Course Meeting Times
Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session
The central question of this course is how technological and natural forces have interacted in the making of modern America. Beginning in colonial America and ending in the twenty-first century, we will consider how the visual and material world of “nature” has been reshaped by industrial practices, ideologies, and institutions, with a particular emphasis on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Through our lectures and readings we will visit a variety of landscapes—from small farms to suburbs, from Walden Pond to Yosemite National Park—in an effort to uncover not only the ways that technologies have shaped the landscapes around us, but also the ways that the natural world has resisted and redirected technological change. Topics include land-use patterns; the changing shape of cities and farms; the redesign of water systems; the construction of roads, dams, bridges, irrigation systems; the creation of national parks; ideas about wilderness; aesthetic responses to industrialization; and the role of nature in a “technological world.”
General Course Requirements
Students are expected to attend all sessions and to be active participants in class discussion. More than two (2) unexcused absences will have an adverse effect on your grade. As this is a Communication-Intensive (CI) course, students will be assessed on both oral and written work: students will be required to lead class discussion at least once during the semester, to participate actively in each class discussion, to write frequent 1-2 page informal reading response papers, to write three (3) formal papers of increasing length, and to submit a draft and revision of the final research paper.
Required Reading and Writing
The following books are required for the course. Additional articles and book excerpts will also be assigned and distributed.
Basso, Keith. Wisdom Sits in Places. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press, 1996. ISBN: 9780826317247.
Cronon, William. Changes in the Land. New York, NY: Hill & Wang, 2003. ISBN: 9780809016341.
Solnit, Rebecca. River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and Technological Wild West. New York, NY: Penguin, 2004. ISBN: 9780142004104.
White, Richard. The Organic Machine. New York, NY: Hill & Wang, 1996. ISBN: 9780809015832.
Worster, Donald. Dust Bowl. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2004 . ISBN: 9780195174885.
Please note that the reading assignments should be completed before class on the day they are listed.
Students will be required to write 1-2 page reading response papers in preparation for weekly discussions. Response papers will be graded. Please email me your response papers no later than midnight the night before our discussion so that I can circulate them to the rest of the class. Response papers have two purposes: to help you generate ideas and questions about the week’s topic, and to serve as a starting point for our discussion.
There are three (3) formal writing assignments in this class, as well as a revision of your final paper. I will distribute specific assignment descriptions for each paper as the course gets underway. Today is not too early to start thinking about your final paper, which can explore one of the course topics or a subject related to your other coursework or interests. I will help you design your topics and identify primary and secondary sources, and I will provide more specific research guidelines as you proceed.
Students are expected to adhere to principles of academic honesty in their work. All written work must be a student’s own original work. (Collaboration on essay assignments is not permitted.) Any and all references to other sources within your own paper must be properly documented according to the guidelines in the Chicago Manual of Style. If you have any questions about quoting, paraphrasing, or referring to the work of others, please ask! MIT’s Academic Integrity handbook is a valuable resource that I urge you all to consult.
Grades will be calculated as follows:
|Paper 1 (5 pages)||20%|
|Paper 2 (5-7 pages)||25%|
|Paper 3 (10-12 pages)||40%|
Please note that late papers will be penalized unless you have made prior arrangements with me for an extension.
|LEC #||TOPICS||KEY DATES|
|Week 1. Introduction and problems of definition|
|1||Course overview and introductory lecture|
|2||Discussion: defining Technology and Nature|
|Week 2. Colonial American land use|
|3||A brief history of ecological change in North America in the eighteenth century|
|4||Discussion||Reading response paper due|
|Week 3. Places and how we know them|
|5||Discussion||Reading response paper due|
|Week 4. Industrial America in the countryside|
|6||Imposing an industrial order on the antebellum landscape|
|Week 5. The aesthetics of the industrial landscape in antebellum America|
“Devilish iron horse” and “Aeolian harp”: artistic responses to industrialization
|Paper 1 due|
|Week 6. Railroads and colonization|
View film: The Iron Road. Directed by Neil Goodwin. PBS: The American experience, 1990, 60 min.
|Final paper topic due|
|11||Discussion||Reading response paper due|
|Week 7. Making an agricultural landscape|
View films: The Plow That Broke the Plains. Directed by Pare Lorentz, 1936, 25 min). (View and download at the Internet Archive.)
|13||Discussion||Reading response paper due|
|Week 8. Technological systems and the transformation of time and space in the late nineteenth century|
|14||Networking nation and nature: a case study of weather telegraphy, 1870-1891|
|15||Discussion||Reading response paper due|
|Week 9. Creating American parklands|
|16||Conservation and the scientific management of nature||Paper 2 due|
|Week 10. Water and the hydraulic society|
|18||View film Cadillac Desert. Directed by Jon Else and Linda Harrar, 1997, 60 min.|
|19||Discussion||Reading response paper due|
|Week 11. Labors of and in nature: rivers, energy, and work|
|Week 12. The landscape of postwar suburbia|
|21||Levittown and the building of the suburban family ideal||Draft of final paper due|
|Week 13. The landscape of food|
|23||How food became fast, or, industrial agriculture in the twentieth century|
|Week 14. Presentations of student research projects|
|26||Student presentations (cont.)||Final paper due|