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Lesson Plan Environmental Resource Management: Local and Historical Perspectives

This unit connects historical perspectives of nature and the environment with contemporary issues of local resource management. It draws on the Library of Congress online collection The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920. Students will examine photographs, paintings and text to understand the contexts of America's concern for the environment. Students will produce a paper on a contemporary topic of local concern that incorporates historical perspectives with current issues. Students will begin to understand the continuity and complexity of Americans' relationship with the land on a national and local level.


Students will be able to:

  • Research using a variety of resources.
  • Analyze nineteenth-century scientific, legislative, and narrative nonfiction writing.
  • Connect past perceptions and presentations of nature in America to the policies and concerns of present-day resource management in their local landscape.

Time Required

Two weeks

Lesson Preparation


Lesson Procedure

Activity One

Conduct an overview and discussion of the American environmental movement. Discuss issues of changing landscapes over time. What is our relationship to the land? Introduce the "city" versus the "mountain" ideology so students can recognize extremes and discover and place each ideology.

Conduct a field trip and journal experience at a local nature site.

Writing assignment: Describe a memory of an experience in or with nature. Using all of your senses, describe where this memory occurred as well as the accompanying emotions or sensations that the experience elicited. Write a personal essay or journal on your experience in or with nature.

Activity Two

Students search The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920 to create a portfolio of ideas about early conservation issues and photos of early conservation philosophers.

Activity Three

Share readings and discuss the early history of the environmental movement. Confront the challenges of reading nonfiction analytically.

  • What is our early relationship to the land?
  • What are significant philosophies that emerge from the conservation movement?
  • Philosophically, how did early settlers view America?
  • Can you discover any comparisons between your narrative in nature and those of early American authors?

Discuss how our narratives create the images we believe and pass on to our children.

Students read essays about the American environmental and conservation movements that they or the teacher select. Search the digital collections for possibilities.

Working in groups, students identify major themes and early philosophies about the American environmental and conservation movements.

Students search The Evolution of the Conservation Movement, 1850-1920 for a chronology of events, issues, legislation, and images related to their group topic. The Special Presentation Chronology of Selected Events in the Development of the American Conservation Movement, c.1850-1920 will be of particular value to this research. Encourage students to take notes on who, what, where, when, philosophy, and impact for each yearly increment studied.

Activity Four

Students complete an essay assignment:

Chronologically detail the historical context of your topic.

  • When did this topic become of interest to Americans?
  • What were the first issues or ideas about this topic?
  • Does early legislation reflect those concerns and issues?
  • How did these issues and topics change over time?
  • What are the contemporary issues related to the topic?
  • What are the most recent legislative efforts?

Students view Early Images of the Western United States, to discover how the early images of the West set in motion an environmental movement that shaped the West. Students analyze selected images, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Photographs and Prints to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.

Students will select individual research paper topics related to the group they selected earlier. Categories for research and topics might include:


  • Predator eradication & re-introduction
  • Bird preservation
  • Hunters as conservationists


  • Water rights in the West
  • Acquifer depletion
  • Stream and riparian management


  • Wilderness corridors
  • Local land control
  • Rural living
  • Campground and recreational use


  • Logging practices and methods
  • Fire management and policy
  • Multiple use of national forests and parks

Activity Five

Schedule time to research and complete a final paper, project, or presentation.


Preparation for evening community presentation of final project. Complete student evaluation.

The lesson can be extended to include:

  • students researching and writing management plans for issues of local concern;
  • students interviewing community members and experts in environmental management, creating their own primary sources as part of their research; and
  • extensive involvement of local resource managers as presenters and student mentors.

Lesson Evaluation

Students fill out evaluations at the end of each class session to provide feedback on lesson content and presentation. Their final products will demonstrate their ability to make some sophisticated connections between the past and present.


Marta Brooks & Jodi Allison-Bunnell


Early Images of the United States

Choose from the links below to view images recorded by early explorers of the American West. What stories do these pictures tell?

Prints, lithographs and engravings

n the 1850s, prints, lithographs and engravings of American scenery, especially in the West, received wide popular distribution between this decade and the turn of the century, stimulating broad interest in and appreciation for the special qualities of the American landscape, including its wilderness.

Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories (U.S.)--1870-1880

Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden began his first Federally-sponsored Survey of the West in 1870. By the time it ended in 1878, the survey under his leadership had conducted landmark explorations throughout the region and contributed vitally to the scientific, photographic, and artistic representation of the Western landscape.

Henry Jackson was official photographer and Thomas Moran was accompanying artist. Widely-distributed lithographs of Moran's paintings from this expedition helped publicize Yellowstone in the East, while Jackson's 1870-1878 work with the Survey quickly became the most influential photographic representation of the Western landscape and its natural wonders.

William Henry Jackson

Jackson went on from the Geological Survey work to produce additional photographs of the West throughout his life. These were exhibited at major venues, and played a major role in shaping Americans' views of the West.

New Photographic Techniques

As new techniques became available, photographers of the West used them to produce ever-grander images. Panoramic photographs produced particularly striking images of Western landscapes.