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Unit information: Bringing History (and Historians) Down to Earth (Level H Reflective History) in 2015/16

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Unit name Bringing History (and Historians) Down to Earth (Level H Reflective History)
Unit code HIST38018
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Austin
Open unit status Not open




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

Description including Unit Aims

‘Man is a biological entity before he is a Roman Catholic or a capitalist or anything else’ (Alfred Crosby, 1972). But historians have traditionally been conservative in their conception of what constitutes the proper territory of historical study. At a time when the earth’s ecological condition is the most urgent issue confronting our species, this unit extends its gaze beyond the narrowly human to consider human activity within a larger nonhuman context. Key questions involve the character of environmental history and role/agency of nonhuman protagonists (including animals and volcanic eruptions). Is environmental history (EH) necessarily ‘green’ history? Does EH involve resurrection of a discredited environmental determinism? How are human interactions with nonhuman nature mediated by social history’s holy trinity of race, class and gender? Why should other historians pay attention? What is the relationship between nature and nation? Here’s a new kind of natural history that reflects on what happens when we inject nature into history and history into nature.


Reflective history is identified in the Subject Benchmarking Statement as an important skill. Whilst students will 'reflect' on their work in all of their units the aim of this unit will be to focus on that reflective practice and to enable students to carry it forward in conjunction with a particular historical subject matter which will fit in with their overall portfolio of subject/period/theme-based units.

Intended Learning Outcomes

  • Students will have a heightened understanding of the particular and unique skills that historians acquire and of the way in which they apply those skills to a specific task
  • Students will be able to convey that understanding to others both in writing and through a shared group exploration
  • Students will have a deeper understanding of their own individual acquisition and application of those skills. They will be aware of their own particular combination of skills and they will have a clearer understanding of the areas where skills need to be improved.
  • Students will have a stronger awareness of how their skills might be applied more generally to other contexts
  • At the same time, and as part of the same process, they will have gained a deeper knowledge of the development environmental history

Teaching Information

  • Initial 1 hour introductory seminar, then fortnightly 2 hour seminars for 5 weeks.
  • Guided independent reading directed towards presentation of material to their group
  • Access to tutorial consultation with unit tutor in office hours

Assessment Information

1 x 24 hour seen exam

Reading and References

Theodore Steinberg, ‘Down to Earth,’ American Historical Review 107 (June 2002)

William Cronon, Uncommon Ground: Toward Reinventing Nature (1995)

J. McNeill, Something New Under the Sun: Enviro. History of 20th Century (2000)

P. Coates, ‘Emerging from the Wilderness,’ Environment & History 10 (Nov. 2004)

E. Stroud, ‘Does Nature Always Matter?,’ History and Theory 42 (December 2003)

Alfred Crosby, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe (1986)