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Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine

The crisis of nature: issues in environmental history

HSTM20092 (10-credit); HSTM20592 (20-credit)
UCOL20092 (10-credit); UCOL20592 (20-credit)

Semester Two, Mondays, 11.00-13.00

Contact: Dr Vlad Jankovic

Watch a youtube video in which Dr Jankovic talks about this course


Pandemics, plastics, global warming, mass extinctions, disappearing forests – both the popular media and scientists today increasingly speak in terms of environmental crisis. The aim of this course is to explore the following questions: How new are these concerns? What are the origins of environmental thinking? Indeed, what is meant by “nature”? What is thought to be the ideal relationship of the human species to the rest of the world? And do we have anything to learn from other cultures or from our own past?

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of this unit, a student taking this unit will be able:

  • to analyse environmental movements and environmental legislation in the light of key scientific and ethical issues
  • to see the global connections that link environmental changes and pay particular attention to how modern technology has changed our relationship with nature on a worldwide scale
  • to analyse the many cultural and historical constructions of nature and to explore ideas about relations between nature and culture
  • to be familiar with a wide range of perspectives on the environment – social, cultural, scientific and political

In addition, students taking the 20 credit version will be able:

  • to find and research a topic of their own choosing;
  • to find and assess critically primary and secondary sources;
  • to write, with full scholarly apparatus, a report on their individual research project.

Lecture Content

  • Origins and meaning of “nature”
  • Invention of the environment
  • Risk Society
  • Environmental health
  • Climate Crisis
  • Overfishing
  • Catastrophes
  • Food chains and GMOs
  • Plastics
  • Crises in the Media

One lecture and one seminar per week


10 credit unit (HSTM20092) - 1000 word essay (50%); exam (50%)
20 credit unit (HSTM20592) - 1000 word essay (25%); exam (25%), project (50%)

Employability Skills

General: Critical analysis and independent evaluation of arguments in relevant literature. Communication skills developed during seminars. Effective writing skills (abstract summaries) and extended composition for Essays. Independent research, time management and organization of data for Projects. Team work in preparation for in seminars. Effective learning and revision techniques.
Oral communication - Seminars discussions, debates
Written communication - Essay and exam; short summaries when required
Group/Team working - Each class divided in 4 groups with changing roles for each seminar. Working in groups to present, challenge, adjudicate and objectively pass verdict - a form of oral self-assessment
Leadership - During seminars, group leaders are in charge of leading the group in the debate
Innovation/Creativity - Students develop different interpretations to problem questions - on occasion work on highly localized problems even on campus (light saving proposals on basis of observations). In sessions, developing argument for maximum impact on jury. Jury creatively interprets defense and prosecution groups.
Research - Primary and Secondary
Analytical skills - Critical reading, essays - all based on analytical readings of sources
Problem solving - Essays may require finding a solution to a problem: e.g. what is the key environmental issue on the campus of University of Manchester?



Recommended Reading

  • Cronon W Uncommon Ground 1996 W.W.Norton
  • Soule M & Lease G Reinventing Nature: Responses to Postmodern Deconstruction 1995 Island Press
  • Douglas M Purity and Danger 1984 London : Ark
  • Vladimir Jankovic, Confronting the Climate (New York 2010).

Teaching Staff

Dr Vladimir Jankovic

A copy of the course outline from a previous version of this course is available to view (pdf). Please note that course content may change in the next academic year.