New Course: History & the Global Anthropocene

Classes start today–a new semester, a new course: “History and the Global Anthropocene.” I’m co-teaching it with my colleague, Philip Scarpino, and we’ve designed a course that is both a reading seminar and a public history / service learning course.

We’ve posted the reading list on our course website. It focuses on familiarizing students with the concept of the Anthropocene and introducing them to debates that span the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. We have put special emphasis on policy and social justice.

The service learning component of the course has students working with a number of community organizations to build (not just design, but build) a series of outdoor interpretive installations. These will be interactive and work with visitors’ mobile phones. I will be posting more about this project in future blog posts.

In the meantime, here is our course abstract:

Humanity is facing a crisis of its own making. Our environments can no longer absorb human pressures. The climate is changing. Oceans are warming. Dead zones of hundreds and thousands of square miles hover off our coasts. A mass extinction is in progress – the like of which we haven’t seen for 65 million years. Salinization, pollution, and overconsumption threaten our supplies of freshwater. This is the condition of the Anthropocene – an age in which humans are altering the planet to such an extent that we are leaving a permanent and irreversible mark on the earth’s biological, hydrological, atmospheric, and geological systems. Humanity has initiated an environmental “phase shift,” and formerly resilient systems have been pushed into altered states. Even if humanity were to significantly modify its behaviors, the result would be a new equilibrium, fundamentally different from the pre-industrial world.

However, this situation didn’t begin recently. It is the consequence of a historical process the unfolded over hundreds of years. To understand the Anthropocene we have to understand the socio-cultural conditions that made it possible — imperialism, industrialization, capitalism, urbanization, and more.

This course, offered as part of the History of Science, Technology, Medicine, and Environment theme concentration, is ideal for students in History, Anthropology, Biology, Chemistry, Political Science, Sustainable Management and Policy, Policy Studies, Environmental Science, Geology, Bioethics, and Geography.

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