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BA Art History and History / Course details

Year of entry: 2021

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Course unit details:
Climate Change & Society

Unit code HSTM33501
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Centre for History of Science, Technology & Medicine (L5)
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


Climate change is one of the most divisive and debated issues of the 21st century. This course considers why and when global warming has come to be perceived, by some, as a major threat for humanity. By looking at the history of earth and environmental studies and the theories associated with climatic changes (greenhouse effect, weather forecasting, ozone studies, ice modelling), this course will introduce you to the ways in which scientific ideas on climate were first conceived. Using a variety of resources including scientists’ writings, newspapers and films, it also provides an understanding of the historical, social and political context in which these studies developed.


Climate change is the most divisive and debated issue of the 21st century. And both believers and sceptics have mobilized an impressive amount of scientific data to tell us about the future of our planet. Yet, few have considered what originated such an interest in the past. When it is that global warming has come to be perceived as a major threat for humanity? And why is it that the climate change discourse has occupied such a prominent position in the political arena?

In order to understand it, this course focuses on the historical trajectories of climate science that have typified the last century and offers an in-depth appreciation of the development of theories associated with climatic changes (greenhouse effect, weather forecasting, and ozone studies). It also provides greater appreciation for the role that climate science has been playing in the political arena in recent years (from the Montreal Protocol to the Kyoto Protocol and the establishment of the IPCC).

This course introduces arts, humanities and sciences students to the ways in which scientific ideas on climate were first conceived and how they have currently become a hotly debated issue. Using a variety of resources including scientists’ writings, newspapers and films, it also provides an understanding of the historical, social and political context in which climate science has developed. And it explains how they have intersected major transitions in culture and international relations; up to the contemporary debate on global warming.

An inconvenient truth? A suitable way to find out about it!

This course unit can also be taken as a 20 credit version (HSTM33501).

Learning outcomes

To have an appreciation of the complexity of the issues related to modern climate change in the broad context of its historical development; to understand a range of ways of thinking about the issue and contemporary economy, politics and society; be able to reflect critically on opposing and alternative views and probe underneath daily rhetoric to grasp the driving forces of climate change.


  1. The History of Now: The ‘Hockey Stick’ controversy.
  2. Tyndall, Arrhenius and the ‘greenhouse effect’
  3. Natural Climatic Change
  4. The Cold War gift: computers and numerical weather forecasting.
  5. Geo-engineering
  6. Dreaming Gaia: James Lovelock and the living planet.
  7. The ozone layer and its enemies
  8. The establishment of the IPCC
  9. Science and politics of climate change in the last 20 years.
  10. Lessons to be learnt?

Seminar Content - Seminars consolidate lecture material through a set weekly reading. Students are required to answer a short series of questions based on the set text on a intranet discussion board. These questions form the basis of the seminar discussion and contribute to the final assessment (see coursework below). In two occasions there will be film screenings to complement seminar activities.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

Employability Skills

This course offers an opportunity to learn creatively and collectively. Your team-working skills will definitely improve as result of coursework activities and so will your leading skills. The research output requested will increase your problem-solving capacity, while it will also give you an invaluable opportunity to improve your writing skills. More significantly, you’ll get up to speed with your knowledge of current affairs, both nationally and internationally, and learn to critically review what is being discussed in the media and there will be a significant amount of discussions in the class which will help you to give and accept constructive criticism.

Written communication

1. Internet discussion board entries are used to stimulate writing on important topics, engage with other students’ writing and shape a discussion through written communication. Furthermore the writing of entries helps the students to familiarize with the writing of an essay.

2. Essays on select topics are pre-circulated. The essays are 1000 words long and are meant to enable students to produce a short but coherent review of the arguments related to the theme and venture into developing their own views on the subject. In the running of class activities, students are given information on how to write an essay, what literature is available, and –most importantly, how to structure the essay effectively.


Employability skills

Analytical skills
Especially in terms of content analysis. Students taking this unit as as 10 or 20 credit module will have an opportunity to further refine these skills as the project requires them to investigate in greater detail a specific problem, carry out innovative research and come up with innovative analytical methods to find out the relevant answers.
Group/team working
Seminar activities to be carried out in groups. Blackboard activities entailing group work in terms of exchanges between students. So this is definitely a course helping students to know how to work together and to create good working relationships.
Blackboard activities entailing original ways to retrieve information.
Participation is not about 'spoon-feeding' but active learning through collective work which allows students to establish leadership in analysis of the areas covered.
Project management
Students, whether working for an essay or a project, will take ownership for a specific project which on the one side it will just have to show their learning but on the other will invite them to think critically and independently about specific historical events. Furthermore, it will invite them to think about strategies to argue for or against something thus helping them to formulate novel ways to attack specific issues.
Oral communication
Students will be presenting their findings to the class in seminar activities. This leads to a discussion on topics of relevance for the understanding of climate science and society issues. These discussions really help the students to frame arguments and defend views especially since the issue of climate change has become politicized in recent years. The seminars are lively and sometimes demanding in that they require the skills of real-time dialoguing and defending opposing cases.
Blackboard, essay writing and seminar activities entailing original research using a variety of sources.
Written communication
See above

Assessment methods

1500 word essay (45%); 2 hour examination (45%); online learning tasks (via intranet discussion board) (10%).

Students taking this course as a 20 credits unit will be preparing a project based on original research. The final 3500-words essay will contribute to 40% of the final mark (remaining contributions: 1500-words essay – 25%; exam - 25%; online learning tasks – 10%).

Feedback methods

Students are encouraged to ask questions at any time during lectures and seminars. Teaching staff can usually answer specific queries by email or during office hours, and will provide contact details in the course handbook or at lectures. All submitted coursework will be returned with annotations and comments on Blackboard explaining the rationale for the marks given. All feedback on written coursework will be given within two weeks time, unless otherwise specified.

Recommended reading

  • James Roger Fleming, Historical Perspectives on Climate Change, New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
  • Spencer Weart, The Discovery of Global Warming. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 2003

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Lectures 11
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 76

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Simone Turchetti Unit coordinator

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