Syllabus | Global Environmental History – Of Nature, Perceptions, and Power (Jan-Henrik Meyer)

Since launching this blog, we have heard from a number of other scholars teaching global environmental history in one form or another who have been kind enough to share their syllabi and other materials. I will be updating this blog on a semi-regular basis, uploading these contributions at intervals. Please keep your submissions coming.

The next contribution comes from across the Atlantic. Jan-Henrik Meyer is a scholar of European studies at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, with interests that include international organizations, social movements, transnational networks, the public sphere, and the environment. The syllabus is for a course he teaches titled “Global Environmental History – Of Nature, Perceptions, and Power.”

Jan-Henrik has a few words about his organization of and experience with the course:

“Maybe this is interesting for you as a contribution from European perspective – I made a great effort to avoid too much of a Euro-Centric perspective. Two remarks on the organisation and experience:

Organisation: Problem/Theme and case study

The (3 hour) seminars were systematically organised in the following manner: An introduction into a theme and problem was followed by a more in-depth discussion (often based on a student presentation) of an examplary case study or discussion/application of theoretical insights that illustrated the problem, e.g. when discussion nature conservation, we discussed the insecurity of human knowledge and the social logic of scientific risk assessment in cases on the Newfoundland Cod Collapse and the failed protection of the English Elms from the Dutch Elm disease. This proved very rewarding and allowed to deepen the understanding, and made students aware of the complexity of ambitions to “protect the environment”.

Main textbook:

The seminar was based on Joachim Radkau’s Nature and Power (Cambridge UP) as the main textbook, complemented with chapters and journal articles. The textbook is very accessible due to its essayistic style. However, that is precisely also why it is a difficult text, because it makes all sorts of linkages across cultural, economic, political, social and technical phenomena, and its organisation is not of the typical straitjacket style that tends to characterise the usual textbooks. Students found it inspiring and difficult.

I further used some elements of it as the basis for my version of NYU’s Environment and Society class for NYU Berlin in the spring of 2014 in their Environmental Studies Programme.”

Thanks, Jan-Henrik!

Syllabus – Global Environmental History – Of Nature, Perceptions, and Power – Meyer


Syllabus | Nature and History (Julia Anne Hudson-Richards)

The following syllabus for a course titled “Nature and History” is by the final presenter on our roundtable, Julia Anne Hudson-Richards. Julia is a historian of modern Spanish and European history at Penn State, Altoona, where she also holds an appointment in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies.

Here is Julia with some comments on the course:

“I taught History 110, Nature and History, for the first time in the Fall of 2015. While our upper-level environmental history is focused on US, Nature and History is a little bit more flexible, so I approached it from a Global History perspective. This is obviously a HUGE topic, so I broke the class into thirds. The first third, in which we read Ponting’s A New Green History of the World, dealt with the major themes of environmental history. The next two thirds dealt with 2 of the most basic ways in which humans interact with the environment: access to food and water, and the environmental impact of these relationships.”

Syllabus – Nature and History – Hudson-Richards

Syllabus – Nature and History – Hudson-Richards – Reading List

Syllabus | Global Environmental History (Eagle Glassheim)

The next syllabus is for a lecture course on global environmental history by another one of our roundtable participants, Eagle Glassheim of the University of British Columbia. Eagle is a historian of East and Central Europe who works on issues ranging from national identities to industrial environments.

Here are a few words from Eagle regarding the course:

“I’ve attached the syllabus for our intro level course on global environmental history. I co-developed and co-taught this course with Tina Loo in 2008, and we have alternated teaching it since then. It now enrols 150-175 students each year (plus one or more online versions with around 50 students per section). It attracts a lot of engineers and some science students—for the engineers, it satisfies an “impact of technology on society” requirement. In my short presentation on the course, I want to talk about the opportunities and challenges of our large non-humanities contingent. In many ways, I’d say we have tried to accommodate the needs and proclivities of our engineers (et al): lower reading load (they are genuinely overworked); more presentist and glocal material and themes; weekly online material + 80 min interactive lecture + 50 min tutorial (in place of 3 classroom meetings a week); and more structured activities in discussion (not as much “what did you think of so-and-so’s argument” as we would use in upper levels, majors courses). I want to think more about (and possibly discuss) our goals in teaching environmental humanities to engineers. This is an amazing opportunity and responsibility to shape their practice, and I’m not yet convinced I’ve engaged the engineers most effectively.”

Syllabus – Global Environmental History – Glassheim

Syllabus | Energy in History (Victor Seow)

The following is my contribution to the roundtable. It is the syllabus for a course that I offer at Cornell University on the history of energy. As I type this, I just realized that I have yet to introduce myself, but my name is Victor Seow, and I am a historian of modern China and East Asia, with interests in issues of energy, industry, technology, the environment, and the state.

In regard to the course, “Energy in History” surveys the role of energy as a driving force in global history, considering not only environmental impact, but also the broader implications of energy use for social, economic, and political structures across time. I have taught it twice now. It is in the books as a sophomore seminar in history and science and technology studies, though the students that have taken it range from a first-year in physics to a graduate student in architecture and design. It involves a fair amount of reading each class (we meet twice a week), though the online reading quizzes seem to ensure that students do indeed complete them in advance, and the level of discussion has been quite high as a result. I would be glad to talk about these reading quizzes (with samples) at the roundtable. One issue I have faced with this course, however, has been finding good primary sources for energy history that are accessible to the students. This has particular bearing on their research projects. Students have nevertheless been quite creative, and I am also prepared to discuss some of the original sources they have used for their final papers at the roundtable.

Syllabus – Energy in History – Seow


Syllabus | Themes in Global Environmental History (Debjani Bhattacharyya)

Our next piece is also by another roundtable participant, Debjani Bhattacharyya from Drexel University. Debjani is a historian of South Asia whose work deals with the connections between law, economy, and the environment. The syllabus is for a course on themes in global environmental history.

Debjani has the following comments on it:

“I am teaching Global Environmental History for the first time this quarter: I have tried to stress the geopolitical order and how environments get mapped and tapped across the world. The challenge I have often faced is to have a critical engagement with ideas around sustainability and resilience and helping students unlearn some of the happy stories we like to tell about such things. As part of this course I am taking my students to India for 10-days in two weeks (its the planning that has kept me immeasurably busy!) to look at three sites — shipbreaking and waste-recycling, wetlands, and the new geographies of liberalization in the global south. I will share that experience too at the talk.”

Syllabus – Themes in Global Environmental History – Bhattacharyya

Syllabus | Mapping History: Cartography from the Early Modern to the Digital Age (Adam Sundberg)

Our first syllabus comes from one of our roundtable participants, Adam Sundberg of Creighton University, who teaches and works on cultural, environmental, and digital histories of early modern Europe, with a particular focus on the Netherlands. It is for a course that Adam is currently teaching on the history of cartography.

Adam has this to say about the course:

“I am currently halfway through my first semester teaching “HIS 395: Cartography from the Early Modern to the Digital Age” at Creighton University in Omaha, NE. This course is an upper level history course that targets juniors in seniors and will soon be a part of Creighton’s digital humanities minor and sustainability studies. This is part of a suite of environmental history courses that I am either teaching or developing between 2016-2017, including a global environmental history survey (Fall 2016) and a history of natural disasters (Spring 2017). One of the principal benefits of organizing an environmental history course around “mappings” of the human/nature relationship is that we can focus concretely (and critically) on source material as ways of establishing environmental knowledge/authority. By far the greatest challenge has been the “global” perspective I try to engage because of the difficulty of obtaining/making GIS exercises with non-US/European data.”

Syllabus – Mapping History – Sundberg

Opening Words

Welcome to this blog! Its main purpose is to serve as a site to share syllabi and other teaching resources for courses on environmental history, particularly those of global breadth.

Formed in advance of a roundtable on “Teaching Global Environmental History” at the 2016 American Society for Environmental History conference in Seattle (our session will be Friday, April 1, 8:30-10:00 am @ Olympic on the Mezzanine Level), this site launches with the syllabi from courses our roundtable presenters will be discussing, circulated for potential session attendees and other interested parties to take a look at beforehand.

We also invite contributions by others, be these syllabi, assignments, classroom activities, and other teaching resources, which we will be glad upload on this site. Along with your contribution, please tell us a little about the material in at least 3-5 sentences. For instance, when you taught the course, how many times you have taught it, who the targeted student audience was, how this fits in with the rest of your teaching, what was the biggest takeaway, what was the biggest challenge, etc. You can send your contributions to

Our intention is for the blog to remain a resource site after the event. While it will probably not be updated very regularly–perhaps once a month–our hope is that it will still be useful for those looking for ideas on how to design, tweak, or revamp courses that pertain to the history of the global environment.