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: 

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:


January | February | March | April | May


Readings to be discussed                     

Suggested Journal Entry         



January 12
Describing your surroundings.

read aloud: What are learning outcomes?

What is your environmental history? Sign-in electronic journals on class Wiki

on Blackboard™

January 14
What is learning in the digital age?

Pursell, additional E-readings from course e-mail.

Wiki or electronic journal entries for your reactions to & questions from readings

Journal entry electronically submitted on Wiki

January 21
Motivating students to describe their environs.

Verbal Reports on who you are and the formative environment from where you were raised.

Mary Austin, Land of Little Rain.

Verbal Report entry electronically submitted

January 26
Effective Strategies to describe places

Siry, Introduction  pages,  3-17.

"Beyond the Wild Frontier."

Watch the lecture & take notes

January 28
Experiencing the wild frontier

"Beyond the Wild Frontier."

Weekly electronic Wiki entry

Journal entry electronically submitted


February 2
Uses of technology & ecology

Test: Marshes of the Ocean Shore.

Siry; Open-book test


February 4
Frontiers of land acquisition

Siry, pp. 18-33.

Distinguishing the public domain from the public trust

Journal entry electronically submitted


Readings to be discussed                     

Suggested Journal Entry         


February 9
The Naturalists redefine land.

Siry, pp.  34-61.

Who were the naturalists?


February 11
Game of the Estates

Siry, pp.   36-51.
Emerson, "Nature" and read Emerson's quote


Journal entry electronically submitted

February 16
Federal Bureaus & regulation of landscapes.

Siry, pp.  62-82.

Are land and landscape contrasting terms?


February 18
Oceanography & early discoveries

Siry, pp.  83-111.


Due: Personal pictorial analysis

February 23
Case Study of conflicts over land & resources & the New ecology

Siry, pp.  112-156.

How and what resource-uses caused these arguments?


February 25
Preservation and defending wildlife

Siry, pp.  157-192.


Final drafts defining preservation


March, 1-7

Spring Break

No Class meetings


March 9

Test: Worst Hard Times

Open-book test


March 11
Farmers aspirations and  Shrinking opportunities

Egan, pp. 1-95

When and in what circumstances did farmers settle the high plains?

Egan interview

March 16
Game of the Estates

Egan, pp. 91-135



March 18
What was the dustbowl?

Egan, pp. 136-239

How does Egan account for the several causes of the catastrophe?

Journal entry electronically submitted

March 23
Writing exercise

Essay Draft due


Due: Case Study Drafts

March 25
Conservation Emerges

Egan, pp. 239-330



March 30
Population growth & decline of arable land

Mary Austin, Land of Little Rain

Characterize how Austin reveals the role of land in the valley.

Journal entry electronically submitted


April 6

Test: Bulldozer in the Countryside

Rome; Open-book test


April 8
The Suburban-Industrial Complex

Rome, pp. 1-86.

Describe the evidence Rome uses to defend his views.

Journal entry electronically submitted

April 13
The Open-Space Movement

Rome, pp. 87-152.



April 15

Redrafted essay due



April 20
How must land be developed?

Rome, pp. 153-220.

How was land developed according to Rome?



Readings to be discussed   

Suggested Journal Entry         


April 22
How ought land be protected?

Rome, pp. 221-270.


reports posted Wiki entry e- submitted

April 27
Last class day

Mary Austin

What protection should we extend to land & water?


April 30

Final Exam

8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.

Verbal Reports

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?

William Byrd, A History of the Dividing Line

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

Mary Austin, Land of Little Rain

John Kenneth Galbraith, The Great Crash

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