Calendar for American Environmental History

Cole westward
Niagara Falls, by F. Church, Oil on Canvas, American 19th century. Westward the Course of Empire, by Currier & Ives lithograph, American 19th century.

American Environmental History

The American experience is misunderstood. Instead of a heroic, bullshit history –filled with crap–, American history is more like a a varied quilt, if not a perfected tapestry of designs, because the quilt pattern was born of different ethnic people and their need to settle a physiographically diverse, challenging and not-well-understood continent, by settlers of an explicitly different ethnic ancestry, who inhabited often distant outposts, and were not well connected to new trading posts linking them to the commercial networks of Europe, Asia, and Africa.

As the landscape was settled, the terrain was transformed. Land, air, and water were all converted to commercial advantage by extractive, industrial, transportation or residential uses. Wildlife, fisheries and and non-game species were affected by grazing, timber, and plantation agriculture, in addition to settlements. From this transformation a new set of perceptions, ideologies and values arose that led to preservation, conservation and protection of the health and ecology of the nation.

This course is about that story of conquest, dispossession, scenic monumentalism, commercial use, and regeneration of our cultural geography.

Thomas Cole

Thomas Cole, 1827, The White Mountains, New Hampshire: an indication of the national identification and fascination with land and its features.

Environmental History is the study of how settlements –especially land use – alter ecological conditions and how those changes influence each era’s ideas about nature with respect to responsible resource use from one period to the next.


American Environmental history on-line

Joseph Vincent Siry, Ph.D.,
U.C. Santa Barbara. Emory University. & Washington & Lee University.

Office: Beale Building –Park Ave. side– room 105.

Web site: 

Siry Schedule

The terms of the syllabus are subject to changes announced in class.

  Search this website here.


Calendar of this course ENV-380.01

Search here:


construct Under development

August | September | October | November | December



Tentative Course Schedule [requires students to keep a (wiki) journal]: 
(May change to accommodate guest presenters & participating students' needs)
Dates     topics                                         readings                                                     assignments                                             
23            Voices of the past; voices from your past?
25                                                Crosby, Germs, Seeds, & Animals -- selection

See this page for the week's notes.
1                                                   Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folks, Chapter 7.  Questions, see: Souls
3                                                   Emerson, Nature.
8                                                   Siry, pp. 3-33, Pursell, pp.
10            Comparing five points of view to your own:
15                                                Siry, pp. 34-82
17            Legacy of the Naturalists compared to the pioneers on the frontier
22                                                Siry, pp. 83-156
24            The Emergence of Science
29                                                Siry, pp. 157-191
1               The consequences of ecology: a contingent and synthetic science                                   
6                         Reports                         
8                                 Fall break, no class.
13                                                Egan, pp. xi - 58
15            Settling the high frontier

20                                                Egan, pp. 59-135
22            Learning lessons about land.
27                                                Egan, pp. 136-197
29            The Consequences of misfortune and climate.
3                                                   Egan, pp. 198-272
5               What were the causes of this dust bowl?
10                                                Egan, pp. 273-314
12            What conservation measures were developed to deal with the problem?

17                                                Rome, pp. 1-118
19            How did several different factors contribute to the urban revolution to suburbia?

24                                                Rome, pp. 119-188: What defines suburbia?
26            Thanksgiving break, no class.

1                                                   Rome, 189-270.
3               reports

Final Exam is Tuesday, December 8 @ 8-10 a.m. See–


Environment in the past–meaning the ecology, geography, and hydrology of our nation and its settlement–involves a most challenging of all historical policy subjects. For learners seeking lively challenges, studying America’s biota and land use may be a fulfilling inquiry because you will learn about our common natural and cultural heritage that informs today’s arguments over protection and use. Working together in this course we examine the subject's several layers by focusing specifically on questions that environmental history raises about the character of biomes, the relationship among nature, ethnic minorities on the land, and the moral imagination required to understand our place in the alterations of America’s landscapes, wildlife, watersheds, and economic geography.


We will also analyze the arguments presented by some of the nation’s most thought provoking authors, including Mary Austin, Rachel Carson, Donald Worster, and Henry David Thoreau.


calendar | requirements | competencies | texts | policies | grades

The course is designed for students to practice writing, so you need to arrive in class with four to six questions having read the assignments before our meeting so able to discuss our texts that you pose arguments the assigned readings raised. More practically, participants will have opportunities to hone their skills in reading analytically, in expressing your ideas verbally in a supportive setting, and in articulating your ideas in writing as we all learn throughout the term. Especially in our class, I would wish, now and again, you will experience the delight and enjoyment of being so stirred by the power of ideas and well-stated prose as to stimulate your spirits, to amend your behavior, or nourish your more curious sensibilities, and even move you to responsibly act as a means to improve our world.





           Mary Austin,                Land of Little Rain

           Joseph Siry,                 Marshes of the Ocean Shore (outline to use also )

           Timothy Egan,             The Worst Hard Times

           Adam Rome,               Bulldozer in the Countryside


Some other authors (Carson, Galbraith, Leopold, Reisner) e-mail & website as assigned:

Emerson, Nature, Emerson II, Olmsted, Siry III, Worster, Merchant, Leopold II, Egan, Rome

        Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience, The Thoreau Reader (on-line sources)

The Owen's Valley Aqueduct from Bishop to Los Angeles, California.


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

            1. C      clarity, conceptual coherence, spelling, grammar & logical consistency

            2. L      length & development of your arguments, evidence, examples, or presentations

            3. I       informative value from the class discussions, texts, library research, or interviews

            4. F      frequency of illustrations from the web site, lectures, journals, notes & readings

            5. S      subjects advanced as argued in a thesis, introduction, summaries, & conclusion.

Grading scale | Essay grading criteria 

Course focus––"What natural and cultural resources are worth protecting in America for the future?"

The names and phone numbers of two other students in the class:


1. _______________________________  2. _______________________________


My policies:

Further Explanation of readings

What is environmental history and what are some of the sources to consider?


Opening Song Joni Mitchell: "Big Yellow Taxi," Lyrics: see


Aaron Copland, Applachian Spring

Primary Document

William Byrd, A History of the Dividing Line

Mary Austin, Land of Little Rain

John Kenneth Galbraith, The Great Crash


Secondary documents

Alfred Crosby: Germs, Seeds and Animals: Ecological History

Siry, Marshes of the Ocean Shore (terms defined)

Siry on the

  1. Frontier,
  2. Hamilton & Jefferson's two headed legacy.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Nature" (1836)

Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience (1849)

Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. Journey ... Seaboard Slave States

FL0 go here for excerpts see there.

George Perkins Marsh, Man and Nature, (1864)

Lewis Mumford , On land and landscape

Reisner, Cadillac Desert

The Public Trust, Land Realism & Geographical Regeneration


Timothy Egan, The Worst Hard Times

Adam Rome, Bulldozer in the Countryside

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

Merchant | Worster | Cronin | Reisner | Jackson | Siry | Leopold | |Diamond | Williams | Austin | Mumford | Marx


calendar | requirements | competencies | texts | policies | grades