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.
Week 1: Introductions
                25 August (Lecture 1): What is Environmental History?
                                Readings: Course Syllabus
                27 August (Lecture 2): Challenges of the Global
Readings:  “The State of the Field of Environmental History”--J. R. McNeill; “The New World of the Anthropocene”; “Introduction”--Stephen Mosley
Week 2: Ancient/Medieval/Early Modern Environmental History
1 September (Lecture 3): Doing Environmental History Long-Term
Readings: Selections from Cotton, Climate, and Camels--Richard Bulliet; Selections, The History Manifesto  (begin reading Mosquito Empires)
3 September (Lecture 4): Environmental History and National Narratives
                Readings: Selections from Retreat of the Elephants
Week 3: Making New Worlds
8 September (Lecture 5): Changing Historiographies
                Readings: Selections from Ecological Imperialism
                10 September (Lecture 6):
                                Readings:  Mosquito Empires
Week 4: Environmentalism and the ‘isms’
                15 September: To be determined
18 September (Lecture 7):
Reading: “Going Green” from Ramachandra Guha; “Global Environmentalism and the Greening of Modern Society”--Robert Falkner
Week 5: Industrialization
                22 September (Lecture 8):
                                Reading:  “Back to the Land” from Ramachandra Guha”; “Cities and the Environment”--Mosley
24 September (Lecture 9):
                Reading: The Dawn of Green
Week 6: Imperialism
                29 September (Lecture 10): 
Readings: “The ideology of scientific conservation” from Ramachandra Guha; “Forestry and Forests”--Mosley
1 October (Lecture 11):
Readings: “Scientific Empire and Imperial Science: Colonialism and Irrigation Technology in the Indus Basin”--David Gilmartin; “Colonial Experts, Developmental and Environmental Doctrines, and the Legacies of Late British Colonialism”--Joseph Hodge
Week 7:
                6 October (Lecture 12): MIDTERM EXAM
8 October (Lecture 13): Democracy, Part 1
                Readings: Selections from Democracy on the March--David Lilienthal
Week 8:  
13 October (Lecture 14): Democracy, Part 2
                                Readings:  “Carbon Democracy”--Timothy Mitchell
                15 October (Lecture 15): Development, Part 1
Readings:.  “The Age of Ecological Innocence” from Ramachandra Guha
Week 9:
                20 October (Lecture 16): Development, Part 2
                                Readings: Selections from Kariba: The Struggle With the River God

                22 October (Lecture 17): Ideology, Part 1
Readings:  Selections from Between Protest and Power: the Green Party in Germany
Week 10:
                27 October (Lecture 18): Ideology, Part 2
Readings: Selections from Mao’s War Against Nature: Politics and the Environment in Revolutionary China
                29 October (Lecture 19):
                                Readings: “The ecology of affluence” from Ramachandra Guha
Week 11:
3 November (Lecture 20):
Readings:  Selections from Between Protest and Power: the Green Party in Germany--E. Gene Frankland
                5 November (Lecture 21):
Readings:  “The Growth of the Wilderness Ideal” from Ramachandra Guha
Week 12:
                10 November (Lecture 22)
                                Readings:  “Elephant Problems”--Jeff Schauer; “The World Hunt”--Mosley
                12 November (Lecture 23):  
Readings:“The Southern Challenge” from Ramachandra Guha; begin reading Unbowed.
Week 13:
17 November (Lecture 24):
Readings:  Selections from Environmental Justice: Concepts, Evidence, and Politics
19 November (Lecture 23): 
Readings: Selections from Imperial Nature: The World Bank and the Struggles for Social Justice in the Age of Globalization
Week 14: Human and Political Rights
                24 November (Lecture 25):
                                Readings: Unbowed
                26 November (Lecture 26):  Happy Thanksgiving!  No class.
Week 15:
                1 December (Lecture 27):
Readings: “One World or Two?” from Ramachandra Guha; “Is Environmentalism Still a ‘White’ Phenomenon?”; Selections from Imperial Nature
                3 December (Lecture 28):  Concluding Thoughts
Final Exam:  10 December, 12.10  Final essay due in my departmental box. 


  1. Looking forward to following along from afar. Maybe chime in from time to time, if I find the Snark content of the course getting light.

    I was wondering about your opinion of some Environmental History current events. Obama's remaining of Mt. McKinely. On the one hand I'm all for some free advertising for GMC's truck line, on the other if some farm boy from Ohio can't dream of one day being president, stumbling into a war with Spain, getting shot by an anarchist, and then getting a mountain named after him for some wrong economic views, haven't we lost something?

    1. I'd welcome the snark!
      Perhaps they can put a pimple on Washington's face on Rushmore and name it Mt Boehner...he's not president, but perhaps it could satisfy the Ohio-ans yearnings?

  2. Well Ohio it's has a mounds of stuff...I imagine there is a landfill outside of Cincinnati that is just waiting for a name.