Monday, August 31, 2015

Welcome to Comparative Environmental History

Photo Credit
Welcome to History 443, Comparative Environmental History.  In addition to a lower-division survey course (European History Since 1648), I’m teaching a smaller class on comparative environmental history at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.  This is a new class that grows out of my interests in environmental history (I write about the history of wildlife conservation debates in Eastern Africa) and a desire to introduce a more global perspective into the courses that I offer.
For the uninitiated, “Environmental History” is a growing sub-field of the historical discipline.  To paraphrase one of our readings from last week, environmental historians write about “the relationship between human societies and the rest of nature on which they depended” (McNeill 347).
The early weeks of this class introduce students to the sub-field and offer some “case studies” for understanding the work that environmental historians do.  Thereafter, the course is focused on thinking about “environmentalism” and how it is informed by a host of other “isms” out there—“isms” (and not all of them actually end with ‘-ism’), simply put, being ways of thinking that make big claims about how we should think, act, and organize our societies.  We’ll discuss different ideologies, imperialism, industrialism, humanitarianism, democracy, and how these things are shaped by and in turn shape environmental politics.
You’re welcome to follow along—the somewhat disorganized syllabus below contains references to the readings students will complete—and I will try to offer updates once a week or so.
Our first week’s meetings involved an introduction to environmental history, to the course, and a discussion of some texts that offer an overview of the subject.  Most students in the class are not history majors, and so it was interesting getting their perspectives on the discipline and on how they think environmental history—and history in general—can help them to think about the world and their own subjects.
Stay tuned…

*McNeill, J. R.  "The State of the Field of Environmental History" in The Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 2010, 35: 345-74.

Welcome to European History Since 1648

Some of the texts the students will encounter this semester.
Last Fall, I began an experiment whereby I posted regularly in conjunction with the class I was teaching.  Life intervened, and I trailed off two-thirds of the way through the term.  I’m going to give it another try, and so, for interested readers…

Welcome to History 106, European History Since 1648!  This class is offered at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and covers some of the major themes and events in European history.  I’ve posted our reading schedule for the term below, and will post updates once or twice a week.

If you’re interested in European history or history more generally, it might be interesting to follow along.  I’d like to think that history as it is taught in a university setting is a bit different from the high school version, demanding more analysis and critical thinking, and treating the past like a puzzle rather than a simple story.

So even if you couldn’t stand history as a student, and have never studied history in a university setting, the brief updates here might give you some idea of what students are doing in a university setting, and what the study of often-maligned humanities subjects looks like.  Students are reading four stand-alone texts, but below you can find links to the short, primary source texts they are being asked to read.

Our first meetings last week were largely occupied by introductions to the course and to the books and other materials students will need.  The students all introduced themselves…learning 50 names is a slow process for someone with my memory, but it will happen before the semester is over!

In our second class last week, we began discussing some course themes and materials.  Our course begins in 1648, and we discussed how that beginning point helps to shape the narrative that we tell.  The peace of Westphalia that settled the Thirty Years War is the conventional reason for starting in that year, but we discussed how focusing on events in the English Civil War leading to the execution of a king, the formal recognition by the Spanish Empire of the Dutch Republic, and Portuguese defeats by the Omani Sultanate in the Indian Ocean could set us on different trajectories, or make us think about the state of Europe in 1648 in different ways.

We also began to sketch out what Europe looked like in the 17th century.  We began with demographics, and students were asked to look at population trends and theorize historically about what could explain the numbers: the 30 Years’ War could help to account for a dip; family patterns, agricultural developments, and the gradual disappearance of plague could account for the steady increase.

We’ll pick up with this tomorrow, to discuss economic, political, and religious trends in 17th century Europe.  I will talk in general terms about what a “state” is and how we might define it.  We will then embark on a discussion of two pieces by John Locke and Thomas Hobbes, and the respective views these philosophers held on what constituted a good state and society.
Feel free to tag along!


(subject to change)