My Environmental Histories

This is the final exam for the American Environmental History course, taught by Jim Farrell at St. Olaf College.
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In American Environmental History, we emphasize the idea that everybody makes history every day, and that ideas and institutions have long-term environmental impacts that are often unobserved in history or in life. This final exam allows students to integrate their learning, and personalize it, seeing how their own lives are historically constructed, and how they can make history by constructing their lives differently. The exam also allows me to read papers that are academic and practical and personal, and a lot more interesting than conventional test questions.

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Learning Goals

The main goals of this assignment are to:
  • let students show what they learned in the course
  • identify ideas and institutions that come from history, and still shape American history (and our own lives)
  • understand themselves as historical agents, people who make history by all of their activity and inactivity
  • empower them to shape the history of the future, if they choose to

Context for Use

"My Environmental Histories" is a take-home final, due at the time of the final exam. I tell students that they can start it on the first day of class, but none of them do. Because it's a final exam, it depends on their engagement in the course, but because it's just an activity that integrates the personal and the academic, it's infinitely adaptable.

Description and Teaching Materials

This one-page description appears on the class syllabus on the first day. My Environmental Histories (Microsoft Word 30kB Jun3 10)

Teaching Notes and Tips

Students will wonder about how to integrate their own stories into history, but after initial nervousness, most of them do it brilliantly.


References and Resources