Teaching Strategies

On this page, you can find suggestions for teaching The Nature of California organized by the chapter of the book. For each chapter of the book, I offer suggestions on themes to highlight as well as texts and web resources to pair with The Nature of California.

Additional Resources for Students: The People and Organizations page includes additional information about some of the key people and organizations featured in The Nature of California and may be of particular use to students. The Recommend Reading page may be of use to students wishing to do additional research on topics discussed in the books. Relevant primary sources are listed with the appropriate chapters below.

Contribute: Do you have an exciting or successful lesson plan for The Nature of California? Contact Professor Wald to get your lesson plan featured.

Introduction/Book Overview

The introduction addresses representations of agricultural labor (farmers and farm laborers) in relation to racialized citizenship. I recommend incorporating the Dodge Ram Super Bowl Commercial discussed in the book’s opening paragraph into lectures/discussions. The episode of the Colbert Report and the United Farm Workers’ Take Our Job Campaign would also be useful in illustrating the ideas discussed here. I also recommend Chipotle’s “Scarecrow” Ad and its parody, “Honest Scarecrow”.  These sources allow students to consider how representations of farmers and farmworkers serve as proxies in conversations about race and citizenship in relation to land, nature, and property.

Chapters 1 and 2

Chapters 1 and 2 would teach well with any of the four texts discussed: Carey McWilliams’s Factories in the Fields (1939), Ruth Comfort Mitchell’s Of Human Kindness (1940), John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939), and Sanora Babb’s Whose Names Are Unknown (1996).

Student projects could productively compare 1930s representations of farm labor and migration with representations from 1995. 1995 is a significant year because it follows both the passing of anti-immigrant proposition 187 in California and Cesar Chavez’s death. Students might compare Woodie Guthrie’s album Dust Bowl Ballads (1940) to Bruce Springsteen’s album The Ghost of Tom Joad (1995). Alternately, they could compare Guthrie’s song “Tom Joad” to Springsteen’s song, “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” Students might also consider the 1930s texts discussed in these chapters in relation to T.C. Boyle’s The Tortilla Curtain (1995) and Helena María Viramontes’s Under the Feet of Jesus (1995).

Chapters 3 and 4

These chapters would pair well with discussions of Japanese internment, California agriculture, and inter-ethnic relations. They would provide context and fodder for discussion in teaching Hisaye Yamamoto’s short stories and Hiroshi Nakamura’s novel Treadmill (1996). I also recommend teaching Treadmill alongside Mine Okubo’s graphic novel Citizen 13660 (1946).

Both chapters would be enriched in the classroom by incorporating the oral histories and primary sources available online through the organizations Densho. In particular, consider using the following resources:

Explore Internment Camp Literature

Interview with Hisaye Yamamoto

Rafu Shimpo

Additionally, the chapters would teach well alongside the interment photographs by Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams, and Toyo Miyatake.

Gallery of Dorothea Lange’s internment photographs

New York Times on Dorothea Lange’s internment photographs (2006)

Gallery of Ansel Adams’s internment photographs

About Toyo Miyatake

Gallery of Toyo Miyatake’s internment photographs

NPR story comparing internment photographs of Lange, Adams, and Toyo Miyatake

Chapter 5

This chapter explores the Filipino migration to the United States and the Bracero Program, both in the context of colonialism. America Is in the Heart (1946) is easily available for classroom use. Strangers in Our Fields (1956) is unfortunately out of print. However, there are excellent primary sources available online to complement this chapter. I highly recommend incorporating oral histories from the Bracero History Archive and the photographs of braceros taken by Leonard Nadel. Students might productively compare such primary sources with those available from The Welga! Filipino American Labor Archives, especially the Filipino American Farmworker Oral History Project.

As a transition between Chapter 5 and Chapter 6, you might find useful, “Grapes of Wrath: The Forgotten Filipinos Who Led a Farmworker Revolution,”  an NPR story (September 15, 2015).

Chapter 6

This chapter would work well for a unit on environmental justice, environmentalism, agriculture, food justice, the Farm Workers Movement or pesticides. There are a wealth of primary sources that complement this chapter including Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1964), Peter Matthiessen’s Sal Si Puedes (Escape If You Can) (1969), the plays of El Teatro Campesino, the UFW produced documentary The Wrath of Grapes (check youtube), and the speeches of Cesar Chavez (see The Words of César Chávez, edited by Richard Jensen and John Hammberback). Students might also productively use primary sources from The Farmworkers Movement Documentation Project.

Chapter 7

This chapter would complement a unit on the food movement, alternative agriculture, consumer politics, or farmworkers. Students could be assigned a project to investigate the websites of any number of organizations involved in the food movement such as The Real Food Challenge and Slow Food USA.  They could investigate the advertising campaigns of companies like Whole Foods Market and Chipotle Mexican Grill. Advertisements from these companies could be shown in class, fostering discussion or providing fodder for free writes.

This chapter would complement Seth Holmes’s work of medical anthropology, Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies (2013) and Helena María Viramontes’s farmworker novel Under the Feet of Jesus (1995). It would also work with a number of popular works promoting the alternative food movement such as Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (2006), Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (2007), the documentaries Food, Inc. (2008) and Fed Up (2014), and the reality television series Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution (2010-2011).

As a project, students could be asked to compare and contrast the politics of two different types of consumer movements such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott of the Civil Rights Movement and the Organic Movement. Students might also compare the 18th century abolitionist sugar boycott to the fair trade movement of the late twentieth century. Reading this chapter should enrich students’ ability to think about consumer politics in nuanced ways.


The epilogue would be appropriately included in courses or units on climate fiction, arts and cultures of climate change, immigrant/migrant rights, and arts and cultures of social movements.

It would complement Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Patterns (2013), CultureStrike’s ClimateJustice Project, and CultureStrike’s Migration is Beautiful Project. The video series by Voice of Art, Migration is Beautiful, would fit well with this chapter. See Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Students could consider the People’s Climate March and the media coverage of the march as they read this chapter. They might also appreciate reading the Bali Principles of Climate Justice (2002) alongside the climate justice statements of the Indigenous Environmental Network and the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance as well as the Climate Justice Alliance, a collaboration of community groups from frontline communities.

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