Kevin Hogan
Nancy Parkes

Program description



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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 the quarter)
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.

Skills: 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 project setting.
  • 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 meeting.

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 Crosby.