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Unit information: People and Planet in 2014/15

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Unit name People and Planet
Unit code GEOG35500
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Singarayer
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Geographical Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science

Description including Unit Aims

There is an enormous international research effort considering the impact of current and future climate change on human society and to the attribution of anthropogenic and natural driving factors in recent historical climate change. However, interesting aspects of our relationships with environmental and climate change can be found in considering how these interactions have manifested themselves in history and pre-history. This unit aims to discuss how the environments we have inhabited have shaped our evolution, behaviour, geographical distribution, technology and culture, and the extent of our influence on the environment around us on temporal scales of millions of years to decades.

The aims of this Unit are to:

  • Introduce the timeline of human development from early biped hominins to modern humans
  • Provide an overview of the environmental and climate change context in which our development took place over 7 million years
  • Introduce a 'toolbox' of methodologies that can be employed to assess human-environmental links e.g. palaeoclimate proxies, geochronology, ecological niche modelling, archaeology
  • Outline themes concerned with various ways we have interacted with our environment in the past
  • Provide research-oriented case-studies that details the human and physical, nature of environment-society relations
  • Consider possible future directions in this interdisciplinary field of research
  • Enter into discussion of the relevance of past human-environment links to present and future circumstances

Intended Learning Outcomes

On completion of this Unit students should be able to:

  • Appreciate the large changes in climate, environment, and landscape that have occurred in history and pre-history of hominins
  • Appreciate the evolution and development of modern humans from 7 Myr to present
  • Discuss the different methodologies used to elucidate links between us and the environment on various temporal and spatial scales, and their merits and drawbacks
  • Understand the impacts of climate and environmental change on humans and society in the past
  • Use case studies/examples to illustrate this understanding
  • Assess the extent of impacts of humans/hominins on the environment and climate in the past
  • Critically review the implications of our understanding of past human-environment interactions for current and future change

The following transferable skills are developed in this Unit:

  • Written and verbal communication
  • Analytical skills
  • Evidence-based argument
  • Critical interpretative thinking

Teaching Information

Lectures, practicals, discussion board

Assessment Information

2-hour unseen written exam (2 questions out of 4) (60%)

Review article (40%)

Reading and References

  1. Diamond, J. (2006). Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive. Penguin Books Ltd. ISBN 0140279512.
  2. Ruddiman, W.F (2007). Earth'S climate: past and future 2nd edition. W.H. Freeman and Company (or 2001 1st edition)
  3. Coolidge F.L. and Wynn T. (2009). The Rise of Homo Sapiens: The Evolution of Modern Thinking. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-4051-5254-9.
  4. Current Anthropology, volume 50, part 5 (October 2009): Special issue on 'Rethinking the Origins of Agriculture'.
  5. Mithen, S. (1996). The Prehistory of the Mind: The Cognitive Origins of Art and Science