Historical Ecology F2017

ATH 262: Historical Ecology

Image credits: "Agriculture andrRural economy – Charcoal → ." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2010. Trans. of "Agriculture et économie rustique – Charbon de bois," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 1 (plates). Paris, 1762..
Image credits: “Agriculture andrRural economy – Charcoal → .” The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d’Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2010<http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.did2222.0001.346>. Trans. of “Agriculture et économie rustique – Charbon de bois,” Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 1 (plates). Paris, 1762.

Time: M/W 9:30- 10:45
Place: Sociology/ Anthropology 25
Instructor: Dr. Benjamin Carter
Office: Sociology/ Anthropology 9
Office Hours: Tuesday 1-3
Phone: 484-664-3961
Email: bcarter@muhlenberg.edu

Course Description (from the catalog):
Historical ecology is the study of long term interactions between people, their institutions, and their environments. We will critically evaluate arguments about the current relationship between people and the environment in popular texts using archaeological, historical, and ethnographic evidence. Many current pressing issues can be assessed more appropriately when viewed from a long-term perspective gained from an historical or archaeological approach. We will focus on some of these issues. Some questions that will be addressed include: Where do people encourage the spread of forests into the greatest desert in the world? Where does an increase in population result in less environmental impact? Can the poor soil of the rainforest support ~civilization~? We will also examine the local environment over the past 100 years. Meets general academic requirement DE.

Statement on Openness: In this course, we will try to abide by an ethic of openness. That is, we will attempt to use tools that are open, data that is open and contribute to the knowledge and data available to the public.

Course Objectives:
Through participation in this course students will be able to:
– Critically view landscape and see the anthropogenic environment nestled within the “wilderness”
– Identify four distinct, yet overlapping modes of subsistence: including hunting and gathering, extensive agriculture, intensive agriculture and industrial agriculture.
– Describe how different modes of subsistence utilize and affect people and the environment differently.
– Recognize and describe Western and non-Western modes of landscape modification
– Produce a map
– Understand and utilize Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
– Perform historical research to better understand land-use patterns and how they affected the ecology and landscape.
– Synthesize historical research with the mapped landscape.
– Fabricate a useful product for public consumption


You will be assessed in this course as follows:

  • First Paper (10%)
  • Second Paper (10%)
  • Journal (20%)
  • Map (20%)
  • Lehigh Valley Paper (20%)
  • Final Paper (10%)
  • Participation (10%)


  • All assignments are to be turned in via Canvas.
  • They are due one hour before the class for which they are due.
  • Please bring a copy to class because assignments the basis for discussion.
  • All submitted files should named as follows:
    • lastnamefirstinitial course number description (for example, if I was turning in my final paper, I would name the file carterb ATH262 charcoal paper final.doc).
  • All documents should be submitted as Google document (I may request MS Word (.doc or .docx) or LibreOffice (.odt) files for some assignments- check the assignment description). Formats for turning in maps, etc. will be discussed later.
  • All assignments should be written in Times New Roman, 12-point font, be double-spaced and have 1-inch margins.
  • When necessary, all citations should be in Chicago (Author-Date format). For a details, click here.

Descriptions of Assignments (see calendar for due dates):

  • Writing Journal– For each class day, you must write an entry in your journal.
    • Each of these entries should address how the reading(s) contribute to your understanding of the following questions:
      • What are the lessons of Historical Ecology?
      • How do scholars “do” historical ecology? What are the methods?
      • What would you like to know more about? What is unclear or incomplete to you in the reading(s)?
    • For each class day, you should address each of these questions with approximately 150 words. Your full entry should be around 400 words or more (c. 2 pages).
    • Please provide evidence, such as citations or quotes from the text. You should be referring back to previous work as well. For example, you could write something like “According to Cronon (1983, 25), Historical ecology is “…”. However, this seems to contradict what Crumley (1994, 56) states, “…”. Bring your readings into conversation with each other.
  • First Paper- Please write a three page (750+ words) essay that addresses the following question (along with these secondary questions):
    • What is Historical Ecology?
      • What questions is the discipline trying to address?
      • How is it interdisciplinary?
      • What time span is it generally concerned with?
    • Please do not copy or replicate a definition from your readings. Use the scholarly definitions as a starting place and work from there.
    • Provide evidence for your discussion from your readings. Be sure that all evidence is cited (see citation details above).
  • Second Paper- Please write a three page (750+ words) essay that addresses the following:
    • Compare and contrast the four major subsistence strategies; hunting and gathering, extensive agriculture, intensive agriculture and industrial agriculture.
      • How are they different (consider time expended, amount of land required, energy expended, “efficiency,” environmental impact, population supported, etc.)?
      • Which overlap and how?
      • Under which conditions do different strategies “fit” better?
  • Map– Mapping is one of the best ways to both analyze and visualize the historical landscape and how it was used (or not). You will develop a printable map that demonstrate at least two different aspects (e.g., charcoal roads and charcoal hearths) of interpretations that you have reached about the charcoal/ iron landscape of the Blue Mountain. You will utilize QGIS, a free and open source software (FOSS) package to integrate distinct types of geospatial data (vector or raster; point, line or polygon) to represent your interpretations.
    • Resource for making paper maps:  https://docs.qgis.org/2.0/en/docs/user_manual/print_composer/print_composer.html
    • Details
      • You will produce a map in pdf format.
        • Map must include a compass rose, legend (identifies symbology, author and a brief title), scale, grid (hashmarks down the side), and caption.
      • The map must utilize at least three layers (potentially more).
        • Bonus points if you create your own layer!
      • The map must visualize at least one relationship between components of the charcoal/ iron industry of Lehigh and Carbon Counties. You must indicate this in the caption.
      • This aspect should demonstrate how the landscape was employed by one or more of these industries (charcoal, iron or both).
      • This can primarily be environmental, human or a mixture.
  • Lehigh Valley Paper– One of the components of this class will be investigating the historical ecology of the Lehigh Valley. We will focus upon the charcoal and iron industry of the 19th You will complete a research paper that considers some aspect of this industry. You will be provided with many more details regarding this project in the future.
  • Final Paper– This is your final essay. It should be approximately 5 pages long (double-spaced, 12 pt Times New Roman font, 1 inch margins), but remember that this paper is about fully addressing the questions below, not page length! You will use what you have learned in class and assess what it means to your world. Please address the following questions:
    • How has this class changed your understanding of the environment and the landscape around you?
    • How has this class changed the way you see landscapes and subsistence strategies that are unfamiliar to you?
    • How has the concept of “Historical Ecology” changed the way you see research (look back to those original papers from the beginning of class)?
    • What do you think you will- or may- change about your behavior because of the lessons learned in this class? This can be both about local landscape, but can also be about how “we,” as the United States, engage with the world.
    • What questions remain before you can commit to a change in behavior?
    • What questions has this course raised that remain unanswered, but that you would like to know more about? If you had the time, how would you go about researching these questions?
  • In the process of writing this paper, please be sure to CITE (in Chicago style, see above for links). Remember that you can be general- for example, when discussing the importance of fire, you can cite Pyne, even if you don’t have  a specific piece of data or a quote. This simply declares that you learned about this from Pyne. If you discuss the role of fire in swidden agriculture, cite Conklin, etc.
  • In terms of format, you can write this in two different ways- a single essay or mini essays that respond to the individual questions. If you write mini essays, be sure not to be repetitive. If you already stated something in a previous mini-essay, reference it- for example, “see above.”
  • Participation– Your participation grade is for your participation in class and during field trips. Please note that, many of your assignments are based upon your participation. Therefore, overall, participation is a substantial portion of your grade.


****IMPORTANT***** Although you recieved a printed version of the below in class,  your real and up-to-date schedule is on Canvas (which cannot be posted here 🙁 ).

Note: You must read the readings for the class that takes place on the day for which it is listed.

General Information

Most assignments are graded on a percentage/letter grade/ GPA scale as follows:

Percentage Letter GPA (as per College policy)
100-94% A/A+ 4.0
93-90% A- 3.7
89-87% B+ 3.3
86-84% B 3.0
83-80% B- 2.7
79-77% C+ 2.3
76- 74% C 2.0
73-70% C- 1.7
69-65% D 1.0
<65% F 0.0

The following should give you a general- and very brief- idea about how I consider grades:

Grade Written assignments Exams
A Topics are well understood and deeply considered. Very few ‘simple’ mistakes. Perfect to near perfect.
B Expectations met. Quite well understood and considered. Some ‘simple’ mistakes. Good to excellent
C Meets basic expectations. Poor writing hampers understanding. Fair
D Completed assignment, but does not meet basic expectations. Writing poor. Poor
F Does not meet expectations. Many errors and poor writing. Fail
Zero Assignment not completed Fail

 Assignment Tardiness/ Completion:

  • All assignments are due on Canvas one hour prior to the beginning of class.
  • Late assignments will not be accepted unless arranged with the instructor a reasonable amount of time prior to the due date/time. Acceptable excuses are few and likely involve sickness or other unavoidable situations (such as a death in the family).
  • All assignments MUST be completed in order to pass this course.
  • Missed exams without prior discussion with the instructor cannot be taken and will result in a 0 for the assignment.

Out-of-Class Expectations.
The general rule is that students should expect to spend approximately 1.5 hours preparing for each hour of class time. That means you should spend somewhere in the range of 4-5 hours per week preparing for class. This may spike and dip, so be aware of upcoming work.

Course Unit Instruction.
This class is scheduled to meet for 3 hours per week.  Additional instructional activities include group meetings, service learning and attendance at specified college lectures and events. This will add an additional 14 hours of instruction.

In-Class expectations.
Generally speaking, this is a discussion and field course. You will have assigned readings and we will discuss them during class. The first rule, therefore is to have done the required reading. The more everyone comes to class prepared, the less time we spend going over the basics and the more time we spend truly discussing the subject at hand. That also means that you learn more.

I generally use Canvas for the distribution of readings that are not in required texts and as the primary location for the schedule for the class.

Academic Integrity Code.
All students are expected to comply with the requirements of the Muhlenberg College Academic Integrity Code as per the Student Handbook (www.muhlenberg.edu/main/aboutus/dean-academic/integrity). Everyone in the class is dependent upon the adherence by other students to this code. Therefore, any infraction is seen as an offense to instructor and fellow students alike. Therefore, I have a strict zero tolerance policy for cheating and plagiarism. If caught- and I am very diligent about trying to identify potential offenses- students will receive a zero for the assignment and potentially fail the class.

My primary modes for communication are in-class and via email. If I announce a change in the schedule in class and you are absent, it is your responsibility to discover it. I will also send announcements via your Muhlenberg email. There are no excuses for not checking this email.

Since a significant portion of graded work in this course is based upon participation that cannot be completed once the course is over, grades of Incomplete will not be granted. Any requests for an incomplete must be in the form of a conversation with the instructor and must be accompanied by a written request. These requests must be made before the Final Exam period. If an incomplete is granted, a complete plan must be made for conversion of the incomplete into a grade. If the plan is not completed by the agreed upon time, it will be converted into an F.

 Religious Holidays.
The Chaplain has issued a document of the significant holy days for the upcoming academic year.  September has nine days requiring work restrictions or fasting for various religious practices. You can find the holy days calendar online at http://muhlenberg.edu/main/campuslife/religiouslife/holydays/ .

Students with disabilities requesting classroom or course accommodations must complete a multi-faceted determination process through the Office of Disability Services prior to the development and implementation of accommodations, auxiliary aids, and services. Each Accommodation Plan is individually and collaboratively developed between the student and the Office of Disability Services. If you have not already done so, please contact the Office of Disability Services to have a dialogue regarding your academic needs and the recommended accommodations, auxiliary aides, and services.

Electronic devices:
Computers, iPads, etc. can be incredibly useful devices in the classroom. However, they can also be the ultimate distraction for you and those around you. If you would like to use one of these devices, please have a brief conversation with me about how you plan to use it. All devices should contribute to learning. NO ELECTRONIC DEVICES ARE ALLOWED FOR ASSESSMENTS! If you are caught, you will fail the assessment.

After the first two weeks, no student should withdraw without a conversation with the instructor. The deadline for withdrawal is Wednesday, October 31, 2017, before 4:00 PM.

First-day Drop Policy.
Please note that students not attending the first day of classes are responsible for dropping the course.  Students are NOT automatically dropped if they do not attend the first meeting.