On April 10, 2017 the HIST 111 T/TH class examined a chapter from Andrew C. Isenberg’s book Mining California which explored California’s overall beauty, it’s vast lands, it’s complex weather patterns, and it’s abundant natural resources which were exploited by the ever growing population. Isenberg’s main argument was to showcase the destruction of California’s natural resources as the population kept on growing. The evidence he used to back up his argument varied from statistical data to primary sources from well known historical figures. During the same class we also examined Dr. Donald Worster interview. Dr Worster's main argument was to shed some light on the very overlook topic of environmental history and how important it is to understand how the presence of men in this continent has changed it’s layout forever. Some of the points which he discussed include the barbaric ways of killing buffaloes by the Native Americans, the search of commodities and natural resources to exploit by European Settlers, the creation of federally preserved lands and also a brief description of what mining economy is. Some of the evidence he used to back up his arguments consisted on his own research, historical facts, and essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Rachel Carson.
The purposes of both Dr. Isenberg and Dr. Worster are: to showcase the natural beauty of not just California but also of the United States prior to the arrival of men, to explain how natural resources were exploited in order to stimulate the country’s economy, what types of technologies were used to do it, and how the government’s response to the uncontrolled capitalists environmental exploitation of the time. The point of view both historians took in the interview and the book chapter was of well informed and very knowledgeable environmental historians. They both showed an eagerness to share as much information as possible in a very easy to understand manner to a general audience. While listening to Dr. Worster’s interview and reading Dr. Isenberg’s piece one can easily hear and see multiple voices from the Pre-columbian Native Americans to European Settlers. One can even feel as if he is listening to mother nature speak of the injustices done to her by men and their capitalists driven environmental exploitation. It is with certainty that he who watches Dr. Worster’s interview and reads Dr. Isenberg’s book will not feel as if anyone’s voices were left out; they both did a superb job of remaining unbiased to any ideology and simply presented less known historical facts regarding environmental history.
Within the class both, Dr. Worster’s interview and Dr. Isenberg’s piece were thoroughly examined. Some of the topics which were talked about the most were from Dr. Worster’s interview: President’s Roosevelt’s life and his peculiar adventurous, bold, and daring style, the hydrological and environmental biodiversity destruction, nature lovers such as Emerson, Thoreau, Carson and Muir, and how the United States mining economy ideology had abused of our natural resources for far too long. As far as Dr. Isenberg’s piece the class was very interested in finding what were the main natural resources that men had exploited in California which were gold, lumber, and oil. We also discussed how the technological advances of the era had helped deteriorate the environment, for example hydraulic mining helped destroyed mountains, and river beds. We were also fascinated to discover how the demographics changed with time to the point that by 1890 30% of California’s population was foreign born.
The amount of questions regarding Dr. Worter’s interview and Dr. Isenberg’s piece was very limited since most of the facts were self explanatory. However, some students asked questions about the studied era which helped bring a better understanding to the overall concept of environmental history. One of the most interesting questions asked was: What did the government do to mitigate uncontrolled environmental exploitation? The answer was that eventually the government would create the National Parks Systems, the Environmental Protection Agency, passed the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Legislation, the Coastal Commission and the Natural Preservation Act. Furthermore, someone asked: How is it that Chinese people ended up in California? It was then that we found out that Chinese people were hired in China by American Corporations to come work in the United States for very low pay, in fact the pay was so low that in 1882 the government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act which put a 10 year moratorium on Chinese immigration. Another topic which was clarified to us was how mining economy works. We came to understand that mining economy is based on finding new fuel systems to live; so far it has worked but will not for too long. This is the reason why the United States began to import oil in the 1950's, basically understanding that drilling within our own land could be detrimental while not really caring if it is or it is not to the other exporting nation.
Finally, as complex and intriguing as this topic is there are only two questions that still remain unanswered. Why is it that so many historians choose to study politics, power, social history, family relationships, race, and gender but not environment? What have we learned in regards to the exploitation of our natural resources that we can use to preserve what we have left so that the future generations can also enjoy it as well?