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Level 5

5AAH3005 Humans and Nature: Understanding Deep History

Credit value: 30
Module convenor/tutor: Dr Chris Manias (Sem 1) & Dr Vincent Hiribarren (Sem 2)
Teaching pattern: 20 x 2 hour seminars (weekly)
AvailabilityPlease see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 1 x 3 hour examination (60%), 2 x 2,000 word essays (15% each) & 1 x oral presentation (10%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment by the following methods: 1 x 3 hour examination (60%); 2 x 2,000 word essays (15% each); 1 x 1500 word essay (10%)

N.B. This module cannot be taken in conjunction with 5AAH1043 Making the Natural world: The History of Humans in their Environments since 1700, due to overlap of content.

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

We tend to assume that “nature” and human “culture” are opposites.  But does this actually make sense when thinking about history? Human societies have depended on weather, soil and climate, and used and managed forests, oceans and other landscapes for food and resources. Similarly, animals and plants have been essential across human history, providing food, raw materials, labour and companionship. Understandings of environments and the natural world have also played an important role in cultural and intellectual life, including in ideologies of human dominance over nature, religious beliefs about the natural world, the scientific classification of animals and plants, and the modern rise of environmentalism.  All areas of human activity, from the economy, to industry, to culture, to knowledge, to empire and exploration, have been entangled with the environment. 

This course will trace these interactions across a long duration, from the pre-human past to the modern era. We will investigate how human cultures and technologies have shaped, but also have been shaped by, the environment and nature.  In doing so it will introduce you to current debates and approaches in environmental history, and how historians can use ideas and approaches from the anthropology, geography, archaeology and environmental studies to understand historical processes. Taking a wide global framework incorporating Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa and Australasia, we will examine such topics as: the movement of plants, microbes and animals around the world; human attempts to manipulate the natural world through technology, management and breeding; the creation of new human-centered environments like cities; the modern (and historic) impact of climate change; and changing ideas of ecology, nature and extinction.  

Provisional teaching plan

Semester 1

1. Thinking about Deep History
2. Before Humans: Deep Time, The Cenozoic & Pleistocene.
3. Human Origins
4. Humans and Nature in The Palaeolithic
5. Domestication and Agriculture in the Neolithic
6. Early structures in Eurasia 1
7. Early structures in Eurasia 2
8. African & Polycephalous Societies
9. Polynesia & Oceania
10. Pre-Columbian America

Semester 2

11. The Columbian Exchange
12. Maritime Environments
13. Land and Empires
14. Inventing Nature
15. Industrialisation
16. Migrations
17. The Urban Environment
18. Ecological shifts
19. Masters of Nature?
20. What is the Antropocene?

Suggested Introductory Reading

This is suggested reading and purchase of these books is not mandatory.

Arnold, David, The Problem of Nature. Environment, culture and European expansion (1996)

Cunliffe, Barry, By Steppe, Desert and Ocean: The Birth of Eurasia (2015)

Davis, Mike, Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World (2001)

Fleming, James, Historical perspective on climate change (1998)

Grove, Richard, Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens and the Origins of Environmentalism, 1600–1860 (1996).

Kalof, L. (ed), A Cultural History of Animals (Oxford, Berg, 2007): 6 volumes

McNeill, J. R., and McNeill, William, The Human Web: A Bird's Eye View of World History (2003)

McNeill, J. R., and Mauldin, Erin Stewart (eds.), A Companion to Global Environmental History (2012)

Mithen, Steven, After the Ice: A Global Human History, 20,000-5,000 BC (2004)

Radkau, Joachim, Nature and Power: A Global History of the Environment (2008)

Richards, John F., The Unending Frontier: An Environmental History of the Early Modern World (2003)

Worster, Donald, Nature's Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas (2011)

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