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Study information

Past Actions, Present Woes: History and Anthropogenic Climate Change

Module titlePast Actions, Present Woes: History and Anthropogenic Climate Change
Module codeHIC2315
Academic year2019/0
Module staff

Dr Timothy Cooper (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This is an interdisciplinary module that asks you to make direct connections between historical practice and climate change. It is as much about the future as the past, and about the role that you as both an historian and citizen can play in shaping that future. As such it asks you do something a little different from many other history modules. You will be asked to use historical knowledge to formulate judgments about current political and social priorities. You will be asked to account for the historical origins of human-influenced climate change, and the role that history should play in responses to that change. Please note that, although we look at the history and development climate change science, this module is not primarily about debating the science of climate change.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module gives you the opportunity to tackle the question of how history can usefully be deployed in a present-day context. It looks at the history of human engagement with climate change in numerous contexts. It asks you to think constructively and critically about the relationship between scientific knowledge and historical knowledge; how historians should engage with issues and debates that are dominated by scientific expertise; and how an understanding of the social origins of anthropogenic climate change can influence public debate? It also asks you to reflect critically on the learning practices and institutional assumptions of universities and to engage with their relevance as sites of critical engagement with social issues.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

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

  • 1. Demonstrate a capacity for critical engagement with the science, social science and history of climate change.
  • 2. Demonstrate contextual understanding of a range of historical and social underpinnings of anthropogenic climate change
  • 3. Demonstrate some ability to make historically informed judgments regarding the most effective forms of social response to anthropogenic climate change.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

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

  • 4. Read, and critically interrogate, primary source material both historical and contemporary
  • 5. Engage reflexively in historiographical debates and demonstrate some of their relevance to contemporary issues

ILO: Personal and key skills

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

  • 6. Reflect critically upon, and engage with, contemporary social issues
  • 7. Critically apply historical knowledge to contemporary situations
  • 8. Work collaboratively and effectively in groups and to share knowledge and ideas

Syllabus plan

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

  • The history of climate change science
  • The idea of the anthropocene as historical epoch
  • Capitalism and the organisation of nature
  • The making of oil economies
  • The economics of climate change
  • The national and international politics of climate change
  • Technological fixes
  • The discourse of denial
  • Religion and spirituality
  • Climate change and the environmental movement

N.B. Space will also be provided for critical reflection on the learning process, and contribution by students to the syllabus.

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: These take the form of tutor-led discussion of set readings. You are expected to undertake a set minimum of preparation before the class
Scheduled learning and teaching11Seminars: Student-led seminar discussion based upon group research projects and student presentations
Guided independent study60Reading for lectures. It is expected that you will spend three hours preparing for each lecture by reading. Materials to be supplied on ELE
Guided independent study60Reading for seminars. It is expected that you will spend three hours preparing for each seminar by reading. Materials to be supplied on ELE
Guided independant study8Group work preparation for formative presentation. You should spend two hours preparing material for the formative presentation. The distribution of this effort should be agreed by the groups

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Group presentation of the developmental wiki10 minutes 1-8Oral plus peer assessment comments

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
Examination1002 hours1-7Written

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

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
ExaminationEssay (2500 words)1-7Referral/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

  • S. Weart, A History of Global Warming (various edns)
  • M. Hulme, Why We Disagree about Climate Change (CUP 2009)
  • A. Malm, Fossil Capital (Verso, 2016) 

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Key words search

History, Climate Change, Environment, Science, Politics

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date

February 2012