Westminster Expedition

students at a campfire

During the 2020 fall semester, 16 students, two professors, and a program coordinator will load books, camping gear, and themselves into a couple of vans and hit the road for a semester-long tour of the American West.

The trip is designed as an exploration into the issues at the heart of the contemporary West. Students will earn 16 credits in environmental studies and history as they study Environmental Cooperation and Conflict, Landscape and Meaning, the History of Public Lands, and the Native West.

This prolonged journey into the field will allow us to learn directly from landscapes and ecosystems, as well as from people who live, work, and study in those places. Together, we expect to build a cohort of impassioned scholars with a particular breadth and depth of experiential knowledge who are equipped to build a better future for the West.

We will visit iconic, protected sites like Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, contentious places like the Little Bighorn and the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, working landscapes like the Butte Copper Mines, and communities from present-day Native nations to "New West" towns like Bend, Twisp, and Moab.

Check out the route

Course Descriptions

This course will examine the link between the landscapes of the West and the cultural meanings attached to them. The natural landscapes that surround us contain a world of meaning. The earth is home, habitat, playground, resources, and waste-sink. It is seen as dangerous and peaceful, bountiful and depleted, crowded and open. How do we reconcile these contradictions? What do they mean in terms of the cultural and political ecologies of particular places? How do the cultural values we attach to natural landscapes challenge our understanding of their history and our own involvement in the natural world? By looking at the cultural geography of the environment we can analyze how the meanings of nature are actively created and why it is contested by different people in different places. And, perhaps most importantly, why it matters.

Native peoples inhabited all of the American West; today’s Native nations exercise sovereignty over fragments of their former territory. This course investigates the Native history of some of the West, based upon the expedition itinerary. We will visit contemporary Native nations and investigate their roles in land-use issues; meeting with Native peoples, public lands managers, scholars, and activists on our route.

In 1872, the US Congress declared the Yellowstone region the world’s first national park. In 1916, Congress created the National Park Service, which works to conserve the scenery, natural and historic objects, and wildlife found in our national parks. Today, the Park Service manages over 400 units with more than 20 different designations — including national parks, monuments, historical parks, military parks, preserves, recreation areas, seashores, parkways, lakeshores, and reserves — and nations around the world have created their own versions of national parks. In this course, we will investigate the implications of national parks on natural and human history.

Wars, ambushes, evictions, occupations, political and personal arguments, murders, and feuds. The environmental history of the West is full of conflict, but it is also full cooperation, agreement, help, love, encouragement, and collaboration. In this course, we will visit the sites of this conflict and cooperation. We will debate subjects, learn about the process, and work to understand the surrounding context.

Follow the Expedition's Progress

The Route

Our proposed route is an enormous figure eight, heading northwest first (because of potential early winter weather) and including Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah.

Course-related stops include:

  • Sites of environmental/cultural conflict or cooperation like the Holden Mine; Klamath River dams; the Berkeley Pit, Coeur d'Alene, the border with Mexico, and Los Alamos
  • National parks and monuments like Yellowstone, North Cascades, Glacier, Organ Pipe, Great Basin, Mesa Verde, and Bears Ears
  • Wilderness areas like Bob Marshall and Glacier Peak
  • Native nations and sites like Burns Paiute, The Dalles, the Nez Perce trail, and Hopi
  • Dam sites like Teton, Grand Coulee, Hoover, Snake River
  • Relevant towns/cities like Winthrop, Bozeman, Bend, Cody, Moab, Winthrop, Page, and Flagstaff
Two people on a canoe
Group of Students around Campfire

Relive the 2017 Expedition

Meet the Expedition

Learn more about the students and professors on the expedition.

Read the Latest Journal Entry

  • Bears Ears

    Oct 11, 2019
    I didn't realize how much I stood with Bears Ears National Monument until I went there and learned more about the land from the native people.
    Read More

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Expedition in the News