Rice History and Dr. Randall L. Hall offer a spring grad seminar in U.S. Environmental History

Posted by on Dec 11, 2012

Graduate seminar on US environmental history from the
colonial era to the twentieth century, including the conservation and environmental
movements.  Students can choose to take this course as either a reading or a research
seminar.

Thursdays, 2:30 to 5:30 P.M.
Humanities Building, Room 327

Instructor: Dr. Randal L. Hall
Telephone: 713-348-5547
Email: rh@rice.edu
Office location: Fondren Library, Room 509 (on the fifth floor)

Any student with a documented disability needing academic adjustments or
accommodations is requested to speak with me during the first two weeks of class. All
discussions will remain confidential. Students with disabilities will need to also contact
Disability Support Services in the Ley Student Center.

Office hours: By appointment.

Course objectives:
Participants in this weekly graduate seminar will become familiar with selected aspects of
U.S. environmental history from the colonial era to the late twentieth century. The study
of environmental history has its modern roots in the 1960s and 1970s and draws on many
subfields, including the history of politics, agriculture, industry, ecology and soil science,
literature, urban growth, energy, and trade in natural resources and commodities. Seminar
participants will read academic works analyzing these topics and others and will hone
their skills of reading and interpreting books and articles. The final paper will emphasize
improving both writing and analytical skills. The class will pay attention to pioneering
works of environmental history as well as recent cutting-edge studies.

Format:
The seminar is based on discussion of the works we are reading; therefore, reading
assigned for each class meeting is to be completed in full BEFORE that meeting. The
success of the class depends on active participation by each student in the discussions.
You should attend and be prepared to participate in each session. (A pattern of missing
class or being unprepared to participate will be substantially detrimental to the discussion
and participation portion of your grade.)

Though all students will participate in each week’s discussion, one or more students will
be assigned to lead our study of that week’s readings. Each discussion leader will write a
four- to five-page evaluation of the readings; that paper is to be distributed to the class by
noon on the day the seminar meets. All other students are to read the paper or papers
before the class meeting. During the class, the discussion leader (or leaders) will have
responsibility for posing questions and guiding the discussion. Every student will lead

discussion twice and will thus write two short papers during the common readings
portion of the course.

Given the complexity and number of topics assembled under the environmental history
banner, a seminar cannot hope to exhaust every student’s interests in a required reading
list. To allow for the in-depth development of a topic of particular interest to each
student, the final four meetings of the seminar will be largely devoted to discussion of
individual projects (along with discussion most weeks of an article to be read in
common).

There are two options for shaping the individualized material. For students treating the
course as a “readings” seminar, the final paper—to be twenty to twenty-five pages in
length—will analyze at least four significant monographs that are related to a single
topic. In each of the four final meetings of the seminar, the student will report to the class
on one book’s thesis, its success or failure in supporting that thesis, sources,
organizational strategy, and its importance to debates among professional historians. The
discussion should also put the book in the context of any relevant common or individual
readings, with the student thus trying out ideas for use in the final paper. The final
presentation should include, at minimum, the final paper’s thesis paragraph and outline.

Potential topics for the individualized list include environmental change on the Great
Plains, environmental issues in the development of national parks, the importance of
aridity and dams in the U.S. West, the use of hydrocarbons, gender in environmental
analysis, the evolution of agriculture in particular regions, racism and environmental
justice, diplomacy and the environment, urban environments, Native Americans and the
environment, rivers, forests, literary and cultural depictions of the American
environment, and many more. The topic is to be chosen in consultation with the
instructor.

For students who want the course to count as a “research” seminar in the Ph.D. program
in history, the final paper must be based on research in primary documents and engage a
significant historiographical question in an original, analytical way. The paper is to be
twenty to twenty-five pages of text (i.e., notes excluded); the goal is to create a quality
draft of a paper that can subsequently be presented or published in a professional
academic outlet. The topic is to be chosen in consultation with the instructor.

For students taking the course as a research seminar, the reports during the final four
seminar meetings will consist of research updates and, on the final day, presentation of, at
minimum, the final paper’s thesis paragraph and outline.

All final papers of both types are due on the final day of the exam period at 5:00 P.M. No
extensions can be given.

Books for common reading (all except Rothman are available in Rice bookstore):
William Cronon, Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (W. W. Norton,
1991).

Brian Donahue, The Great Meadow: Farmers and the Land in Colonial Concord (Yale
University Press, 2004)
Mark Fiege, Irrigated Eden: The Making of an Agricultural Landscape in the American
West (University of Washington Press, 1999).
Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind (4th edition, Yale University Press,
2001; originally published 1967).
Kathryn Newfont, Blue Ridge Commons: Environmental Activism and Forest History in
Western North Carolina (University of Georgia Press, 2012).
Adam Rome, The Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of
American Environmentalism (Cambridge University Press, 2001).
Hal K. Rothman, The Greening of a Nation? Environmentalism in the United States Since
1945 (Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1998). [to be obtained directly from
instructor]
Mart A. Stewart, “What Nature Suffers to Groe”: Life, Labor, and Landscape on the
Georgia Coast, 1680–1920 (University of Georgia Press, 1996).
Richard P. Tucker, Insatiable Appetite: The United States and the Ecological
Degradation of the Tropical World (University of California Press, 2000).

Shorter readings shown on the schedule below are available in Owlspace.

Grading:
Oral presentations and discussion participation = 20 percent
First short paper = 20 percent
Second short paper = 20 percent
Final paper = 40 percent

Schedule: (Note that the schedule may be subject to change with reasonable advance
notice, as deemed appropriate by the instructor.)

January 10: Overviews
Discuss syllabus.
Hal K. Rothman, The Greening of a Nation? Environmentalism in the United States Since
1945 (Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1998).

January 17: Pioneering a Field of Study
Roderick Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind (4th edition, Yale University Press,
2001; originally published 1967).
Richard White, “American Environmental History: The Development of a New
Historical Field,” Pacific Historical Review 54 (August 1985): 297–335.

January 23: Early North
Brian Donahue, The Great Meadow: Farmers and the Land in Colonial Concord (Yale
University Press, 2004).
Sara M. Gregg, “Cultivating an Agro-Environmental History,” in Douglas Cazaux
Sackman, A Companion to American Environmental History (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010),
425–41.

January 31: Early South
Mart A. Stewart, “What Nature Suffers to Groe”: Life, Labor, and Landscape on the
Georgia Coast, 1680–1920 (University of Georgia Press, 1996).
John Majewski and Viken Tchakerian, “The Environmental Origins of Shifting
Cultivation: Climate, Soils, and Disease in the Nineteenth-Century US South,”
Agricultural History 81 (Fall 2007): 522–49.

February 7: Nineteenth-Century City and Hinterland
William Cronon, Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (W. W. Norton,
1991).

February 14: Water and the West
Mark Fiege, Irrigated Eden: The Making of an Agricultural Landscape in the American
West (University of Washington Press, 1999).
Donald J. Pisani, “Federal Reclamation and the American West in the Twentieth
Century,” Agricultural History 77 (Summer 2003): 391–419.

February 21: Twentieth-Century Growth
Adam Rome, The Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of
American Environmentalism (Cambridge University Press, 2001).
J. R. McNeill, Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the
Twentieth-Century World (W. W. Norton, 2000), chap. 10 (pp. 296–324).

February 28
Spring break. No class.

NOTE: EACH STUDENT’S INDIVIDUALIZED READING LIST OR PAPER TOPIC AND RESEARCH PLAN
MUST BE APPROVED IN ADVANCE OF THE MARCH 7 MEETING.

March 7: Activism
Kathryn Newfont, Blue Ridge Commons: Environmental Activism and Forest History in
Western North Carolina (University of Georgia Press, 2012).
Eileen Maura McGurty, “From NIMBY to Civil Rights: The Origins of the
Environmental Justice Movement,” in Paul S. Sutter and Christopher J. Manganiello,
eds., Environmental History and the American South: A Reader (University of Georgia
Press, 2009), 372–99.

March 14: U.S. and the World
Richard P. Tucker, Insatiable Appetite: The United States and the Ecological
Degradation of the Tropical World (University of California Press, 2000).

March 21
Discuss article in common:

Richard White, “‘Are You an Environmentalist or Do You Work for a Living?’: Work
and Nature,” in William Cronon, ed., Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place
in Nature (W.W. Norton, 1996), 171–85.

Presentations of individual reading or research

March 28
Mid-term break. No class.

April 4
Discuss article in common:
William Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness: Or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature,”
in Char Miller and Hal Rothman, eds., Out of the Woods: Essays in Environmental
History (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997), 28–50.

Presentations of individual reading or research

April 11
Discuss article in common:
Benjamin R. Cohen, “The Historical Production (and Consumption) of Unsustainability:
Technology, Policy, and Culture,” Hedgehog Review 14 (Summer 2012): 37–51.

Presentations of individual reading or research

April 18
Presentations of individual reading or research. Be prepared to workshop at minimum
your thesis paragraph and to discuss goals and outline of final paper.

 

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