BA Ancient History and History

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Vanished: Histories of Extinction from the Mammoth to Extinction Rebellion

Course unit fact file
Unit code HIST32341
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


We’re so familiar with extinction that it is hard to imagine a world where nothing was believed to be extinct. Yet, extinction is a modern scientific idea. Originally, well-known losses, such as the dodo, were attributed to human actions. In the later eighteenth century, research on fossils established a new consensus that extinction was ubiquitous in life’s history, and in the rise and fall of peoples and empires. Twentieth-century ecology and conservation movements created a new awareness of anthropogenically-induced species loss. In the present day, scientists are racing to achieve de-extinction of lost species. Meanwhile, we are witnessing a new era of activism to challenge a crisis that many people are calling the Sixth Mass Extinction. This module will be a broad introduction to the history of ideas about extinction, and their relevance to histories of empire, genocide, animal studies, and environment in the making of the modern world. 


This module is only available to students on History-owned programmes, History joint honours programmes owned by other subject areas, or students from CHSTM. 


  • To develop knowledge of key concepts and shifts in ideas about extinction, including human-induced loss, mass extinction, and de-extinction 

  • To encourage students to consider the close associations between histories of empire and extinction in the making of the modern world 

  • To engage critically with ideas about extinction, their cultural meanings, and their legacies in the present day 

Teaching and learning methods

Workshop activities: introductory “lecture” on weekly subjects, and various seminar activities such as discussions and primary source analysis. 

Assessments: 1 primary source analysis and 1 essay 

Knowledge and understanding

  • Analyse key events and historical processes relevant to ideas of extinction in the modern world 

  • Appraise and critically assess the legacies of historical and contemporary ideas about extinction 

Intellectual skills

  • Locate, interpret, and synthesise information and debates from a wide-ranging secondary literature on extinction – and use these to deliver coherent, persuasive, and original arguments in assessed work.  

  • Think critically about how knowledge is produced by examining the historical origins legacies of ides about extinction in a range of geographical and chronological contexts. 

  • Analyse a range of primary sources from a variety of perspectives and genres, such as scientific papers, visual sources, press reports, and creative writing. 

Practical skills

  • Project planning skills 

  • Communicating your own arguments and interpretations in verbal and written formats. 

  • Contributing to group discussions on complex historical and theoretical debates in seminars.  

  • Independent research skills for seminar preparation and assessed work. 

  • Organisational and time-management skills developed through organising and managing independent study. 

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Understand and clearly articulate complex topics verbally and in writing. 

  • Develop clear and coherent arguments that bring together and critically interpret information from a range of sources. 

  • Develop confidence in verbal presentation skills through seminar participation and group presentations. 

  • Carry out independent research on primary and secondary material.  

  • Teamworking skills will be developed through group activities in workshops. 

Employability skills

Analytical skills
Independent research through written assessments will develop students’ ability to interpret, analyse, integrate, and present information from a range of sources in order to solve complex historical problems.
Group/team working
Group activities in workshops will develop students’ project management, planning, and teamworking skills.
Oral communication
Presentations and/or in-class discussions will prepare students for effective communication in the workplace, in particular how to respond quickly and effectively to questions and critique.

Assessment methods

Primary Source Analysis (Summative) 30%

Essay (Summative) 70%

Feedback methods

Verbal feedback during seminar activities.  (Formative)

Written feedback on the source analysis and the essay assignments via Turnitin.   (Formative and Summative)

Optional additional one-to-one feedback (during consultations and office hours)   (Formative)

Recommended reading

  • Ursula Heise, Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species (2016)  

  • David Sepkoski, Catastrophic Thinking: Extinction and the Value of Diversity from Darwin to the Anthropocene (2020) 

  • Mark Barrow, Nature’s Ghosts: Confronting Extinction from the Age of Jefferson to the Age of Ecology (2009) 

  • Kyle Whyte, ‘Settler Colonialism, Ecology, and Environmental Justice, Environment and Society 9 (2018)125-144 

  • Juno Salazar Parreñas, Decolonizing Extinction: The Work of Care in Orangutan Rehabilitation (2018) 

  • Pratik Chakrabarti, Inscriptions of Nature: Geology and the Naturalization of Antiquity (2020) 

  • Study hours

    Scheduled activity hours
    Seminars 33

    Teaching staff

    Staff member Role
    Sadiah Qureshi Unit coordinator

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