Skip to main content

Unit information: Colonizing Nature (Level H Lecture Response Unit) in 2016/17

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Colonizing Nature (Level H Lecture Response Unit)
Unit code HIST30072
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Daniel Haines
Open unit status Not open




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


The natural environment was at the heart of Europe’s modern imperial project. European diseases, animals and plants swept over the New World, while animal life increasingly occupied European imaginations. Technology became one of the key ‘tools of Empire’ to establish rule and to intervene in existing environments as steamboats, railways, dams and irrigation systems changed global environments in significant ways. Meanwhile, mountainous landscapes and malarial swamps imposed limits on European expansion.

This unit examines the dramatic impact that colonisation had on environments in Asia, Africa and the Americas, and vice versa. It takes a comparative approach: the empires we study might include the German, American, Spanish, Russian, and Japanese empires, as well as the British. Themes to be discussed may include: ideologies of environmental destruction and capitalist exploitation of natural resources; conflict with indigenous peoples over uses of nature; the cultural imagery of empire and nature; the rise of conservation movements; and shifting ideas about what it meant to be human through encounters with indigenous peoples.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students will be able to demonstrate:

(1) a broad understanding of the relationship between imperialism, technology, and the natural environment;

(2) the ability to analyse and generalise how humans, nature, and technology have interacted in diverse geographical and temporal settings;

(3) the ability to select pertinent evidence/data in order to illustrate/demonstrate more general issues and arguments;

(4) the ability to identify a particular academic interpretation, evaluate it critically, and form an individual viewpoint.

Teaching details

One 2 hour interactive lecture per week.

Assessment Details

3,000 word essay (50%); 2 hour exam (50%). Both will assess ILOs 1-4.

Reading and References

Arnold, David, The Problem of Nature: Environment, Culture, and European Expansion (1996)

Adas, Michael, Machines as the Measure of Men: Science, Technology, and Ideologies of Western Dominance (1989)

Beinart, William and Lottie Hughes, Environment and Empire (2007)

Crosby, Alfred, Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe 900-1900 (1986)

Mitchell, Timothy, Rule of Experts: Egypt-Techno-Politics, Modernity (2002)

Ritvo, Harriet, The Animal Estate: The English and other Creatures in the Victorian Age (1989)