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Humanities Libertexts

Book: American Environmental History (Allosso)

  • Page ID
    8274
  • For too long the environment has been considered little more than a neutral background to history. This text surveys findings of the new field of Environmental History about how the environment of the Americas influenced the actions of people here and how people affected their environments, from prehistory to the present.

    • Introduction
      Environmental History is about looking at the past as if the environment matters. American History is about looking at the past of not only the United States, but of both the American continents. This wider view is especially important when we realize that people occupied the Americas for over 15,000 years before Europeans arrived and that when the came to the Americas, Europeans focused their interest for centuries on areas that are not part of the current United States.
    • 1: Prehistory
      This is the story of how people first reached the Americas and what they did when they got here. We’ll discuss the regular climate cycles that produce ice ages and the changes that result. We’ll discover Beringia, where the ancestors of Native Americans lived for thousands of years. And we’ll talk about the first Americans.
    • 2: Recontact
      The cultures of the Americas developed separately from their Eurasian cousins for about 12,000 years. In this chapter we’ll explore what happened when Europeans discovered the Americas.
    • 3: Colonial North America
      Who came to North America? What did they expect? What did they find? What did they do?
    • 4: Frontier and Grid
      In this chapter we explore the lure of the Western Frontier on colonists and early Americans, and how people began expanding westward from the initial European settlements in North America.
    • 5: Commons, Mills, & Corporations
      The Industrial Revolution not only changed America’s economy and spurred the growth of cities; it changed the way Americans relate to the natural environment. In this chapter we trace changes in our ideas of what the environment is for, and who it’s for.
    • 6: Transportation Revolution
      In this chapter we examine technological changes that improved Americans’ ability to move people and goods, as well as the economic and political forces that helped shape the growth of transportation networks.
    • 7: Commodities, Centers, & Peripheries
      In this chapter we examine the complex relationships between Eastern and Western cities as centers of production and consumption, and the peripheral places they depended on for raw materials and consumers.
    • 8: Green Revolution
      Although we may not be aware of it, the continued existence of the modern world depends on three minerals. In this chapter we’ll explore the history of fertilizer.
    • 9: City Life
      Rapid growth stressed city environments, and growing cities made controversial claims on the environments outside the city limits. Some profited, and others worked to improve city life for everyone.
    • 10: Wilderness and Country Life
      In this chapter we examine both the actions of nineteenth-century Americans with respect to the environment, and the ways their ideas about wilderness and life in rural America influenced those actions.
    • 11: Farmers and Agribusiness
      Farmers have been central to each of the periods we have covered in previous chapters. In this chapter, we focus on the farms themselves and look at how they have changed over time and what those changes might mean.
    • 12: Treasures Underground
      Natural resources have always been an important motivation for nations exploring the Americas. In this chapter we’ll explore the treasures Europeans and Americans found in the western hemisphere and the ongoing search for resources.
    • 13: Limits to Growth?
      Are human societies able to continue growing forever, or are there limits to the Earth’s carrying capacity?
    • 14: Economics and Externalities
      Economics is a powerful tool for evaluating our choices in history and in the present. But we have to be aware of its limitations and assumptions.
    • 15: Food and Choice
      We can take the knowledge we gain studying history and apply it to our present and to the future. Here’s one possibility.

    Thumbnail: A lumberjack standing at the base of a huge tree showing a cut in the tree, ca.1900. Image used with permission (CC BY; University of Southern California. Libraries and California Historical Society).

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