Kathryn Morse

Professor of History and Department Chair, and John C. Elder Professor in Environmental Studies

American Environmental History and American Western History

 Fall 2016: Tues 3:00- 4:15, Thurs 11:00- 12:15 and 3:00- 4:15, Fri 10:00- 12:00 and by appointment (please email)
 Axinn Center at Starr Library 240

Kathryn Morse was educated at Brookline High School in Brookline, Massachusetts, and at Yale University, Utah State University, and the University of Washington.  She teaches courses in United States history, with particular focus on the history of the American West, and United States Environmental History.  She also teaches courses in the Program in Environmental Studies, for which she served as director from 2008 - 2011.  Her first book, The Nature of Gold:  An Environmental History of the Klondike Gold Rush, was published in 2003 and she is currently working on an illustrated environmental history of the United States.

For more information, see: http://community.middlebury.edu/~kmorse or


“There Will Be Birds:  Images of Oil Disasters in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries,” Journal of American History 99:1 (June 2012), 124-134.

The Nature of Gold:  An Environmental History of the Klondike Gold Rush (Seattle:  University of Washington Press, 2003).

"Dad (and Mom) versus Nature, 1975:  Jaws and The Adventures of the Wilderness Family," in "Films Every Environmental Historian Should See," ed. Marc Cioc, Environmental History 12:2 (April 2007).

The Nature of War:  An Environmental History of Mount Independence.  Orwell, VT:  The Mount Independence Coalition, 2006.

"Wal-Mart, Homesteads, and Unintended Consequences, in "Anniversary Forum:  What Books Should Be More Widely Read in Environmental History?" ed. Adam Rome, Environmental History 10:4 (October 2005), 728-730.

Photographic Essay for "Anniversary Forum:  What's Next for Environmental History," Environmental History 10:1 (January 2005).

"Putting History at the Core:  History and Literature in Environmental Studies," History Teacher 37:1 (November 2003), 67-72.

Media Appearances:

LA Review of Books, interviewed and quoted in Catherine Buni, “Toward a Wider View of Nature Writing,” LA Review of Books, 10 January 2016.  Print article.  Link at: https://lareviewofbooks.org/essay/toward-a-wider-view-of-nature-writing

Radio interview, Utah Public Radio, program “The Source,”  episode on Utah’s pioneer irrigation projects, aired 25 September 2015.  Link at:  http://upr.org/post/source-ditch-water-pioneer-gift-we-hope-will-keep-giving

Podcast interview:  Backstory with the American History Guys, episode “Black Gold:  An American History of Oil,” originally aired 30 May 2014, link at: http://backstoryradio.org/shows/black-gold-2/



Course List: 

Courses offered in the past four years.
indicates offered in the current term
indicates offered in the upcoming term[s]

ENVS0215 - Contested Grounds      

Contested Grounds: U.S. Cultures and Environments
Throughout the history of the United States, Americans have created a complex set of meanings pertaining to the environments (wild, pastoral, urban, marine) in which they live. From European-Native contact to the present, Americans’ various identities, cultures, and beliefs about the bio-physical world have shaped the stories they tell about “nature,” stories that sometimes share common ground, but often create conflicting and contested understandings of human-environment relationships. In this course we will investigate these varied and contested stories from multi-disciplinary perspectives in the humanities—history, literature, and religion--and will include attention to race, class, gender, and environmental justice. 3 hrs. lect./disc. NOR

Fall 2014, Spring 2016

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ENVS0401 - Environmental Studies Sr Sem      

Environmental Studies Senior Seminar
A single environmental topic will be explored through reading, discussion, and individual research. Topics will vary from semester to semester, but will focus on issues with relevance to the local region and with interdisciplinary dimensions, such as temperate forests, lake ecosystems, or public lands policy. The class involves extensive reading, student-led discussions, and a collaborative research project. (Senior standing; ENVS 0112, ENVS 0211, ENVS 0215, and GEOG 0120) 3 hrs. sem./3 hrs. lab

Spring 2017

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ENVS0444 / HIST0444 - The New West      

The New West: From Reagan to Burning Man
The U.S. West since 1976 has been transformed by economic, social, political, and environmental forces. Immigration, amenity tourism, climate change, globalization, technology, political change, and economic booms and busts have remade a region once defined by isolated rural communities, extractive industries, “natural landscapes,” and filmmakers’ imaginations. In this course we will draw from history and politics to make sense of conflicts over public lands, water, fire, energy, Native sovereignty, racial inequality, rural gentrification, urbanization, and sprawl. Short papers will culminate in a historical policy brief on current challenges in the West. (ENVS 0211 or ENVS 0215 or HIST 0216) 3 hrs. sem. NOR

Fall 2016

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ENVS0500 - Independent Study      

Independent Study
In this course, students (non-seniors) carry out an independent research or creative project on a topic pertinent to the relationship between humans and the environment. The project, carried out under the supervision of a faculty member with related expertise who is appointed in or affiliated with the Environmental Studies Program, must involve a significant amount of independent research and analysis. The expectations and any associated final products will be defined in consultation with the faculty advisor. Students may enroll in ENVS 0500 no more than twice for a given project. (Approval only)

Fall 2012, Winter 2013, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Winter 2014, Fall 2014, Winter 2015, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Winter 2016, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017

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ENVS0700 - Senior Independent Study      

Senior Independent Study
In this course, seniors complete an independent research or creative project on a topic pertinent to the relationship between humans and the environment. During the term prior to enrolling in ENVS 0700, a student must discuss and agree upon a project topic with a faculty advisor who is appointed in or affiliated with the Environmental Studies Program and submit a brief project proposal to the Director of Environmental Studies for Approval. The expectations and any associated final products will be defined in consultation with the faculty advisor. Students may enroll in ENVS 0700 as a one-term independent study OR up to twice as part of a multi-term project, including as a lead-up to ENVS 0701 (ES Senior Thesis). (Senior standing; Approval only)

Fall 2012, Winter 2013, Spring 2013, Fall 2013, Winter 2014, Fall 2014, Winter 2015, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Winter 2016, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017

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FYSE1378 - American Environmentalisms      

American Environmentalisms After 1960
Environmentalism emerged as a political and cultural force in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. In this seminar we will study the historical development and transformation of contested “environmentalisms” after 1960 through primary documents including books, magazines, photographs, advertisements, and films. We will analyze portrayals of the environment in crisis, as well as criticisms of different strands of environmentalism for their challenges to ideas of economic growth and their struggles to address social inequalities, particularly those of class and race. Student work will include essays, oral presentations, and independent and group research projects. 3 hrs. sem. CW HIS NOR

Fall 2012, Spring 2016

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HIST0216 / AMST0216 - Hist of American West      

History of the American West
This is a survey of the history of the trans-Mississippi West from colonial contact through the 1980s. It explores how that region became known and understood as the West, and its role and meaning in United States history as a whole. The central themes of this course are conquest and its legacy, especially with regard to the role of the U.S. federal government in the West; human interactions with and perceptions of landscape and environment; social contests among different groups for a right to western resources and over the meanings of western identity; and the role of the West in American popular culture. (formerly HIST/AMST 0374) 2 hrs. lect., 1 hr. disc. HIS NOR SOC

Spring 2013, Fall 2015, Spring 2017

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HIST0222 - US Env Hist Nature Inequality      

United States Environmental History: Nature and Inequality
In this course we will study the interactions between diverse groups and their physical environments to understand how humans have shaped and in turn been shaped by the material world. Topics include: ecological change with European conquest; industrialization and race and class differences in labor, leisure, and ideas of “nature”; African American environments South and North; the capitalist transformation of the American West, rural and urban; Progressive conservation and its displacement of Native Americans and other rural groups; chemical- and petroleum-based technologies and their unexpected consequences; and the rise of environmentalism and its transformation by issues of inequality and justice. 3 hrs. lect./disc. HIS NOR

Fall 2012, Spring 2015, Fall 2016

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HIST0411 - Rdgs Amer HI: Environmental HI      

Readings in American History: American Environmental History
Although the U.S. has long been thought "nature's nation," scholars have only begun to include the study of human interactions with nature in their study of the American past. This course will examine the history of interactions between human beings and their physical environments in North America, through readings that bring plants, animals, climates, and landscapes as well as human culture, politics, labor, race, and gender into histories of settlement, capitalism, urbanization, region, science, and policy. Readings will also trace the emergence of this new field, and the problems inherent in creating a more inclusive account of the past. 3 hrs sem. (formerly HIST 0406) HIS NOR

Spring 2013

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HIST0500 - Special Research Projects      

Special research projects during the junior year may be used to fulfill the research seminar requirements in some cases. Approval of department chair and project advisor is required.

Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2014, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017

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HIST0600 - History Research Seminar      

History Research Seminar
All history majors who have not taken a writing and research seminar are required to take HIST 0600 in their junior fall or, if abroad at that time, their senior fall semester. In this course, students will conceive, research, and write a work of history based on primary source material to the degree possible. After reading and discussion on historical methods and research strategies, students will pursue a paper topic as approved by the course professors. HIST 0600 is also open to International Studies and Environmental Studies majors with a disciplinary focus in history. 3 hr. sem

Fall 2014, Fall 2015

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HIST0700 - Senior Independent Study      

The History Senior Thesis is required of all majors. It is written over two terms, with the final grade applying to both terms. The project is generally begun in the fall and completed during winter or spring. Approval is required to begin the thesis in winter or spring, and such students must still attend the Thesis Writer's Workshops that take place in fall and winter.

Fall 2012, Spring 2013, Fall 2014, Winter 2015, Spring 2015, Fall 2015, Winter 2016, Spring 2016, Fall 2016, Spring 2017

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INDE0800 - Ind Scholar Thesis      

Fall 2012, Winter 2013, Spring 2013

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STLD1008 - History's Great Debates      

History’s Great Debates
History is more than dates and dead guys. In this course we will tackle four major themes: personal liberties, economies, governments, and worldviews. In each class, we will address a particular sub-theme, e.g., (Un)Free Speech, The Rise of Technology, War & Conquest, Reason & Faith. To do so, we will study historically significant people, institutions, developments, ideas, and arguments from across the world and throughout time. Through analysis and discussion, we will strive to answer questions and discover lessons that are directly relevant to our lives today. (Credit/No Credit) non-standard grade WTR

Winter 2016

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Department of History

Axinn Center at Starr Library
14 Old Chapel Road
Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT 05753