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Unit information: Bringing History (and Historians) Down to Earth (Level H Reflective History) in 2018/19

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Unit name Bringing History (and Historians) Down to Earth (Level H Reflective History)
Unit code HIST38018
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Coates
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts


'Man is a biological entity before he is a Roman Catholic or a capitalist or anything else'(Alfred Crosby, 1972). But historians have traditionally been conservative in their conception of what constitutes the proper territory of historical study. At a time when the earth's ecological condition is the most urgent issue confronting our species, this unit extends its gaze beyond the narrowly human to consider human activity within a larger non/more-than/other-than human context. Bristol's Department of History contains the largest concentration of environmental historians at any UK university, offering a diversity of units. This Reflective unit grapples with the big issues: the all-encompassing, the over-arching and the most topical. Key questions include the national character of environmental history and role/agency of nonhuman protagonists (from mosquitoes to volcanic eruptions). Is environmental history (EH) necessarily 'green' history? Does EH involve resurrection of a discredited environmental determinism? How are human interactions with the rest of nature mediated by social history's holy trinity of race, class and gender? Is EH a set of topics or an approach? (French Revolution, anyone?) Why should other historians pay attention? What is the relationship between nature and nation? This unit offers a (still fairly...) new kind of more natural history that reflects widely and deeply on what happens when we inject nature into history and history into nature. No previous exposure to EH is required. At the same time, those who've already taken EH units will have the opportunity to reflect on what they've already learned - and to find out new things by travelling to new places.

Intended learning outcomes

  1. Students will have a heightened understanding of the particular and unique skills that historians acquire and of the way in which they apply those skills to a specific task
  2. Students will be able to convey that understanding to others both in writing and through a shared group exploration
  3. Students will have a deeper understanding of their own individual acquisition and application of those skills. They will be aware of their own particular combination of skills and they will have a clearer understanding of the areas where skills need to be improved.
  4. Students will have a stronger awareness of how their skills might be applied more generally to other contexts
  5. At the same time, and as part of the same process, they will have gained a deeper knowledge of the development environmental history

Teaching details

Seminars - 2 hours per week

Assessment Details

2 hour exam (100%) [ILOs 1-5]

Reading and References

Kate Brown, 'Why Kazakhstan and Montana are nearly the same place', American Historical Review (February 2001)

Sandra Swart, 'The world that horses made: a South African case study of writing animals into social history', International Review of Social History (2010)

Connie Chiang, 'Imprisoned nature: toward an environmental history of WWII Japanese American incarceration', Environmental History (2010)

John McNeill, 'Observations on the nature and culture of environmental history' History & Theory (December 2003)

Peter Coates, ‘Emerging from the wilderness: or, from redwoods to bananas’, Environment & History (November 2004)

Ellen Stroud, ‘Does nature always matter?,’ History and Theory (December 2003)