Section Information for Fall 2011From their earliest colonial beginnings to the present day, Americans have defined themselves, their sense of national purpose, and even their nation itself in terms of their physical environment. In the eighteenth century, Americans insisted that their dominance over an untamed wilderness would serve as an example to rest of the world of the new nation’s moral virtue. Later, the market revolution of the nineteenth century provoked an “ecological revolution” in which Americans recast their natural environment as an endless cornucopia to be exploited and developed. And in the decades following the industrial revolution, Americans again recast the natural world as a fragile space to be conserved, preserved, and protected. Throughout, Americans transformed their national landscape in ways both profound and profane. In tracing these transformations, the course will pursue three goals, or directions. First, we will ask how the natural world and natural resources have historically shaped patterns of American life. Second, we will ask how Americans have given meaning to the world around them, and how those meanings have both governed Americans’ relationship with the environment and how they have changed over time. Finally, we will seek to understand how Americans have altered the landscape around them to suit their notions of nature, wilderness, and environment, and the political consequences of those decisions.
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