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MSc History of Science, Technology and Medicine

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Nature and Artifice: Environmental Sciences since 1800

Unit code HSTM60712
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by Centre for History of Science, Technology & Medicine (L5)
Available as a free choice unit? No


Nature and Artifice explores the rising institutional spread and dominance of environmental sciences in the last two centuries. Using a selection of representative primary and secondary readings, the unit will investigate the emergence of environmental models of scientific research, introduce key concepts, and provide a focused analysis of the scientific, cultural and policy ramification of the research, especially the last fifty years and in the context of the politics of environmentalism, including the contemporary issues such as energy use, pollution, environmental justice and globalization of research. 


  • Present students with a history of key environmental sciences and environmental thinking since ca 1900; introduce origins of the environmental worldview; provide theoretical and social context for the emergence of environmental knowledge; articulate the rise of global scales in environmental thinking; problematize the notion of the ‘Anthropocene’; 
  • Explore key specific issues in environmental science in historical context: e.g. pollution, ecosystem thinking, conservation, disaster thinking, protection, risk, sustainability development, climate and ocean change, plastic, slow violence etc
  • Assist students in understanding the changing problematic of environmental issues in relation to the changing social and economic circumstances; explain the methodological problems and solution to understanding the past and contemporary notions of environment
  • Introduce the policy relevance of environmental knowledge with emphasis on qualitative, quantitative and modelling approaches 
  • Facilitate the analysis of key case studies of environmental issues/disasters 
  • Allow students to develop skills in analysing and discussing relevant secondary literature and locating primary sources relating to environmental themes and sciences 

Teaching and learning methods

The unit will be taught in six two-hour seminar sessions, where we will discuss a range of required readings (primary and secondary). While students are asked to read all required readings for the week, they will be expected to assign themselves a reading which they introduce and discuss to the group as a whole, analysing the author’s argument and placing it in context. All readings will be made available through Blackboard, and a week before each seminar the unit lead will also upload a number of questions to Blackboard that are designed to focus the students’ reading and act as prompts for the seminar discussion. The unit lead will start each seminar by giving a short (5-10 minute) background introduction, and discussion will then centre on the key readings and questions. Seminar performance is not marked, but each student will be expected to contribute equally. 

Knowledge and understanding

- Demonstrate extensive knowledge of major trends in the history and politics of the ecological and environmental thinking since ca 1900

Intellectual skills

- Historically contextualize the invention of environment and the development of ecological thinking
- Understand relevant secondary literature on topics listed above
- Use historical and STS literature to understand and critique contemporary debates 
- Identify emerging new themes and topics for research essays in the history of environmental sciences

Practical skills

- Locate relevant primary and secondary sources, for weekly seminars and for research essays
- Plan and write a research essay

Transferable skills and personal qualities

- Work independently when appropriate, e.g. in preparing for seminars and essay writing
- Work in groups to determine who takes the lead in discussing particular readings each week. 
- Discuss work in a group environment, contributing to discussion and listening. 

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 100%

Feedback methods

Detailed written feedback from primary assessor. 

Recommended reading

John Sheail, An Environmental History of Twentieth-Century Britain (Basingstoke, 2002). 
Ramachundra Guha, Environmentalism: A Global History (Longmann, 2000)
Marco Armerio, A History of Environmentalism: Local Struggles, Global Histories (Bloomsbury, 2014)
Anna Bramwell, Ecology in the 20th century: a history  (Yale University Press, 1989).
Ulrich Beck, Towards a New Modernity (Sage, 1986).
Deborah Lupton, Risk (Routledge, 1999). 
Aaron Wildavski Risk and Culture (University of California Press, 1983)
Timothy Morton, Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (University of Minnesota Press, 2014)
S Le Menager, Living Oil: Petroleum Culture in the American Century (Oxford University Press, 2014). 

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 12
Independent study hours
Independent study 138

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Vladimir Jankovic Unit coordinator

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