The Idea of Nature


  • HIST 300-005; GEOG 499; SUST 402
  • 3 Credit Hours (2.5-hour meetings on Mon and Wed for 8 weeks, starting after Fall Break)
  • MW 3:00 – 5:30 (usually we’ll get out early)
  • Fred Gibbs ( @ 1077 Mesa Vista Hall
  • Student Hours: Wednesday 1:45–2:45 and by appointment.

Course Description

Nature is often understood as space outside of human influence. Yet while there might be objective laws of nature that we can discover, the very idea of nature itself is a fascinating window onto cultural values. This course explores the idea of nature in America. We examine spiritual, romantic, industrial, recreational, philosophical, and environmental views of nature (among others) and how these have played off each other over the last 400+ years.

Student Learning Outcomes

  • Summarize key ideas about nature from different kinds of readings.
  • Describe how American attitudes towards nature have shifted over time and what precipitated those changes.
  • Explain how words like “nature” act as valuable windows onto culture.
  • Articulate how landscapes of all kinds mediates our relationship to the past, present, and future.
  • Analyze how different conceptions of nature inform different kinds of discourse.

Readings & Assignments

Note at the top of this page, there is a link to our SCHEDULE page! All the readings and assignments are listed there. This page is dedicated to course logistics. We are not using Canvas for anything!

Please note that the schedule is a living document and changes depending on what’s going on in the course. If you print it out (not recommended), you’ll need to keep your paper version up to date with the online version, which will be a serious chore. If you keep a browser tab open all semester, make sure you refresh it whenever you go to look something up.

To access all articles and book chapters on the syllabus, we use a tool called Zotero to manage and provide access to articles and chapter scans. ALL readings that aren’t already online will be available through the class Zotero library. You will NEVER have to find anything on your own.

Connecting to Zotero

Step 1: Create a Zotero account

If you don’t have one already, sign up for a free account at Creating a Zotero account requires only that you specify a username, password, and email address. You will not get any spam from Zotero or anyone else because of your Zotero account. Use your UNM email address!

Step 2: Make sure you are logged in at

You should see your username or a “Log Out” link on the top nav bar. If you see a “Log In” link, you need to log in. Pretty straightforward.

Step 3: Request to Join our group library

Once you know you are logged in to, visit our Zotero Group homepage, and click the red “Join” button off to the right, which will send an email to me. As soon as I see it (usually within an hour or two unless you’re doing this late at night), I’ll approve your request to join the group. There is nothing else you need to do at this point.

Familiarity over mastery

There is a fair amount of reading for this class, but average for a 2H humanities course. However you look at it, You cannot possibly read every word, or every page, or master all the ideas, and that’s just fine. I DO expect you to gain a familiarity across all the readings so that they can inform your participation in class and weekly assignments.

For almost everything we read, we’re reading to ENGAGE with it, NOT because it’s RIGHT. There is a LOT to disagree with across the readings. And we don’t all have to agree on anything, anyway.

Work Requirements and Grading

Attendance, attention, participation (20%)

Preparedness and engaged participation in most every class meeting. Lots of absences negatively impact your grade. You should come to class with something to say; it can be what you wrote in the pre-class reflections. Always be prepared to comment on the questions below, what you found interesting in the readings, and ask thoughtful questions.

Pre-class reflections (60%)

These should be PRINTED OUT and brought to class each day (unless otherwise specified). Yes, old school.

  • Your name, date, and topic at the top on a SINGLE LINE
  • 1” margins and 1.5 line spacing (important so I have room for comments)
  • ~300 words (basically a full page)
  • Make sure you have only ONE PIECE OF PAPER! (you can print double-sided if you need to.)
  • Digital copies are NOT accepted. If you miss class, bring your reflection to the next class.
  • No late penalty for one class late; 1 points per class after that (unless you’ve talked to me)
  • Make sure you have separate paragraphs for different ideas. Single paragraphs will be returned!
  • You can use a bullet point / outline format if you want, but be careful (easy to be too superficial)!
  • Scored as 1-4; roughly like grade points [1=Needs Work / 2=Satisfactory / 3=Good / 4=Excellent]
  • These are meant to be low-stakes, consistent assignments to show you’re doing the reading.
  • Everyone can skip one reflection, no questions asked.

Unless I provide other instructions for a special assignment (which will be noted on the syllabus), here’s what I expect in your pre-class reflections:

Your new challenge for these reflections is: THREE THINGS. Tell me three ideas you have about the collection of readings. Remember the main goal is to demonstrate your familliarity with ALL the readings. Formulate your reflection to show off your knowledge of the material! Your THINGS should not be highly specific statements taken out of context. Be sure you offer some specifics from the readings to illustrate your point. Please DO NOT SUMMARIZE the readings one by one. I’m looking for how you can compare and contrast them, and relate them to previous course material.

Questions to help you come up with your ideas to write about, but you don’t need to answer these directly:

  • Where did you see the most overlap between the readings? In other words, what are the major themes they have in common?
  • Where did the readings differ in significant ways in terms of disagreement or simply different perspectives?
  • How did the set of readings offer a different way of thinking about nature compared to previous readings?
  • If applicable: How do the primary sources illustrate what’s being discussed by the secondary sources?

Final Course Reflection (20%)

See the final course reflection guide for more details. Please submit via email.

Extra Credit

If you want to try to raise your grade by a notch (B+ to A-, for instance), write a ~600-word essay on the how you can use the sources from the course to interpret the newish Landscape exhibit on display at the Albuquerque Museum. Note that the Cole’s Studio part starts Nov 18, but everything else has already started. Please submit via email.

Grading is mostly about effort

There are no right answers! All assignments are graded primarily on what it looks like your effort to connect to course readings and discussions and to highlight what you found most interesting (which we do in class discussion as well). If you actually do the readings, come to class, and make a serious effort to show me you’ve learned something, it’s almost impossible NOT to get an A.

For the pre-class reflections

  • If you write more to show you learned more, you can get extra credit (but still 1 page max!).
  • If you disagree with my score, send me an email explaining why it’s wrong. If you’re convincing, I’ll adjust your grade.
  • Whether you agree or not with the score and want to improve it, revise the reflection and resubmit it with the original.

Grade Distribution

Percent of points Grade
93+ A
90-92 A-
87-89 B+
83-86 B
80-82 B-
77-79 C+
73-76 C
70-72 C-
67-69 D+
60-66 D
59- F


I try to provide some comments on your reflections, but I’m not able to do this thoroughly for everyone for each assignment. That said, if you want more feedback on any assignment, please ask before or after class–I’d love to talk about it!

More generally, please please please email me at any time to learn how I think you’re doing in the class and how it can be improved (if at all). This can be via email or Zoom (in addition to student hours on Wednesday afternoons).

Important UNM Announcements and Resources

COVID-19 Health and Awareness

UNM is a mask friendly, but not a mask required, community. To be registered or employed at UNM, Students, faculty, and staff must all meet UNM’s Administrative Mandate on Required COVID-19 vaccination. UNM faculty and staff know that these are challenging times. Please let us know that you need support so that we can connect you to the right resources and please be aware that UNM will publish information on websites and email about any changes to our public health status and community response.

If you are not feeling well, PLEASE DO NOT COME TO CLASS! There is no grade penalty for missed classes due to illness of any kind. If you need to quarantine, and miss several classes, that’s fine, but please let me know what’s going on. We’ll work it out and I’ll help you stay caught up. You will still be expected to complete assignments within a reasonable amount of time, but I’m very flexible with deadlines as long as you’re communicating.

Respectful Learning

Our classroom and our university should always be spaces of mutual respect, kindness, and support, without fear of discrimination, harassment, or violence. Should you ever need assistance or have concerns about incidents that violate this principle, please access the resources available to you on campus, especially the LoboRESPECT Advocacy Center and the support services listed on its website . Please note that, because UNM faculty, TAs, and GAs are considered “responsible employees” by the Department of Education, any disclosure of gender discrimination (including sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, and sexual violence) made to a faculty member, TA, or GA must be reported by that faculty member, TA, or GA to the university’s Title IX coordinator at the Office of Compliance, Ethics, and Equal Opportunity.

We all have shared responsibility for ensuring that learning occurs safely and equitably. UNM has important policies to preserve and protect the academic community, especially policies on student grievances (Faculty Handbook D175 and D176), academic dishonesty (FH D100), and respectful campus (FH CO9). These are in the Student Pathfinder ( and the Faculty Handbook ( Please ask for help in understanding and avoiding plagiarism or academic dishonesty, which can both have very serious consequences.


UNM is committed to providing courses that are inclusive and accessible for all participants. As your instructor, it is my objective to facilitate an accessible classroom setting, in which students have full access and opportunity. If you are experiencing physical or academic barriers, or concerns related to mental health, physical health and/or COVID-19, please consult with me after class, via emailor during office hours. You are also encouraged to contact the Accessibility Resource Center at or by phone 277-3506.

In accordance with University Policy 2310 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), academic accommodations may be made for any student who notifies the instructor of the need for an accommodation. It is imperative that you take the initiative to bring such needs to the instructor’s attention, as I am not legally permitted to inquire.

Citizenship and/or Immigration Status

All students are welcome in this class regardless of citizenship, residency, or immigration status. I will respect your privacy if you choose to disclose your status. UNM as an institution has made a core commitment to the success of all our students, including members of our undocumented community. The Administration’s welcome is found on our website:

Academic Honesty

Please ask for help in understanding and avoiding plagiarism (passing the work or words of others off as your own) or other forms academic dishonesty. Doing something dishonest in a class or on an assignment can lead to serious academic consequences, including failing grades and expulsion from the University. Please talk with me about your concerns or needs for academic flexibility or talk with support staff at one of our student resource centers before you do something that may endanger your ability to graduate on time.

Connecting to Campus and Finding Support

Students who ask for help are successful students. I encourage students to be familiar with services and policies that can help them navigate UNM successfully. Many services exist to help you succeed academically, such as peer tutoring at CAPS and various mental health resources. Also see the UNM student guide.

Land Acknowledgement

Founded in 1889, the University of New Mexico sits on the traditional homelands of the Pueblo of Sandia. The original peoples of New Mexico Pueblo, Diné (Navajo), Apache, Comanche, Ute, Genízaro and others – since time immemorial, have deep connections to the land and have made significant contributions to the broader community statewide. We acknowledge the brutal history of colonization, and we honor the both land itself and especially those who have been and remain stewards of this land throughout the generations