Environmental History in Detroit


Environmental history is the study of how people have both affected and been affected by their physical surroundings over time. In urban spaces, those physical surroundings take the form of both the built environment and the geological and biological aspects of the landscape. Urban environmental history, then, is the study not only of conservation and parks but also of how people use, access, and think about physical space; how food is cultivated or obtained; how different populations have reacted to industrial or urban development; the relationship between environmental conditions and demography; and how land use physically changes over time. In this course, we will learn to look at the world around us with a historical eye, thinking about how Detroit landscapes got the way they are today and how our perceptions of those landscapes have been shaped by cultural and social ideas about the urban environment. Readings, discussions, workshops, and mini-lectures will give you the broad tools and theories of environmental history, but it’s up to you to discover the details of Detroit’s past. The class is structured around an in-depth group research project, culminating in the creation of a multimedia website (using images, maps, text, video/audio, etc.) which will be made available to the Detroit community. Through this project you will come to understand how historical changes in the material world, and the ways people think about that world, have had concrete impacts on peoples’ lives. In addition, the websites you create will help local residents better understand the ways in which their city has changed over time and how their personal experiences are connected to larger stories about the relationships between people and their environment.


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