From the 1996 July-August Institute
and the 1997 June Follow-up Session
This program was funded by the
National Endowment for the Humanities
with Support from Kansas State Universit
Description of Institute Program Design and Goals
List of Texts Used by Participants
List of Staff
List of Visiting Scholars
Presentations by Visiting Scholars
Introduction to Elementary and Middle School Participant Presentations and Lesson Plans
Introduction to Secondary School Participant Presentations and Lesson Plans
Okay, next time we do an N.E.H. Summer Teachers' Institute on Environmental History we'll make sure the textbooks are at the dorms waiting for participants--rather than have folks lug them from Eisenhower Hall back to the dorms in 113 degree heat.
And we'll try to find a nicer classroom with air conditioners somewhat less noisy than, say, the launch of a space shuttle.
"Details, details," we sometimes say.
But they're important, aren't they? For the participants in our 1995 People, Prairies, and Plains Institute those details and many others are memories now. We remember the late-night conversations; our Writing Director Elizabeth Dodd's unmistakable laugh; our Writing Director's assignments; and our Master Teachers' assignments. We remember all that reading. We recall that yummy dorm food.
These institutes are hard work, for all involved: the participants (K-12 teachers from the Great Plains region as well as exotic locales...Illinois, Ohio, Louisiana, and elsewhere) whose lesson plans follow; the Master Teachers Lou Ann Getz and Jane Eberle; the staff of Jim Sherow, Chris Cokinos, Elizabeth Dodd, and Buddy Gray; the ever-patient graduate students Wendy Kyle, Bob Irvine, and Paul Hatley; the ever-remarkable Nedra Sylvis, without whom none of this would have happened; and, of course, our distinguished visiting scholars who delivered the provocative talks you'll also find in this publication.
We asked our teachers to come to Kansas State University for a month, with books and stipend and room and board provided for them by the National Endowment for the Humanities. (It's a wise program, dedicated to wisdom.) We asked our teachers to come having read many books. While here, they listened to lectures, took notes, asked insightful questions, developed ideas for lesson plans, worked on writing assignments. They honed their intellectual and pedagogical skills.
This summer, in 1996, they returned for a weekend follow-up session in which they discussed how they applied what they had learned about environmental history in their classrooms. The results were--are--impressive. The lesson plans here attest to that.
But, for all that work--which deserves much credit--the work is only beginning. Who can possibly absorb in one year all the intellectual, pedagogical, and creative material our participants encountered in reading their primary texts for the 1995 summer institute and then listening to stellar lectures from visiting scholars and working in writing and curriculum workshops?
This material is the basis for new beginnings. It is a catalyst. We expect that each year, each semester, the teachers who participated in this program--and those who are encountering it for the first time through this publication--will see connections, have ideas, draw up exercises, develop new lesson plans and curricula, then share with others. We expect a continuing integration of environmental history into many different classrooms across the country.
As for us, we will be planning another application to the N.E.H. for another summer teachers' institute, this time with a broader "environment and humanities" theme. Anyone interested in receiving material about such a program--if it is funded--should write to us. We'll keep your name on file. . Meanwhile, glean from this hefty publication a great deal of wisdom. This is for you...and your students.
Jim Sherow, Director Chris Cokinos, Assistant Director
In December 1993, Chris Cokinos and I, with the support of the Department of History, Kansas State University (KSU), submitted a grant proposal to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in order to fund a four-week Institute for K-12 school teachers from Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. We proposed to enrich these teachers' understanding of the humanities through environmental history--a segment of the past little understood, seldom taught, and excluded from K-12 survey texts. Environmental history emphasizes the study of people in their environments through time, and how people have responded to environmental change, caused both by themselves and other forces. We planned to ground the larger tenets of the discipline in places and experiences relevant to the participants' backgrounds. NEH found our grant prospectus attractive and funded our institute.
The Institute had three primary goals. First, it related the legacy of what Richard White calls "the reciprocal influences of a changing nature and a changing society" to uninformed teachers and their students. Second, the Institute engaged participants in the best scholarship of environmental history. Third, the Institute provided participants with concrete suggestions for incorporating lessons of the Institute into their own classrooms.
In the first week, we stressed the role of people in their environments through time. Mari Sandoz's non- fiction account Love Song to the Plains served as a sound guide for introducing the tenets of the discipline. She explores how people, from the earliest inhabitants to the ranchers and farmers of the 1960s, related to the plains, and how the plains influenced their lives. Her insights comprised the essence of the field: the study of the historical role of people in shaping their environments.
In the second week, we explored American historical thought about the land and how thought often forms a powerful force ultimately affecting environments. In Sod and Stubble John Ise relates the worldviews of Kansas homesteaders who transformed the High Plains into farmlands. Aldo Leopold, in his classic A Sand County Almanac, develops an environmental ethic. Both of these works served as a springboard to stimulate the participants' critical understanding of the American ideological approach toward nature.
The third week employed the history and literature of the Dust Bowl to illustrate how people formed a particular environment, and to show the social, ecological, and economic consequences of environmental transformation. Lawrence Svobida left a dramatic and cogent memoir of his experiences farming the Dust Bowl in southwestern Kansas called Farming the Dust Bowl. John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath portrays the social pathos associated with environmental calamity. These two works certainly stimulated the participants' thinking about how to interpret the historical forces shaping environments.
The fourth week examined the forces shaping urban environments and how these environments have altered the plains. Often scholars overlook urban environmental history even though the vast majority of Americans live in cities. Americans need an understanding of how city environments are shaped and how these reach out to change the rural landscape. A beginning place for this exploration was Barbara Sicherman's, Alice Hamilton, A Life in Letters, and Upton Sinclair's classic novel The Jungle.
Central to our goals was the participation of prominent environmental historians. Susan Flader, Dan Flores, Samuel Hays, R. Douglas Hurt, Arthur McEvoy, Martin Melosi, Carolyn Merchant, John Opie, and Donald Worster--each a renowned scholar--gave presentations that illuminated the participants' study of the core texts by discussing with them their most recent research. On the basis of their readings and these discussions, the teachers prepared a curriculum through which they integrated environmental history into the mainstream of the K-12 curriculum during the school year of 1995-96.
The inclusion of environmental history adds immeasurably to the K-12 curriculum. By using these carefully defined historical case studies -- People and Environment, Ideas and Environment, The Great Plains Environment, and Urban Environments -- K-12 teachers from the prairie and plains states broadened their teaching with this approach to the humanities. Teachers explored with their students how politics, economics, society, and diplomacy have shaped environments throughout American history. Moreover, the teachers of the earth and social sciences benefited by gaining an understanding of how history is woven into the fabric of their subjects. For example, lessons in ecology showed how plants and animals have responded not only to vagaries in rain or other non-human factors, but also to historical changes in economics, technology, and society. Through our NEH Institute, we exposed the participants to works on environmental history and to some of the best scholars in the field, all of which enabled these teachers to enrich their students' understanding of the humanities, as is so amply demonstrated in this resource guide.
Sandoz, Mari. Love Song to the Plains, (1961).
McEvoy, Arthur. The Fisherman's Problem: Ecology and Law in the
California Fisheries, (1986).
Merchant, Carolyn. Major Problems in American Environmental History, (1993).
White, Richard. "American Environmental History: The Development of a New Historical Field." Pacific Historical Review (1985): 297-335.
Wilkinson, Charles F. Crossing the Next Meridian: Land, Water, and the Future of the West, (1992).
Ise, John. Sod and Stubble, (1936).
Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There, (1947).
Fox, Stephen. The American Conservation Movement: John Muir and
His Legacy, (1985).
Lyon, Thomas J., ed. This Incomperable Lande: A Book of American Nature Writing, (1991).
Worster, Donald. Nature's Economy, (1985).
Svobida, Lawrence. Farming the Dust Bowl: A First Hand Account from Kansas,
Steinbeck, John. The Grapes of Wrath, (1939).
Cronon, William. "A Place for Stories: Nature, History, and
Narrative." Journal of American History 78 (March 1992): 1347-76.
Hurt, R. Douglas. The Dust Bowl: An Agricultural and Social History, (1981).
Worster, Donald. Dust Bowl, (1979).
Sicherman, Barbara. Alice Hamilton, A Life in Letters, (1984).
Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle, (1905).
Cronon, William. Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West,
Hays, Samuel P. Beauty, Health, and Permanence: Environmental Politics in the United States, 1955-1985, (1987).
Melosi, Martin. Garbage in the Cities: Refuse, Reform, and the Environment, 1880-1980, (1981).
* The photograph of participants and staff (and visiting scholar Art McEvoy) was paid for by the Friends of History. We gratefully acknowledge that contribution.
* The participants' presentations and lesson plans included here are those that were received in time and in good order.
* The following scholarly presentations were based on previously published material and were not included here:
Carolyn Merchant's presentations on "Ecological Revolution" and "Women and Conservation" are included in the book Major Problems in American Environmental History, which Merchant edited and is one of the texts supplied to the participants.
Susan Flader's presentation on "Aldo Leopold and the Evolution of the Land Ethic" is included in Aldo Leopold: The Man and His Legacy, edited by Thomas Tanner and published by the Soil Conservation Society of America, 1987.
Elliott West's presentation on "The Way to the West" was based on the first chapter of his book The Way to the West: Essays on the Central Plains, published by the University of New Mexico Press, 1995.
* Lesson plans from the Institute were also included in a special section of the Magazine of History, published by the Organization of American Historians. The issue was Vol. 10, No. 3, Spring 1996. Lesson plans ran from page 24-39; they were Ned Kerstetter's "The Silent Spring of Rachel Carson"; Harriet Ratzlaff's "The Prairie Life: The Sea of Grass"; and Julia Polak's "How People Have Used Soils, How Soils Have Affected U.S. History." The entire issue was dedicated to environmental history and was edited by Dan Flores.