Skip Navigation
UT wordmark
College of Liberal Arts wordmark
ams masthead
Steven Hoelscher, Chair Burdine 437, Mailcode B7100, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-7277

Erika M. Bsumek

Affiliate Faculty Ph.D., 2000, Rutgers University

Associate Professor
Erika M. Bsumek



Professor Bsumek has written on Native American history, the history of the consumption and production of both manufactured and handmade goods in the United States, and on the history of anthropology. She has also co-edited a collection of essays on global environmental history. Her current research explores the social and environmental history of the area surrounding Glen Canyon on the Utah/Arizona border from the 1840s through the 1980s. (The working title of the book is Engineering Glen Canyon: Mormons, Indians, and the Damming on the American West). She is also working on a larger project that examines the impact that large construction projects (dams, highways, cities and suburbs) had on the American West and writing a book titled The Concrete West: Engineering Society and Culture in the Arid West, 1900-1970.


AMS 315 • Building America

31110 • Spring 2014
Meets TTH 930am-1100am UTC 3.132
(also listed as HIS 317L )
show description

This course will look at roughly 100 years of building in American society from 1867-1980. It will focus on the ways in which politicians, architects, engineers, urban planners, construction workers, naturalists, environmentalists, novelists, filmmakers and the American populous approached the relationship between large-scale infrastructure projects and social development. This course will pay special attention to  the design of specific dams, highways, and urban areas and will place them in larger historical perspective by evaluating key locations before and after they were built or expanded. Hoover Dam, for instance, would provide a key case study in this class. Hoover Dam does more than hold water and generate electricity. It dramatically changed (and continues to change) the relationship that people had with technology, the surrounding area, and with each other. The closest urban area, Las Vegas, will also be evaluated when discussing Hoover Dam, but so too will Southern California. Special attention will also be paid to the engineering innovations that changed construction techniques used in large scale projects.


Engineers of Dreams: Great Bridge Builders and the Spanning of America by Henry Petroski (Oct 29, 1996)To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design by Henry Petroski (Mar 31, 1992)

Seely, Bruce Edsall. Building the American Highway System: Engineers as Policy Makers. Technology and Urban Growth. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1987.

Snyder, Logan Thomas. “The Creation of America’s Interstate Highway System.” American History 41, no. 2 (June 2006): 32–39.

Moudry, Roberta, ed. The American Skyscraper: Cultural Histories. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.McCullough, David G. The Great Bridge: The Epic Story of the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.

Introduction to Engineering Nature: Water, Development, and the Global Spread of American Environmental Expertise, by Jessica Tiesch, (UNC Press, 2011).

We will be reading short articles about specific building projects: Hoover Dam, Glen Canyon Dam, the Brooklyn Bridge, the Sears House, the Woolworth Building, etc.

Possible readings may include:

Schweitzer, Robert. America’s Favorite Homes: Mail-order Catalogues as a Guide to Popular Early 20th-century Houses. Great Lakes Books. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1990.

Cooke, Amanda, and Avi Friedman. “Ahead of Their Time: The Sears Catalogue Prefabricated Houses.” Journal of Design History 14, no. 1 (January 1, 2001): 53–70.


Midterm: 100 points

Paper: 50 points

Final exam: 100 points

Book Review: 25 points

Reading quizzes: 10 points each

In class participation: 25 points.


AMS 329 • Envir Hist Of North Amer

31165 • Spring 2014
Meets TTH 200pm-330pm GAR 1.134
(also listed as HIS 350R, URB 353 )
show description

This one-semester introduction to the environmental history of the United States will examine some of the recent literature of environmental history. As with the field itself, this course will focus on human interaction with the natural world, chart how nature has influenced the development of human life and technologies, and discuss the various political, intellectual, cultural, economic, global and social meanings that people have attached to the environment at different moments in American history.  The course will start with an assessment of how indigenous peoples’ idea about the environment, how it was to be used, and how they approached interactions with land, water, and food sources. It will then examine the ways the colonial populations thought about land, resources, and the indigenous peoples. Moving forward in time, the class considers how American values evolved around the idea of the environment, especially what it was and how it should be treated and examines various historical moments such as the industrial revolution, the progressive era, the Great Depression and New Deal, and the Cold War.  Interactions between different groups and their different environmental ideals – from preservation to Wise Use – will be covered.

AMS 391 • Environmental History

30847 • Spring 2013
Meets T 400pm-700pm GAR 2.124
(also listed as HIS 392 )
show description

This one-semester introduction to primarily U.S. environmental history will examine some of the recent literature of environmental history as well as foundational texts from the field. It will survey various theories and methodologies currently being used to write environmental history as well as those used in the past. We will assess how the field has evolved and attempt to determine where it might be headed in the future. As with the field itself, this course will focus on human interaction with the natural world, chart how nature has influenced the development of human life and technologies, and discuss the various political, intellectual, cultural, economic, and social meanings that people have attached to the environment at different moments in history. Among the questions explored: What is the concept of "nature? What role have science and technology played in our understanding of the environment? How has environmental history been organized around different narratives? What is the relationship between environmental history and social and cultural history? How has the field evolved over time?

Class structure: We will meet together to discuss common readings roughly every week.  Each set of readings is designed to familiarize you with into an important set of issues related to environmental history.  Some weeks’ readings will have a reasonably narrow focus, but I have generally tried to assign books and articles that deal with different places, populations, and time periods so that we can compare and contrast experiences and scholarship.  Each seminar participant is required to complete all of the reading for each week. In some cases I have listed supplementary or “suggested readings” which are meant to help you read a bit more deeply in your specific field of interest. Each student will lead one class discussion. The books on the syllabus are intended to serve as helpful starting points should you want to pursue any of these questions in greater depth later.  Participation in class discussion is required and will account for 30% your grade.

Writing Assignments: This course is designed to help students develop important professional skills such as asking questions, writing book reviews, and leading discussions.  Each student will be responsible for leading one discussion, writing two short book reviews [one 500 and one 750 word essay] and one longer, 3500 word, historiographical essay.  The short reviews can be based on any of the course monographs. You should choose one of the books that we read over the course of the semester (or a book that we don’t read so long as you clear it with me before hand) and to write the longer review. In this review, you will summarize the argument thoroughly while placing it in as broad a theoretical and historiographical context as possible (meaning that you should place the book in the context of our reading for the semester). The other option for the historiographical paper is to write a prospectus for an original research project that you would like to do in the future.  You are welcome to use this as a chance to develop a prospectus for a Masters Report or Thesis.  Each short paper will be worth 10% of your grade. The final essay will be worth 50% of your grade. 

Possible texts: 

Linda Nash, Inescapable Ecologies: A History of Environment, Disease and Knowledge  (U.C Press, 2006)

Marc Cioc, The Game of Conservation: International Treaties to Protect the World's Migratory Animals (Ohio U. Press, 2009)

J.R. McNeill, Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth Century World  (Norton, 2001)

Ted Steinberg, Acts of God: The Unnatural History of Natural Disaster in America (Oxford, 2000)

Brian Fagan, Elixir: A History of Water and Humankind (Bloomsbury, 2012)

Mark Fiege, The Republic of Nature: An Environmental HIstory of the United States (University of Washington Press, 2012)

William Cronon, Uncommon Ground: Rethinking the Human Place in Nature (W. W. Norton & Company; New Ed, 1996)

William Cronon, Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (W. W. Norton & Company, 1992)

Julie Cruikshank, Do Glaciers Listen: Local Knowledge, Colonial Encounters, and Social Imagination  (University of Washington Press, 2005)

 Andrew Hurley, Environmental Inequalities (The University of North Carolina Press, 1995)

Karl Jacoby, Crimes Against Nature: Squatters, Poachers, Thieves, and the Hidden History of American Conservation (University of California Press; 1 edition (2003)

Adam Rome, Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism (Cambridge University Press, 2001)

Susan Strasser, Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash (Owl Books, 2000)

Coll Thrush, Native Seattle: Histories from the Crossing-over Place,  (University of Washington Press, 2007)

Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism (University of Chicago Press, 2006)

Articles may include --

Gregg Mitman, “In Search of Health: Landsape and Disease in American Environmental History,” Vol. 10, Issue 2 (2005).

Gunther Peck, “the nature of labor: Fault Lines and Common Ground in Environmental and Labor History,” Environmental History, Vol. 11, Issue 2 (2006).

Sverker Sorlin and Paul Warde, “The Problem of the Problem of Environmental History: A Re-Reading of the Field,” Environmental History, Vo. 12, Issue 1 (2007).

Mart A. Stewart, “From King Cane to King Cotton: Razing Cane in the Old South,” Environmental History, Vol. 12, Issue 1, (2007)

Donald Worster, “John Muir and the Modern: Passion for Nature,” Environmental History, Vol. 10, Issue 1 (2005)


Donald Worster, “Transformation of the Earth: Toward an Argoecological Perspective in History,” Journal of American History, Vol. 76, No. 4, (1990).

Edmund Russell, “Evolutionary History: A Prospectus for a New Field,” Environmental History, Vol. 8, Issue 2 (2003)


AMS 329 • Envir Hist Of North America

30670 • Fall 2012
Meets MW 330pm-500pm MEZ 2.118
(also listed as HIS 350R, URB 353 )
show description

UGS 356 • Imagined West And Real West-W

64625 • Fall 2009
Meets MWF 1000-1100 GAR 2.124
show description

Dr. Erika Bsumek
Office: GAR 3.214
Class meeting time: M,W, F, 10-11:00
Room: Gar 2.124
Unique number: UGS 64625
Office hours: M,W, 4-5
Contact information: email:, phone: 475-7253

Imagined West/Real West: History, Art, and the Far West

This course will explore the history of the American West through art and literature produced from 1840-1980. The following questions will be addressed: How has the American West been represented at different moments in American history? Why were such images important? In what ways have artistic, cinematic, and literary representations of the region influenced the settlements, development, and importance of the region to national identity? Finally, this course will place the production of visual and literary representations of the West in historical context, exploring the ways in which real events and places were experienced in the West. It also looks at the ways in which people experienced the West. Comparisons between the realities of life in the West and the ways in which it was imagined  will be made.

Among the questions explored in this course will be:
- What is the West?
- What role have art, literature and cinema played in our understanding of the region?
- What is the relationship between the history of the West and American History?

Required Texts

The following books are available at the University Co-op.

Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose
Oliver La Farge, Laughing Boy
Keith Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places
William Goetzmann, West of the Imagination

Course Requirements:

Students will be graded on the following:
-  Course participation. Students are expected to attend classes. Attendance will be taken. Blackboard Posting: Three times over the course of the semester, students will log onto blackboard and ask one question about that week's assigned reading. Students will also answer someone else's question.
Worth  75 points.

-  Students will turn in weekly writing assignments. Papers will be due on each Friday. On weeks when we do not meet on Friday, please turn in the paper on Wednesday. Worth 120 points.  In these papers you should:
o    1: Tie lectures, discussions and readings together.
o    2. Critique one aspect of the reading or discuss a particularly strong response you had to the material. Although these are not "formal" essays, you need to turn in well-crafted papers. [A good paper should have a thesis statement and clearly stated topic sentences.]

-  Original research paper. Worth 175 points. Students will produce an original research paper 15-20 pages in length. We will discuss how to pick a topic, do research, and write this paper at length in class.

-  Presentation of Research. Once you have picked your topic and conducted a significant amount of research you will present your findings in class. Presentations should last between 5-7 minutes.  You should discuss how you picked your topic, the questions you are asking, and give specific details about your research findings to date. This is a formal presentation. You can be as creative as you like. Worth 75 points.

-  There is no final exam in this class. Students will turn in their papers on the last day of class.

Total points recap: Participation: 75, Weekly writing assignments 120 points, Original Research Paper, 175, Presentation of Research, 75 points.


Students receiving between 94-100 percent of the total points will receive an A.
90-93 = A-
87-89 = B+
83-86 = B
80-82 = B-
77-79 = C +
73-76 = C
70-72 = C-
67-69 = D+
63-66 = D

ACADEMIC HONESTY: Academic honesty is very important. You are expected to complete your own work. If you have any questions about  academic guidelines you may call me, 475-7253, or email me at ANY time. You should follow University guidelines regarding plagiarism and student conduct.  For further information see:

Important Notes:
1.  Respect the classroom environment. Turn off all cell-phones and electronic games.  Computers can be used for note taking. Do not read the newspaper, send text messages, or surf the web in class.
2.  Any handouts that you receive from me should be treated as required reading.
3.  My office is on the 3rd
Floor of Garrison. It is accessible by elevator. If, for some reason, my office is inaccessible to you, I will make arrangements to meet in a different locale.
4.  The University of Texas provides, upon request, academic accommodations for students with disabilities. For more information contact the Office of the Dean of Students, 471-6259 or 471-4641.
5.  I will follow University standards and rules regarding academic dishonesty. You should familiarize yourself with these standards [link provided above] and consequences of violations university policy.
6.  Email policy: I do not accept papers via email. I will answer student emails within 72 hours of receiving them.

Weekly agenda: You should complete the reading listed below the date and be ready to discuss the material prior to coming to class.

Week 1:

8/26: Introduction to course.

8/28: What is the West?
Reading: Goetzman, Introduction.

Week 2:

8/31: The Creation of Images
Goetzmann, Chapter 1

9/2: The Vanishing Race
Goetzmann, Chapter 2

9/4: Looking at Images, Evaluating meaning.

Week 3:

9/7 - Labor Day

9/9: What [not who] is the Noble Savage? Or, how Indians became Red.
Chapter 3, 4, 5

9/11: Course Handouts. Indian Voices from Peter Nabokov's Native American Testimony. In-class discussion/interpretation of documents.

Week 4:

9/14: PCL Meeting. GEM

9/16: Tentative Meeting at the Center for American History. GEM

9/18: How to do research and write a paper.
 How to pick a topic.
In class writing exercise.
Bring Goetzmann book to class.

Week 5:

9/21: Painting the West: Artists encounter the West.
Goetzmann, Ch. 4, 8
University Lecture: The State and the Economy - Tom Gilligan, Dean, McCombs School of Business.
There is also a University Lecture on 9/22: How to Know a Tyrant when you see one.

9/23: The Perilous West: Imagination and Reality.
Goetzman, Ch. 7

9/25: Blanton Tour of Western Art. GEM

Week 6: Post on Blackboard this week.

9/28: Manifest Destiny
Goetzman, Ch.11, 12

9/30: Manifest Destiny in the movies and American politics.
Viewing of scenes from The Covered Wagon by John Ford.
Goetzman, Ch. 30

10/2: In-class writing assignment; Trade Weekly papers. Peer review exercise.

Week 7:

10/5: Migration: Lived Experience v. imagined experience.
Goetzman, Ch. 13
Poems: "The Rio Grande" and "El Rio Bravo" by Americo Paredes

10/7: Going to California; living in California; encountering newcomers.
Goetzman, Ch. 14, 15

10/9: The Perils of Migration: The Donner Party Film
Week 8:

10/12: National Wonders: Creating National Parks and Dispossessing People
Goetzman, Ch. 16-19

10/14: The Frontier Photographers
Goetzman, Ch. 20

10/16: The Vanishing Frontier?
Frederick Jackson Turner Essay. Class Handout. You can also find a copy of this paper on:

Week 9:Post on Blackboard this week.

10/19: Cowboys: Beyond Black and White.
Goetzman, ch. 24-25

10/21: Indians and the Wild West
Oilver La Farge, Laughing Boy, p. 1-72

10/23: Research day. Please make plans to go to CAH, the Ransom Center, or the PCL and do research on your topic. I will be available in my office for consultation.

Week 10:

10/26: Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show and Literary Indians
Oliver La Farge, Laughing Boy, 73-128

Goetzman, Ch. 29

10/28: Playing Indian in the West
Oliver La Farge, Laughing Boy, 128-171
Tourism in the West.
Class handout:  Looking at Documents - Discussion

10/30: Tourism in the West
Oliver La Farge, Laughing Boy, 172-193
Touring San Francisco's Chinatown.

Week 11: Stegner's West

11/2: Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose, Part I- III
11/4: Stegner, Part IV-VI

11/6: Stegner, Part VII-IX

Week 12: Writing week.

11/9: First Draft of Paper Due.
11/11: Research day
11/13: Meetings with Professor. Discussion of Paper.

Week 13: Post on Blackboard this week

11/16: First Drafts returned
11/18: Writing day
11/20: Writing day

Week 14: In addition to reading Basso this week, you should spend this week revising papers

11/23: The Significance of Place in linking the past and the present
Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places, Ch. 1 and 2. Class discussion.

11/25: The Meaning of Stories in Understanding Place,
Basso, Ch. 3-4. Class discussion.

11/27: Thanksgiving holiday

Week 15:

11/30: Paper Presentations.

12/2: Paper presentations

12/4: Last day of class. Final papers due.

bottom border