ENV 628b/HIST 406 () / 2023-2024

How to Ruin the World: Global Environmental History Since 1500

Credits: 3

Spring 2024: Tu,Th, 10:30-11:50, TBA

How did we get to this point of accelerating global environmental crisis? This lecture class provides a long historical perspective, and a global one, on the roots of our predicament. The class aims to introduce students to the field of environmental history, emphasizing the value of a global and comparative perspective. Beginning around 1500, the class makes connections between the violent conquest of the Americas and the state of China’s forests, and between the trading networks of the Indian Ocean and the transformation of Europe’s demography. The class examines the transformative impact of fossil fuels in the nineteenth century, alongside widening global inequality. Moving into the twentieth century, we explore the push and pull between growing environmental consciousness and accelerating environmental harm. What was the relationship between decolonization and environmental awareness? How have environmental movements around the world learned from and been inspired by one another? Why, despite an upsurge of activism, has there been so little political will to confront climate change? A central question motivating the class is: what can a complex understanding of history bring to urgent debates about environmental justice?