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HIS2321 : Global Environmental History: From the Little Ice Age to Greta Thunberg (Inactive)

  • Inactive for Year: 2023/24
  • Module Leader(s): Dr David Hope
  • Lecturer: Dr Clare Hickman, Dr Anton Caruana Galizia, Dr Samiksha Sehrawat
  • Owning School: History, Classics and Archaeology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 2 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


This module explores the way in which humans have transformed the environment and how the natural world has shaped societies, cultures, and economies across the globe. It focuses on the period from the sixteenth to twenty-first centuries, from the so-called Little Ice Age which started around 1500 and brings it up to the modern day in the age of the Climate Emergency. The module uses case studies from Britain, the Americas, Europe, the Indian subcontinent, East Asia, the Pacific, and beyond to offer wide-ranging perspectives on the history of human-environment relationships across the world.

In the age of climate crisis, the module provides vital reflections on the historical roots of the many environmental challenges facing the modern world. The module focuses on a key period in which humanity has intensified its impact on global ecology, including: the depletion of natural resources; the transplanting of flora, fauna, and invasive species across continents; pollution; species extinction; industrial/commercial agriculture; the burning of fossil fuels, and rapid urbanisation and population growth. In addition, the module explores the ways in which the environment has directly impacted human societies such as ‘natural’ disasters, the Little Ice Age, and health. It also examines ideas and attitudes towards the environment including sustainability, conservation and environmental activism, the meaning of nature itself and how landscapes are imagined, and the concept of the Anthropocene — the idea that we have entered a new geological epoch that is defined by humanity’s impact on the natural world.

The module features several workshops that cover: (1) primary sources for the study of environmental history (including use of resources at the Great North Museum and the Archive and Library of the Natural History Society of Northumbria); (2) maps as historical sources and digital mapping; (3) how to create a Story Map; and (4) planning and designing a Story Map. These workshops support the preparation of the summative creative project (an ArcGIS StoryMap). The Story Map requires students to reflect on the historical roots of a present-day environmental issue and/or a key theme in environmental history and develops participants’ digital skills and ability to construct and communicate a compelling narrative and argument using primary sources, maps, and data visualisations. There is also the opportunity to go on a fieldtrip to local sites that are connected to some of the module’s key themes (possibly Jesmond Dene, the Town Moor, the Quayside, and/or Gosforth Nature Park).

Through engagement with environmental, social, economic, cultural, and global history, the module enables students to acquire a broad and detailed knowledge of human-environment interactions over the past five centuries and how colonialism, industrialisation, population growth, and Enlightenment ideas about ‘improvement’ have fundamentally reshaped local ecologies and our ‘Blue Planet’. Further aims include:

- Develop confidence in the ability to interpret maps, other primary source material, and inter-disciplinary approaches that historians use to study the environment and human relationships with it.
- Raise capacity for independent thinking by requiring students to undertake their own creative project (with guidance) that reflects on the historical roots of a present-day environmental issue and/or a key theme in environmental history.
- Introduce students to major historical interpretations in environmental history and encourage them to make connections between different regions and continents.

Outline Of Syllabus

Outline syllabus, intended as a guide only; week-by-week topics may be slightly different to the following:

- The ‘Little Ice Age’ and its impacts
- The World Hunt: whaling, fishing, and the fur trade
- Felling the trees, clearing the land: deforestation and its effects
- The ‘Columbian Exchange’ and beyond: transplanting flora, exchanging fauna, and invasive species
- Agricultural Revolution: exploiting and depleting the soil
- Fuelling the Fire: coal, energy, and the Industrial Revolution
- Nature’s Fury: floods, hurricanes, and other natural and environmental disasters
- The Smoke of the City: pollution, urbanisation, and population growth
- Environment and Health: water, waste, and disease
- Sustainability, ‘Improvement’, and Traditional Ecological Knowledge: ideas and attitudes towards the environment
- ‘Pristine Environments’: imagining nature and landscapes
- The Collapse of Nature? Towards the sixth mass extinction
- The ‘Greta Effect’: conservation, environmental activism, and rewilding
- The Anthropocene

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture111:0011:00Lectures
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion601:0060:00Essay (summative), creative project (summative), project plan (formative).
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading321:0032:00Recommended and further reading.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching101:0010:00Seminars
Structured Guided LearningStructured research and reading activities501:0050:00Preparation tasks and essential readings for seminars and workshops (5 hours per week)
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops91:009:00Workshops
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesFieldwork13:003:00Fieldtrip
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study251:0025:00General consolidation activities.
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The combination of in-person lectures, seminars, and workshops are designed to encourage an active and student-led approach to learning. Lectures provide a foundational knowledge of core themes and are active learning experiences that use technology enhanced learning to provide instant feedback on students’ progress. Workshops provide students with the skills to analyse and locate primary sources used by historians to study environmental history, digital mapping, and supports the preparation of their independent creative project. Seminars allow for the discussion of relevant historiographical interpretations, encourages independent study, and promotes improvement in oral presentation, interpersonal communication, problem-solving skills, and adaptability. Preparation for seminars and workshops requires students to read and critically analyse a wide range of primary sources and secondary literature: a programme of private reading that requires good time management and personal responsibility for learning. The fieldtrip develops students’ ability to interpret the history of landscapes and the human-environmental relationships embedded within them.

In the event that on-campus sessions need to be reduced, there is the capacity to hold live seminar and workshop discussions online and retain timetabled slots.

Study-abroad, non-Erasmus exchange and Loyola students spending semester 1 only are required to finish their assessment while in Newcastle. Where an exam is present, an alternative form of assessment will be set and where coursework is present, an alternative deadline will be set. Details of the alternative assessment will be provided by the module leader.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay2M40Essay (1,800 words)
Design/Creative proj2A60An online StoryMap (2,000 words equivalent)
Formative Assessments
Description Semester When Set Comment
Written exercise2MA 200-word plan for the creative project that outlines its theme, and the primary sources and data visualisations that will be used.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The essay assesses the acquisition of a clear general knowledge of the subject, as well as the ability to locate and synthesise relevant information, engage with relevant historiographical debates, and express complex ideas in written form using appropriate scholarly sources. The project plan (formative assessment) supports the design and preparation of the independent creative project by requiring students to outline their chosen key theme in environmental history, and the primary sources and data visualisations they will use. This provides scaffolding for the creative project in which students are expected to engage with this type of evidence and analysis. The creative project evaluates students’ ability to reflect on the historical roots of a present-day environmental issue and/or a key theme in environmental history. Students are expected to formulate their own project (with guidance) which further assists their proficiency to work independently and increases their investment in the module. The produced digital Story Map is used to gauge students’ skill at constructing and communicating a compelling narrative and argument, while requiring them to write concisely and to locate and critically analyse primary sources, data visualisations, and associated historiographical interpretations. Work submitted during the delivery of the module forms a means of determining student progress. All submitted work tests intended knowledge and skills outcomes and develops key skills in research, reading, and writing.

Reading Lists