History 411—Spring 2013

Readings in American History: American Environmental History

Class Meetings: M, W Evenings, 7:30-8:45 pm



Prof. Kathryn Morse, x2436; kmorse@middlebury.edu
Two offices:  Starr-Axinn 240/Hillcrest 119
Office Hours, Spring 2013:   Mondays 10am-12pm and 2-4 pm, Starr Axinn 240;
Fridays:  10:15 am-12pm, Hillcrest 119 (except Apr 5 and 19); and by appointment.

Office hours, syllabus, and other info on web page:


Course description: This is a reading and historiography seminar, designed to introduce students to the secondary historical literature (work by scholars) in one particular field within American history:  environmental history. Beyond providing students with in-depth reading in environmental history, and a sense of how this particular field of history has changed over time, this course is designed to introduce students to the some of the methods and practices of historians.  We will also focus on developing and practicing skills important to historians (and others):  critical and efficient reading of  books (monographs); clear and concise formal writing; oral presentation; group discussion; habitual curiosity; and tolerance for complexity.


Learning goals:  1)  To introduce students to a range of excellent scholarly work in the field of American environmental history.  2) To explore the practice of history as a means of storytelling bounded by rules of evidence and the craft of narrative writing.  3) To explore the role of the physical world in shaping human action, and vice versa.  4) To develop the skills of critical reading and writing and discussion.  5) To explore the role of diverse human groups in telling stories about nature, and in using nature to tell stories about themselves and their place in the world.


Books: The following books are currently available for purchase at the book store, at on-line sellers everywhere.  They may also be easily accessible from other colleges through the NEXpress catalog.  These books will soon be on reserve at the Davis (Main) library as well. Not everyone will read ALL of these books.  In some weeks, half the class will read one, while the other half reads the other in a related pair of books.  Other readings will be provided as .pdf or other electronic files on the class server in the “Share” folder.  Please familiarize yourself with the classes server and the folder structure so that you can easily find readings when the time comes.


All will read:

Brian Donahue, The Great Meadow:  Farmers and Land in Colonial Concord

Richard White, Organic Machine:  The Remaking of the Columbia River (split into chapters throughout the semester)

Jennifer Price, Flight Maps:  Adventures with Nature in Modern America (split into chapters throughout the semester)

Elliott West, The Contested Plains: Indians, Goldseekers, and the Rush to Colorado

Thomas Andrews, Killing for Coal: America’s Deadliest Labor War

Jill Lindsay Harrison, Pesticide Drift and the Pursuit of Environmental Justice

Christopher Wells, Car Country: An Environmental History


Half will read each:

Marsha Weisiger, Dreaming of Sheep in Navajo Country (245 pp)

David F. Arnold, The Fisherman’s Frontier:  People and Salmon in Southeast Alaska (195 pp)


Half will read each:

Andrew Kahrl, The Land was Ours:  African American Beaches from Jim Crow to the Sunbelt South (260 pp)
Jeff Wiltse, Contested Waters:  A Social History of Swimming Pools in America (215 pp)


Half will read each:

Matthew KlingleEmerald City: An Environmental History of Seattle (280 pp).

Ellen Stroud, Nature Next Door Cities and Nature in the American Northeast (160 pp).


In addition,  each student will read at least one additional book from a list on the history of American conservation (see below). 




1. Your first assignment, always, is to come to class prepared to discuss the assigned reading, and prepared with any additional duties you have been given for that day (oral presentations, group leading, minor research tasks, etc.). 

2.  For seven of the eight shared/group books (not Price, White, your chosen conservation book, or any readings for the final paper) bring to class (to be turned in) a reading report form, which will guide your analysis of the book in preparation for discussion.  Everyone can skip one form, though not reading one book.  The form will be explained in full in Week 1.


3.  Mid-term book review (formal written paper, ~4-5pp), placing the individual student’s book on conservation in the context of the overall historiography of conservation, and in the context of readings in the first half of the course.  Details TBA.

4.  Over course of semester:  two additional book reviews (~3-4 pp), based on reading, class discussion, and reading report forms, to be completed by Friday at 5 pm in the week the class reads and discusses the book in question.


5.  Final paper, ~10 pp, on a central theme running through assigned class readings, with additional reading or readings (perhaps) chosen in consultation with Prof. Morse. 

6. Finally, students will, on occasion, be assigned in-class tasks, either individually or in groups, or be asked to research questions for the group for a future class.


Course Policies:


Attendance:  Students’ presence at all classes is required and will constitute a portion of the final grade.  Given the reality of illness, weather, and other challenges, each student may be absent from 2 classes during the semester without penalty.


Grades. There is no absolutely precise formula, but in calculating final grades, the following general guidelines will provide a starting point:  Attendance:  5%.  Discussion participation and leadership (when designated):  15%; 7 reading report forms (4% each—everyone can skip one week);  2 book review essays on chosen books (10% each); mid-term book review essay (14%); final paper on course/reading theme (18%).



Pass/D/Fail Provision:  If you plan to take the PDF option for this course, please note that in order to earn a grade of “Pass” you are required to attend all classes (with the same exceptions as above, 2 absences without penalty), and to complete all written work in the class.  Failure to complete and turn in the four formal written assignments will result in failure, as will failure to  attend at least 80% of all classes as scheduled.


Note on numerical (1-100) vs. letter grades (A, A-, B+ etc.):  Grades on exams and papers will take numerical form, as this allows for a more fine-grained approach to evaluating student work (a B may range from 82-86, for instance).  However, numerical grades do not represent a specific point value for any given student answer or response to a given question.  Example:  There is no specific point awarded for a correct date in an essay answer, so missing a date (or a name, or a place, or an idea) does not automatically result in a specific loss of points.  Nor do grammatical or proof-reading errors correlate to a specific loss of points on a paper.  Grades in this class take in a wide range of factors for any given answer and thus are not always directly correlated with math.  Each assignment, however, will include detailed information on the general standards for “A” work, “B” work, etc.


 Office hours: I am available to meet with and advise students during the office hours listed above.  If these times do not fit your schedule, email me or chat with me to make an appointment at another time (do not hesitate to ask).


Honor Code: The Honor Code is in effect for all papers in this course.  In class, we will discuss what this means for particular assignments and how historians, in particular, approach issues of academic integrity.   Please state and sign the honor code on all work, including work submitted electronically (you may “sign” in any font you choose).  Plagiarism: All students are responsible for reading and heeding the statement on plagiarism as written in the Middlebury College Handbook. If you are unsure what constitutes plagiarism you may re-read the Handbook or another of our class writing resources, consult a reference librarian, or ask the professor.

            Plagiarism includes not only failure to cite sources, but also the practice of presenting direct language from a source as a paraphrase when it is either a direct quotation or is language CLOSE to a direct quotation, EVEN IF THE CITATION IS CORRECT.  Paraphrasing correctly is a challenge and requires careful attention. 


For papers submitted by email, REMEMBER TO STATE AND SIGN THE HONOR CODE, either within the paper file itself, or in the body of the email to which you attach the paper


Classroom etiquette and technology policy:  Cell phones, smart phones, and other mobile devices must be OFF and put away in ALL classes.  Laptop computers must be off and put away during class unless we have a particular need for access to a digital source.  Kindles or tablets are allowed if you are using a digital book for that class.  If you can ONLY access a book on a kindle-related application on a laptop, let me know, and we’ll figure out a compromise.


IF AT ANY POINT the use of laptop computers or tablet computers becomes distracting to myself or others, I will ask you to change how you are using them or shut them off until we can find a good compromise.


Please respect your classmates.  Our goal is to critically engage and discuss historical events and ideas, but not to criticize or intimidate each other as human beings.  Be kind, be thoughtful, and engage each other as colleagues with respect.  If at any time you feel limited by me or others in your ability to express your ideas openly, please let me know in person or by email.


Please do not leave the classroom during class time unless in the event of a physical or personal emergency.



E-mail policy:   BEFORE emailing ANY professor with a specific question about details of the course (or about anything), ask yourself this important question: Is there ANY other way to gain this information or answer this question without asking a professor? If so, use that other method!

That being said: Students are welcome to email (or call my office phone) to make an appointment to see me, or to attend to course-related matters that need attention. Please be advised that I do not read and answer email constantly or immediately, and I usually take an “email Sabbath” from around 5 pm Friday to 2 pm Sundays (with some variation).  I will attempt to return your email or call within 24 hours. If you need to communicate with me immediately (i.e. to change or set up a meeting in the very near future), send an email with the “urgent” exclamation point so that I will look at it quickly.

The above does not apply to true emergencies, such as those involving serious illness, personal crisis, or loss. In the event of such an event, send an email with an urgent note and I will respond as quickly as possible. I  do assume that you read your Middlebury college email on a regular basis, several times a week. If you do not read your email with any regularity, please remember to ask me in class whether I have sent out any information or updates.


Intercollegiate Athletics and Other Activities:  If you are a member of a team or engaged in other campus activities, on or off campus, you may, at various times during the semester, have athletic or other events scheduled during our class times.  Although no other activity can require that you miss class, you may need to choose which activity (class or non-class) you would prefer, or have a responsibility, to attend.  Those choices are entirely your own, and I will respect them as valid choices.  However, be aware that according to college policy such absences are explained rather than excused.  It is your responsibility to inform me of your schedule, what work you will miss, and how and when you intend to make up that work.  I do not regularly check sports schedules or know team departure times, so it is your job to present me with that information, well in advance of the absence itself.


 Accessibility, Accommodations, Abilities:
We all have varying abilities; we all carry various strengths and weaknesses. Some of these might even be “documented” with a place like the ADA Office.  If so, please just let me know.  With or without documentation, it is my intent to make our learning experience as accessible as possible.  With documentation, I am especially interested in providing any student accommodations that have probably been best determined by the student and the ADA Coordinator (Jodi Litchfield) in advance.  Please let me know as early as possible in the semester what we can do to maximize your learning potential, participation, and general access in this course.  I am available to meet with you in person or to discuss such things on email.   
The ADA Office is located at Meeker House 003.  [46 Porter Field Road]
Jodi Litchfield, coordinator: 802.443.5936;


The Fine Print: While this syllabus is not likely to change too much, I may make adjustments as the semester proceeds. Any changes will be announced ahead of time on email and posted on my web page. I will announce changes in class on a week-to-week basis, well in advance of any due-dates.  However, if you are not in class to hear such announcements, it is your responsibility to find out about such changes or additions.





Class and Reading Schedule


Week 1: 


Mon Feb 11:  Introductions and logistics:  what is environmental history?  What is historiography?  Why so many long books?  Why? Why? Why?


Wed Feb 13:  For class, read and prepare to discuss:  William Cronon, “Kennecott Journey: The Paths out of Town” (1992) AND Louis Warren, “Paths Toward Home:  Landmarks of the Field in Environmental History” (2010) AND Bring Donahue text with you to class if possible.



Week 2: 

Mon Feb 18:  For class, read and complete reading report form (details TBA) for Brian Donahue, The Great Meadow:  Farmers and Land in Colonial Concord


Wed Feb 20:  For class, read in Jennifer Price, Flight Maps, Introduction and ch. 1, “Missed Connections:  The Passenger Pigeon Extinction.”  AND, having done some preliminary research, bring your top three choices for chosen books on conservation (see list at end of syllabus).


Week 3:


Mon Feb 25:  For class, read in White, Organic Machine, Introduction and ch. 1, and listen to podcast of interview with Richard White at Stanford University’s “Generation Anthropocene,” online (listen or download) at: http://www.stanford.edu/group/anthropocene/cgi-bin/wordpress/?p=253    OR find it on ITunes!  If the file fits, it will be in our share folder as well.  AND Bring Elliott West text with you to class.


Wed Feb 27:  For class, read and complete reading report form for Elliott West, The Contested Plains:  Indians, Goldseekers, and the Rush to Colorado



Week 4: 


Mon Mar 4:  For class, read White, Organic Machine, ch. 2, “Putting the River to Work” and bring text for Wednesday (Andrews book) to class with you.


Wed Mar 6:  For class, read and complete reading report form for Thomas Andrews, Killing for Coal:  America’s Deadliest Labor War



Week 5:


Mon Mar 11:  For class read Price, Flight Maps, ch. 2, “When Women Were Women, Men Were Men, and Birds Were Hats.”


Wed Mar 13:  For class,  conservation historiography as assigned:  1/3 class read and report (details TBA).


Week 6:


Mon Mar 18:  For class, conservation historiography:  1/3 class read and report.


Wed Mar 20:   For class, conservation historiography:  1/3 class read and report.






Week 7:


Mon Apr 1:  For class, William Cronon, "A Place for Stories:  Nature, History, and Narrative," Journal of American History 78: 4 (March 1992): 1347-1376. Available on JSTOR and as .pdf in course share folder.


Wed Apr 3:  For class, class split between readings (complete reading report form).
Marsha Weisiger, Dreaming of Sheep in Navajo Country

David F. Arnold, The Fisherman’s Frontier:  People and Salmon in Southeast Alaska


Week 8


Mon Apr 8:  For class, Price, Flight Maps, ch. 3, “A Brief Natural History of the Plastic Pink Flamingo.”


Wed Apr 10 :  For class, class split between readings (complete reading report form).

Andrew Kahrl, The Land was Ours:  African American Beaches from Jim Crow to the Sunbelt South and Jeff Wiltse, Contested Waters:  A Social History of Swimming Pools in America


Week 9:


Mon Apr 15 :  For class, White, Organic Machine, ch. 3, “The Power of the River.”


Wed Apr 17 :  For class, class split between readings (complete reading report form).

Matthew KlingleEmerald City: An Environmental History of Seattle

Ellen Stroud, Nature Next Door Cities and Nature in the American Northeast




Week 10: 

Mon Apr 22 :  For class, White, Organic Machine, ch. 4, “Salmon.”


Wed Apr 24:  For class read and complete reading report form:  Jill Lindsay Harrison, Pesticide Drift and the Pursuit of Environmental Justice


Week 11:

Mon Apr 29:  For Class:  Price, Flight Maps, ch. 4, “Looking for Nature at the Mall:  A Field Guide to the Nature Company.”


Wed May 1:  For class, read and complete reading report form: Christopher Wells, Car Country:  An Environmental History


Week 12:

Mon May 6:  Presentations:  final papers.


Wed May 8:  Presentations: final papers.


Final Draft of final papers due during exam period:  date TBA.


For mid-term paper:  Books on conservation—a preliminary list: students will choose one for the mid-term paper.


Stephen Fox, The American Conservation Movement:  John Muir and His Legacy

Sara M. Gregg, Managing the Mountains:  Land Use, Planning, the New Deal, and the Creation of a Federal Landscape in Appalachia

Samuel Hays, Conservation and the Gospel of Efficiency:  The American Conservation Movement:  1890-1920

Karl Jacoby, Crimes Against Nature:  Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of Conservation

David Louter:  Windshield Wildnerness:  Cars, Roads, and Nature in Washington’s National Parks

Char Miller, Gifford Pinchot and the Making of Modern Environmentalism

Chad Montrie, A People’s History of Environmentalism in the United States
John Reiger, American Sportsmen and the Origins of the Conservation Movement

Aaron Sachs, The Humboldt Current:  Nineteenth Century Exploration and the Roots of American Environmentalism

Susan Schrepfer, Nature’s Altars:  Mountains, Gender, and American Environmentalism

Mark David Spence, Dispossessing the Wilderness:  Indian Removal and the Making of the National Parks
Paul Sutter, Driven Wild:  How the Fight Against Automobiles Launched the Modern Wilderness Movement

Louis Warren, The Hunter’s Game:  Poachers and Conservationists in Twentieth-Century America