American Environmental History is an introduction to the historical study of Americans’ relationship with the natural world. The course examines some of the surprising ways that “natural” forces help shaped American history and the ways human beings have shaped, altered, rearranged, destroyed, protected and interacted with nature over time. It also invites students to think about the ways cultural, philosophical, scientific, and political, and legal attitudes towards the environment have changed in the course of American history, pre-history to the present.
Prof. Robert Morrissey brought students from History 202 to Krannert Art Museum to introduce them to artwork in the exhibition Coveting Nature: Art, Collecting, and Natural History in Early Modern Europe. The exhibition curator Maureen Warren discussed works on view and the history of partnership between artists and scientists, beginning in the 16th century and extending to the present day.
Students were asked to look carefully at the works in the exhibition and try to discern from them the way elite Europeans through about the natural world in the Early Modern period. They were encouraged to think about what light the artwork sheds on the ideas and worldviews that Europeans brought with them to North American in the colonial period. Student were asked to consider what ideas about private property, religious ideas, and the dominion of humans over the natural world were revealed in the artists' and scientists' impulse to observe, classify, and understand nature in scientific terms. They were also asked to compare and contrast the relationship of humans and nature from both a European perspective and a Native American or indigenous perspective.