STS.038 | Fall 2006 | Undergraduate

Energy and Environment in American History: 1705-2005


Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


This course uses the prism of energy to examine the history of the United States from the colonial period to the present. We will consider how energy has affected, and is affected by, American society, culture, science and technology, politics, diplomacy, and the environment. Major questions to keep in mind throughout the course include: how has increasing energy use has transformed American social life, the economy, and politics? What are the relationships between energy consumption and environmental change? What are the relationships between scientific discoveries, technological innovation, and social change? How did the United States grew to be the larger consumer of energy in the history of the world?

Class Structure

Class meets twice a week. The first session of the week consists of lectures, and the second session of class discussion of the week’s readings.


Students will write weekly, two-page response papers on the readings in advance of the week’s discussion session (and to be handed in at the end of that discussion). This assignment is intended to facilitate critical thinking about the readings and your reactions will serve as prompts for our class discussions. Note: response papers are not due on the days your other, longer essays are due. In addition, you may drop the lowest graded response from your final grade calculation. See assignments for a more detailed description of how to approach them. Students have two options for longer writing assignments. Everyone will write a 5-8 page mid-term essay, due in class in Ses #13, which will address themes raised in the first half of the course.

Writing Option One

Writing option one involves a second 5-8 page final essay, due in class in Ses #24, plus a final exam during the exam period.

Writing Option Two

Writing option two recognizes that not everyone likes to take final exams. If you choose this option, you will instead write a single, 15-20 page research paper, due in class in Ses #26. If you choose this option, you must let me know by Ses #9 so we can discuss your topic and research strategy.


Grades will be determined as follows:

Response Papers 15%
Class Participation 20%
Mid-term Essay 20%
Final Evaluation (for writing option one, this means 20% second paper and 25% final exam; for writing option two, 45% for the 15-20 page final research paper) 45%

Required Books

White, Richard. The Organic Machine: The Remaking of the Columbia River. New York, NY: Hill and Wang, 1996. ISBN: 9780809015832.

Gorn, Elliott. Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Woman in America. Reprint ed. New York, NY: Hill and Wang, 2002. ISBN: 9780809070947.

Rome, Adam. The Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2001. ISBN: 9780521804905.

Horowitz, Daniel. Jimmy Carter and the Energy Crisis of the 1970s. Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004. ISBN: 9780312401221.

Badash, Lawrence. Scientists and the Development of Nuclear Weapons: From Fission to the Limited Test Ban Treaty, 1939-1963. Reprint ed. New York, NY: Humanities Press International, Inc., 1999. ISBN: 9781573927154.

Weart, Spencer. The Discovery of Global Warming. Reprint ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004. ISBN: 9780674016378.

Also, see “Guide for Purchasing Books On-Line” in related resources for advice on tracking down less expensive copies of books.


1 Introduction: Energy and Society  
2-3 Energy in Early America: Fields, Fire, Wind, and Water  
4-5 Industrial Revolution I: Coal and the Transformation of America  
6-7 Inventing Energy: Thermodynamics in the 19th Century  
8 Industrial Revolution II: Miners, Strikes, and Labor  
9-10 Electrification I: Building the Network Choose one writing option by Ses #9 and let instructor know
11-12 Electrification II: Energy, Gender, and the Home  
13-14 The Industrialization of Agriculture Midterm essay due in Ses #13
15-16 The Century of Oil  
17-18 Automobiles, Suburbanization, and American Demography in the Twentieth Century  
19-20 Nuclear Power and Nuclear Weapons  
21-22 Limits to Growth and the Energy Crisis of the 1970s  
23-24 Global Warming Second essay (writing option one) due in Ses #24
25-26 The World Ahead

Research paper (writing option two) due in Ses #26

Final exam (writing option two) one week after Ses #26