Energy is at the center of many discussions about twenty-first century society. How central is an apparently unlimited supply of energy to a healthy economy? What is the importance of sources of energy supply to national security? How can we expend the energy we need without causing climate change and disrupting the global environments that sustain the lives of humans and other living species? How crucial is the current level of energy use to patterns of American consumption, and how willing are Americans to alter their consumption habits in order to reduce energy use? What is the connection between various sources of energy and the relationships of social, economic, and political power that exist in the U.S. today? What does sustainable energy use look like?
The United States possesses abundant energy resources, and since the early nineteenth century Americans have enjoyed high, even profligate energy consumption. This course examines the historical context of energy, power and consumption in American history in order to understand the nation’s present situation. The first part of the course examines energy in American history through the 1970s, looking at energy beliefs, sources, regimes, systems and consumption. It will consider how energy affects work, mobility, social relations, economic growth, political power and natural and human-built environments. The second part of the course addresses contemporary energy questions through group research projects. Because of Pennsylvania’s importance in energy history, we will focus research projects on the university, city, state and mid-Atlantic region.