Environmental History

Elective Course | 4 ECTS | Course: CMM 13

Instructor: Dr. Laura Alice Watt

About the Course

An essential element of any resource management issue or community development question is understanding how and why the circumstances developed into their present-day condition.  The class will take a historical approach to investigating people's complex relationships with their environments, as a way of better understanding coastal places, communities, and how they interrelate -- hopefully helping you to untangle resource controversies or work with communities to be creative in their future ambitions.  

Instructor

Laura is from the San Francisco Bay Area, where she spent four years working as an environmental planner, followed by fifteen years teaching environmental history and policy, and helping run the Cultural Resources Masters program at Sonoma State University. She recently took early retirement from SSU and is now resettling here in the Westfjords, returning to consulting work focused on historical research and Icelandic heritage.  She's also an avid photographer, and is interested in how images contribute to our understanding (or lack thereof) of landscapes.

Description

This course will focus on interactions between humans and their natural environments, with emphasis on culture as the primary lens through which nature is perceived and understood. How has the environment shaped the course of human history, and how have human actions and attitudes shaped the environment? And how does studying past environments help understand present-day challenges? All too often, historians study the human past without considering nature; similarly, all too often, scientists study nature without considering human history. The value of integrating these different perspectives is explored. The goal of the course is to strengthen the participants’ ability to think critically and conceptually while broadening their knowledge of human/environment relationships, and perhaps putting some of the environmental issues learned elsewhere in historic context. Such analysis requires engagement with the complexities, ambiguities, and uncertainties of how people(s) have understood, used, and reacted to their environments.  Specific framework for analyzing these dynamics will be discussed, including landscape theory, concepts of ownership and commons management, as well as values and ethics. 

At the end of the course, a student:

  • has learned to think historically about contemporary environmental issues
  • can identify and articulate several primary academic approaches used to understand the historical dimensions of human/environment relationships
  • is able to foster interdisciplinary discussion of the contributions and challenges of applying environmental history perspectives to the study of coastal systems
  • can utilize an analytical reading strategy to extract important elements from course readings