HIST 247 - Nature and Technology in U.S. History


***There is an honors option for this course, with a separate Friday discussion section and extra activities and readings.


Academic Year: 


Course ID and Name: 

Section Number: 

Course Syllabus

Course Description: 

This course explores the development of technology and concepts of nature in the United States, from the colonial period to the present. It interprets the historical roots of the relationship between human knowledge and the environment by examining how science and technology have shaped our knowledge, use, and control of nature. We will focus in part on the late nineteenth and early twentieth century period, when power over nature was increasingly placed in the hands of experts such as ecologists, foresters, engineers, health professionals, and agricultural scientists, based on their specialized knowledge of the natural world. The rise of the popular environmental movement by the 1960s both drew upon and challenged the authority of these experts. Rising concern over the global scale of environmental problems, such as climate change, has recently recast the relationship of humanity with the natural world and has resulted in innovative projects such as Biosphere 2 in southern Arizona. Our central questions throughout the course will be: How has the environment shaped knowledge of nature and the making of technology, and how have knowledge and technologies in turn transformed the environment? To what extent has knowledge of the environment been rooted in culture, and how have ideas about nature changed over time? What roles have different ways of knowing nature played in creating, understanding, and helping to solve environmental problems? And how can we use the insights we have gained from studying the history of nature and technology in the U.S. to bring about a better future? 


Course Objective: 

Students will learn about key transformations in the development of technology and concepts of nature from the colonial period to the present. Students will have the opportunity to improve skills in reading, writing, analysis, and argumentation. A significant emphasis on the reading and interpretation of primary source material will allow students to engage with differing historical perspectives, analyze their meaning in historical context, and learn how to construct better historical arguments using source evidence. Through this course, it is intended that students will be able to place our present-day and future problems related to nature and technology in the context of historical developments that have created and transformed them.


Required Course Materials: 

Available for purchase at the University of Arizona Bookstore.

  • Ruth Schwartz Cowan, The Social History of American Technology
  • Rebecca Reider, Dreaming the Biosphere
  • Donald Worster, Nature’s Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas

Other reading materials will be available on the course’s D2L website.


Course Grading: 

Diligent reading and active discussion of readings, along with regular attendance at all classes including lectures and discussion sections,

  • class participation (20%)
  • two in-class short answer (25%)
  • essay exams (30%)
  • four (plus one revised) written primary source analyses (5x5%)


College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

Contact Us

Department of History
Cesar E. Chavez
Main Office, Room 415 
1110 James E. Rogers Way
Tucson, AZ 85721
Tel: (520) 621-1586
Fax: (520) 621-2422