Family and natural resources paper

Assignment:  Write a three page paper on your family’s historical and/or contemporary experience in the United States and/or elsewhere, focusing on the significance of natural resources in shaping the lives of family members and yourself.  If you wish, you may write on a friend or interview subject’s family history. 

Goals:  This assignment is intended to get you to think about the personal significance of natural resources to you and your family, not to ask you to share anything that you feel is private.  

Guidelines:  There are no specific guidelines for how to structure your paper.  But here are some suggestions:

1) Examine one or two key ways in which natural resources have played a part in (one or branches of) your family’s history–for instance, in terms of work, recreation, health, migration, social position or identity.  You might want to start with a basic distinction between the roles that you and family members have played in relation to specific natural resources as producers (e.g.:  workers, farmers, business owners, investors, etc.) and consumers (e.g.:  users of goods and services such as food, gasoline, medicines, air, water, wilderness, etc.).

2) Discuss how your family’s relationships with natural resources have been shaped by and have influenced your own and/or your relatives’ identities in terms of culture, race, ethnicity, class, religion, gender, etc.

3) Look at how connections with natural resources have created or limited social and economic opportunities for you and family members.  You may want to situate this within the context of specific historical and contemporary events that have shaped family experience.  For instance, political and economic changes in China and Mexico in recent decades have had a great impact on agricultural regimes, which, in turn, have influenced the lives of millions in terms of economic opportunity, migration, family cohesion, etc.  You might consider how your family members’ relationships to and experiences of natural resources have changed over time and between generations in the context of immigration and settlement in the United States, and/or pursuit of upward mobility and the “American Dream.”

4) Explore the ideas, feelings and ethical positions that you and your family have about the environmental and social costs and benefits associated with different uses of natural resources.  For instance, how do you feel about the use of petrochemicals or the preservation of wilderness areas?  Are there differences between yourself and other members of your family in this regard?  If so, explore why this is so?

5) Just tell the tale of a how a member of your family came to the United States or a specific event in that story.  It’s likely that you’ll be amazed at the importance of particular natural resources in shaping this history.

6) Talk to your GSI (and Kurt) about ideas for the paper.

Methods, sources and references

  • The best place to start is with your own knowledge and recollections. What do you think is important about natural resources to you and your relatives in terms of identity, how you relate to nature, friends, family, etc.?
  • Next, interview members of your extended family and others if you wish (especially those who are from older generations). Ask them to describe their experiences in terms of specific events and the contexts in which those events occurred.  Then ask about how they feel about and understand the events in their own lives and those of other family members.
  • You are encouraged to include images in the paper, as a means of telling and interpreting your story.
  • You may choose to, but are not expected or required to, use resources such as articles, newspapers, books, works of creative art, etc. to situate your family’s experience historically. If you do this, use parenthetic references in MLA format [e.g., (du Buys 1998, 208)] and include a bibliography on a separate page. See the Reading, Writing and Reference folder on bCourses for an MLA style guide.

Format:  3 pages, 1.5-spaced with 12-point font and margins of your choice.  If you include images or a bibliography in the paper, you may exceed the 3-page limit to include the images.

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