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Human-Environment Relationships Through the 19th and 20th Centuries

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During the 19th century, the world began to see an increase in the complex relationships people had with the environment. There were many factors that contributed to the migration of new settlers towards the west such as the Transcontinental Railroad and the Homestead Act, which forced Native Americans to leave their homeland to make room for new settlers. This also led to the land and environment in the west being altered by the new advancements and techniques the settlers brought over. The complex relationships people had with the environment were incredibly prevalent during the time of the American Frontier and the preservation of the environment.

The American Frontier was part of the land in the Great Plains region occupied by new European settlers when they migrated west. The frontier was started by the passing of the Homestead Act which provided up to 168 acres of free land to settlers who promised to live on it and take care of it. This was the beginning of the disputes over land between settlers and Native Americans because with all the new settlers moving west, the Native Americans were forced off their land onto reservations. The Homestead Act was the start of many improvements and ideas that got people to move west in order to have a better life and have access to more opportunities. The Native Americans experienced first hand the complex relationship people had with the environment because they had already established their way of life and began developing the land and were forced to leave in order to make room for new settlers. In order to make sure the Indians would leave, fur traders began to kill off the buffalo, which the Indians relied on very heavily. This was a huge setback to their way of life, so they eventually decided to leave their land so they could stay together with their tribes. Another way the environment was forever changed was with the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. This was also a huge factor in getting people to come and settle in the west because it offered them the possibility of jobs, safer and faster transport from coast to coast, and the chance for more economic opportunities. The building of the railroad took a toll on the people building it, the land, and especially the Native Americans. In order to build the railroad, the entire buffalo population was killed which drastically affected the Native American’s life. As a result of this, many Native Americans began to sign treaties because they truly didn’t know what to do anymore. Shortly after, many Native Americans were sent to boarding schools, such as the Carlisle Indian School, which completely stripped them of their identity and culture, in order to “Kill the Indian, save the man”. One of the reasons the Indians were sent to these schools was an effect of the Dawes Act. The Dawes Act aimed to “Americanize” Native Americans, encouraged them to become farmers, and as a result, the tribes lost nearly 2⁄3 of their land. Another factor that caused people to move west was The Gold Rush. The Gold Rush had an enormous effect on the land because instead of people digging by hand for gold, they began to bring in hydraulic drills in order to get the job done faster. These drills damaged the land and also increased air and water pollution. The creation of new technologies and migration of people west to start a better life, had a drastic effect on the land and also increased the complex relationships people had with the environment.

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Conservation of the environment was an idea that was started in the 20th century by President Teddy Roosevelt because he believed everyone should do their part in the world to take care of the environment. As president, Roosevelt used his executive power in order to pass laws and policies that helped aid in the conservation of the environment, because he saw a problem with the way people treated the land, and believed he could do something about it. One of the major policies he created was known as the American Antiquities Act. This act gave the president permission to “declare historic landmarks and other objects of history to be National Monuments”. The passing of this act also helped to establish 230 million acres of public land, that would later be used for all sorts of things in the future. This caused the beginning of the conservation movement because this was the first time in history when there was a true effort to help protect the environment. In 1903, he met a man by the name of John Muir who took Roosevelt on a three-day camping trip to Yosemite Valley and was able to show him the many damaging problems that were being caused to the land by people. Later, Roosevelt agreed and set aside Yosemite Valley to be under federal protection. Roosevelt took this opportunity to protect Yosemite Valley because he believed the land was being destroyed by people and new technologies and believed he had the power to do something about it. This was huge for his presidency because people began to see the drastic effects they were having on the environment and began to start taking care of the land they occupied. Roosevelt’s actions to preserve the environment, truly affected the course of history, because, without his enforcement of policies, the land they had would not have lasted for future generations. The CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) created by Franklin D. Roosevelt was another huge step in the environmentalism movement. The CCC was started as a work relief program to provide jobs for men out of work due to the Great Depression. The men would go to national parks and create camping sights, clean up the area, and manage forests. This was a very important group because it provided jobs while also helping to conserve the environment. Roosevelt was huge on environmentalism and aimed his presidency to reflect that by using his power in order to encourage people to take care and cherish the land they had, in order to preserve it for generations to come. Roosevelt told the people, “ We are not building this country for a day. It is to last through the ages”.

Overall, through the 19th and 20th centuries, there were many times and events that caused complex relationships between people and the environment. Even society today is still not successful at avoiding conflict but has significantly improved from issues in the past. Throughout the future, there will always be problems involving people and their relationship with the environment, but we can always look back and learn from history, and be thankful for the people that came before us.

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Human-Environment Relationships Through the 19th and 20th Centuries. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 5, 2023, from
“Human-Environment Relationships Through the 19th and 20th Centuries.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022,
Human-Environment Relationships Through the 19th and 20th Centuries. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 5 Feb. 2023].
Human-Environment Relationships Through the 19th and 20th Centuries [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 25 [cited 2023 Feb 5]. Available from:
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