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

Undergraduate Course: Water and Society in Pre-Modern Eurasia (HIST10503)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of History, Classics and Archaeology CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 10 (Year 3 Undergraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryWhat would history look like if it were written from the perspective of water? This course explores this question by comparing the range and depth of human entanglements with water across different periods and regions of the world.
Course description Water might well be the most ordinary substance, yet its history is nothing short of extraordinary. From health to transportation and from religion to sociability, water flows through every aspect of our lives, past as much as present. This course reconstructs this rich and complex history through a series of weekly seminars designed to address different themes and issues connected to water. These are addressed comparatively using examples from the British Isles, Continental Europe, China and the Near East, and spanning from about 1100 to 1700. Material for consideration will consist of a mix of scholarly essays and primary sources, including visual and material evidence as much as written records in translation.

The course will enable students to think critically and historically about the place of water in our past, present and future, while also gaining familiarity with the larger field of environmental history. They will consider the part played by water in the rise and fall of pre-modern societies, evaluate its role in the construction of meaning and belief, and examine the efforts required to access it, shape it and control it. In addition, students will have the opportunity to practice comparison across a variety of scales and time spans, engage with scholarship at the interface of science and the humanities, and reflect on the role of history in the face of today's challenges.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements A pass or passes in 40 credits of first level historical courses or equivalent and a pass or passes in 40 credits of second level historical courses or equivalent.

Students should only be enrolled on this course with approval from the History Honours Programme Administrator.
Information for Visiting Students
Pre-requisitesVisiting students should have at least 3 History courses at grade B or above (or be predicted to obtain this). We will only consider University/College level courses. Applicants should note that, as with other popular courses, meeting the minimum does NOT guarantee admission.

** as numbers are limited, visiting students should contact the Visiting Student Office directly for admission to this course **
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2023/24, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  25
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 20, Fieldwork Hours 2, Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 174 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 80 %, Practical Exam 20 %
Additional Information (Assessment) Coursework:
1,000-word plan (20%)
3,000-word essay (60%)

Non-Written Skills:
Class participation (10%)
Oral presentation (10%)
Feedback Students are expected to discuss their coursework with the Course Organiser at least once prior to submission, and are encouraged to do so more often. Meetings can take place with the Course Organiser during their published office hours or by appointment. Students will also receive feedback on their coursework, and will have the opportunity to discuss that feedback further with the Course Organiser.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. know in depth some of the main debates, methods and types of evidence in the study of human-water relations, coupled with an insight into their potential uses and limitations
  2. apply such knowledge and insight to the study of other themes and issues in environmental history as well as the history of other periods and regions of the world
  3. reappraise the period before 1750 from an environmental perspective and formulate new research questions about our relationships with the natural world
  4. to take part productively in exchanges of ideas and information around the theme of water in history, also using different media, registers and forms of communication
  5. possess a high degree of autonomy and resourcefulness when working alone, as well as an appropriate level of scholarly maturity when working with others
Reading List
KTH Environmental Humanities Laboratory -- a series of brief videos featuring leading experts (see esp. Donald Worster on environmental history at and Astrida Neimanis on thinking with water at

John R. Gillis, 'The Blue Humanities', The Magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities, 34/3 (2013) (available at -- a magazine article by a water and ocean history pioneer

Blue Papers -- a 2022 project blog on water, history and cultural heritage (see esp. the posts on a research agenda for Blue History at and a centuries-old celebration of irrigation systems in China at

A Journey in the History of Water -- a 2002 Norwegian documentary in four parts (watch at

Giulio Boccaletti, Water: A Biography, New York 2021 -- an ambitious historical account by a scientist by training (can also watch him discuss this work in various places on YouTube)

Tarje Tvedt, Water and Society: Changing Perceptions of Societal and Historical Development, London 2015 -- a vast treatment by a geographer turned all-around water specialist

James Smith and Hetta Howes, 'Medieval Water Studies: Past, Present and Promise', Open Library of Humanities, 5/1 (2019) (at -- an agenda for the study of water in the Middle Ages -- various digital news and short articles on water in the medieval world (follow the link above or search for 'water' and other relevant terms in the top-left corner of the website)

Martin Knoll and Reinhold Reith (eds.), An Environmental History of the Early Modern Period: Experiments and Perspectives, Berlin 2014 (see esp. part 3: 'Societies and Aquatic Environments') -- two essays on methodology and water histories of the early modern period

Exploring Environmental History -- a podcast by early modernist K. Jan Oosthoek (see esp. the interviews on military inundations in Dutch history at and the river Tyne as a historical actor at

A History of Water -- a series of nine volumes started in 2001 (see esp. the Introductions at

Water History -- a specialist journal published since 2009 (see esp. the Editorials at
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Discuss critically some of the main concepts, sources and works of scholarship relevant to the fields of water studies and environmental history more broadly.

Process and combine this material with a degree of historical imagination, also while working comparatively across different periods and regions of the world.

Develop an independent project using the sources and approaches encountered during the course and present it both orally and in writing.

Exchange ideas and various forms of information about water and its history in a sustained, coherent and efficient fashion.

Interact effectively with peers and work collaboratively with a range of tools and resources for the study of pre-modern history.
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Luca Zenobi
Tel: (01316) 506693
Course secretaryMrs Ksenia Gorlatova
Tel: (0131 6)50 8349
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