This semester has been one filled with thoughtful and intelligent discussions about a topic that in recent years has become more popular–environmental history. This class was no regular history class where one learns about a specific disaster or group of people who impacted the environment in a specific way. We learned about how and why the United States is in its current state and where the nation might be headed if a more symbiotic relationship fails to develop between humans and nature. Thus, we, with the help of interesting and theoretical texts, determined that nature was an actual actor and had agency, something that most of us had not thought of before this class.
US history and environmental history cannot be told without each other. Their histories are intertwined. This class has made this apparent. As Chelsea said last week, “Steinberg doesn’t simply blame human agency for the use and overuse of resources and the exploitation of land. Steinberg emphasizes that nature played a huge role in the development of American history.” While humans impact and continue to impact nature, nature also has the ability to effect humans and other parts of nature. One could argue that humans are the “bad” people 90% of the time, but nature has the potential to be the “bad” person the other 10% of the time.
This class has made me realize the separation that exists in environmental history. There is a history of natural disasters and a history of nature. Determining a natural disaster is not as difficult as determining something to be apart of nature. This semester has largely been about determining the extent to which something (or someone?) is “natural.” I think a good way to think about things being “natural” is to think about who and what exist in this world. If something exists, then it is “natural” and therefore apart of nature. So often people try to make a division between things that are natural and unnatural. Many time something thought to be natural is not actually “natural” at all. Why make such a distinction? Well, it is crucial when understanding that components of the environment have the potential to be destroyed by human interactions. But, the environment has the potential to destroy humans as well.
This course has taught us to think about the effects of building a house or town in an area that is not fit for living. It has taught us that environmental history dates back to a period well beyond the boundaries most people set. I challenge you to think about nature, its beginnings, if it has an actual beginning, and if humans are a natural component of nature.