History 2129/EnvS 2449 Reading Guide

Thinking environmentally and thinking about Maine

  • Readings from Char Miller and Hal Rothman, eds., Out of the Woods: Essays in Environmental History (1997), xi-50.  (e-reserve:  Miller and Rothman, “Introduction; Part I:  Ideas Matter”):
    • Introduction, xi-xv
    • Donald Worster, “The Ecology of Order and Chaos” (1989), 3-17
    • William Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness: Or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature” (1994) 28-50
  • Roger Howell, “Introduction,” in Roger Howell, ed., Maine in the Age of Discovery: Christopher Levett’s Voyage, 1623-24 (Maine Historical Society, 1988), 7-31.  (e-reserve)
  • document:  Christopher Levett, “A Voyage to New England, begun in 1623 and ended in 1624,” in Roger Howell, ed., Maine in the Age of Discovery: Christopher Levett’s Voyage, 1623-24 (Maine Historical Society, 1988), 33-68.  (e-reserve)


  • The two essays, or “thought pieces,” originally published during the second decade of Environmental History Review, get at the heart of thinking historically and thinking environmentally, although they approach the task in very different ways. What does each historian posit as the necessary contribution that historians bring to Environmental Studies?
  • Worster’s essay outlines the twentieth-century evolution of the scientific understanding of ecology and ecosystems, and adds a historical (and human) perspective to the discussion. Are the historical and scientific perspectives compatible?
  • Cronon offers a somewhat different periodization than Merchant in his ideological analysis of the conceptions of wilderness from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries, and he presents a sharp critique of popular environmental perspectives about the “natural world.” What does he hope to achieve by this critical reading? What does “wilderness” mean?
  • Read Levett’s “observations” as an explorer’s account of his voyage to the Maine coast in 1623-24. Consider Levett’s environmental perspective from a historical perspective:
  • Who was his audience?  How did he appeal to them?  What information and interpretation did Levett try to convey?  What topics did he address, and how did the particular subjects and contexts shape his message?
  • How did Levett envision and describe the land he explored which was indeed occupied by Native Americans but “unimproved” according to European standards?  How did he judge and value the “potential” of the northern New England environment?  What words and concepts did he use to describe what he saw?  What do those words and concepts suggest about the extent and limits of his vision? 
  • How did Levett describe the native inhabitants, as a people, a community, and a culture?  How did Native Americans fit into his report and his vision?
  • What was Levett’s model for the colonization of the new world?  
  • What concerns about the process of settlement and cultivation did he address in his report?  Why?

Map of Levett’s travels along the Maine coast.

Chronology of early Maine settlements.

  • Map of early settlements, 1603-1623
  • Map of early settlements, 1603-1639