University of Notre Dame

Exploring America's National Parks

Course Number: AMST 13184-1
Instructor: Annie G Coleman

Most popularly associated with iconic landscapes such as Yosemite and Yellowstone, today the National Park System oversees 417 national parks, monuments, battlefields, military parks, historical parks, historic sites, lakeshores, seashores, recreation areas, scenic rivers and trails, and the White House. Western historian and novelist Wallace Stegner wrote that “National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” Today, however, Americans are simultaneously loving them to death and refusing to support them politically; parks suffer from a significant lack of funding despite overcrowding and a crumbling infrastructure, and from controversy over issues including wildlife management, the conservation of public land, and climate change. What are national parks actually for, and how has their meaning changed over time? How do park managers understand these environments differently than park visitors and neighboring residents? What can we learn about American society, politics, and culture from an historical examination of national parks? This University Seminar will explore the history, management, use, and meaning of America’s national parks from the 19th century until today with an eye towards those questions. We will read and discuss material from explorers, conservationists, managers, tourists, rangers, Native Americans, and the federal government, and visit a national park site in person. In addition to engaging students in a critical, historical analysis of national parks, this course will introduce students to some of the many historical resources available through the Hesburgh Library as well as the process of writing a college-level research paper. To that end, students will choose a national park site to analyze in a paper which we will develop, research, draft, critique, revise, and present together throughout the course of the semester. Short writing exercises and drafts will build towards this paper of 12-15 pages.

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