In this course, we explore global environmental history, a new discipline of study that characterizes broad patterns of historical change occurring across the earth.
Our investigation begins by addressing two key processes shaping where and how people lived in the 20th century: the expansion of colonial powers and the urbanization of the human population. From here, we examine various modes of production and consumption that emerged over the 1900s, each dramatically reshaping life on earth. These include extracting energy and natural resources from below the earth’s surface, emptying the world’s oceans, and redistributing plants and animals across the planet. We also treat the wide-ranging consequences of natural disasters, rampant population growth, and the century’s world wars.
While seeking a global point of view, we will engage regional case studies that highlight similarities and differences in the environments of China, Africa, India, the Arctic, and more. The semester closes with careful scrutiny of the rise of global environmental politics, a social process unique to the 20th century and as transformative as those listed above. By the end of the term, students will have a new appreciation for the planet and will be able to apply a global, historical perspective to modern environmental issues.
The semester long project of this class involves adding entries to the Environment and Society Portal, an online database of important places and events in global environmental history. The Portal is hosted by the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society.