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