Teaching Guide: Exploring Environmental Preservation in the Progressive Era

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, Environmental Preservation in the Progressive Era, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. After reading the 1916 Congressional bill, the 1920 article by John Muir, the 1916 annual report of the Secretary of the Interior, and the 1893 petition, define the movement for the “preservation” of natural resources. What did the authors of these sources propose to do?
  2. After reading the 1908 essay by Gifford Pinchot, the speech by Theodore Roosevelt in 1905, and the text calling for forest preservation in Alabama, define the movement for the “conservation” of natural resources. What did the authors of these sources hope to achieve? How did their views differ from the authors of the sources used in the previous question?
  3. Drawing upon the 1939 film, the photo of the Sapphire Pool, the photograph of John Muir and Theodore Roosevelt, and the photograph of a tunnel, discuss why people visit national parks. What experiences are they hoping to have? What does “nature” mean to them and what does it include?

Classroom activities

Ask students to use sources like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal,, and additional resources from the school or university library to research the topic of hydraulic fracturing, often referred to as “fracking.” Stage a mock debate over the issue, with one side articulating the “pro-fracking” arguments and the other the “anti-fracking” arguments. Have students consider the connections between such debates and earlier ones between Muir and Pinchot.

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