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

Undergraduate Course: History of the Modern World in 9 Things (HIST10440)

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
SummaryThe course will offer students an introduction to some of the methods, topics, and historiography of modern environmental history. Students will approach the history of the modern world by focusing on material, ecological, and global histories. Through exploring 9 'things', (mosquitos, cement, the wheat, cattle, cod, guano, barbed wire, uranium, computers) we will discuss the complex interactions between communities and commodities that frequently shape global connections, remaking both space and time. These 'mini-biographies' of different plants, animals and minerals, will allow us to consider how humans have relied on nature to construct the economies and infrastructures of the modern era.
Course description Through studying 9 'things' in modern history, this course serves as an introduction to environmental history as well as an introduction of how to bring analysis of environments, materials, and place into other forms of history writing. Each week through studying a particular plant, animal or mineral (with a few exceptions) we will consider how these interactions with nature shape our political worlds in the Anthropocene. Over the course of the semester we will ask questions such as, what is the relationship between capitalism and nature? How can commodity histories inform larger histories of social change? How have political events fueled, disrupted and reconstituted certain kinds of global relationships with natural resources? What happens at the 'end of nature'?

Content note: The study of History inevitably involves the study of difficult topics that we encourage students to approach in a respectful, scholarly, and sensitive manner. Nevertheless, we remain conscious that some students may wish to prepare themselves for the discussion of difficult topics. In particular, the course organiser has outlined that the following topics may be discussed in this course, whether in class or through required or recommended primary and secondary sources: animal death. While this list indicates sensitive topics students are likely to encounter, it is not exhaustive because course organisers cannot entirely predict the directions discussions may take in tutorials or seminars, or through the wider reading that students may conduct for the course.
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 must have 3 History courses at grade B or above. We will only consider University/College level courses. Enrolments for this course are managed by the CAHSS Visiting Student Office, in line with the quotas allocated by the department. All enquiries to enrol must be made through the CAHSS Visiting Student Office. It is not appropriate for students to contact the department directly to request additional spaces.
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2024/25, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  0
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Seminar/Tutorial Hours 22, 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:
2000 word essay (35%)
3000 word essay (45%)

Non-Written Skills:
Leading seminar in person or through online forum (20%)
Feedback Students will receive formative feedback on their first and final essays, and will have an opportunity to discuss that feedback further with the Course Organiser during their published office hours or by appointment
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. demonstrate a critical command of the themes and methodology of modern environmental history;
  2. analyse and reflect critically on the work of scholars in the field of environmental history as well as consider how to incorporate environmental history into other historical work;
  3. analyse and interrogate primary source materials concerning global environmental history;
  4. develop and sustain original scholarly arguments in written form;
  5. demonstrate originality, academic integrity, and ability to evaluate the work of their peers.
Reading List
Abourahme, Nasser. 'Assembling and Spilling-Over: Towards an 'Ethnography of Cement' in a Palestinian Refugee Camp' International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 2014.

Bolster, W. Jeffrey, The Mortal Sea: Fishing in the Age of the Sail (Harvard University Press, 2014).

Brown, Kate. Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters (Oxford, 2015).

Cronon, William, Nature's Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West, New York: Norton, 1992.

Cushman, Gregory T., Guano and the Opening of the Pacific World: A Global Ecological History (Cambridge, 2014).

Forty, Adrian Concrete and Culture: A Material History (Reaktion Books, 2012).

Mitchell, Timothy 'Can the Mosquito Speak?' from Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity (University of California Press, 2002).

Netz, Reviel, Barbed Wire: An Ecology of Modernity (Wesleyan University Press, 2004).

Kurlansky, Mark, Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World (New York: Penguin, 1997).

Manning, Richard, 'The Oil We Eat: Following the Foodchain back to Iraq' Harper's Magazine, February, 2004.

McNeill, J.R. Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620-1914 (Cambridge, 2010)

Zoellner, Tom, Uranium: War, Energy, and the Rock That Shaped the World. (Penguin, 2010).
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Emily Brownell
Course secretaryMiss Claire Brown
Tel: (0131 6)50 3582
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