Discussion Questions

1. Donald Worster argues that environmental history proceeds on three levels: the study of nature itself; human modes of production; and patterns of human perception, ideology, and value.  What does he mean by each of these "levels?" What conceptual and practical problems might arise in attempts to study each level?

2. What is Jared Diamond's distinction between "proximate" and "ultimate" factors in predicting the outcome of environmental history?  Why did Europeans' domesticated animals and plants, germs, and technologies give them such a large advantage in colonizing the New World? What problems or limitations do you see in Diamond's approach?

3. Why does William Cronon think environmental history is useful? What are some of its uses and why do you think they are important? Why might environmental historians tell "linear narratives of environmental degradation"? In what ways is it useful to see history as narrative? What are some problems with this approach?

4. Why does Carolyn Merchant believe there is a need to include race, class, and gender in the interpretation of environmental history? What does she mean by each category? Why in your view are these issues important both historically and currently?

5. How does global environmental history differ from local and American environmental history?

6. In your view does environmental history have a moral or political agenda to promote? If so, what is it? If not, how can it avoid such an agenda?

7. What is meant by the following terms as applied to environmental history and which authors (if any) in this chapter use or assume them? Social construction; materialism; holistic history; a systems approach; feminism; biological and/or environmental determinism; ecological imperialism; grand (or master) narrative; ecological prophecy.