Bibliography: Environmental History of the American West
Scroll to the section "Water, Irrigation, and Reclamation" in this extensive bibliography from Professor Carolyn Merchant, University of California, Berkeley.
Bibliography: The Hydraulic Empire
Primary and secondary readings, also from the online bibliography provided by Professor
Carolyn Merchant, University of California, Berkeley.
California As I Saw It: First-Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849-1900
Selections in this collection from the Library of Congress are not bookmarkable, therefore click "Search by Keyword" to enter the search page.
A search for "water" will return eight narratives, including:
--The Land of Little Rain, Mary Austin, 1903. A full-length book in florid prose with many
illustrations (enlargable for printing) which provides a journey through the arid and semi-arid
regions of California between the High Sierras south of Yosemite.
--"Both Sides Told, or, Southern California As It Is," 1888. Brochure that introduces the
California that is not described in promotional literature, detailing the realities of living and
farming where water is king and where "there is no chance for the old-fashioned and successful
[Eastern] farmer" who won't pay to get water to his land.
A search for "flood" will return four narratives, including:
--Memories: My Seventy-Two Years in the Romantic County of Yuba, California, William
Ellis, 1939. Half of this memoir deals with flood control on the Feather and Yuba Rivers and
the inevitable political controversies that resulted.
19th-century writings on the arid American West among the facsimile publications from Making of America, a digital
library of primary sources in 19th- and early 20th-century American social history [Cornell home page:
http://cdl.library.cornell.edu/moa; University of Michigan home page: http://moa.umdl.umich.edu]. Among the many selections than can be accessed on keyword searches (arid, irrigable, irrigation, etc.) are:
"The Great Middle Region of the United States, and its Limited Space of Arable Land," North American
Review, January 1875, pp. 1-34.
"The Reclamation of the Arid Lands of the West," Manufacturer and Builder, October 1888, p. 219.
"The Great American Desert," Harper's, July 1888, pp. 232-246.
"Our Unwatered Empire," The North American Review, March 1890, pp. 370-382.
"The Irrigable Lands of the Arid Region," The Century, March 1890, pp. 766-776.
"The Non-Irrigable Lands of the Arid Region," The Century, April 1890, pp. 915-922.
"Water Storage in the West," Scribner's, September 1890, pp. 3-7.
"The Conquest of Arid America," The Century, May 1895, pp. 85-100.
"The Irrigation Problem in California," Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine, October 1895, pp. 407-410.
"Future of the Arid West," The North American Review, October 1895, pp. 438-451.
"The Plight of the Arid West," The Century, February 1896, pp. 634-636.
"Real Utopias in the Arid West," Atlantic Monthly, May 1897, pp. 599-610.
"The Arid Lands," (poem and illustration), Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine, July 1897, pp. 28-29.
Prairie Settlements: Nebraska Photographs and Family Letters, 1862-1912
Poignant site with 3,000 photographs and, in a separate collection, 318 letters of the Uriah Oblinger
family which tell the story of "Uriah's lifelong attempts to settle and prosper on a farm of his own" in
Nebraska, then Kansas, and then Missouri, and then back to Nebraska--despite drought, floods,
blizzards, grasshoppers, low crop prices, and more. An introduction to the letters is found at
Photograph and Map Collections in American Memory from the Library of Congress
Thousands of photographs, searchable by keyword and browsable by subject or name, many of which
present images of the arid West, its plains, rivers, farms, dams, irrigation ditches, acequia, droughts,
floods, settlers, Native Americans, and more. All the sites below can be selected and searched through
the multi-collection search page at http://memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/S?ammem/collections:
@field(COLLID+ndlcoll):heading=All+Collections (be sure to scroll
through the entire page which lists the 90 online collections).
History of the American West, 1860-1920
The Northern Great Plains, 1880-1920
The South Texas Border, 1900-1920
American Environmental Photographs, 1891-1936
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America, 1880-1920
Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991
Ranching Culture in Northern Nevada, 1945-1982
Expeditions of John Wesley Powell
Among the full-text and excerpted Powell publications (also in .pdf format) from the University of Texas Libraries are
||--Exploration of the Colorado River of the West and Its Tributaries Explored in 1869, 1870, 1871, and 1872 (1875)
--John Wesley Powell's Exploration of the Colorado River, U.S. Department of the Interior (1995).
Irrigation in the West: Native-American, Spanish, and Mormon Techniques
To compare these groups' irrigation (or dry farming) techniques, as recommended by Professor
Worster, begin with these sites:
"Hohokam Farming Systems: How To Survive 1,000 Years in the Desert," in International Ag-Sieve, Rodale
Institute, Pennsylvania (on the site of the Russian Rural Informational Network of Moscow State University).
Hohokam Farming and Irrigation, on WestWeb from the College of Staten Island, The City University of New
Dry Farming: The Seed of Hopi Culture, from the "Local Legacies" project of the Library of Congress
Owens Valley Paiute: scroll for "irrigation projects" near the end of the article; from the Anthropology
Department of the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Paiute Irrigation and Farming, discussed throughout the article "Historic Memory and Ethnographic
Perspectives on the Southern Paiute Homeland," by Richard W. Stoffle and M. Nieves Zedeno, Bureau of
Applied Research In Anthropology, University of Arizona.
Acequias (Spanish irrigation canals), an entry in the Handbook of Texas Online.
Acequia - San Antonio, illustrated glossary entry on the site of the Alamo de Parras.
The Acequias as Public Waterworks, a well-illustrated survey completed as an undergraduate independent
study project at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
The Acequia System: scroll down to this subtopic with large explanatory images; also done as an undergraduate
project at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
Mormon Settlement and the Dawn of Large-Scale Irrigation on the Colorado Plateau, from "Canyons, Cultures, and Environmental Change," a project of the Cline Library Special
Collections at Northern Arizona University.
Ecology and Mormon Colonization in the Little Colorado River Basin, Arizona, also from
"Canyons, Cultures, and Environmental Change" (above).
Mormon Irrigation: "Making the Desert Bloom as a Rose," Irrigation Business and Technology, April 1999.
Irrigation Ditch illustrating Hispanic and Mormon Techniques, photograph and explanation from the
GeoImages Project, University of California, Berkeley.
Center for Columbia River History
A first-rate teachable site on a single river that serves as a microcosm of the history of water in the arid West, including
the role of Native Americans. Includes oral histories with audio clips, community histories (don't miss Moses Lake), and,
within each community history, a photo archive, document archive, and bibliography. Also presented are a history of the
river, more photo and document collections, curriculum materials within the project, student projects (minihistories in
themselves), and more. A project of the Washington State Historical Society, Portland State University, and Washington
State University Vancouver.
Cadillac Desert: Water and the Transformation of Nature
Good introductory site based on the PBS documentary Cadillac Desert chronicling the story of "water,
money, politics, and the transformation of nature" through dam building in the American West.
Includes illustrated episode summaries, a primer on water and water use in the U.S., brief video and
audio segments, weblinks, and other resources.
The Owens River Valley / Los Angeles Aqueduct System
The infamous Owens Valley land grab - or the visionary water project that saved Los Angeles -
divergent views of the mammoth project that epitomizes water politics in the West (on which the 1974
film Chinatown was loosely based). Online resources include:
--Brief summary and map from the PBS online resources The West.
--Longer summary with photographs from the project "Los Angeles: Past, Present, Future" from the University of Southern California.
-- Full illustrated history from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
--Panorama of the Owens Valley Los Angeles Aqueduct, from the Virtual Guidebooks site of virtual reality panoramas of the western United States (requires QuickTime)
Photographs: California's Water
From the Water Resources Center Archives, Library, University of California, Berkeley.
Surviving the Dust Bowl
Based on the segment in the PBS series The American Experience; includes the documentary
transcript, an eyewitness account, an essay on the New Deal response, reading list, timeline, maps, and
Human Migration and the Dust Bowl
A useful instructional activity for studying the human-nature interaction in the arid West, in this case,
South Dakota in the 1930s; part of the online resource accompanying the PBS documentary A
Falconer's Memoir on the novelist Dan O'Brien.
Hoover Dam, Nevada
Based on the segment in the PBS series The American Experience; includes the documentary transcript,
a reading list, "dam facts," a timeline, maps, teacher's guide, and "Divided Over Dams," an essay summarizing the environmental debates revolving around dams.
The Story of Hoover Dam
On the construction and history of the Hoover Dam, presenting film clips, FAQS, oral histories, and
more; from the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Dams of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
Clickable map to links to all dams constructed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in 17 western states.
Dams: The Benefits, The Harm
The debate is intense and very alive on the Web; some places to start are
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation: Managing Water in the American West
No research on the arid West can omit the role of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation; the difficult-to-navigate site includes:
High Country News: Current Water Issues in the American West
A helpful source of brief news articles to acquaint oneself with current water and land use issues in the
West, from the California periodical High Country News; categories include
Images from Space to Study Environmental Change
Earth from Space: Astronauts' Views of the Home Planet
Hundreds of annotated NASA photographs from space, in small to large format, searchable in multiple
categories including region, landform, and "earth-human interactions." Once in this site, you'll never leave.
From the NASA Space Shuttle Earth Observations Photography database and the Johnson Space Center.
Earthshots: Satellite Images of Environmental Change
Landsat images that illustrate man's impact on the natural environment throughout the world,
each image thoroughly explained with resource information within the site. The get-acquainted
page (url below) is on Garden City, Kansas, where irrigated cropland has overtaken the former
shortgrass prairie. Other places in the American West include Las Vegas, Nevada; Imperial
Valley, California; Great Salt Lake, Utah; Mount St. Helens, Washington; Dallas, Texas; and
San Antonio, Texas. From the U.S. Geological Survey EROS Data Center.
Recommendation: As the site recommends, start at the first-time-readers page (on Garden City, Kansas) at
http://edcwww.cr.usgs.gov/earthshots/slow/Help-GardenCity/Help-GardenCity, and be sure to read "What the
Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond (1997)
1997 best-seller recommended by Professor Worster for promoting discussion on the limits imposed by
nature and man's culture on man's use of the environment. Online resources include:
Accessible summary of Diamond's UCLA lecture on GG&S entitled "Why Did Human History Unfold Differently on Different Continents for the Last 13,000 Years?"
--Introduction to GG&S (full text)
Diamond's introduction to GG&S in which he explains "Yali's Question," the query that launched his search into the "fate of human societies" (here titled "The Landscape of Destiny"); on the UCLA website.
--A Reader's Summary
Accurate, thorough, and skimmable chapter-by-chapter summary of GG&S, by Michael McGoodwin, a retired physician, on a personal website.
Return to "Wilderness and American Identity" Links to Online
the essay, The Challenge of the Arid West
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