The Conservation Movement

Historical content: 
The Progressive Era
Historical skills: 
Background knowledge, Contextualization, Periodization



The following two documents related to the American environmental movement were produced over one hundred years apart. Read the documents and determine the order in which they were most likely written. Then explain your answers using evidence from the documents and your knowledge of history.


Document A: A passage from an interview with a leader of a movement to protect the environment.

Document B: A passage from a bill from the United States House of Representatives.

Source text: 

Document A: 

"The environmental crisis arises from a fundamental fault: our systems of production--in industry, agriculture, energy and transportation--essential as they are, make people sick and die. The modern assault on the environment  . . . could be traced to such new technologies of production: new ways of producing electric power, transportation and food that, while they generated these valuable goods, now violently assaulted the environment as well." 

Document B: 

"The U.S. Government has set apart [Yellowstone Park] as a pleasure ground for the people of the United States perpetually, and has directed the preservation of the wild beasts and birds in the park. But no laws to carry out the purpose of protecting the game and birds in the park are now in force, and wanton and cruel slaughter of the buffalo and other wild animals in the park have been reported, and the Secretary of the Interior has found himself powerless to prevent it.

Out of the vast herds of millions of buffaloes that a few years ago coursed the planes of America a few hundred only remain, and they are now all in the Yellowstone Park, and one of the purposes of setting aside the park has been to preserve this little herd."

Document _____  was likely written first because  _____________________________



Document _____  was likely written later because _____________________________




About the Assessment

Like Civil Rights Movement in Context, this assessment gauges students’ ability to contextualize two historical documents and place them in the correct chronological order. Document A is from an interview with Barry Commoner in Scientific American in 1997. Document B is part of an 1894 bill introduced to the House of Representatives. This assessment draws on students' knowledge about American environmental movements but in a way that measures more than just the recall of facts and dates. Students must show that they have a broad understanding of how the focus of the environmental movement changed over time and demonstrate the ability to use their knowledge about these changes to place the two documents in context.

In this assessment, students who correctly contextualize the documents will see that Document B, which is a bill that proposed the establishment of Yellowstone as the first National Park, was a product of the Progressive Era push to conserve land in the West, and therefore likely written before Document A, which reflects more contemporary concerns about the effects of modern technology on the environment and human health.