World Environmental History, 1500-Present [CRN 77158]

Discipline: History
Instructor: Howkins
Credits: 3
Day: B
Start: 0800
End: 0920
Field Work: Day 1 - Friday, 9 December | Costa Rica
Prerequisites: Three (3 ) history credits AND completion of 45 credits Download Syllabus

Over the past 500 years, human relationships with the “natural environment” have changed dramatically.  Non-human nature has helped to shape human history, humans have altered the environment, and human understanding of the world is radically different today than it was when Europeans and Africans first arrived in the Americas.  This course will examine dynamic human-nature interactions in different places around the world from 1492 to the present.  The course will stress that the field of environmental history goes well beyond subjects that are traditionally considered to be “environmental.”  By focusing on the theme of imperialism the course will pay particular attention to the political power relationships at the heart of environmental history.  Imperial powers have used environmental knowledge to facilitate and legitimize their empires, and many of the environmental legacies of imperialism continue to the present.

This course will be divided into three sections that are arranged to follow the course of our voyage.  The first section will introduce students to major themes within the field of environmental history, which will be examined during visits to Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.  During the crossing of the Atlantic, the second section of the course will examine the links between imperialism and the environment, with a particular focus on the global exchange of people, biota, and ideas.  In Latin America, the section three of the class will address some of the environmental challenges and opportunities facing the world since the beginning of the twentieth century, paying particular attention to the history of national parks and protected areas.  Taken together, the three sections of the course will demonstrate the tremendous scope of field of world environmental history, and the important role a historical understanding can play in addressing the environmental problems of the twenty first century.


 This class will help students to think historically about contemporary environmental issues, and to assess underlying power structures.  Students will learn to analyze primary and secondary documents, and use them to construct original historical arguments.  By the end of the course, students will have a broad knowledge of the sweeping changes in human-nature relationships since 1492.  They will also be familiar with the emerging academic field of international environmental history, both in theory and practice.

Field Work

Country: Costa Rica
Day: 1 - Friday, 9 December

This field assignment will draw upon the topics and themes studied throughout the course to think critically about the international history of national parks.  National Parks and other protected areas are easy to celebrate and do a valuable job of safeguarding endangered ecosystems.  But overly celebratory histories can avoid addressing important questions of social justice and political power dynamics.  By visiting a Latin American park and speaking with park officials, scientists, conservationists, and local community members, students will be encouraged to draw upon what they have learned about environmental history during this class to ask critical questions about national park history.  Raising these questions and engaging in open discussions will help students to engage more fully with the issues facing national parks around the world. Learning objectives:

  1. Integrate learning from environmental history class with real-world natural resource management issues.
  2. Compare management challenges facing Monteverde Cloud Forest with issues facing other parks and protected areas around the world.
  3. Reflect on opportunities for thinking about history in a collaborative