Environment and Historical Perspectives
Earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, wildfires, epidemic disease, and technological failures? This course will examine large scale natural events in American and world history, the social, technological, and environmental conditions that underlie them, and their historical consequences. Human societies have long been embedded in physical landscapes where they are subject to specific environmental conditions and physical risks: eight thousand-year-old wall paintings in Turkey depict the eruption of Hasan Dag volcano over the city of Catal Huyuk, for example. But then and now, it takes a certain combination of social conditions and environmental events to create a natural disaster. In this course, we will use historical natural disasters to explore the interconnections between the structures and ideas of human society and environmental forces. Humans have not been simply the random victims of natural disasters; where and how they chose to live influenced the impact of any disastrous event. Examining these events in a historical context will help us see the social, technological, scientific, and environmental systems that have been constantly interacting, but which are normally taken for granted until they break down.