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Nature, Resources, and the Human Condition: Perspectives on Environmental History

Semester and Year FA 2011
Course Number IDSEM-UG1602
Section 001
Instructor Gene Cittadino
Days Tue,Thu
Time 11:00 AM - 12:15 PM
Units 4.0
Level U
Foundation Requirement SCI


The natural environment has been a major player in human history both in its real physical manifestations and in the perceptions that it evokes in the imaginations of all cultures in all periods. This course will explore this dual aspect of the role of nature in history through works that provide a long historical narrative and works that focus on particular episodes and themes. Much of the focus of the latter will be on the nature of resources and resource use. The course is not about hand-wringing or finger-pointing. Its purpose is neither to document environmental gloom and doom nor to cast particular peoples or practices as good or evil on the basis of their conformance with currently acceptable standards of stewardship or sustainability. Rather, it is about understanding the role that the natural environment has played in human history and about how changing perceptions of nature have shaped human institutions and practices even as they have altered and shaped “natural” environments. Topics will include the origins of agriculture and the rise of hydraulic civilizations; forestry and land tenure in Asia and Europe; Western exploration, expansion, and colonialism; the whaling industry as a precursor of our currrent obsession with fossil fuels; the concept of wilderness and the valuing of pristine nature; the environmental history of New York City; and selected current issues involving biodiversity, water resources, and energy alternatives. Readings may include books by Alfred Crosby, Caroline Merchant, Joachim Radkau, and William Cronon, along with a selection of historical and recent articles.



Course Type

Interdisciplinary Seminars (IDSEM-UG)

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