Environmental History of the US

I.     Course Prefix/Number: HIS 223

       Course Name: Environmental History of the US

       Credits: 3 (3 lecture; 0 lab)

II.    Prerequisite


III.   Course (Catalog) Description

Course surveys the history of the environment and human impact/interrelation with nature.  The course will cover the periods of Native American habitation, European settlement, westward expansion, and urban sprawl.  Areas of study include settlement, agriculture, ecology, environmental movements, and conservation efforts.  These areas will be studied through social, political, and economical impacts at the local, national, and international levels.

IV.   Learning Objectives

  1. Demonstrate an ability to evaluate and assess the forces of change, such as political ideology, technology, war, commerce, culture, and the impact of influential individuals on the environment.
  2. Identify and summarize the impact of the environment on American development and vice-versa.
  3. Examine the multiple environmental impacts and implications.
  4. Use primary sources and competing paradigms to interpret history. Judge the validity of the historical contexts presented in textbooks by critical analysis of images and content and by questioning previous interpretation. 
  5. Explain the interrelationship between the political, economic, social, and cultural institutions and ideas at the local, national, and international levels on the American environment.

Skill/Assessment Objectives:  Environmental History of the U.S. develops critical thinking through written evaluation of and classroom discussion of primary documents and complimentary interpretations of history.  Students are required to evaluate documents for provenance; bias and point of view; argument; usefulness as evidence or internal use of evidence; relationship to other documents or interpretations.  Students will be able to:

  1. Comprehend, paraphrase, summarize and contextualize the meanings of varying forms of communication.  In particular they will be able to distinguish pertinent from extraneous detail and relate specific instances to abstract concepts. 
  2. Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of varying historical interpretations, analyzing strength of evidence, and developing ways to assess the reliability of their sources in several media.
  3. Generate new ideas, hypotheses, questions and proposals. 
  4. Assess current historical claims by applying their own acquired experience in analyzing primary source materials.
  5. Appreciate the value of critical thinking in both historical and contemporary case studies of public and private decision-making.

V.    Academic Integrity and Student Conduct

Students and employees at Oakton Community College are required to demonstrate academic integrity and follow Oakton's Code of Academic Conduct. This code prohibits:

• cheating,
• plagiarism (turning in work not written by you, or lacking proper citation),
• falsification and fabrication (lying or distorting the truth),
• helping others to cheat,
• unauthorized changes on official documents,
• pretending to be someone else or having someone else pretend to be you,
• making or accepting bribes, special favors, or threats, and
• any other behavior that violates academic integrity.

There are serious consequences to violations of the academic integrity policy. Oakton's policies and procedures provide students a fair hearing if a complaint is made against you. If you are found to have violated the policy, the minimum penalty is failure on the assignment and, a disciplinary record will be established and kept on file in the office of the Vice President for Student Affairs for a period of 3 years.

Please review the Code of Academic Conduct and the Code of Student Conduct, both located online at

VI.   Sequence of Topics

  1. Native American ecology
  2. Impact of colonization
  3. Impact of westward expansion
  4. Wilderness and culture
  5. Gender and environment
  6. Technology and environment
  7. Topical environmental issues (Examples: pollution, water, agriculture, air, wildlife)
  8. Globalization

VII.  Methods of Instruction

Classes include a variety of instructional methods such as: lectures, in class discussions, group activities, document and film analysis, and the use of new technologies.

Course may be taught as face-to-face, hybrid or online course.

VIII. Course Practices Required

Students will be required to:

  1. Read a standard textbook and research materials
  2. Write outside of class the equivalent of 15-20 double-spaced typed pages in the form of a term paper, summaries of Journal articles, short research papers, and / or other kinds of writing.
  3. Participate in in-class and out-of-class activities.

Course may be taught as face-to-face, hybrid or online course.

IX.   Instructional Materials

Note: Current textbook information for each course and section is available on Oakton's Schedule of Classes.

Brinkley, Douglas. The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America.  New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2009.

Cronon, William. Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1992.

_____________.  Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1996.

Jacoby, Karl.  Crimes Against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

Jackson, Kenneth T. Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Limerick, Patricia. Something in the Soil: Legacies and Reckonings in the New West. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001.

Mannheim, Steve. Walt Disney and the Quest for Community: Design & the Built Environment.  United Kingdom.: Ashgate Publishing, 2003.

McNeill, J.R. Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World.  New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2001.

Merchant, Carolyn. American Environmental History: An Introduction. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.

Mogren, Eric. Warm Sands: Uranium Mill Tailings Policy in the Atomic West. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2001.

Platt, Harold L. Shock Cities: The Environmental Transformation and Reform of Manchester and Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005.

Rome, Adam. The Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Worster, Donald. A Passion for nature: The Life of John Muir. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

X.    Methods of Evaluating Student Progress

At least two exams will be given in addition to other required papers and assignments.

Papers will be evaluated based on how well they conform to the assignment and on how well they employ the historical method.

XI.   Other Course Information

Support Services: Tutoring in history is available at the Learning Center.

If you have a documented learning, psychological, or physical disability you may be entitled to reasonable academic accommodations or services. To request accommodations or services, contact the Access and Disability Resource Center at the Des Plaines or Skokie campus. All students are expected to fulfill essential course requirements. The College will not waive any essential skill or requirement of a course or degree program.

Oakton Community College is committed to maintaining a campus environment emphasizing the dignity and worth of all members of the community, and complies with all federal and state Title IX requirements.

Resources and support for
  • pregnancy-related and parenting accommodations; and
  • victims of sexual misconduct
can be found at www.oakton.edu/title9/.

Resources and support for LGBTQ+ students can be found at www.oakton.edu/lgbtq.

Electronic video and/or audio recording is not permitted during class unless the student obtains written permission from the instructor. In cases where recordings are allowed, such content is restricted to personal use only. Any distribution of such recordings is strictly prohibited. Personal use is defined as use by an individual student for the purpose of studying or completing course assignments.

For students who have been approved for audio and/or video recording of lectures and other classroom activities as a reasonable accommodation by Oakton’s Access Disabilities Resource Center (ADRC), applicable federal law requires instructors to permit those recordings. Such recordings are also limited to personal use. Any distribution of such recordings is strictly prohibited.

Violation of this policy will result in disciplinary action through the Code of Student Conduct.