Skip to main content

Study information

Ecology and Empire

Module titleEcology and Empire
Module codeHIC2009
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Dr Emma Kluge (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

The environment we live in and the way we think about our relationship to it is a result of colonialism and decolonisation. This module explores the history of imperialism and its aftermath through the lens of environmental history. It traces the ecological impacts of imperialism, how our environmental imaginaries have been shaped by colonialism, ideas about human and non-human interaction, the relationship between globalisation and colonialism, contests over land and sovereignty, and the collision of anticolonial and environmental protest and activism. 

You will gain experience in interpreting a range of historical sources. You will explore the history of knowledge production about the environment and be introduced to settler-colonial and postcolonial critiques of imperial, global and environmental history.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The module will introduce you to the fields of global and environmental history by focusing on the history of imperialism, globalisation, and decolonisation. You will gain experience working with a variety of historical documents such as archives, letters, photos, and maps. We will explore postcolonial and settler-colonial approaches to imperial and global histories, as well as the foundations of environmental history.

This module addresses the following questions:

  • What is empire? How has it shaped the world around us and how we think about society?
  • How does an environmental focus transform our understanding of the history of colonisation and decolonisation? What does it reveal about this history?
  • How has our knowledge and understanding of the environment been shaped by colonialism? What does it look like to move beyond these perspectives?

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Express a broad historical knowledge and understanding of the meanings and processes of globalisation and colonialism, environmental protest and activism.
  • 2. Engage with historical sources to explain the role of empire in history and its impact on knowledge production about the environment over time.
  • 3. Demonstrate a critical understanding of the use of the use of settler-colonial and post-colonial critiques of imperial and environmental history.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. Analyse and reflect on the relationship of the history of imperialism to environmental history across temporal and geographical contexts.
  • 5. Engage critically with a variety of theoretical frameworks in their relationship to colonisation, decolonialisation and environmental issues.

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 6. Deploy persuasive communication skills both independently and in group work.
  • 7. Mobilise effective research skills to critically analyse primary and secondary material on the module themes and issues.
  • 8. To work independently and to module deadlines.

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Why study imperial and environmental history?
  • Ecological imperialism
  • Environmental Imaginaries, Settler-colonialism, and Space
  • Water and Colonialism in South Asia and Canada
  • Forced Migration in the Caribbean and Oceania
  • Global History of Guano
  • Phosphate Imperialism in the Pacific
  • Capitalism, Colonialism and Mining in Africa and the Caribbean
  • Neo-colonialism and Nuclear Testing in Oceania
  • Environmental and Anticolonial Protest

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 teaching20Weekly lectures and seminars
Guided independent study130Private study

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay question + annotated bibliography500 words1-8Written/oral

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
Research Essay702,500 words1-8Written feedback
Primary source presentation3010 minutes/ 1000 words1-2, 4, 6-8Written/oral

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Research EssayResearch Essay1-8Referral/Deferral period
Primary source presentationPrimary source analysis1-2, 4, 6-8Referral/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 submit a further assessment as necessary. If you are successful on referral, your overall module mark will be capped at 40%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • J.R. McNeill, Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth Century World (2001)
  • Tom Griffiths and Libby Robin (ed.), Ecology and Empire: Environmental History of Settler-Colonial Societies (1997)
  • Corey Ross, Ecology and Power in the Age of Empire: Europe and the Transformation of the Tropical World (2019)
  • Elizabeth DeLoughrey, Jill Didur, Anthony Carrigan (eds.), Global Ecologies and the Environmental Humanities: Postcolonial Approaches (2015)
  • Alfred Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe (2004)
  • Tracey Banivanua Mar and Penny Edmonds, Making Settler Colonial Space: Perspectives onf Race, Place and Identity (2010)
  • Aditya Ramesh, ‘The value of tanks: maintenance, ecology and the colonial economy in nineteenth-century south India,’, Water History (2018)
  • Isabel Hofmeyr, Dockside Reading: Hydrocolonialism and the Custom House (2022)
  • Gregory Cushman, Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World: A Global Ecological History (2013)
  • Tracey Banivanua Mar, Violence and Colonial Dialogue: the Australian-Pacific Indentured Labour trade (2006)
  • Katerina Teaiwa, ‘Ruining Pacific Islands: Australia's Phosphate Imperialism’, Australian Historical Studies, (2015)
  • Jordan Howell, Capital Prospects: Jamaica and the Environmental History of Postwar Decolonisation, Environmental History (2023)
  • Nic Maclellan, ‘The Nuclear Age in the Pacific Islands,’ The Contemporary Pacific (2005)
  • Tracey Banivanua Mar, Decolonisation and the Pacific: Indigenous Globalisation and the Ends of Empire (2016)

Key words search

Environmental History, Global History, Decolonisation, Colonisation, Imperialism, Ecology, Activism, Protest, Environmental Justice

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date