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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of History, Classics and Archaeology : History

Undergraduate Course: Cultures of Disaster: History and the Environment, ca. 1400-1750 (HIST10400)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of History, Classics and Archaeology CollegeCollege of Humanities and Social Science
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 4 Undergraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits40 ECTS Credits20
SummaryThis course investigates how pre-modern societies understood unusual geophysical events and natural disasters. The first four seminars will lay the foundations for the course by exploring of the way in which nature and the earth were understood in classical antiquity and the Renaissance. The course will then move on to examine the ways in which natural disasters shaped Europe's political, social, religious and intellectual history through more focused discussion around specific geophysical events and the analysis of a series key case studies.
Course description It is widely recognized that natural disasters have significant social, cultural and economic impact on communities and countries. A growing body of historical scholarship on natural disasters and climate change has done much in recent years to highlight the key role played by the environment in shaping society and culture across the globe. How natural disasters shaped the social, political, religious and cultural fabric of different countries, however, remains an object of debate. The emerging field of disaster studies has produced interesting work, but this young field of research remains rather fragmented and uneven. Much remains to be done to integrate these studies within mainstream history and put them in dialogue with other historical disciplines, particularly the history of science, and religious, intellectual, and cultural history. The aim of this course is to place this emerging body of scholarship in dialogue with other historical fields through the reading of primary and secondary sources. The course will cover the period ca. 1500-1750. This was a time of significant cultural and political change, but also a time of great seismic activity and climate change. Through the reading of a variety of primary sources, such as religious and missionary accounts, scientific and religious treatises, diplomatic correspondence, and visual and material sources, the course will guide students through an in-depth investigation of how nature and the environment shaped the history of Europe in the early modern period.
The first part of semester 1 will lay the foundations for the rest of the course by exploring the intellectual background that informed early modern ideas of nature and natural disaster. The core of the course will address four types of catastrophes, one for each of the four Aristotelian elements: earth for earthquakes, fire for volcanic eruptions, water for floods, and air for disastrous weather events. Each of these 'elements' will be introduced by some key texts, the interdisciplinary analysis of relevant scholarship, and a case study that will serve as a testing ground for historiographical and methodological debate. The remaining seminars will be used to wrap up the course around some key thematic areas where natural disasters can be integrated into other emerging historiographical trends (specifically the study of the circulation of knowledge, and the intersection between the history of science and art history). The last class will be devoted to a comparative analysis of different 'disaster cultures' and the specific social, political, religious, economic and cultural reasons that may lie behind these.
The students will be asked to engage with the primary sources, and then critically evaluate the methodologies and approaches of a variety of historians working within different historiographical traditions. This will allow them to appreciate a variety of approaches to understanding, constructing, and interpreting the past.

Semester 1
1. Introduction to the course
2. Classical Ideas about Nature I: The Greek World (key texts)
3. Classical Ideas about Nature II: The Roman World (key texts)
4. Natural Disasters and the Bible (key texts)

5. The Structure of the Skies (key texts)
6. Celestial Portents
7. Case Study
8. Structured learning activity: Formative feedback

9. The Age of the Earth (key texts)
10. Earthquakes
11. Case Study

Semester 2
12. Inside the Earth (key texts)
13. Volcanos
14. Case Study
15. University Library Visit (key images)

16. The Deluge (key texts)
17. Water Management
18. Case Study
19. Structured learning activity: formative feedback

20. Disaster News (key texts)
21. Picturing Disaster (key images)
22. Conclusions: Cultures of Disaster
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Students MUST have passed:
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements A pass in 40 credits of third level historical courses or equivalent.
Before enrolling students on this course, PTs are asked to contact the History Honours Admission Administrator to ensure that a place is available (Tel: 503780).
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. demonstrate command of a substantial body of historical knowledge
  2. demonstrate the ability to develop and sustain historical arguments in a variety of literary forms, formulating appropriate questions and utilizing evidence
  3. demonstrate an understanding of the varieties of approaches to understanding, constructing, and interpreting the past; and where relevant, knowledge of concepts and theories derived from the humanities and the social sciences
  4. demonstrate the ability to address historical problems in depth, involving the use of contemporary sources and advanced secondary literature
  5. demonstrate clarity, fluency, and coherence in written and oral expression
Reading List
APPUHN, Karl. 2009. A Forest on the Sea: Environmental Expertise in Renaissance Venice (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP).
COCCO, Sean. 2013. Watching Vesuvius. A History of Science and Culture in Early Modern Italy.
DASTON, Lorraine, and Katharine Park. 2001. Wonders and the Order of Nature (New York: Zone Books).
JANKU, Andrea, Gerrit Jasper Schenk, and Franz Mauelshagen, eds. 2012. Historical Disasters in Context. Science, Religion and Politics (New York and London: Routledge).
LONG, Pamela O. 2008. Hydraulic Engineering and the Study of Antiquity: Rome, 1557-70, Renaissance Quarterly 61.4: 1098-1138.
MARTIN, Craig. 2011. Renaissance Meteorology. Pomponazzi to Descartes (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP).
NEVOLA, Fabrizio. 2015. Urban Responses to Disaster in Renaissance Italy: Images and Rituals, in Marco Folin and Monica Preti, eds., Wounded Cities: The Representation of Urban Disasters in European Art (14th-20th Centuries) (Leiden: Brill), 60-74.
-- Picturing earthquakes in Renaissance Italy, in Schenk G. J. and Juneja M., eds. Disaster as Image. Iconographies and Media Strategies across Europe and Asia (Regensburg: Verlag Schnell und Steiner, 2014), 99-112.
PARKER, Geoffrey. 2013. Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century (New Haven and London: Yale UP)
PETTA, Massimo. 2010. Wild Nature and 'religious' readings of events: natural disasters in Milanese printed reports (16th-17th Century), in Bo-Jan Borstner et al., eds., Historicizing Religion: Critical Approaches to Contemporary Concerns (Pisa: Plus-Pisa University Press, 2010, 199-231.
POOLE, William. 2010. The World Makers: Scientists of the Restoration and the Search for the Origins of the Earth, Past in the Present (Oxford: Peter Lang).
RAPPORT, Rhoda. 1986. Hooke on Earthquakes: Lectures, Strategy, Audience, The British Journal for the History of Science, 19: 129-146.
SPINKS, Jennifer and Dagmar Eichberger, Religion, the Supernatural and Visual Culture in Early Modern Europe (Leiden: Brill, 2015).
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills By taking this course students will develop:
an ability to draw valid conclusions about the past
an ability to identify, define and analyse historical problems
an ability to select and apply a variety of critical approaches to problems informed by uneven evidence
an ability to exercise critical judgement in creating new understanding
an ability to extract key elements from complex information
readiness and capacity to ask key questions and exercise rational enquiry
an ability to search for, evaluate and use information to develop knowledge and understanding
recognition of the importance of reflecting on ones learning experiences and being aware of one's own particular learning style
openness to new ideas, methods and ways of thinking
an ability to identify processes and strategies for learning
independence as a learner, with readiness to take responsibility for ones own learning, and commitment to continuous reflection, self-evaluation and self-improvement
an ability to make decisions on the basis of rigorous and independent thought.
an ability to test, modify and strengthen ones own views through collaboration and debate
intellectual curiosity
an ability to make effective use of oral, written and visual means convey understanding of historical issues and ones interpretation of them.
an ability to marshal argument lucidly and coherently
an ability to collaborate and to relate to others
readiness to seek and value open feedback to inform genuine self-awareness
an ability to articulate ones skills as identified through self-reflection
a command of bibliographical and library research skills, as well as a range of skills in reading and textual analysis
close reading of texts
an ability to produce coherent and well presented text, sometimes of considerable length
an ability to produce text to meet standard presentational specifications as laid out in a style sheet
an ability to make effective presentations, perhaps using audio visual support
Course organiserDr Monica Azzolini
Course secretary
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