Sarah S. Elkind


Course Descriptions



History 110: US History since 1877 (usually offered Fall semesters)

My approach to this introductory course in U. S. history emphasizes environmental history, San Diego in the context of national trends, and changes in legal protections for freedom of speech during the twentieth century. This course satisfies part of the GE requirements in American Institutions and Foundations – Humanities.


History 441: Unnatural Disasters (usually offered Spring semesters)

Global warming, rising gas prices, crashing fish populations, deforestation, water pollution, asthma, toxic mine runoff, eroding topsoil, environmental racism … we face a host of environmental problems today that seem so monstrous that it is hard to know what to do, or how things got so bad. This course will give you a better sense of why environmental problems have developed, what they might mean for us in the future. The course will interest activists, but we will not "take sides" on these issues. Our focus will be understanding the cultural, social and economic pressures -- the logical decisions -- that have led us to use nature as we do. Unnatural Disasters is part of the Sustainability major and minor, and satisfies GE Requirements Foundations II C.


History 445: California History (offered Spring semesters)

An overview of California’s social, economic, political, and cultural history from the pre-colonial period to the present, with particular focus on the impact of successive conquests, economic transformations, and episodes of industrialization on the people and landscapes of the state. Students may select amongst reading assignments to pursue their interests in the multifaceted and complex history of the state. Self-guided field trips ground state history in local history and introduce investigations of public history and public memory.


History 452 Advanced Internships in Public History

This option for the History capstone offers students independent, hands-on service learning internships in museum and park interpretation, research and archives. Requires spring registration, but students can complete an internship any time of year. Satisfies the History capstone requirement for history majors. Click here for more information about internships.


History 584: Topics in Environmental History

Course titles and material varies from semester to semester. History majors and Sustainability majors may take History 584 twice with different titles. (usually offered once a year)


War and Environment

Wars have been fought over natural resources and by using nature as a weapon. Armies have found the natural environment a crucial ally as well as a bitter enemy. This course examines the global environmental history of war form 16th to the 20th century. Key questions include: How did landscape influenced military strategy? How did wartime mobilization and technologies change the natural world or perceptions of nature? When have natural resource shortages caused international conflict or fostered international cooperation? How has the reciprocal relationship of war and the environment changed with industrialization, military technology, and the scale of conflicts? This course is structured as a workshop; students direct course content and help design major assignments.


Environmental History of the United States

Americans have described their continent as both a promised land and a dangerous wilderness, an opportunity for an egalitarian society and for the expansion of private property. Federal and state policies have distributed land, timber, water and minerals in order to protect both individual settlers and large corporations. This course will examine the many contradictory ways in which Americans have viewed their land, and how these perceptions have been translated into private and public development decisions. Through monographs and independent research, we will question the political, cultural, economic and technological influences on the American landscape.


Press, Politics and the Environment

In recent years, the news media have come under increasing criticism for their role in the American political process. But newspapers, magazines and other media have always influenced public policy. Editorial decisions about coverage and the presentation of information determines which issues attract public attention, how policy options are conceived by voters and officials alike, and which voices considered "legitimate" in policy disputes. The importance of the press is further reinforced by elected officials' reliance on media as a proxy for public opinion. This course will explore the role of the news media by examining the changing presentation of specific environmental controversies in news reports over time, with specific attention to agenda setting, reporting on scientific and technical debates, environmental problems, and the interactions between the public, media and policy makers.


Water in the West

The American West begins beyond the hundredth meridian, where the rains cease, and any intensive land use requires irrigation. Or, at least, this is what some western historians seeking to define their field have argued. Whether aridity defines the west or not is an open question, but certainly the history of water in the west tells us much about the values, dreams and political conflicts that have shaped American society. This course will examine water development and water conflicts in the American west from the nineteenth century to the present. We will examine how Americans have used water, and how they have fought over it, with particular attention to the values that have shaped the distribution and use of water in this arid land.



Graduate Seminars


History of Los Angeles

This course uses new works in the history of Los Angeles to put this archetypical twentieth century city into the context of American urban history. The content of the course ranges from business history to the history of planning. As in the field of urban history itself, this course pays particular attention to race relations and the mapping of race and power on the urban space.


American Political History

This course considers both the transformation of American political historiography, and the major concepts and events of American politics, beginning with the founding ideologies that underlie American democracy, and including local governance, the expansion of governmental authority, corruption and reform movements, political dissident, and federalism.



Photo:Sarah S. Elkind, Yosemite waterfall, 2006