MAJOR PROBLEMS IN AMERICAN ENVIRONMENTAL HISTORY
This Study Guide is designed to accompany the book Major Problems in American Environmental History, edited by Carolyn Merchant. Featuring chapter outlines, discussion and essay questions, and environmental history quotations, it helps teachers and students to gain insights and to ask provocative questions about environmental history. It will be especially useful to those teaching environmental history for the first time and to those interested in incorporating environmental history into more traditional American history formats.
Part I features chapter outlines and discussion questions for each of the text's fifteen chapters. The outlines place the documents and essays within a framework of organizing concepts and detailed information concerning the themes covered in each chapter. Instructors may use them as a resource for preparing lectures; students as summaries of salient details pertinent to the period and place covered in the chapters. The accompanying discussion questions are designed to guide instructors and students in what to look for as they read the documents and essays. They point readers' attention to important ideas and controversial issues about the environment and natural resources that the readings raise. The outlines and discussion questions may be copied and distributed to students.
At the beginning of Part I is a set of quotations by a number of environmental historians on the broad topic "What is environmental history?" Instructors may use them to prepare lectures on the topic of environmental history, in comparing approaches to the field, and in choosing different themes to emphasized throughout a course. The quotations can be photocopied, cut into strips, and put into a hat, to be drawn and read by students, as a way of stimulating an initial discussion on various approaches to environmental history.
Part II is a set of essay questions covering each half of the book, chapters 1-7 and 8-15. The questions may be used as term paper topics or as midterm and final essay examination questions in a one-term American history course covering colonial times to the present. In a two-term course, the questions on chapters 1-7--colonial times to the Civil War--are pertinent to topics often covered in the first term, those in chapters 8-15--the westward movement through the present--apply to the second term.
Part III comprises chapter-by-chapter suggestions for low-cost films and videos to accompany. These may be used throughout a one- or two-term course to provide a stimulating visual component to the environmental and historical features discussed in each chapter. Alternatively a one-unit environmental history film course can be offered simultaneously with a traditional lecture-discussion course. Students can view films or videos during the term and write one or more papers comparing and analyzing them. Video projection equipment or television monitors in classrooms allow larger classes to benefit from this medium. Students may also check out videos for individual viewing.
Part IV proposes ideas for class and personal activities such as students' personal environmental histories, creative projects, skits and field trips. Designed to maximize students' personal engagement with the course, these activities also lend variety to the traditional lecture-discussion format, and broaden standard analytical approaches to include senses other than vision.
I am particularly grateful to my teaching assistants in Conservation and Resource Studies who over the past decade have written many of the discussion and essay questions that follow and have helped to refine the materials in this study guide, especially Michael Allen, Yaakov Garb, Debora Hammond, Michael Heiman, Karen Hoffman, David Igler, Michael Maniates, Sandra Marburg, Marian Stevens, Thomas Wellock, Barbara Leibhardt Wester, Robert Weyeneth, and Tamara Whited. They have had both the responsibility and the enjoyment of leading discussion sections, reading papers and examinations, clarifying confusing issues, and hearing students' complaints and enthusiasm. Without their experience and suggestions, this guide could not have been written. I have reaped the benefits of their ideas, creativity, and challenging questions over the past several years as they have contributed to the development of the field of environmental history. I especially thank Lauren Johnson and Sylvia Mallory at D.C. Heath for their editorial suggestions and clarifications.