The Idea of Nature


  • HIST 300-005
  • 3 Credit Hours (2 2.5 hour meetings on Mon and Wed for 8 weeks, starting after Fall Break)
  • MW 3:00 – 5:30 (probably closer to 5 most days)
  • 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 and how these have played off each other over the last 400+ years.

Student Learning Outcomes

  • Describe how the attitudes towards nature have shifted over time.
  • Articulate how landscapes of all kinds mediates our relationship to the past, present, and future.
  • Explain how landscape can influence constructions of identities at personal, regional, and national levels.

Readings & Assignments

Note at the top of the page, the link to the SCHEDULE page of the syllabus!

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 (please avoid if possible), you’ll need to keep your paper version up to date with the online version. If you keep a browser tab open all semester, make sure you refresh it when you go to look up the next assignment.

To access all other 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 (and some that are) will be available through the class Zotero library.

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

Thorough preparedness and engaged participation in most every class meeting. Because this course is focused on cultivating different perspectives about how we can think about the relationship between nature, landscape, and identity, your active participation in the course is essential. (25%)

Reading Reflections (~250 words, and DUE BEFORE CLASS)

These encourage everyone to read carefully enough to have something to say about the readings and be prepared for our discussion. No one is interested in factual recitation of the readings. These should focus on interesting conceptual issues raised by the readings. These should also include TWO big-picture questions about the topic for the day based on the reading. (25%)

Weekly Reflections (~500 words and DUE MIDNIGHT FRIDAY)

These will demonstrate your familiarity with the readings and discussions for the week. I highly recommend taking some notes in preparation for these while you read and during class. Even the most cursory reminders go a long way. There’s nothing specific I’m looking for you to say. Just tell me about what you learned and what you thought was interesting or kind of boring. Be sure to give some explanation of why you have whatever opinion you do! (25%)

Final Essay (~1200-words)

See the final essay guide for more details. (25%)

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.

Submission Policies

To keep us on schedule, late work will be penalized 1/3 grade for each day late UNLESS due to a medical issue or other extenuating circumstances (not uncommon these days!). You should let me know about these ASAP and let me know when you plan get caught up. I’m always happy to be flexible and allow you to submit work late for full credit as long as you’re communicating what’s going on.

Do not stress about submitting work a few or minutes or even hours late. That’s fine. But unless you’ve gotten in touch with me, days late is not okay. We have to vaguely respect the deadlines to keep from falling hopelessly behind in a compressed course.


Because all your assignments are scored via a rubric on Canvas, the rubrics provide some feedback about areas where you could improve. I try to provide some comments as well, 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 via email and I will be happy to provide 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).

Grade Distribution

Percent of points Grade
94+ A
90-93 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

Please Ask for Help

Please please please come talk me at any time. I’m alway happy to tell you how I think you’re doing in the class and how it can be improved (if at all).

If life gets overwhelming during the course, it can be tempting to drift away from an elective course like this. Rather than disappear, please come talk with me about how we can accommodate your circumstances and thus avoid digging a huge hole from which it becomes increasingly difficult to escape.

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 trying to err on the side of compassion and be very flexible with deadlines.

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