Graduation year: 2022
Semester/year area of interest proposed: Spring 2020
Major status: Non-ENVS major nor minor
Other major (if applicable): Political Science, Hispanic Studies Double Major
Minor(s) (if applicable):
It’s fitting, that my area of interest begins with a reference to Lewis and Clark— the individuals, not this college— and their fateful westward journey. Following Thomas Jefferson’s purchase of Louisiana, America began a great migration into the west, starting with Lewis and Clark. Jefferson “believed that a republic depended on an independent, virtuous citizenry for its survival, and that independence and virtue went hand in hand with land ownership… In order to provide enough land to sustain this ideal population of virtuous yeomen, the United States would have to continue to expand” (History.com Editors 2009). As seen in Jefferson’s desires, this expansion was driven by the philosophy of manifest destiny, the supposed inevitable and divinely driven territorial expansion of the United States (Heidler and Heidler 2019). This great westward expansion had a huge impact on american laws. Most notably was the homesteading act of 1862 which allowed anyone who was “the head of a household or at least 21 years of age to claim a 160 acre parcel of land” (NPS.gov Editors 2019). The only requirements to keep this land was “to live on the land, build a home, make improvements and farm for 5 years” (NPS.gov Editors 2019).
These events provide a touchstone to exemplify how the historic and philosophical foundations of western law deeply impact environmental management. Westward expansion exemplifies how western law enshrines and promulgates a philosophy that land and resources are meant to be owned and exploited. The homesteading act was a clear result of the philosophy of manifest destiny. Westward expansion was not the beginning of western exploitation of land, and it certainly wasn’t the end, which brings me to my area of interest: The Anthropocentric Legal System and Land Management. Through this topic I seek to answer the questions of how centuries of law prioritizing human benefit— particularly in the context of property law— impacts modern land management.
Contained within this topic are several concepts that run the risk of being vague and not very useful if not properly defined, so the following terms are defined as I am using them here. 1) Western law: I am choosing to focus on western law, defined as any legal system that can trace its roots back to English common law (Editors of LegalDictionary.com). Because of colonialism there is a huge number of countries that are based on the english system. For my AOI i will focus primarily on the US; 2) Property law: this can broadly be divided into personal property (intangible, and movable things), and real property which is concerned with land, buildings, resources and anything else having generally to do with a location. I will be focusing on real property law because that is the area that most directly impacts land management (ibid); which brings us to 3) Land management: I am using this phrase to encompass management of land use and cover change, and natural resource management in one term.
This topic is so significant in the context of environmental studies because the focus of land management is shifting, and societal motives gradually are shifting from resource extraction to conservation and sustainable use. Even though values are moving in this direction, we still live within a legal system built on a wholly different set of values where exploitation and development were priotatizes. As Joseph Sax puts it, “The central challenges for environmental law may arise not from the difficulty of treating nature or natural objects as having rights independent of human society but from centuries of legal and economic development in which protecting natural systems was not a societal priority” (2009). We are at a point when our legal system needs to shift along with contemporary challenges, you can see efforts to accomplish this through initiatives like the Green New Deal. In order to accomplish this change, We need to better understand how the legal system has been built over centuries to prioritize land exploitation, so that we can better know how to shift these priorities to more sustainable land management.
- How can property law be defined in a western context?
- How can land management be defined?
- What are the philosophical foundations of western property law?
- What are the historical contexts of the creation of property laws?
- How has property law evolved over time?
- What are the primary legal doctrines and precedents that are the basis for modern property law?
- How does property law affect environmental management? Especially land and resource management?
- How do the underpinning historical factors and philosophies influence environmental law and litigation today?
- Is the current body of property law a barrier to effective environmental management?
- How can western property law be updated to reflect current environmental challenges, and the attempts to manage them?
- How can we foster greater cooperation across political borders in the management of environmental issues?
- HIST 239 (Constructing American Landscapes) Spring 2019. I really enjoyed this class because it gave me a unique perspective about how the physical landscape can be used as a historical document and a way to understand culture at that moment in time. It was fascinating and will help me better understand land use and cover change as it relates to my area of interest.
- PHIL 217 (Philosophy of Law and Justice) Fall 2019. This class was my first introduction to legal philosophy and piqued my interest in this topic. It was also a great introduction to property law, which is a pivotal aspect of my area of interest
- ENVS 460 (Environmental Law) Fall 2020. This class fits in perfectly with my area of interest because it deals directly with environmental law which is the heart of my area of interest.
- POLS 309 (Government and the Economy) Fall 2020. The history and philosophy of laws are deeply entwined with the economy, and of course the economy in turn has a big influence on environmental management practices. This class gives a great overview of american economic policies through recent history.
- Classes while abroad– I will be abroad for the 2020-2021 school year in Mexico and Spain. I would like to take classes related to this topic, or even do an internship or volunteer work abroad. I don’t have the full course catalogs for those programs yet though, so I will have to decide on those classes closer to the program start dates.
Here are the required breadth courses I will include in my ENVS major/minor: HIST 239. These are in addition to my ENVS core courses, and the area of interest courses I propose above.
Feedback to date
After my first meeting the feedback was positive and the suggestions were:
- Needs to be a little more interdisciplinary (it was a little too social science / law focuses)
- “Environmental management” needs clarification
- Potentially narrow down to land use and cover change (environmental science side of property law)
- Find some case studies to narrow down to as a focus point, this can be where the interdisciplinary aspect can come in more
Feedback on annotated bibliography:
- Potentially think about referencing non-western law
- Summary and questions need work
- Annotated bibliography was good
Feedback after first full AOI Submission
- Coming soon
Revisions to date
Sax, Joseph L. “Environmental Law.” Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy, edited by J. Baird Callicott and Robert Frodeman, vol. 1, Macmillan Reference USA, 2009, pp. 348-354. Gale eBooks. Accessed 4 Feb. 2020.
I have more to add and will fix formatting