American History and the Environment

I think that there is a commonly-held feeling that environmental issues did not exist in the US until Rachel Carson’s battles in the early part of the 20th Century.  We almost have this idyllic view of an agrarian past where we didn’t have the technological means (industry, coal/nuclear power, mass farming, etc) to really damage the environment.  Chris J. Magoc, of Mercyhurst College, would have us rethink this myth.  His book, Environmental Issues in American History discusses key environmental battles from the founding of our country to the present day.  Importantly, this book includes primary documents, so that the reader can “hear” from the people who are locked in these battles.  Just to get a taste of the scope of this book, I have typed out the tabel of contents, chapter by chapter.  This is a nice preview of the issues that are included.  This book is available in the Moraine Valley Library.

  • Nature as a Commodity: Native Americans, White Settlers, and the Land Ordinance of 1785
  • Controlling Water in the Early Industrialization of New England
  • Scientific Forestry and the Emergence of Conservation
  • Property Rights, Technology, and Environmental Protection: Hydraulic Gold Miners v. Farmers in California
  • Wildlife Conservation: Slaughter and Salvation of the Bison
  • “Reclaiming” the Arid West
  • Preservation vs. Conservation: The Epic Fight over Yosemite’s Hetch-Hetchy Valley
  • Progressive Women and “Municipal Housekeeping”: Caroline Bartlett Crane’s Fight for Improved Meat Inspection
  • Getting the Lead Out: Public Health and the Debate over Tetraethly Leaded  Gasoline
  • Causes and Consequences of the Dust Bowl
  • The Donora Disaster and the Problem of Air Pollution
  • Rachel Carson, Cesar Chavez, and the Pesticide Debate
  • Love Canal and the Grassroots Movement Against Toxic Waste
  • The Endangered Species Act: the Rights of Nature?
  • Three Mile Island and the Search for a National Energy Policy