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Unit information: Histories of Extreme Environments in 2021/22

Unit name Histories of Extreme Environments
Unit code HISTM0082
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Adrian Howkins
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts

Description including Unit Aims

This unit is founded on the premise that deviations from the supposed norm implied by environmental extremes offer excellent opportunities for historical analysis. The central aim of the unit is to use histories of extreme environments to gain insights into broader social power structures, cultural beliefs, and underlying material conditions. Environmental extremes can take many forms. Prolonged periods of unusually hot or cold weather such as the medieval warm period or the little ice age constitute a form of environmental extreme, as do shorter periods of drought or crop failure. Natural disasters such as earthquakes and flooding can suddenly turn safely familiar environments into something a lot more unpredictable and dangerous; so too can the presence of dangerous animals. Environments such as mountains, caves, deserts, oceans, the polar regions and outer space might be classified as ‘extreme’ by definition. Anthropogenic environmental change such as that caused nuclear accidents, military activity, or rapid deforestation can create environmental extremes out of previously ‘normal’ landscapes. The suggested geological epoch of the Anthropocene might imply that we are now living in a permanent environmental extreme that has deviated from a previously sustainable norm. Through critical analysis of a wide range of scholarship this unit aims to equip students with the ideas and tools needed to write an extended research essay on a topic of their choice related to extreme environments.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will be able to:

  1. Identify and analyse recent historiographical developments and longer-term trends in Environmental History.
  2. Analyse, synthesise and evaluate a range of primary sources using appropriate methodologies.
  3. Design and frame a research question within relevant historiographies, theories and methodologies.
  4. Compose an extended historical argument rooted in primary source analysis.

Teaching Information

Teaching will be delivered through a combination of synchronous and asynchronous sessions, including group seminar-style discussion and self-directed exercises.

Assessment Information

One 5000-word essay [ILOs 1-4]


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. HISTM0082).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.