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Global Environmental History: An Introduction (HI2C4): Timetable


Topic and Activity


What is Environmental History? Concepts and History of a Field (one-hour lecture)

This lecture will introduce students to the course and its objectives. It will explain the intersection between global history and environmental history. This lecture will be geared around the following questions and based on historiographical discussions. What is environmental history? When and why did this field emerge? Is it a field or just an interdisciplinary approach to various political, economic and social phenomena? Can we talk about an "environmental turn"? Why is it important to consider non-human agency in history? What are the sources for environmental historians? What are the key concepts used by environmental historians? What scales do we need to consider when doing environmental history from the 15th century and the "Columbian exchange" to the era of climate change?

Oceans and maritime spaces (one-hour seminar)

There is a very rich historiography on oceans and maritime spaces, which this session will present. We will examine how oceans and maritime spaces have shaped human societies and how they have played a key economic role in global history. Discussions will approach oceans as contact zones, as places of socio-ecological encounters, thereby emphasizing the historical web of human interactions with marine environments. We will examine how since the modern period, nation states and various actors have tried to share marine resources and draw borders on increasingly globalised world seas and oceans. The session will also address the consequences of human activities on marine environments.


Islands (two-hour seminar)

This session will address the imaginary and perception of islands. Through a range of primary sources and secondary readings, we will discuss how islands and their inhabitants have been envisaged in global history as prelapsarian, thereby symbolising a sort of "paradise lost". We will also address the ecological consequences of the integration of islands to the world economy. Through case studies, this session will examine how imperial powers colonised and exploited the resources of islands of the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans.


Rivers (two-hour seminar)

This session will explore the complex relationship between humans and rivers. It will examine the key role played by rivers in global history. Rivers basins, with their alluvial soil, have been the cradle of humanity. They have also enabled the development of trade and of some of the world’s most important cities. This session will also analyse the consequences of urbanisation and human activities on rivers. Discussions will address the notion of "risk" in environmental history. We will try to understand how humans have tried to control rivers but how they have remained vulnerable to river environments and especially to floods.


Forests (two-hour seminar)

This session will examine major global trends in forest extent, use and conservation, both in Europe, North America and tropical regions. This session addresses both the economy and ecology of world forests. Through various cases, discussions will explore the complexity of forest interests (from local rubber tappers to multinational corporations) and how these interests have driven different forest uses and policies of conservation. We will also examine the changing perception of forests and how they have been associated with wildness and the state of nature.


Animal and Insect Worlds (two-hour seminar)

"Animals are good to think [with]" wrote Claude Lévi-Strauss. This session is designed to investigate the interrelationship between humans, animals and insects. Environmental historians have become increasingly interested in animals and insects and it is now relevant to talk of an "animal turn" in the historiography. This session will introduce the student to this pioneer field of enquiry and cutty-edge scholarship. Medieval bestiaries, the domestication of agricultural animals, the working relationship with horses and elephants, the display of animals in zoos, will be addressed to understand why humans have seen themselves through history as different and separate from the animal world. The session will discuss the environmental consequences of the domestication and protection of animal and insect species.


Reading Week (no lecture or seminar)


Deserts (two-hour seminar)

This session will introduce students to the specificities of desert environments and to the richness of their faunas and floras. We will assess the changing perception of deserts. First seen as the most unhospitable places on earth, deserts have also been the object of various projects of agricultural development in the 19th and 20th centuries. We will address the importance of deserts in nation building, for example in North America and how they were depicted as a vast frontier to conquer. Assessing the economic importance of desert resources in Africa, Australia, North and South America, this session will also unfold the imaginary and representations of desert environments.


Workshop: presentation of the group projects

The two-hour seminar will be dedicated to group projects and presentations.


Parks and the Birth of Environmentalism and Conservation (two-hour seminar)

The goal of the two-hour seminar session is to present the different ways in which humans have understood their relationship to the environment and tried to protect it. Through different case studies of national parks in North America, Africa and Europe, the two-hour seminar will take an interdisciplinary approach to examining the variety of approaches to environmentalism. We will address the following questions. When and why did the environmentalist movement appear? What are its ethical and philosophical foundations? How are approaches to environmentalism historically specific and shaped by power and particular social constructions of race, gender, and nature? This session will use a combination of environmentalist texts and secondary readings to discuss these questions and present the pioneer figures of environmentalism (e.g. Aldo Leopold, John Muir, Rachel Carson).


The planet and the Anthropocene (two-hour seminar)

This session will introduce the students to the key notion in environmental history, the "Anthropocene". The Anthropocene, which succeeds the Holocene, is a new geological era defined and shaped by human activity. Why was this concept created by geologists? What does this new periodisation of human history tells us about global history? Climate change is one of the most pressing symptoms of the Anthropocene. Discussions will address different questions and will form a conclusion to this course. Is climate change a reality? Is our way of live and our use of planet resources "sustainable"? Do humans need to make radical changes to "save" and protect the planet?