University home |A-Z|

Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine

History of climate change

HSTM33201 (10-credit); HSTM33501 (20-credit)

Semester One, Mondays, 11.00-13.00

Contact: Dr Simone Turchetti


Climate change is the most divisive and debated issue of the 21st century. And both believers and sceptics have mobilized an impressive amount of scientific data to tell us about the future of our planet. Yet, few have considered what originated such an interest in the past. When it is that global warming has come to be perceived as a major threat for humanity? And why is it that the climate change discourse has occupied such a prominent position in the political arena?

In order to understand it, we have to look at the historical trajectories of climate science that have typified the last century. By looking at the history of earth and environmental studies and the theories associated with climatic changes (greenhouse effect, weather forecasting, ozone studies, ice modelling), this course introduces arts, humanities and sciences students to the ways in which scientific ideas on climate were first conceived. Using a variety of resources including scientists’ writings, newspapers and films, it also provides an understanding of the historical, social and political context in which these studies developed. And it seeks to explain how they have intersected major transitions in culture and international relations; up to the contemporary debate on global warming.
An inconvenient truth? A suitable way to find out about it!

Intended Learning Outcomes

To have an appreciation of the complexity of the issues related to modern climate change in the broad context of its historical development; to understand a range of ways of thinking about the issue and contemporary economy, politics and society; be able to reflect critically on opposing and alternative views and probe underneath daily rhetoric to grasp the driving forces of climate change.

Lecture Content

  • Let’s play back. The “Hockey Stick” controversy.
  • Tyndall, Arrhenius and the “greenhouse effect”.
  • A help from the outside(r): George Guy Callendar
  • Sudden climatic changes: exception, rule or possibility?
  • A Cold War gift: computers and numerical weather forecasting.
  • Reading Week
  • Monitoring ice. Glaciology and climate change.
  • Ash-disrupted. Volcanoes and climate change
  • Carbon dioxide from Revelle to IPCC
  • The Ozone layer and its enemies
  • The truly inconvenient truth, i.e. the politics of climate change
  • What does it all mean for me?

Seminar Content

Seminars consolidate lecture material through a set weekly reading. Students are required to answer a short series of questions based on the set text on a intranet discussion board. These questions form the basis of the seminar discussion. In two occasions there will be film screenings to complement seminar activities.


Students may ask questions at any time during lectures and seminars. Teaching staff can usually answer specific queries by email or during office hours, and will provide contact details in the course handbook or at lectures. All submitted coursework will be returned with annotations and an assessment sheet explaining the mark awarded.

Employability Skills

Oral communication - Seminars
Written communication - Preparation of coursework via blackboard, essays and exam papers.
Group/Team working - Seminar activities to be carried out in groups. Blackboard activities entailing group work in terms of exchanges between students.
Project management - Students take turns in reporting findings by groups.
Leadership - Participation is not about 'spoon-feeding' but active learning through collective work which allows students to establish leadership in analysis of the areas covered.
Innovation/Creativity - Blackboard activities entailing original ways to retrieve information.
Research - Blackboard, essay writing and seminar activities entailing original research using a variety of sources.
Analytical skills - Especially in terms of content analysis.


10 credit unit (HSTM33201) - 1500 word essay (45%); 2 hour examination (45%); coursework (via intranet discussion board) (10%).
20 credit unit (HSTM33501) - 1500 word essay (25%), 2 hour examination (25%) and 3500 word project (40%); coursework (via intranet discussion board) (10%).



Recommended Reading

  • Spencer Weart, The Discovery of Global Warming, 2003, Harvard
  • Fleming, J R Historical Perspectives on Climate Change, 1998, Oxford

Teaching Staff

Dr Simone Turchetti


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