American Studies Seminar - 2009
America's Environmental Histories
In this seminar for undergraduates at the American Antiquarian Society, students will investigate the roles that both natural and built environments have played in the development of American society. Over the course of the semester the class will move from broad studies and images of America's environments to local histories of the Blackstone River Valley's natural and built landscapes. Over the first several weeks, the class will discuss the "big ideas" — Wilderness and Landscape — that have shaped Americans' relationships with their many environments. The class will then delve into the history of landscape paintings and other forms of visual culture that disseminate ideas about natural and built environments; students will use the American Antiquarian Society's prodigious collection of graphic arts (including lithographs, city views, photographs, and maps) to assess dominant themes. At this point in the course, the class will narrow our focus to New England. The class will travel to the Fisher Museum of Forestry and will welcome several guest speakers who work in the field of conservation. The last unit of the course will focus on students. original research projects on the environmental histories of the Blackstone River Valley Corridor. Students will choose either a "natural" space or an element of the built environment, using the collections of the American Antiquarian Society (Manuscripts, Graphic Arts, Historical Newspapers) to prove their arguments about the significance of this site in the history of the area. At the end of the semester, students will present papers as part of a Conference on the Blackstone River Valley's Environmental Histories. Throughout the course, students will learn to see the environments they live in, walk through, and drive past in new and exciting ways.
The seminar leader is Megan Kate Nelson. She is the author of Trembling Earth : A Cultural History of the Okefenokee Swamp.