discussion and chat
Winter and Spring quarters, 8 credits
Mondays 6:00 to 10:00 pm
Alternate Saturdays 9:00 am to 5:00 pm (beginning the first Saturday of
Location: A1107 Seminar II
We'll study principles and selected examples
of environmental history, including ways in which our 'solutions' to environmental
problems have themselves created further problems. We seek to carry out
this analysis constructively, to be able to respond better to present
and future environmental problems. We will read texts that discuss both
ancient and modern examples of environmental problems, and approach these
problems from scientific, social, and cultural perspectives.
Questions that will concern us include
- Was it really better back then?
- Is anything getting better? Are we
solving any problems?
- What are some of the major ways (processes
and specific examples) that human use or modification of the environment
has had adverse effects?
- How can we know how much we can alter the
environment before it crashes?
- What would we like our relationship with
the environment to be (in the context of our use of energy, materials
and space, and our modification of ecosystem properties)?
Objectives: by the end of the program, students
should be able to
- Discuss the ways in which humans over history
have modified their environment (general processes and specific examples),
and understand the consequences of these modifications.
- Discuss examples of how lack of foresight
has lead to problems, and conversely, how it has sometimes been possible
to anticipate problems.
- Understand how basic scientific principles,
such as limits to biological productivity the laws of thermodynamics,
act as constraints on how humans interact with their environment.
- Articulate a vision of what our interaction
with the environment should be like, and what specific steps we can
begin to take now to achieve that.
Students are expected to develop their ability to
- Read, write and speak clearly and critically.
- Conduct research in the library as well
as on the internet.
- Work collaboratively in a group research
- Form critical questions in seminar, writing,
and other settings.
- Apply analytic and quantitative tools, including
the interpretation of graphs.
- Present qualitative and quantitative information
orally, in writing, and graphically.
Students joining the program in spring quarter
are asked to read The Control of Nature by John McPhee, and also
to read a packet of essays that will be handed out at the first class
For spring quarter, our readings will include:
Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth
Century World, J.R. McNeill. (selected chapters), W.W. Norton
Restoring Nature: Perspectives from the Social Sciences and Humanities,
Island Press, Edited by Paul H. Gobster and R. Bruce Hull
Tigers in the Snow, Peter Matthiessen, North Point Press
The Future of Life, Edward O. Wilson
What Are People For? Essays by Wendell Berry, North Point Press
Additional readings to be distributed in class include book chapters and
journal articles on historical, social, and scientific topics relevant
to human use of the environment. These will include chapters from Ecological
Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 by Alfred