Environmental History



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History 291, “Environmental History” Spring 2008

Instructor: Brian Caton TR 11:00-12:30, Olin 207

email: catobr01@luther.edu

Office: Koren 201 (387-2119)

Office hours: MWF 2:45, TR 2:30 or by appointment
Course Description: This course introduces students to the field of environmental history. Students will examine the ways in which humans, plants, animals, and microbiota have acted as agents in the history of the world. The course emphasizes historical developments after 1300 and especially investigates the roles of science, colonialism, capitalism, and the state in changing the physical state of the environment and the ways humans understand their surroundings.
Assignments and grading:


  1. Book review. You will write a 2-3pp. (600-800 word) review of one book, from a list of 5-6 books for one of the course themes. The review will be due the first day of the thematic unit. You will be expected to contribute a verbal summary of your review during our class discussions for that unit. 2@10% (total 20%)

  2. Research paper. Total 35%

    1. Topic proposal: The proposal will include a bibliography of at least ten items that demonstrate adequate source material for research. The proposal’s bibliography and the final bibliography should include at least three journal articles and one primary source. 5%

    2. Draft for the writing workshop: This must include a provisional argument, a working outline, and at least two paragraphs of the body of your paper. 5%

    3. Final version of the paper should be 8-10pp. 25%.

  3. Examinations. Two timed exams (a midterm and a final) will ask you to write cogently about key terms and ideas from the common readings. Each exam will include a map section covering the geographical data drawn from the common readings; a list of terms will be supplied for study purposes. Bring at least one blue examination booklet to the exam; they are available at the Bookstore. 2@15% (total 30%)

  4. Class participation. You are expected to voice your questions based on the readings, and you are expected to participate in our communal process of finding answers to these questions. Absence obviously prevents you from participating, and excuses will not be accepted without appropriate documentation. 15%


Books to buy:
Kurlansky, Mark. Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World. New York: Penguin, 1997. ISBN 9780140275018
Articles to read:
Alexander, Thomas G. “Irrigating the Mormon Heartland: The Operation of the Irrigation Companies in Wasatch Oasis Communities, 1847-1880.” Agricultural History 76 (2002): 172-87. [JSTOR]

Baer, Marc David. “The Great Fire of 1660 and the Islamization of Christian and Jewish Space in Istanbul.” International Journal of Middle East Studies 36 (2004): 159-81.

Bankoff, Greg. “Winds of Colonisation: the Meteorological Contours of Spain’s Imperium in the Pacific, 1521-1898.” Environment and History [Great Britain] 12 (2006): 65-88.

Beinart, William and Karen Middleton. “Plant Transfers in Historical Perspective: A Review Article.” Environment and History [Great Britain] 10 (2004): 3-29.

Crosby, Alfred W. “The Past and Present of Environmental History.” The American Historical Review 100 (1995): 1177-89. [JSTOR]

Curtin, Philip D. “The End of the ‘White Man’s Grave’? Nineteenth-Century Mortality in West Africa.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 21 (1990): 63-88. [JSTOR]

Echenberg, Myron J. “Pestis Redux: The Initial Years of the Third Bubonic Plague Pandemic, 1894-1901.” Journal of World History 13 (2002): 429-49. [Project Muse]

Gilmartin, David. “Scientific Empire and Imperial Science: Colonialism and Irrigation Technology in the Indus Basin.” Journal of Asian Studies 53 (1994): 1127-49. [JSTOR]

Grettler, David J. “Environmental Change and Conflict over Hogs in Early Nineteenth-Century Delaware.” Journal of the Early Republic 19 (1999): 197-220. [JSTOR]

Isenberg, Andrew. “The Returns of the Bison: Nostalgia, Profit, and Preservation.” Environmental History 2 (1997): 197-215. [JSTOR]

Mackenzie, A. Fiona D. “Contested Ground: Colonial Narratives and the Kenyan Environment, 1920-1945.” Journal of Southern African Studies 26 (2000): 697-718. [JSTOR]

Melville, Elinor G. K. “Alien Landscapes.” In A Plague of Sheep: Environmental Consequences of the Conquest of Mexico. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Menon, Ajit. “Colonial Constructions of ‘Agrarian Fields’ and ‘Forests’ in the Kolli Hills.” Indian Economic and Social History Review 41 (2004): 315-37.

Notehelfer, F. G. “Japan’s First Pollution Incident.” Journal of Japanese Studies 1 (1975): 351-83. [JSTOR]

Ritvo, Harriet. “Animal Planet.” Environmental History 9 (2004): 204-20. [History Cooperative]

Rome, Adam W. “Coming to Terms with Pollution: The Language of Environmental Reform, 1865-1915.” Environmental History 1 (1996): 6-28. [JSTOR]

Stewart, Mart A. “From King Cane to King Cotton: Razing Cane in the Old South.” Environmental History 12 (2007): 59-79. [History Cooperative]

Sutter, Paul. “What Can U. S. Environmental Historians Learn from Non-U. S. Environmental Historiography?” Environmental History 8 (2003): 109-29. [JSTOR]

Wilkinson, Lise. “Rinderpest and Mainstream Infectious Disease Concepts in the Eighteenth Century.” Medical History [Great Britain] 28 (1984): 129-51.

Raymond Williams, “Ideas of Nature,” in Problems of Materialism and Culture (London: Verso, 1980), 67-85.



Worster, Donald. “Nature and the Disorder of History.” Environmental History Review 18 (1994): 1-15. [JSTOR]
Calendar of assignments:

31 January Introduction to the course.




Theme: Perceptions of Nature


5 February Read: Williams.

7 February Read: Worster.

Theme: Plants as historical agents


12 February Read: Beinart and Middleton.

14 February Read: Stewart.

Theme: Animals as historical agents


19 February Read: Ritvo.

21 February Read: Melville.
Theme: Microbiota as historical agents

26 February Read: Echenberg.

28 February Read: Wilkinson.

Theme: Weather and fire as historical agents


4 March Read: Baer.

6 March Read: Bankoff.

Theme: Land use


11 March Read: Menon.

13 March Library Research Day.
18 March Read: Grettler.

20 March Mid-term exam.
21-31 March SPRING BREAK

Theme: Irrigation


1 April Read: Gilmartin. Due: Paper topic proposals.

3 April Read: Alexander.

Theme: Colonialism


8 April Read: Mackenzie.

10 April Read: Curtin.

Theme: Consumption


15 April Read: Kurlansky, 1-126.

17 April Read: Kurlansky, 127-233.

Theme: Pollution


22 April Read: Notehelfer.

24 April Read: Rome.

Theme: Conservation


29 April Read: Isenberg.

1 May Due: Paper drafts. Writing workshop.

Theme: Environmentalism


6 May Read: Sutter.

8 May Read: Crosby. Course evaluation.
14 May Final Exam 1:15-3:15 (location TBA)
Book List for Reviews:
Theme: Perceptions of Nature

Theme: Plants as historical agents


  1. Clinton L. Evans, The War on Weeds in the Prairie West: an Environmental History (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2002).

  2. Richard Manning, Food’s Frontier: the Next Green Revolution (New York: North Point Press, 2000). [S494.5 .I5 M365 2000]

  3. Bernhard Glaeser, The Green Revolution Revisited: Critique and Alternatives (London: Allen & Unwin, 1987). [HD1417 .G72 1987]

  4. Vandana Shiva, The Violence of the Green Revolution: Third World Agriculture, Ecology, and Politics (London: Zed Books, 1991).

  5. Joseph Cotter, Troubled Harvest: Agronomy and Revolution in Mexico, 1880-2002 (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003). [S451.7 .C68 2003]

  6. Ronald J. Herring, ed., Transgenics and the Poor: Biotechnology in Development Studies (London: Routledge, 2007).



Theme: Animals as historical agents


  1. Elinor G. K. Melville, A Plague of Sheep: Environmental Consequences of the Conquest of Mexico (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). [SF375.5 .M6 M45 1997]

  2. Charles S. Elton, The Ecology of Invasions by Animals and Plants (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000). [QH541 .E4 2000]

  3. Robert Hendrickson, More Cunning than Man: a Social History of Rats and Men (New York: Stein and Day, 1983). [RA641.R2 H46 1983]

  4. Nicholas Russell, Like Engend’ring Like: Heredity and Animal Breeding in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

  5. George Watson Rollins, The Struggle of the Cattleman, Sheepman, and Settler for Control of Lands in Wyoming, 1867-1910 (New York: Arno Press, 1979).



Theme: Microbiota as historical agents


  1. William H. McNeill, Plagues and Peoples (Garden City, NY: Anchor Press, 1976). [RA649 .M3]

  2. Hans Zinsser, Rats, Lice and History (1934; reprint, Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1941) [RC199 .Z5]

  3. Susan Scott and Christopher J. Duncan, Biology of Plagues: Evidence from Historical Populations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001). [RA650.6.A1 S36 2001]

  4. Robert H. Jackson, Indian Population Decline: The Missions of Northwestern New Spain, 1687-1840 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994). [F1219 .J28 1994]

  5. Dorothy H. Crawford, The Invisible Enemy: A Natural History of Viruses (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000). [QR364 .C73 2000]

  6. Alan H. Linton, ed., Microbes, Man, and Animals: The Natural History of Microbial Interactions (Chichester: Wiley, 1982). [QR46 .M537 1982]



Theme: Weather and fire as historical agents


  1. Stephen J. Pyne, Fire: a Brief History (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2001).

  2. Brian F. Atwater, et al., The Orphan Tsunami of 1700: Japanese Clues to a Parent Earthquake in North America (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2005).

  3. Kerry A. Emanuel, Divine Wind: The History and Science of Hurricanes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

  4. David G. McCullough, The Johnstown Flood (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1968). [F159 .J7 M16]



Theme: Land use


  1. Jean-Laurent Rosenthal, The Fruits of Revolution: Property Rights, Litigation, and French Agriculture, 1700-1860 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992). [HC275 .R59 1992]

  2. Arun Agrawal and K. Sivaramakrishnan, eds., Agrarian Environments: Resources, Representations, and Rule in India (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000). [HD876 .A553 2000]

  3. William Cronon, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983). [GF504.N45 C76 1983]



Theme: Irrigation


  1. Donald Worster, Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West (New York: Pantheon Books, 1987). [HC107.A17 W67 1987]

  2. Karl Wittfogel, Oriental Despotism: A Comparative Study of Total Power (New York: Vintage Books, 1981). [JC414 .W5 1981]

  3. Donald Pisani, From the Family Farm to Agribusiness: The Irrigation Crusade in California and the West, 1850-1931 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984). [HD1739.C2 P57 1984]

  4. Imran Ali, The Punjab under Imperialism, 1885-1947 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988). [HD879.P8 A6 1988] 

  5. John Wesley Powell, Report on the lands of the arid region of the United States: with a more detailed account of the lands of Utah, 2d ed. (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1879). [HD1671.U5 A4 1879]



Theme: Colonialism


  1. William Cronon, Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England (New York: Hill and Wang, 1983). [GF504.N45 C76 1983]

  2. Richard Grove, Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens, and the Origins of Environmentalism, 1600-1860 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996). [GE195 .G76 1996]

  3. William Beinart and JoAnn McGregor, eds., Social History and African Environments (Oxford: James Currey, 2003). [GF701 .S63 2003]

  4. Mike Davis, Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World (London: Verso, 2001). [HC79.F3 D38 2001] 



Theme: Consumption


  1. Sidney W. Mintz, Sweetness and Power: the Place of Sugar in Modern History (New York: Viking, 1985). [GT2869 .M56 1985]

  2. P. J. Bakewell, Silver Mining and Society in Colonial Mexico: Zacatecas, 1546-1700 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971). [HD9536 .M43 Z33]

  3. Andrew C. Isenberg, Mining California: an Ecological History (New York: Hill and Wang, 2005).

  4. Kenneth Pomeranz and Steven Topik, The World that Trade Created: Society, Culture, and the World Economy, 1400-the Present (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1999). [HF352 .P58 1999]

  5. Mark Kurlansky, Salt: a World History (New York: Walker and Co., 2002). [TN900 .K96 2002]

  6. Bennett A. Weinberg, The World of Caffeine: the Science and Culture of the World’s Most Popular Drug (New York: Routledge, 2001). [QP801 .C24 W45 2001]



Theme: Pollution


  1. Joel A. Tarr, The Search for the Ultimate Sink: Urban Pollution in Historical Perspective (Akron: University of Akron Press, 1996).

  2. Martin V. Melosi, Garbage in the Cities: Refuse, Reform and the Environment, rev. ed. (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005).

  3. Peter Brimblecombe, The Big Smoke: A History of Air Pollution in London since Medieval Times (New York: Methuen, 1987).

  4. Timothy S. George, Minamata: Pollution and the Struggle for Democracy in Postwar Japan (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001).



Theme: Conservation


  1. Andrew C. Isenberg, The Destruction of the Bison: an Environmental History, 1750-1920 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000). [QL737 .U53 I834 2000]

  2. David Day, The Doomsday Book of Animals: a Natural History of Vanished Species (New York: Viking Press, 1981). [QL88 .D39]

  3. David Rains Wallace, The Quetzal and the Macaw: the Story of Costa Rica’s Natural Parks (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1992). [SB484 .C8 W35 1992]

  4. Chris Coggins, The Tiger and the Pangolin: Nature, Culture, and Conservation in China (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2003).

  5. William Beinart, The Rise of Conservation in South Africa: Settlers, Livestock, and the Environment, 1770-1950 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).

  6. Richard Grove, Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens, and the Origins of Environmentalism, 1600-1860 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995). [GE195 .G76 1996]



Theme: Environmentalism


  1. Paul Greenough and Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, eds., Nature in the Global South: Environmental Projects in South and Southeast Asia (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003).

  2. John F. Richards and Richard P. Tucker, eds., World Deforestation in the Twentieth Century (Durham: Duke University Press, 1988).

  3. Char Miller, Gifford Pinchot and the Making of Modern Environmentalism (Washington: Island Press/Shearwater Books, 2001).

  4. Ramachandra Guha, Environmentalism: a Global History (New York: Longman, 2000).


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