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Culture and Environment



This course explores human-environment interactions. We will examine ideas about 'nature' and 'culture' in relation to economic, political and social organization. We will consider humans as agents of ecological change and landscape transformations in a variety of contexts. The first three books are accounts of the Americas during different time periods. The fourth and final book describes smallholder farming societies in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.
The semester begins with Michael Pollan's book Second Nature. Pollan connects his first-hand experience gardening on an old dairy farm in Connecticut with larger questions about the place of humans in nature and the place of nature in human imagination. The second book is a translation of Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca's account to the king of Spain (originally written in 1542 under the title La Relación). In it he describes his experiences with the environments and peoples of the Americas. In 1527, Cabeza de Vaca began an eight-year journey that took him across the territories now known as Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and northern Mexico. Next we will read Gordon Whitney's book From Coastal Wilderness to Fruited Plain. Whitney presents an ecological history of the northeastern United States, documenting the transformations that occurred in this part of the American landscape following European settlement. We will conclude the course thinking about livelihoods, landscapes and intensive, sustainable agriculture with readings in Robert McC. Netting's book Smallholders, Householder.
This course will be taught as a seminar with emphasis on improving our analytical thinking, discussion, and writing skills.





Course Professors

    Spring 2014

  1. McElwee, Pamela
  1. Rutgers
  2. New Brunswick
Department of Human Ecology