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WebQuest: The Rise of Twentieth-Century Environmentalism and the Impact of Henry David Thoreau

Overview: In this WebQuest, you will explore the development of the environmental movement in the twentieth-century, from the early work of Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson to more radical environmentalists such as Edward Abbey, Jim Harrison, and Doug Peacock. You will then look at twentieth-century writers who have been directly influenced by Thoreau and/or directly use Thoreau as a springboard for their own observation and writing.

Reading (please update from the syllabus as distributed, all pages refer to the Norton Book of Nature Writing):
The Rise of Twentieth-Century Environmentalism

  • Aldo Leopold, excerpts from A Sand County Almanac (376-397)
  • Rachel Carson, "The Marginal World" (480-485)
  • Edward Abbey, "Serpents of Paradise" (614-620) and "The Great American Desert" (620-627) 
  • Jim Harrison, "The Beginner's Mind" (760-766)
  • Doug Peacock, "The Big Snow" (833-841)
  • Wallace Stegner, "Coda: Wilderness Letter" (514-519)
  • Wendell Berry, "An Entrance to the Woods" (718-728)
  • Jan Zita Grover, "Cutover" (892-899)
  • Ellen Meloy, "The Flora and Fauna of Las Vegas" (950-959)
  • Robert Michael Pyle, "And the Coyotes Will Lift a Leg" (972-979)
  • Terry Tempest Williams, "The Clan of One-breasted Women" (1091-1098)

The Impact of Henry David Thoreau

  • Joseph Wood Krutch, "Love in the Desert" (398-410)
  • Edwin Way Teale, "The Lost Woods" (436-439)
  • E. B. White, "A Slight Sound at Evening" (440-448)
  • Thomas Merton, "Rain and the Rhinoceros" (546-553)
  • John Hanson Mitchell, excerpt from Living at the End of Time (791-796)
  • Michael Pollan, "Weeds Are Us" (1079-1090)
  • Jane Brox, "Baldwins" (1099-1101)

Don't worry about the length of the reading list. Most of these pieces are quite short, so there is a total of about 150 pages. If you find you really don't like a piece, you may want to skim it and move on to one that calls to you more strongly. EVERYONE IN THE CLASS SHOULD READ THE PIECES THAT ARE IN ITALICS. Each participant in the class should choose one "Twentieth-century Environmentalism" author to explore more fully and one "Thoreau-influenced" author to explore more fully. We'll assign the authors the week before our discussion, but if you happen upon this WebQuest earlier than that and have a request to do a particular author (or authors), just claim the author(s) on the bulletin board.

Step 1: Learn about the environmental movement in the 20th century.

Briefly review the following resources:
Environmental Movement Timeline

Environmental History Timeline
(different from the Environmental Movement Timeline)

Skim these histories of the idea of wilderness in America:
The Puritan Origins of the American Wilderness Movement
The Wilderness Concept (from Yale University)
National Wilderness Preservation System
(see especially "Wilderness in America: A Timeline" by clicking on "What Is Wilderness?")

Skim these modules from a course on the history of wilderness:
The Idea of Wilderness
Perceptions of Wilderness
What Is Wilderness?

History of Wilderness Protection

The Wilderness Act of 1964

If you like, learn a little bit about two specific instances in which we've had to think about our idea of wilderness and preservation:
The National Park System
The People and Philosophy behind Our National Park System
(from Yale University)
A Brief History of Mapping the National Parks

The Settlement and Development of the West
The Challenge of the Arid West 

Step 2: Choose an environmental writer to study (and skim information about others who interest you).

Aldo Leopold
Edge of the Prairie (Leopold Resources)
Excerpts from the Work of Aldo Leopold
The Leopold Education Project
Amy McCoy, “The Transformation of Aldo Leopold”

Ecology Hall of Fame: Aldo Leopold

Planet Patriot: Aldo Leopold
U.S. Postage Stamp on Aldo Leopold

Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson Homestead Association

Rachel Carson: Witness for Nature

Rachel Carson and the Awakening of Environmental Consciousness

Rachel Carson Resources

Ecology Hall of Fame

U.S. Postage Stamp on Rachel Carson

Edward Abbey
Ecology Hall of Fame: Edward Abbey

Planet Patriot: Edward Abbey

Jim Harrison
Salon Books: Interview with Jim Harrison

Doug Peacock
"Doug Peacock: Veteran of the Grizzly Wars"
(from National Geographic)
Doug Peacock, "Chasing Abbey"

Wallace Stegner
The Wallace Stenger Environmental Center

Wallace Stegner, "The Sense of Place" 

Wallace Stegner Page

Wendell Berry
Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things”
EcoBooks: Wendell Berry

Field Observations: An Interview with Wendell Berry
Wendell Berry, "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front" (poem) 
Wendell Berry, "In Distrust of Movements"

Ellen Meloy

Very brief overview of Ellen Meloy

A bit more on Ellen Meloy

Robert Michael Pyle
A Robert Michael Pyle Page

Some of Robert Michael Pyle's photographs of butterflies
(with a screensaver you can buy!) 
Robert Michael Pyle, "The Way of the Monarch"

Robert Michael Pyle, "The Local Connection"

Terry Tempest Williams
Coyote Clan: Terry Tempest Williams Home Page

"Talking to Terry Tempest Williams"

Terry Tempest Williams, “Listening Days”

“The Politics of Place: An Interview with Terry Tempest Williams”

Journal Prompts for Terry Tempest Williams

Step 3: Refresh your understanding of Thoreau.

If you want to, look at these additional Thoreau resources (not included on the Thoreau WebQuest earlier this semester):
Sunrise at Walden Pond

Thoreau's Other Waters: The Concord River

"My Own Walden"

The Thoreau Reader: great Thoreau resources from!

"Thoreau Still Beckons, if I Can Take My Laptop"

Step 4: Choose a Thoreau-influenced writer to study (and skim information about others who interest you).

Joseph Wood Krutch
Joseph Wood Krutch Page

Biography of Joseph Wood Krutch

The U.S. Postage Stamp on Joseph Wood Krutch

Edwin Way Teale
Planet Patriot: Edwin Way Teale
Biography of Edwin Way Teale

Books by Edwin Way Teale
(and a great photograph)
NatureWriting: Edwin Way Teale

Edwin Way Teale Papers Relating to Thoreau and to Concord 

E. B. White
Books and Writers: E.B. White

New York Times Books: The Life and Times of E. B. White

"The Author of 'One Man's Meat' Talks about Writing and Country Living"

A Visit with E. B. White in Maine

Behind the Best Sellers: E. B. White
"Life without Katharine: E. B. White and His Sense of Loss"

Thomas Merton
FireWatch: A Thomas Merton Web Site

The Thomas Merton Center

Thomas Merton: Monk and Poet

John Hanson Mitchell
John Hanson Mitchell, "The Wildest Place on Earth: Italian Gardens and the Invention of Wilderness"

"Walking toward Walden with John Hanson Mitchell"

Michael Pollan
Michael Pollan, excerpt from A Place of My Own

Michael Pollan, "The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World"

Listen to an NPR interview with Michael Pollan

Jane Brox

Very brief introduction to Jane Brox

Jane Brox, excerpt from Five Thousand Days Like This One

NPR's Living on Earth Reports on the Brox Farm

For further exploration, you might want to look at these environmental organizations and websites:
Earth First Journal 
EnviroLink Network

The Wilderness Society

Natural Escape Writer's Page

Journal Prompts
Idea #1: Choose one of the writers above and write about the person's significance in the development of the environmental movement. What was life like before this person began to write and become active on behalf of the environment? What do you imagine motivated the person to become involved? 

Idea #2: Imagine you are an explorer in  your own backyard (or neighborhood or town or nearby park, etc.). Write as if you are just discovering the place for the first time. Can you become Thoreau-inspired as Edwin Way Teale or Joseph Wood Krutch or another favorite author from this reading list?

Idea #3: If one of the writers particularly inspires you, write about your place/space imitating this author's style.

Idea #4: Take a favorite from one of the passages, copy into your journal, and take off from there.

Idea #5: Write a letter to one of the writers featured this week. If it's a writer from the past, write a letter across time, thanking the writer for his/her contribution to our understanding of the environment and the wilderness. If it's a contemporary writer, write a letter you can actually send to this person.

Idea #6: Imagine you have a chance to interview one of these writers. What would you ask?

Essay Topic

For writers listed in Step #2: Focus on one or two of these authors, define the concept of "wilderness," and show how this writer (or these writers) do or do not embrace this idea of the wilderness. As always, be sure to include resources from the WebQuest (you'll want to cite at least one of the pieces on the concept of wilderness in Step 1). 

For writers listed in Step #4: Focus on one of these writers and compare him/her to Thoreau. In what ways is the writer influenced or inspired by Thoreau? In what ways does the writer advance, modify, or outright disagree with Thoreau's ideas or approach? You'll want to cite Thoreau to some degree (either directly from his writings or from background material on Thoreau). You may use material from this week's reading and WebQuest as well as material from the Thoreau reading and WebQuest.

For either essay: See the Essay Guidelines for more detail about research, sources, length requirements, and documentation. Essay due to Dr. Tate via email by Wednesday, April 10, at 3:00 p.m.

"American Transcendentalism: An Online Travel Guide" was produced by students in ENGL 446, American Transcendentalism, and ENGL 447, American Literature and the Prominence of Place: A Travel Practicum. These courses were team-taught in the Department of English at Shepherd College, Shepherdstown, West Virginia, in Spring 2002 by Dr. Patricia Dwyer and Dr. Linda Tate. For more information on the course and the web project, visit "About This Site." © 2003 Linda Tate.