Mobile menu icon
Mobile menu icon Search iconSearch
Search type

Crisis of Nature: Issues in Environmental History

Course unit fact file
Unit code UCIL20092
Credit rating 10
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Centre for History of Science, Technology & Medicine (L5)
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Exploring a series of modern environmental crises - from pollution to overfishing to extinction to climate change - this unit will investigate the origins, nature and future of environmental thinking and its socio-economic consequences. We will work to untangle the narratives that led to the emergence of the 'environment' as an object worth protecting and will ask questions: who speaks on behalf of the environment, who acts on its behalf, and what matters in the attempts to solve environmental issues? Rather than diagnosing the crisis, the unit will instead challenge you to discover the deep-seated sources of human actions that resulted in a shattering of global ecological balance as well as the birth of environmental stewardship.

You will be asked to think locally and globally, working to understand how different scales of problems and magnitudes of risks determine the availability of policies.

The unit encourages you to think creatively and you will be encouraged to produce original analyses and challenge preconceptions.



UCIL units are designed to be accessible to undergraduate students from all disciplines.

UCIL units are credit-bearing and it is not possible to audit UCIL units or take them for additional/extra credits. You must enrol following the standard procedure for your School when adding units outside of your home School.

If you are not sure if you are able to enrol on UCIL units you should contact your School Undergraduate office. You may wish to contact your programme director if your programme does not currently allow you to take a UCIL unit.


This unit aims to familiarise you with the fundamentals of environmental history and to provide an introduction to environmental activism and policy, using case studies that include ocean crisis, plastic pollution, environmental health, man-made disasters and food security.

The unit explores key environmental issues and trends during the last two hundred years, examining the cultural and economic histories of 'nature', and their relation to the emergence of risk society and the politics of environment. It investigates the origins of key environmental crises and analyses how societies define risk and sustainability, produce waste and conceptualise cleanliness.

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of the unit, you will be able to:

  • Explore environmental issues in the light of their historical, scientific, economic and ethical background
  • Describe the connections that link environmental changes and how culture and technology have influenced our relationship with nature globally
  • Analyse the political and cultural origins of the environmental movement and environmental regulation
  • Interpret the ideas and ideology that underpin environmental politics and use this knowledge to analyse a local environmental issue
  • Prepare a written report integrating a range of viewpoints

In addition, for 20 credits:

  • Research and write a literature-based review, including material from scientific, historical and social contexts




  • What is ecology?
  • What counts as pollution and waste?
  • The rise of risk
  • Climate crisis
  • Food security
  • Ocean's decline
  • Disasters
  • Plastics
  • Urban sprawl
  • Species extinction
  • War and environment


Teaching and learning methods

  • 11 Lectures
  • 11 Seminars (or debates, depending on the numbers)
  • 2 Hour Examination
  • 78 Hours of Independent Study

Knowledge and understanding

Understand and analyse environmental issues in the light of scientific, economic and ethical issues

Understand the global connections that link environmental changes and understand how technology has changed our relationship with nature on a worldwide scale.

Critically examine the political and cultural origins of the environmental movement and environmental regulation in the late 20c.

Intellectual skills

Examine the cultural and historical constructions of nature and to explore ideas about relations between nature and culture

Develop interpretive skills in understanding the premises of environmental politics

Enhance their creativity in identifying local environmental issues policies

Practical skills

Work in groups in presenting a case study or opinion

Evaluate a judgment or an argument and to work in real-time to present her/his criticism

Find and critically assess primary and secondary sources

Write, with full scholarly apparatus, a report on their individual research project

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Develop analytical skills and ability to translate academic arguments into practical action
Group/team working
Work in teams and collaborate on providing answers to specific, ad-hoc, questions raised in the readings, lectures and seminars
Develop ability to identify problems and think creatively in the solution process development
Oral communication
Improve presentational skills and oral communication

Assessment methods

10 credits

  1. 1500 word essay (50%)
  2. 1500 word field report (50%)

20 credits

  1. 1500 word essay (25%)
  2. 1500 word field report (25%)
  3. 3000 word project (50%)

Feedback methods

When applicable, students receive feedback on weekly basis for their debates.

They receive internal feedback from their peers during debates and seminar discussions.

Students receive feedback from unit coordinator about their essay ideas in a passim form before submission and a fortnight following their Blackboard uploads.

Oral feedback on project outlines is given during office hours and full feedback in GradeMark following the submission.

Exams are thoroughly annotated and can be inspected.

Students give feedback to their learning process in debating and seminar environments, combining their ongoing and targeted research with the lecture-based frameworking.

Student who need feedback come to office hours and communicate via email.

Recommended reading

  • Douglas M (1984) Purity and Danger. London : Ark
  • Soule M & Lease G (1995) Reinventing Nature: Responses to Postmodern Deconstruction. Island Press



Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 12
Seminars 12
Independent study hours
Independent study 74

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Vladimir Jankovic Unit coordinator