History 295: Research Seminar on the History of Environmentalism

Course Description

In this course we will survey the history of environmental movements in Europe and North America, from their 18th-century precursors to the emergence of ecological political parties in the 1980s and 1990s.  Our approach will be interdisciplinary, encompassing developments in natural science, socioeconomic change, politics, and cultural and intellectual life.

The main goal of the course will be for the students to produce a research paper based on primary sources; however, I will also include class presentations and shorter written assignments to take students toward this goal in a structured and incremental manner.


Ernest Callenbach, Ecotopia

Donald Worster, Nature’s Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas (2d ed.)

Carolyn Merchant, Radical Ecology: The Search for a Livable World

Class Pack, available from Campus Copy in Rand Hall

Assignments, Grading

You should finish each week’s assigned readings before the Tuesday class meeting.  In order to carry out a satisfying discussion, it is essential that all students come to class well-prepared to contribute their thoughts and observations.  I encourage you to take notes on the readings as you go along; this will help you considerably when you are writing your research paper.

There will be no examinations in this course.  Late assignments will be penalized at the rate of 5% per day.

All assignments for this course will be governed by Vanderbilt’s honor code.  Please read carefully the description of the honor code in the student handbook and the section on plagiarism in the class pack for this course.  If you have any questions about this very important matter, please come and discuss them with me.

Semester grades will be determined according to the following percentages:

Discussion participation:    15%

Topic proposal:     3%

Ecotopia paper:    10%

Sources overview:   5%

Outline:       7%

First polished draft:  20%

Final manuscript:     40%


Week 1

* Jan. 16 — Introduction

Start reading Ecotopia; start thinking about a possible research topic

Week 2

* Jan. 23 — Discuss Ecotopia, part 1

Read Ecotopia (first half of book); zero in on research topic

Sign up for individual topic conference with me coming up in Week 3

Week 3

* Jan. 30 — Discuss Ecotopia, part 2

* Topic proposal due at beginning of class

Individual topic conferences with me (after Tuesday)

Finish Ecotopia

Week 4

* Feb. 6 — Library tour; meet in Central Library’s Microfilm media classroom, 6th floor.  Enter library through ground floor foyer.  Take stairs on left, near reference desk.  Go up to 6th floor.  Turn left into microfilm media center.  Once inside, turn left again to find classroom.

Name of history librarian: Nancy Godleski (tel. 343-4838)

* Ecotopia paper due at beginning of class

Start reading Worster, chs. 1-5

Work on Sources overview, due next week

Week 5

* Feb. 13 — Discuss the 18th and early 19th centuries

* Sources overview due at beginning of class

Read Worster, chs. 1-5

Week 6

* Feb. 20 — Class presentation on your topic (5 minutes per person)

Start reading Worster, chs. 6-9

Week 7

* Feb. 27 — Darwinian Ecology

* Outline due at beginning of class

Read Worster, chs. 6-9

Week 8

Spring Break

Week 9

* March 12 — Ecology on the American Frontier

Read Worster, chs. 10-12

Week 10

* March 19 — Economics, Ethics, and the Age of Ecology

Read Worster, chs. 13-17

Week 11

* March 26 — Discuss Merchant’s definition of basic ecological concepts

* First polished draft (10 pages) due at beginning of class, in FOUR stapled copies

Read Merchant, pp. 1-84

Week 12

* April 2 — Students work on each other’s papers in groups of three (30 mins. per person)

Read and mark up the papers by the students in your group

Read Merchant, pp. 85-156

* Hand in photocopy of the marked-up versions of each other’s papers at end of class

Week 13

* April 9 — Discuss Merchant’s Radical Ecology

Read Merchant, pp. 157-241

Week 14

* April 16 — Class presentations by students: “What I have concluded” (10 mins. each)

Week 15

* April 23 — Class presentations continue

* Final manuscript due at beginning of class