consequences are that you can fail that project, or even fail the class, since these offenses are a violation of the College’s honor code. As such, I am obliged to report such violations to the Dean.

Each student in this course is expected to abide by the Rollins College Academic Integrity, Honor Code. Any work submitted by a student in this course for academic credit will be the student's own work. [Optional: For this course, collaboration is allowed in the following instances: study groups & wiki posting.] You are encouraged to study together and to discuss information and concepts covered in lecture and the sections with other students. You can give "consulting" help to or receive "consulting" help from such students. However, this permissible cooperation should never involve one student having possession of a copy of all or part of work done by someone else, in the form of an e-mail, an e-mail attachment file, a diskette, or a hard copy. All help must be stated in writing on any submissions to the instructor.

During examinations, you must do your own work. Talking or discussion is not permitted during the examinations, nor may you compare papers, copy from others, or collaborate in any way. Any collaborative behavior during the examinations will result in failure of the exam, and may lead to failure of the course and disciplinary action. Should copying occur, both the student who copied work from another student and the student who gave material to be copied may both automatically receive a zero for that particular assignment.

A student signature on the following pledge is a binding commitment by the student that lasts for his or her entire tenure at Rollins College: The development of the virtues of Honor and Integrity are integral to a Rollins College education and to membership in the Rollins College community. Therefore, I, a student of Rollins College, pledge to show my commitment to these virtues by abstaining from any lying, cheating, or plagiarism in my academic endeavors and by behaving responsibly, respectfully and honorably in my social life and in my relationships with others. This pledge is reinforced every time a student submits work for academic credit as his/her own. Students shall add to the paper, quiz, test, lab report, etc., the handwritten signed statement

"On my honor, I have not given, nor received, nor witnessed any unauthorized assistance on this work."

VIII. Accommodations: A statement about accommodating students with significant concerns.

Rollins College is committed to equal access and does not discriminate unlawfully against persons with disabilities in its policies, procedures, programs or employment processes. The College recognizes its obligations under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 to provide an environment that does not discriminate against persons with disabilities.
If you are a person with a disability on this campus and anticipate needing any type of academic/medical accommodations in order to participate in your classes, make timely arrangements by disclosing this disability in writing to the Disability Services Office at (Box 2772)–Mills Building, 1000 Holt Ave., Winter Park, FL, 32789. Schedule appointments by calling 407-646-2354 or by emailing:

IX. Inclusivity Statement
We understand that our members represent a rich variety of backgrounds and perspectives. The Environmental Studies department and the Science Division are committed to providing an atmosphere for learning that respects diversity. While working together to build this community we ask all members to:
• Share their unique experiences, values, and beliefs.
• Be open to and respect the views of others.
• Honor the uniqueness of their colleagues.
• Appreciate the opportunity that we have to learn from each other in this community.
• Value each other’s opinions and communicate in a respectful manner.
• Keep confidential discussions that the community has of a personal (or professional) nature.
• Use this class opportunity together to discuss ways in which we can create an inclusive environment in this course and across the Rollins community.

X. Calendar of readings and assignments

learn How is environmental history important to comprehending change on this planet?

Additional resource readings on history, education, and ecology to answer that question.

Bates, Marston (1960). The Forest and the Sea.
Bookchin, Murray, (1982). The Ecology of Freedom.
Capra, Fritjof. (1999). The Web of Life.
Carson, Rachel (1962). Silent Spring.
Christianson, Gale. (1999) . Greenhouse.
Crosby, A . (1986). Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900. 
Crosby, Alfred. (1992). Germs Seeds and Animals: Studies in Ecological History.
Dewey, John. (1938). Experience and Education. Collier Books.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. (1836). Nature.
Hardin, Garrett. (1978). Filters Against Folly.
Huth, Hans. (1957). Nature and the America: Three Centuries of Changing Attitudes.
Krebs, Charles K. (1988). The Message of Ecology.
McHarg, Ian. (1968).  Design with Nature.
Marx, Leo. (1964). The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal.
Merchant, Carolyn. (1999). Problems in American Environmental History.
Mumford, Lewis. (1931). The Brown Decades.
Nash, Roderick Fraser. (1968). American Environment: Readings in the History of Conservation. 
Orr, David. (1991). Ecological Literacy.
Petulla, Joseph. (1982). American Environmentalism.
Pursell, Carroll. (1995). The Machine in America.
Reisner, Marc. (1986) Cadillac Desert.
Thoreau, Henry David. (1862). "Walking."
Williams, Terry Tempest. (2008). The Open Space of Democracy.
Worster, Donald (1977). Natures Economy: The Roots of Ecology.
Worster, Donald. ( 1979). Dust Bowl.
Worster, Donald (1992). Rivers of Empire.


subjects related to landscapes

America's frontier landscape heritage

technical images | photographs from around the world | gallery | more photographs | picture archive


Technology index learn landscape index learn words index learn social science index learn photograph index learn Darwin Index


learning | Readings | Research | Final exam question | maps | weekly | Begin


Search this site