Skip to main content

Study information

World History: Science, Environment and Sustainability

Module titleWorld History: Science, Environment and Sustainability
Module codeHIC1305
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Dr Richard Noakes (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module introduces you to the history of scientific and other systematic approaches to non-human nature in different parts of the globe from 1500 to the present day.  You will develop a broad knowledge and critical understanding of the way historians, sociologists and other scholars have studied the complex and changing relationship between humans and non-human environment.  These will enrich your ability to understand how interdisciplinary approaches within the humanities and social sciences can yield powerful insights into the roots of our environmental crises and dilemmas.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to give you a broad understanding of the ways in which human cultures have interpreted and exploited their non-natural environments from 1500 to the present.  These include Western scientific, non-Western and indigenous processes for making and applying knowledges.  You will acquire a broad understanding of connections between, on the one hand, beliefs and practices concerning 'nature' and sustainability, and on the other. The wider contexts of politics, economics, imperialism, industrialisation, gender, race, conflict, religion and spirituality. The module will give you the ability to challenge assumptions made about such fundamental concepts as nature, expertise and science.  It aims to enrich your ability to apply interdisciplinary approaches to critically understand a range of environmental issues that have become global crises.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Demonstrate a broad and critical understanding of the global history of science and the environment since 1500
  • 2. Evaluate key arguments in history and sociological studies of science and the environment
  • 3. Compare and contrast approaches to making and applying knowledge of the environment across different historical periods and global regions

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Analyse and reflect creatively upon different kinds of source material in relation to environmental humanities research.
  • 5. Ability to engage critically with a variety of different disciplinary practices in their relationship to environmental issues.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. Persuasive communication skills and group working skills.
  • 7. Effective research skills and ability to articulate module themes and issues.
  • 8. Competent time-management and independent critical thinking.

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover some or all of the following topics:

  •  Historical and sociological approaches to the sciences and environment
  • Western and non-Western attitudes and approaches to the environment
  • The early modern ‘death of ‘nature’
  • European imperialism and nature’s empire
  • Knowledge exchanges and circulations
  • Classifying, commodifying and industrializing nature
  • The invention of ecology
  • Environmental expertise versus knowledge
  • Inventing pollution and sustainability
  • Cold War and environmental science
  • Sciences and climate emergency

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching11Lectures (1 hour, weekly) provide a spine through which all students can be brought to a similar level of knowledge and through which ideas and controversies can be transmitted
Scheduled learning and teaching11Seminars (1 hour, weekly) will focus on particular aspects of the subject-matter, with a view to offering a fuller understanding than can be delivered through the lectures, allowing you to develop your skills and knowledge more fully. You will be expected to prepare adequately for seminars in advance by reading and evaluating and to discuss the issues raised in the seminar itself
Guided independent study128Private reading for lectures and seminars. Preparation for group presentations and assessed essay

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay planUp to 500 words1-8Oral and written
Group presentation5 minutes per student, plus 5 mins Q&A for the group; equivalent of 500 words per student comprising (e.g. Powerpoint slides, text read out, handouts and research notes)1-8Oral and written

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay1002,000 words1-8Written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay (2,000 words)1-8Referral/Deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 40%) you will be required to re-submit an essay from the same list of questions set during term-time as necessary. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Anker, Peder. Imperial Ecology: Environmental Order in the British Empire, 1895-1945. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001
  • David Wade Chambers and Richard Gillespie, ‘Locality in the History of Science: Colonial Science, Technoscience, and Indigenous Knowledge’, Osiris, vol. 15 (2000), pp. 221-240
  • Bowler, Peter J. The Fontana History of the Environmental Sciences. London: Fontana, 1992
  • Grove, Richard. Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens and the Origins of Environmentalism, 1600-1860. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995
  • Jørgensen, Dolly, Finn Arne Jørgensen and Sara B. Pritchard (eds.), New Natures: Joining Environmental History with Science and Technology Studies.  Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013
  • Hughes, J. Donald, What is Environmental History?.  Cambridge: Polity, 2016
  • Hulme, Mike, Climate Change. Abingdon: Routledge, 2022
  • Merchant, Carolyn, The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution.  New York: Harper and Row, 1980
  • Mitchell, Timothy, Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-politics, Modernity.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002
  • Nash, Linda L. Inescapable Ecologies: A History of Environment, Disease, and Knowledge. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006
  • Russell, Edmund, James Allison, Thomas Finger, John K. Brown, Brian Balogh and W. Bernard Carlson, ‘The Nature of Power: Synthesizing the History of Technology and Environmental History’, Technology and Culture, vol. 52 (2011), pp. 246–59. Selcer, Perrin. The Postwar Origins of the Global Environment: How the United Nations Built Spaceship Earth. New York: Columbia University Press, 2018
  • Selin, Helaine (ed.), Nature Across Cultures: Views of Nature in Non-Western Cultures.  Berlin: Springer, 2003
  • Sismondo, Sergio, An Introduction to Science and Technology Studies.  New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2nd edn, 2010
  • Tilley, Helen, ‘A Great (Scientific) Divergence: Synergies and Fault Lines in Global Histories of Science’, Isis, vol. 110 (2019), pp. 129-136
  • Warde, Paul, Libby Robin, and Sverker Sörlin. The Environment: A History of the Idea. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018
  • Worster, Donald. Nature’s Economy: A History of Ecological Ideas. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994
  • Yearley, Steven, ‘Nature and the Environment in Science and Technology Studies’, in Edward J. Hackett et. Al. (eds), Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2007, pp. 921-948

Key words search

History, science, knowledge, environment, globalisation, sustainability, economics, politics, imperialism, indigenous peoples

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date