Tim Sweet
West Virginia University

Seminar in American Studies: "Nature's Nation"


Our investigations in this seminar will be guided by a question that is becoming increasingly important in American studies: How do we understand our relationship to the physical environment and what are the economic, political, and social implications of that understanding?  We will address this question historically, beginning with its origins in early theories of colonization such as More's Utopia and continuing through the work of Thoreau and George Perkins Marsh.  While Thoreau and Marsh are often identified as originators of (rather different) modern, environmentally responsive visions, the structure of the seminar invites us to consider their writings in relation to the developing context of Americans' engagements with the natural environment.

We will proceed collaboratively.  This does not mean that we will necessarily arrive at a unified approach to early American environmental thought by the end of the semester.  It does mean that we will all contribute substantially to an ongoing discussion by bringing our own research on a range of relevant primary, critical, theoretical, and historical material to bear in class on the scheduled readings.  Each student will take primary responsibility for generating discussion in two class sessions.  Those who are not directing the class in a given week will provide additional perspectives from our ongoing research.  Each of us will bring away from this collaboration a variety of insights to apply to our own projects.

Required texts (available at Stilwell Books or at the WVU Bookstore)

Cooper, James Fenimore.  The Pioneers.  Penguin, 1988.
Crèvecoeur, J. Hector St. John De.  Letters from an American Farmer.  Ed. Susan Manning.
     Oxford UP, 1999.
Jefferson, Thomas.  Notes on the State of Virginia.  Ed. Frank Shuffleton.  Penguin, 1999.
Kirkland, Caroline.  A New Home, Who'll Follow?.  Ed. Sandra Zagarell.  Rutgers UP, 1990.
Mancall, Peter C., ed.  Envisioning America: English Plans for the Colonization of North America,
    1580-1640.  Bedford/St. Martin's, 1995.
Marsh, George Perkins.  Man and Nature.  Ed. David Lowenthal.  Harvard UP, 1973.
More, Sir Thomas.  Utopia.  Ed. David Harris Sacks. Bedford/St. Martin's, 1999.
Perdue, Theda, and Michael D. Green, eds. The Cherokee Removal : A Brief History With
    Documents.  Bedford/St. Martin's, 1995.
Ridge, John Rollin.  Life and Adventures of Joaquín Murieta, The Celebrated California Bandit.  U
    of Oklahoma P, 1977.
 Thoreau, Henry David.  Walden.  Ed. J. Lyndon Shanley.  Princeton UP, 1989.

Requirements and grading

Your grade for the course will be based primarily on a 25-page final paper on a topic of your choice relevant to the concerns of the course, subject to my approval.  The paper must demonstrate fluency with current research on the chosen topic and awareness of the place of the topic and approach within the discipline of American studies.  The paper will be weighted at about 85% of your final grade.  The remaining 15% or so of your final grade will be based on your contributions to the course during the semester (including but not limited to the class sessions you lead).


9/1   Thoreau, Walden

9/8   More, Utopia

9/15  Envisioning America

9/22  Robert Beverley, History and Present State of Virginia (photocopied excerpts)

9/29  Reports on research directions for final papers

10/6  Crèvecoeur, Letters

10/13 Jefferson, Notes
            (Note: Patrick Murphy's talk 10/14, 7:30, Rhododendron Rm.)

10/20 Cooper, Pioneers

10/27 Cherokee Removal : A Brief History; Ridge, Joaquín Murieta

11/3   Kirkland, New Home; Emerson, Nature (1836) (find a copy of this on your own)

11/10 Progress reports on research; presentation by Tom Kinnahan

11/17 Marsh, Man and Nature

11/24 Thanksgiving Recess

12/1   Peer conference on drafts of final papers

12/8   Oral reports on final papers; course evaluations

Final paper due Monday, December 13