Environmental history and related courses
Yale faculty offer a wide range of graduate and undergraduate courses related to environmental history. Below please find a sample of courses offered during recent academic years. For the most up-to-date course listings, please consult the online course catalog by searching by faculty last name or reviewing course offerings listed under the history major.
Undergraduates interested in pursuing environmental history through the History Major also can find guidance on an Environmental History Pathway here.
Environmental History of Africa
An examination of the interaction between people and their environment in Africa, and the ways in which this interaction has affected or shaped the course of African history.
Readings in Environmental History
Readings and discussion of key works in environmental history, predominantly drawing from U.S. historiography. The course explores and compares different explanations for historical environmental change, including ecological, economic, political, cultural, and social interpretations.
The Engineering and Ownership of Life
(HIST 938 01 (10784) /HSHM676)
This seminar explores the history of intellectual innovation and intellectual property protection in living matter. Focusing on the United States in world context, it examines arrangements outside the patent system as well as within it. Topics include agriculture, medicine, biotechnology, and law. May be taken as a reading or research course.
Disease and Medicine in the Caribbean, 1492-2000
(HIST 905 01 (13995) /HSHM730)
Readings on the interactions of medicine and disease with the social, economic, cultural, political, and military histories of the Caribbean region from 1492 to the present. Topics include the Columbian exchange and demographic collapse; the connections among race, slavery, and disease; the role of disease in the loss and gain of empire; the influence of U.S. public health policies; and the Cuban health care system since the Revolution.
Culture, Power, Oil
This course analyzes the production, circulation, and consumption of petroleum in order to explore key topics in recent social and cultural theory, including globalization, empire, cultural performance, natural resource extraction, and the nature of the state. Case studies from the United States, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Venezuela, and the former Soviet Union, among others.
This course focuses on the role of collections and collectors in the production of natural knowledge between the sixteenth century and the present. From wonder cabinets to electronic databases, collections of natural objects and facts of nature have been crucial to the development of science, medicine, and the state. The course explores court patronage and colonial power, amateur collections and national museums, gift exchange and commodity trade, individual property and collective authorship, secrecy regimes and public disclosures.
Agrarian Societies: Culture, Society, History, and Development
(PLSC 779 01 (10257) /F&ES80054/F&ES836/ANTH541/HIST965)
An interdisciplinary examination of agrarian societies, contemporary and historical, Western and non-Western. Major analytical perspectives from anthropology, economics, history, political science, and environmental studies are used to develop a meaning-centered and historically grounded account of the transformations of rural society.
Readings in Western and Frontier History
(AMST 738 01 (20365) /HIST738)
John Mack Faragher
An introduction to recent work on the history of North American frontiers and the shifting region of the American West. Critical consideration of readings, participation in discussion, and completion of short weekly writing assignments and a term project.
History of the Environment and Ecological Science
(F&ES 80032 /F&ES823)
In this seminar, students explore the tools of historical research and analysis and develop their writing skills. Students' work centers on practical applications of historical research, data analysis, and narrative so that students gain new power in problem analysis and narrative. After focusing on landscape, forest, and farm history from the earliest records, the seminar folds in the history of ecosystem analysis, forest science, and biologists' and ecologists' influence on political and economic theory. The dynamics of historical change in natural systems in response to management and ecological constraints tells more than the story of how the natural world emerges; it deepens our understanding of political and economic history and of human culture. The ecological orientation afforded by environmental history leads to more successful and ethical policymaking through its emphasis on context, on emergent processes, and on the central role of individuals and communities in environmental, political, and cultural system dynamics.
Leaves, Livelihoods, and Landscapes: Ecology, Socio-Economics, and Politics of Development across Borneo
(F&ES 80166 )
Borneo has occupied a space of exoticism in our collective imagination ever since colonial explorers returned to the metropolis with stories of headhunters and the "wild man of the forest." More contemporary images of Borneo include massive forest fires and violent ethnic wars. Despite these images of "primitive" and wild jungles, the past two decades have brought unprecedented socio-economic and environmental change to Borneo. This interdisciplinary course explores the historical, bio-geographical, political, and socio-economic context of anthropogenic and natural change across the Bornean landscape. Each week students are introduced to basic concepts from the ecological and social sciences. These concepts are then applied to specific case studies in Borneo. We examine the interrelated issues of forest conversion, local livelihood practices, resource distribution and availability, and extractive industries coupled with political power and corruption and emerging democracy and decentralized management. By adopting multiple perspectives and using multiple lenses across nested scales of analyses, we seek to understand the dynamics of how the landscape influences anthropogenic resource use patterns and how resource use alters the landscape and the resulting synergies and feedbacks. Although Borneo is used as the specific context to explore these issues, comparisons and contrasts are also emphasized with other tropical regions (e.g., tropical Latin America and Africa), and the conceptual issues should be applicable worldwide in a variety of situations.
Technology, Society, and the Environment
This seminar addresses technology's dual role as both source and remedy of global environmental change. The seminar first discusses conceptual and theoretical aspects of technological change from an interdisciplinary perspective including social science, history, economics, engineering, as well as management theory. Examples of technological change and its environmental impacts in agriculture, industries, and the service economy are addressed through case studies. Questions discussed include: Why are some technological innovations successful (e.g., cell phones) while others (e.g., fast breeder reactors) are not? What determines rates of change in the adoption of new technologies and how can these be accelerated? How many people can the earth feed? Is dematerialization actually occurring, and why? What are the implications of the Internet's digital North-South divide and what are strategies to overcome it? Active student participation is an essential ingredient of the seminar; students participate in seminar debates, perform case studies in home assignments, and also write a (short) final term paper on a mutually agreed-upon topic.
Conservation Politics in Africa
Introduction to African environmental politics, including key issues besetting wildlife conservation. Identification of the various actors, institutions, and arenas involved in conservation. Biodiversity conservation as an area of contention in Africa.
Built Environments and the Politics of Place
(AMST 861 01 (20447) /ARCH4214)
Call it the built environment, the vernacular, everyday architecture, or the cultural landscape, the material world of built and natural places is intricately bound up with social and political life. This seminar introduces research methods involving the built environment. It includes readings from urban and suburban history, geography, anthropology, and architecture as well as readings on narrative and graphic strategies for representing spaces and places. Participants present papers; chapters from longer projects are welcome.
Disaster, Degradation, Dystopia: Social Science Approaches to Environmental Perturbation and Change
(ANTH 572 01 (20397) /F&ES80176/F&ES869)
This is an advanced seminar on the long tradition of social science scholarship on environmental perturbation and natural disasters, the relevance of which has been heightened by the current global attention to climate change. Topics covered include the academic literature on the social dimension of natural disasters, illustrated with a case study of volcanic hazard; the discursive dimensions of environmental degradation, focusing on deforestation and other case studies; climate change, including discursive dimensions at the global level and close-grained studies of adaptation at the local level; the current debate about the relationship between resource wealth and political conflict, focusing on the "green war" thesis, and the case of tropical forest commodities; and alternative perspectives on sustainable environmental relations, based on interdisciplinary work and work in the humanities.
Society and Environment: Introduction to Theory and Method
(ANTH 581 01 (20398))
This is an introductory graduate core course on the scope of social scientific contributions to environmental and natural resource issues. It is designed to be the first course for students who will be specializing in social science approaches as well as the last/only course for students who take only one course in this area. The approach taken in the course is inductive, problem-oriented, and case-study-based. Section I presents an overview of the field and course. Section II deals with the way that environmental problems are initially framed. Case studies focus on placing problems in their wider political context, new approaches to uncertainty and failure, and the importance of how the analytical boundaries to resource systems are drawn. Section III focuses on questions of method, including the dynamics of working within development projects, and the art of rapid appraisal and short-term consultancies. Section IV is concerned with local peoples and the environment, with case studies addressing the myth of slash-and-burn cultivation, livestock and the development discourse, and indigenous knowledge and its transformation. Section V presents lessons learned.
World Religions and Ecology: Asian Religions
(RLST 872 01 (20859) /F&ES80071/REL817/RLST280)
This course examines the various ways in which religious ideas and practices have contributed to cultural attitudes and human interactions with nature. Examples are selected from Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism. The course examines such topics as symbols, images, and metaphors of nature in canonical texts, views of the divine as transcendent to the world, the indwelling of the sacred in the earth, the ethics of using and valuing nature, ritual practices that link humans to the natural world, and cosmology as orienting humans to the world and embedding them in place.
Indigenous Traditions and Ecology
(RLST 875 01 (11157) /F&ES80044/EVST270/RLST263/REL810)
The course explores how particular indigenous peoples relate to local bioregions and biodiversity. Opening with an examination of such terms as "indigenous," "religion," and "ecology," the course proceeds to investigate religious studies and ethnography related to small-scale societies and the many ways in which they relate to local bioregions and biodiversity. The course examines indigenous ethnic diversity and cultural relationships to place, and the ways values associated with physical places are articulated in symbols, myths, rituals, and other embodied practices. Finally, this course involves questions of environmental justice, namely, the imposition of environmentally damaging projects on a people whose voice in decision making is diminished or totally eliminated.
Anthropology of the Global Economy for Development and Conservation
(ANTH 561 01 (10260) /F&ES80061)
This seminar explores topics in the anthropology of the global economy that are relevant to development and conservation policy and practice. Anthropologists are often assumed to focus on micro- or local-level research, and thus to have limited usefulness in the contemporary, global world of development and conservation policy. In fact, however, they have been examining global topics since at least the 1980s, and very little current anthropological research is limited to the village level. More importantly, the anthropological perspective on the global economy is unique and important.
Social Science of Development and Conservation
(ANTH 597 01 (10261) /F&ES839/F&ES83056)
This course provides a fundamental understanding of the social aspects involved in implementing sustainable development and conservation projects. Social science has two things to contribute to the practice of development and conservation. First, it provides ways of thinking about, researching, and working with social groupings-including rural households and communities, but also development and conservation institutions, states, and NGOs. Second, social science tackles the analysis of the knowledge systems that implicitly shape development and conservation policy and impinge on practice. The goal of the course is to stimulate students to apply informed and critical thinking to whatever roles they play in sustainable development and conservation, in order to move toward more environmentally and socially sustainable projects and policies.
Households, Communities, Gender (for Development and Conservation)
(ANTH 582 01 (20399) /F&ES83073)
The implementation of development and conservation projects involving people requires an understanding of households, communities, and gender; unfortunately, policy is laden with mistaken assumptions about these social units. This course examines both the anthropology of households, communities, and gender, and common assumptions about them in development and conservation. Economic and political aspects of relations within these units are intimately linked, and are examined together. The course explores important global variations in the structure of households, communities, and gender. The structure of households, communities, and gender in any particular locality influences the economic and political relation with its region, nation, and the world system-with essential implications for development and conservation. The course aims to study local social units in order to understand their importance for regional, national, and global development and conservation. The goal is to encourage future policy makers and implementers to examine their assumptions about society, and to think more critically about the implications of these social units (and their variations around the world) for development and conservation.
Archetypes and the Environment
(F&ES 40004 01 (13528) /F&ES602)
This course explores the mythologies, literatures, arts, and folklore of a variety of cultures in search of archetypal characters whose role is to mediate between nature and society. Beginning with sources as early as The Epic of Gilgamesh and ending with contemporary film and media, the course seeks to examine and understand the ways in which diverse peoples integrate an awareness of their traditional and popular arts and cultures. The course makes use of works from a variety of languages, including Akkadian, Greek, Tibetan, Bhutanese, Chinese, German, French, and Italian, but all readings are available in English; students with reading abilities in foreign languages will be encouraged to examine primary sources wherever possible. The course includes visits to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, the Yale Center for British Art, and the Yale Art Gallery.
Introduction to Environmental History
(EVST 120 01 (11503) /HIST120)
Survey of interactions between people and natural environments in North America from precolonial times to the present, including ecological, political, cultural, and economic dimensions. The rise of modern conservation and environmental movements; development of public policy.
Asian Environments and Frontiers
(EVST 420 01 (12227) /HIST313J)
The impact of Asian farmers, merchants, and states on the natural world. Focus on imperial China, with discussion of Japan, Southeast Asia, and Inner Asia in the early modern and modern periods. Themes include frontier conquest, land clearance, water conservancy, urban footprints, and relations between agrarian and nonagrarian peoples. Attention to environmental movements in Asia today.
Energy in American History
(EVST 443 01 (12667) /HIST180J)
An exploration of the history of energy in U.S. history since the late nineteenth century. Topics include the global quest for resources; changing national energy policies; relations between energy producers and communities; political resistance to energy projects; and social, cultural, and environmental transformations associated with energy production and consumption.
Catastrophe and the Earth Sciences since 1850
HSHM 211 01 (11442) /HIST143
The geological, atmospheric, and environmental sciences, from national resource surveys to global warming. Paradigmatic examples of planetary catastrophe debates involving the history and future of the Earth, the exploitation and conservation of resources, predicting and influencing the weather, and the Earth as home. Themes include debates between science and religion, the role of science in government, oceanic and international cooperation, and the social-political importance of prediction, modeling, and incomplete evidence.
Cartography, Territory, and Identity
(HIST 140J 01 (21199) /HSHM422)
Exploration of how maps shape assumptions about territory, land, sovereignty, and identity. The relationship between scientific cartography and conquest, the geography of statecraft, religious cartographies, encounters between Western and non-Western cultures, and reactions to cartographic objectivity. Students make their own maps.
The American West
(AMST 141 01 (24082) /HIST141)
John Mack Faragher
The history of the American West as both frontier and region, real and imagined, from the first contacts between Indians and Europeans in the fifteenth century to the multicultural encounters of the contemporary Sunbelt. Students work with historical texts and images from Yale’s Western Americana Collection.
Genetics, Reproduction, and Society
(AMST 170 01 (14376) /HSHM277/HSHM677/AMST882/HIST939/HIST177)
A history of modern biology, especially evolution, genetics, and molecular biology, within its social, economic, legal, and cultural context. Topics include eugenics and sterilization, the Scopes trial, contraception and abortion, new reproductive technologies, medical genetics, the Human Genome Project, and human cloning.
Science, Arms, and the State
(HIST 147J 01 (24667) /INTS340/HIST945/HSHM451/HSHM635)
A history of chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons in the twentieth century, focusing on the integration in the United States of national security policy making, scientific research, and military innovation. Consequences of weapons development for the scientific community and the civilian economy, public attitudes toward weapons of mass destruction, and political movements to control such weapons.
Environmental History of the Middle East
(HIST 386J 01 (12645) /EVST386/MMES146)
Exploration of how one writes an environmental history of the Middle East. Consideration of what environmental history is; questions of method, sources, and historiography. Topics include irrigation, forestry, agriculture, animal technology, gender and nature, gardens, colonialism, environmentalism, and disease.
Infanticide and Foundlings in Asia and Europe before 1900
(HIST 325J 01 (21609) /HIST882)
A comparative and transnational history of infanticide, child abandonment, and foundling care in Europe and Asia before 1900, with emphasis on parental motives and social reactions.
Global Problems of Population Growth
(MCDB 150 01 (24962) /HIST400/MCDB861)
The worldwide population explosion in its human, environmental, and economic dimensions. Sociobiological bases of reproductive behavior. Population history and the cause of demographic change. Interactions of population growth with economic development and environmental alteration. Political, religious, and ethical issues surrounding fertility; human rights and the status of women.
Epidemics and Society in the West since 1600
(HIST 234 01 (24691) /HSHM235)
The impact of epidemic diseases such as bubonic plague, cholera, malaria, and AIDS on society, public health, and the medical profession in comparative and international perspective. Popular culture and mass hysteria, the mortality revolution, urban renewal and rebuilding, sanitation, the germ theory of disease, the emergence of scientific medicine, and debates over the biomedical model of disease.
The Global Crisis of Malaria
(HIST 435J 01 (14442) /HSHM437)
The global crisis of malaria examined in comparative and historical context. The mosquito theory of transmission and other developments in scientific understanding of the disease; World Health Organization strategies to eradicate malaria since 1955; the development of tools such as insecticides, medication, and bed nets; the attempt to create an effective vaccine.
Medicine and Public Health in Latin America, 1820-2000
(HIST 359 01 (26884) /HSHM647/HIST906/LAST106/HSHM225)
Survey of the history of medicine in Latin America from independence to the present, focusing on the relationships of disease and public health with the construction of states and nations. Medicine's role in the production and reproduction of race and ethnicity; the treatment of indigenous medical traditions; sources and consequences of international disease control efforts; persisting inequalities in health and health care.
U.S. Global Resource Frontiers
(EVST 310 01 (24536) /HIST132J)
The history and consequences of the demand for raw materials in the United States during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Development of key commodities such as bananas, rubber, and oil; the emergence of ecotourism; and recent efforts to police the global supply chain.
Environmental Politics and Law
(EVST 255 01 (24534) /PLSC215/F&ES255)
Exploration of the politics, policy, and law associated with attempts to manage environmental quality and natural resources. Themes of democracy, liberty, power, property, equality, causation, and risk. Case histories include air quality, water quality and quantity, pesticides and toxic substances, land use, agriculture and food, parks and protected areas, and energy.
Energy, Climate, Law, and Policy
(EVST 398 01 (12665) )
Overview of the legal norms governing patterns of energy use and associated adverse effects on climate stability, environmental quality, and human health. Focus on U.S. law and policy, with some consideration of relevant international treaties. Special attention to building efficiency and to land-use regulation and urban growth, particularly coastal prospecting and development.
(PLSC 335 01 (13881))
Issues concerning human responsibility and the environment. Arguments for and against protecting wilderness areas, sustainability as a goal, preservation of species, bearing the costs of fighting global warming, and humans' right to a healthy environment. Attention to analytical and argumentative skills necessary for successful legal and environmental advocacy.
American Indian Religions and Ecology
(RLST 282 01 (13564) /REL877/RLST873/F&ES80038)
Study of the religious beliefs of diverse Native American peoples from a history-of-religions perspective. Oral-narrative and textual forms in which these beliefs have been recorded. Focus on myths, symbols, and rituals, and their relationships with native homelands, geography, and biodiversity. The significance of traditional environmental knowledge.
Global Environmental History
(ARCG 226 01 (21639) /EVST226)
The dynamic relationship between environmental and social forces from the Pleistocene to the present. Pleistocene extinctions; transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture; origins of cities, states, and civilization in Mesopotamia and Egypt; adaptations and collapses of early Old and New World civilizations in the face of environmental disasters; the destruction and reconstruction of the New World by the Old.
Agriculture, Farmers, Food: Foundational Matters
(ANTH 389 01 (12543) /EVST389/PLSC405)
A foundational introduction to the study of agriculture, food, and farming. Background knowledge in preparation for work along more specialized lines.
Farming and Eating in the United States.
(CSJE 372 01 (24005))
Evolving ideas about farming in America and their relation to U.S. food policy and culture. The changing definitions of agricultural space and of the American farmer. Focus on ways in which these definitions affect national food policy. Includes two evening screenings.
Civilizations and Collapse
(EVST 473 01 (12027) /NELC588/ARCG773/ANTH473/ARCG473/ANTH773/NELC188)
Collapse documented in the archaeological and early historical records of the Old and New Worlds, including Mesopotamia, Mesoamerica, the Andes, and Europe. Analysis of politicoeconomic vulnerabilities, resiliencies, and adaptations in face of abrupt climate change; anthropogenic environmental degradation; resource depletion; "barbarian" incursions; and class conflict.
Communities and Conservation in Costa Rica
(EVST 410 01 (26508) /F&ES70117)
Study of human threats to Costa Rica's Tempisque River Basin and Palo Verde National Park. Ecotourism; sugar cane, pineapple, and rice cultivation; hunting and cattle grazing within park boundaries. Effects on villages in the region, including the development of alternative agricultural strategies and livelihoods to supplement household income. Includes a ten-day research trip to Costa Rica during the spring recess.
American Cultural Landscapes: An Introduction to the History of the Built Environment
(ARCH 340 01 (12049) /AMST207/ARCH4212)
Introduction to land use, transportation, town planning, and vernacular building patterns in the United States. After a brief review of Native American and colonial settlement patterns, the first section of the course (1800-1920) deals with traditional towns and large cities, the second (1920-2000) with peripheral growth that transformed downtowns and shaped diffuse metropolitan regions.
Nature Writing in the English-Speaking World
(EVST 325 01 (12585) /ENGL248)
Natural history and environmental writing in the English-speaking world from the late eighteenth century to the present. Readings include Gilbert White's Natural History of Selborne, Thoreau's Walden, and Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle, as well as recent work by writers from Canada, the United States, India, Australia, and South Africa.
Rivers: Nature and Politics
(ANTH 406 01 (14052) /EVST424/PLSC420)
The natural history of rivers and river systems and the politics surrounding the efforts of states to manage and engineer them.
(ANTH 320 01 (12287) /ARCG720/ARCG320/ANTH720)
Analysis of the archaeological and paleoenvironmental data for rain-fed and irrigation agriculture settlement, subsistence, and politicoeconomic innovation in Mesopotamia, from sedentary agriculture villages to cities and states to early empire. Focus on combinations of dynamic social and environmental forces that drove these developments.
(ANTH 382 01 (12127) /EVST345/F&ES384)
History of the anthropological study of the environment. The nature-culture dichotomy, ecology and social organization, methodological debates, and the politics of the environment.
Reconstructing Human Evolution: An Ecological Approach
(ANTH 856 01 (10289) /ARCG456/ARCG856/ANTH456)
If human evolutionary change has been determined or affected by ecological factors, such as changes in climate, competition with other animals, and availability and kinds of food supply, then it is important to determine ecological and environmental information about the regions and time period in which human evolution has occurred. Examination of methods for obtaining data relevant to such information, and for evaluating the techniques and results of such other fields as geology, paleobotany, and paleozoology. Ethnographic, primatological, and other biological models of early human behavior.
Urban Life and Landscape
(ARCH 344 01 (11975))
The built environment as a text tool for constructing narratives of human activity, aspiration, and struggle. Methods of viewing the ordinary landscape of the twentieth-century American city: pulling apart its historical layers, examining social meanings, and observing its function today. Modes of inquiry include video, public presentations, field trips, photography, and writing.
Political Ecology: Nature, Culture, and Power
(F&ES 285 01 (12516) /EVST285)
Study of the relationship between society and the environment. Global processes of environmental conservation, development, and conflicts over natural resource use; political-economic contexts of environmental change; ways in which understandings of nature are discursively bound up with notions of culture and identity.
(F&ES 40002 01 (13624) /F&ES601)
Students in this course should plan to produce one full-length article, 3,000 to 4,000 words, that could appear in a wide-circulation magazine such as Audubon, Atlantic, Sierra, or Smithsonian. One-credit students begin a potentially publishable article; three-credit students complete a publishable article.
Agriculture and the Environment
(F&ES 80085 01 (14118))
Within the United States and across the globe, agriculture is the major source of human impacts on land and water, as well as a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. This class uses economic tools and concepts to examine the connections between agriculture and the environment. The class discusses the relationships between agriculture and forest clearing, land degradation, soil erosion, water pollution, biodiversity loss, and climate change. It also considers the relationships between agricultural productivity growth and environmental quality, and it touches on the impacts of agricultural policies and international trade.