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HSTAA 221 A: Environmental History of the U.S.

Meeting Time: 
MW 10:30am - 12:20pm
LOW 206
Joint Sections: 
Nathan E. Roberts
Nathan E. Roberts

Syllabus Description:

HSTAA/ENVIR 221 Environmental History of the United States


Room: Lowe Hall 206                         Time: Monday and Wednesday, 10:30-12:20


Instructor: Nathan E. Roberts

Office: Smith Hall 104C

Phone: 206 543 0729


Office Hours: Mondays & Wednesdays 2-3 PM and by appointment



Course Design and Goals

U.S. environmental history is a study of how peoples in the United States have used, though about, represented, and been influenced by the material, or natural, world. Instead of focusing on human actors and actions alone, this history course will highlight some ways that the material, or natural, world established limits for human action and shaped historical changes in the United States. It will investigate U.S. politics, society, and culture by examining soil, insects, animals, trees, chemical compounds, and much more that makes up our natural environment.  In addition, it will explore how Americans have defined, represented, and used their natural environment over time as well as what these definitions, representations, and uses have meant for U.S. history.


By completing the course requirements, students will learn 1) how to think historicallyabout the material world and human actions within it, 2) how to analyze both primary and secondary sources as a core element of historical study, 3) some of the research methods and investigative techniquesused by historians and social scientists, and 4) how to write a strong argumentative essay and how to revise and improve their prose.



Required Reading – You will be asked to read approximately 100 pages per week.

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

    Conservation(Any edition)

Nancy Langston, Toxic Bodies: Hormone Disruptors and the Legacy of DES(2010)


*Additional readings are available on the course’s Canvas website and designated on the class schedule by (C).



Recommended Reading

Writing is an essential part of history and you should use this opportunity to improve your prose. I recommend that all students, regardless of previous writing experience, consult Michael Harvey, The Nuts and Bolts of College Writing(2003), especially chapters 1 & 2 on “Concision” and “Clarity.” These two chapters on posted in the course’s Canvas website.


This course does not use a traditional textbook. (The lectures act as the textbook!) However, if you would like to consult a U.S. environmental history survey text, see Ted Steinberg, Down to Earth: Nature’s Role in American History rev. ed. (2009).


Assignments & Grading

Participation   20%

Quizzes           30%

Final Exam      20%

Place Paper     30% (3 components listed below)

            Tangible Object Assignment   5%

Paper Draft                             10%

Final Paper                              15%


**Students must attempt each graded assignment in order to pass the course.

Catalog Description: 
Surveys the relationship between nature and human history, including the impact of the non-human environment on American history and the environmental effects of colonization, urbanization, and consumerism; the cultural construction of nature in different eras and its social implications; the sources and limits of modern environmental politics. Offered: jointly with ENVIR 221; A.
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:15pm