Environmental history is the study of how people have both affected and been affected by their physical surroundings over time. In this course, we will learn to look at the world around us with a historical eye, thinking about how local landscapes got the way they are today and how our perceptions of those landscapes are shaped by cultural and social ideas about the environment. We will think about the impacts of global and national processes and events, as well as local changes, on specific sites, and learn how to contextualize environmental changes within broad historical trends.
The class gives you a chance to “do” environmental history, walking through landscapes, asking questions, and analyzing sources while applying the theories and ideas we will learn in class. In early February, the class will take a Saturday field trip to Detroit to meet our community partners and tour some of the neighborhoods, parks, and gardens that make up the city’s diverse landscape. For the rest of the academic term, you will work in groups to design and conduct in-depth research on that landscape, culminating in the creation of a multimedia website (using images, maps, text, video/audio, etc.) which will be made available to the Detroit community. You will visit multiple archives and libraries, learn to navigate and analyze a wide range of visual sources, and conduct interviews with long-time residents in the city. Through this project you will come to understand how historical changes in the material world, and the ways people think about that world, have had concrete impacts on peoples’ lives. In addition, the websites you create will help local residents better understand the ways in which their city has changed over time and how their personal experiences are connected to larger stories.
This course has no exams. Instead, your grade will be based on the quality and consistency of your participation in the group project, your engagement with assigned readings and discussions, and the depth of the critical analysis reflected in your final assignments.
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