Hurst Class Catalog: US Environmental History

Sarah Beck, Staff writer

Have you ever wanted to combine two of your interests into one class? Are you interested in the natural environment? What about U.S. history? If so, then U.S. Environmental History might just be the class that you have been searching for.

This class is taught by Chris Magoc, Ph.D., who has been a full-time professor of History at Mercyhurst since 1999. According to Magoc, U.S. Environmental History, “offers a wide-ranging, multiple-disciplinary examination of America’s relationship with nature and the environment, from pre-colonial Native American times to the present day.”

During this course, students will get the chance to analyze human impact on the natural world through topics such as deforestation, suburbanization, farming practices, modern consumer culture and much more. You will be able to observe these human impacts while also analyzing specific historical events that interrelate to these practices and the environment.

This class also provides the opportunity to explore the cultural responses to nature in America through a variety of lenses, such as the Native Americans’ spiritual relationship to the world, the writings of Henry David Thoreau, the National Park movements and so much more. In addition, this class allows you to examine political, legal and policy responses to environmental degradation by analyzing the environmental movement in multiple ways.

Some of the responses that you will observe are the wildlife conservation efforts of the Progressive Era women, Rachel Carson’s confrontation of public health threats and present-day efforts working to address the climate crisis. The class also includes unique aspects that Magoc tries to include. “The fascinating and fun look at pink flamingos, where else would you get that?” said Magoc.

Another unique opportunity this class provides is the chance to read and discuss Nathaniel Rich’s book, “Losing Earth”. This piece of literature focuses on a few politicians from the late 1890s who failed the world by losing the bipartisan opportunity to fully address global warming before the threat was very large. This portion of the class is a great opportunity to stimulate well-rounded discussion among peers, of the climate crisis and ways that politicians, policies and more have failed and succeeded.

Specifically, one of Magoc’s favorite topics in U.S. Environmental history is when the class focuses on Yellowstone history. Magoc said, “[Yellowstone history] was the subject of my first book thirty years ago. And as painful as it is, I enjoy talking about the historical roots of the climate crisis because I know students are concerned about it.”So, who can take this course?

Essentially all Mercyhurst students have the opportunity to enroll in this course because it can be taken as a class to satisfy part of the REACH core. As for students in the department, this course is a great option to satisfy a major requirement or elective. U.S. Environmental History is also a required class for the Sustainability Studies minor. This course is a mix of history, political science, environmental science and sustainability studies which give it an awesome interdisciplinary influence and is applicable to many fields of study across campus.

The biggest benefit to this course is the better understanding and appreciation for the natural world throughout American history all the way to the current day that you will acquire.