GEOG 430
Human Use of the Environment



This week we focus on building a foundation of knowledge about how we think about and relate to Nature, and why it matters. The readings and film will demonstrate that our ideas about Nature - what it is, what we want it to be, what our role as humans is in relation to it - have a profound impact on the world around us.

The first item is a reading by an influential geographer and environmental historian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, William Cronon. His research seeks to understand the history of human interactions with the natural world: how we depend on the ecosystems around us to sustain our material lives, how we modify the landscapes in which we live and work, and how our ideas of nature shape our relationships with the world around us.

The second item is a film featuring narration by another prominent thinker on the environment, Michael Pollan. He takes a creative approach to understanding human-environment relations and asks us to reconsider how much control we humans have over the process of crop cultivation and domestication.

Assignments Due During Week 3:

  • Read the lesson material and watch the film.
  • Take the Week 3 Quiz on Canvas (by Tuesday at 11:59 pm Eastern Time).
  • Submit your first Current Event Essay (by Thursday at 11:59 pm Eastern Time).
  • Begin thinking about your final essay topic and thesis statement (these will be due in Week 4).

Check the calendar in Canvas for specific due dates.

Materials for Week 3

  • William Cronon. (1995). Foreword and Introduction: In Search of Nature. Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature. New York: W.W. Norton and Company. pp. 19-56.
  • Michael Schwarz and Edward Gray (directors) (2009).The Botany of Desire: A Plant's Eye View of the World [documentary]. USA: Kikim Media.

Week 3 Objectives:

At the end of this week, you should be able to:

  • identify and compare different ways of defining "Nature," including:
    • Nature as naive reality,
    • Nature as moral imperative,
    • Nature as Eden,
    • Nature as artifice,
    • Nature as virtual reality,
    • Nature as commodity, and
    • Nature as avenging angel;
  • explain and contextualize the motivations of a more "self-critical environmentalism;"
  • discuss the implications of Michael Pollan's argument that plants have evolved to shape human behavior;
  • give examples of how ideas of Nature can influence human use of the environment, and explain why it is important to carefully consider different ways of defining and understanding Nature; and
  • explain how human use of environments and natural resources might change if we understand them as influential actors in environmental change.

Let's dive in!