History of Nature: From Early Modern Empires to Global Warming

History 103B.003

Spring 2018
3205 Dwinelle
Day & Time: 
F 12-2
Class Number: 

In 1755 the “Great Lisbon Earthquake” triggered a crisis of faith in God across Europe, and shook the foundations of the Portuguese Empire. In summer 2017 the “Lucifer Heatwave” deepened a crisis of faith in modernity and intensified debates about global warming. This course examines the changing meanings of nature in European culture from the seventeenth century to the present day, and the rise of modern environmentalism.

In the past three centuries, nature has come to occupy a prominent position in nearly all aspects of human existence. It is during this period that intellectuals and scientists began to reflect on our “animalistic” origins, on what distinguishes the “natural” from the “unnatural”, and on what it means to possess “natural rights”. They also started to imbue nature with racial and gendered meanings. In the same era, empires and multinational corporations have been involved in an unprecedented contest over the control and appropriation of natural resources. Meanwhile, philosophers and activists have come to imagine nature as a vulnerable space that requires care, and to devise strategies for protecting it. This course examines the history of nature by tracing the development of these seemingly diverse practices and ideologies.