What is nature? Wilderness? What makes something “natural” or “wild”? In this course, we will wrestle with ideas about nature and the place of people in it, in the context of the American past — and present. The frontier experience, national parks, historic and modern debates about environmental questions: these are just a few of the topics we will discuss. We will examine first-hand accounts, photographs, fiction, historical writing, and environmental journalism as we craft personal and analytical essays. Readings may include selections by Muir, Dillard, Leopold, London, Lopez, and McPhee, as well as pieces written by a range of environmental historians. The authors and actors we will encounter will challenge us to think (and write) critically about our own relationships to nature and place.

HIS 1147: American Beauty: Exploring Ideas about Nature and Place. [Syllabus]

I designed and taught this freshman writing seminar in Spring 2012 and Fall 2012 through the Department of History at Cornell as part of the Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines.


My dog, Boh, on one of Ithaca’s many trails. Photo by Amy Kohout.