HIS33050 Science and Environment

Academic Year 2023/2024

*** Not available in the academic year indicated above ***

This course explores the making and knowing of global environments from European invasions of Asia, Africa, and the Americas in the sixteenth century to their legacy in a climate changed world. Bringing together the history of science and environmental history, its central aim is to understand natural knowledge as a widespread and often unequal collaboration of diverse actors. The course begins with an extended unit on critical and inclusive research methods from the history of science, with special emphasis on the sociology of scientific knowledge and critiques from Indigenous and feminist standpoints. We then work through thematic units—e.g., Islands and Shorelines, Fields and Plantations, Waterscapes, and Underlands—to bring various global histories of science and environment into a comparative framework geared toward seminar discussion. Seminars will engage topics including the history of earth, environmental, and climate sciences, non-Western knowledges and cartographies, the construction of the “global” as a scientific and economic concept, racial capitalism and the commodification of nature, and the politics and violence of landscape transformation (or “terraforming”) from colonial history to climate crisis. Seminars also practice history for the future, asking how global histories of science and environment might inform on-going conversations about environmental and climate justice, for instance. This includes an in-class interview and discussion with a climate journalist. Readings, lectures, and seminars will provide scaffolding for students to create their own historical research projects on science and environment in any world region.

Keywords: climate change; commodity frontiers; colonialism; imperialism; race and capitalism; resources; scientific practice

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On completion of the module, students should be able to:
1. Show a general understanding of how environmental sciences developed through colonial and imperial history;
2. Examine in detail the social and environmental context of science in various world regions;
3. Demonstrate a critical awareness of the social impact and legacy of colonial science and landscape transformation;
4. Engage critically with a range of primary and secondary sources;
5. Write scholarly essays and contribute meaningfully to seminar discussion to the standard of a level 3 history student.

Indicative Module Content:

1. History of the science: origins and new approaches
2. The history of science meets environmental history
3. Islands and shorelines: colonial encounters, climate change
4. Coast and continents: settler sciences invade interiors
5. Underlands: mineral resources from silver to fossil fuels
6. Uplands: mountain frontiers and observatory sciences
7. Ice and arctic: Indigenous knowledge and glaciology
8. Arid lands: irrigation projects, climate “restoration”
9. Waterscapes: Atlantic slavery, water infrastructures
10. Fields and plantation: capitalism and “Plantationocene”
11. Histories for future: interview with AP Climate News Editor

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours


Seminar (or Webinar)


Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
This is a small group module, taught via a combination of a one-hour weekly lecture and a two-hour weekly seminar. The lecture provides a broad introductory overview of the period and/or topic, while the seminar explores the subject in more detail, examining issues of interpretation and debate. Seminars are structured around student presentations and discussion, the latter incorporating both full class conversation and smaller group work. Discussions are source-led and task-based, with a weekly handout of primary or current news material supplying the basis for close analysis. Advanced research, writing and citation skills are developed through a combined individual student presentation on a primary source and parallel written essay, and a semester-long 4000-word research project. Autonomous learning is developed via student-led discussion in the seminars, in particular through group analysis of the weekly reading materials. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Presentation: 15-minute class presentation Throughout the Trimester n/a Graded No


Continuous Assessment: Student contribution/participation Throughout the Trimester n/a Graded No


Essay: End of semester research essay Week 12 n/a Graded No


Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Autumn No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, on an activity or draft prior to summative assessment
• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Feedback individually to students, post-assessment: Feedback on the mid-term assessment will be provided in writing. Oral feedback will be provided on an ongoing basis on plans and reading lists for the end of semester research project. Students have opportunity to book a one-to-one discussion with the module coordinator to discuss their research for this project. Written feedback on the end of semester assessment will be provided via brightspace.

Timetabling information is displayed only for guidance purposes, relates to the current Academic Year only and is subject to change.

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