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Crisis of Nature: Critical Issues in Environmental History

Course unit fact file
Unit code UCIL20592
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by School of Medical Sciences
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.

You can also contact the UCIL office if you have any questions.

This unit is also available with a different course unit code. To take a UCIL unit you must choose the unit with a UCIL prefix.


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

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Critical reading, essays - all based on analytical readings of sources
Group/team working
Seminars would involve non-assessed debates between teams.
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.
During seminars, group leaders are in charge of leading the group in the debate
Oral communication
Seminars discussions, debates
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?
Primary and Secondary
Written communication
Essay and exam; short summaries when required

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

Feedback is available via Blackboard after submissions have been marked. Further feedback can be sought from the unit co-ordinator.

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
Lectures 12
Seminars 12
Independent study hours
Independent study 174

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Vladimir Jankovic Unit coordinator