MAJOR PROBLEMS IN AMERICAN ENVIRONMENTAL HISTORY
Class and Personal Projects
1. Your Personal Environmental History
Our lives and present environments are products of history. Our parents and grandparents grew up in very different environments from those of today. Some of us have descended from people native to the Americas for many generations, but most of us are descendants of immigrants, whether first, second, or even ninth generation. These past generations have used and shaped their environments, often with very different goals and values than ours. In beginning our study of environmental history it is helpful to think about our families' past environments and their meaning for us today.
Write an essay reflecting on your personal environmental history. In formulating your response, consider the following: Going back to your grandparents, parents, and your own generations, characterize the environments in which they and you have lived. Where were they located? What natural resources sustained your families and their communities? To what extent were those environments "natural" or human-made, native or exotic (that is, transformed by European or other non-native species)? How have your families helped to transform their environments? Does your own ethnic and class heritage or gender play a role in the way you and your family have related to and valued the environment? How did the relationships your grandparents and parents had with their environments differ from the ones you have had in the past and wish to have in the future?
2. Creative projects
Create a project that reflects your own personal response to American environmental history. Your project should have both historical authenticity and environmental content. Include an index card with your project describing (a) its historical context and (b) its environmental content. Examples: an elaboration of your personal environmental history; a short play; one or more poems, paintings, or sculptures; a series of cartoons or jokes; a musical offering; an environmental history of your home town or region in words or pictures; preparation or planting of historical or ethnically authentic foods; a restored or reconstructed piece of technology; a journal of personal responses to the readings; a short research paper using primary sources; a response to one or more books about environmental history from the list of further readings at the end of each chapter; another project of your own imagination.
3. The Ecodrama in North America
Divide the class into groups of about five students each. Each group chooses or is assigned to one of the case histories in Chapters 2-15 of Major Problems in American Environmental History. Each member of the group chooses an individual or a natural entity (such as a beaver, a white pine, a bollweevil, a soil nutrient, a pathogen, and so on) living at the time covered by the case history. Have groups devise a short 5-7 minute skit representing the major problem of the chapter. Skits may be presented throughout the semester or in one or two class periods devoted to "The Ecodrama in North America," a drama in five acts (or whatever number), each with possibly two or more scenes. Indian popcorn or other historically significant foods can be served and Environmental Academy Awards presented after students vote on the best presentation.
4. Field Trips
Field trips, whether taken as a class or as individuals, provide a valuable teaching tool. Daytime, overnight, or even week-long trips stimulate students to reread the landscape as environmental history. Seeing the relationships between an urban area and its supporting region as historical development opens students' eyes to ecological transformations and dependencies. Visits to museums, farms, art galleries, local industries, water reservoirs, and landfills can be rewarding when seen through the lens of local environmental history. Students can assist in preparing for such trips by doing individual or group research on various phases of local environmental history and acting as interpreters for the rest of the class. After such a field trip to California's Central Valley that focused on water reservoirs, irrigation canals, organic farms, agribusiness operations, and Kesterson wildlife refuge, students confirmed that "we will never again see the Central Valley through the same eyes."