Not available in 2019/20
Environmental History in a Global Context

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Megan Black SAR 3.06


This course is available on the MSc in Empires, Colonialism and Globalisation, MSc in History of International Relations, MSc in International Affairs (LSE and Peking University), MSc in International and World History (LSE & Columbia) and MSc in Theory and History of International Relations. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

This course will consider how environmental ideas and practices have shaped relations between nation-states and the wider world throughout history. Diplomatic and environmental historians have struggled to speak to each other despite a shared interest in the world—a world defined largely by political boundaries in one vision and by environmental features in the other. However, recently, historians have begun to explore how environmental ideas and processes, from resource scarcity to climate change, became an object of international relations, as well as how environmental conditions shaped the field of possible action in the enactment of foreign relations. This course will therefore consider how industrialized nations, especially the United States, thought about nature and impacted ecosystems at home and abroad in the modern era. It briefly reviews early colonial encounters between peoples and environments across the Americas and Asia, before turning to late-nineteenth and twentieth-century attempts to engineer and conserve nature across the globe in the image of Western modernity and postwar debates about over-population, resource scarcity, nuclear contamination, chemical toxins, and Anthropogenic climate change. We will engage an array of topics of relevance to international history, including colonialism, imperialism, war, modernization, development, multilateral institutions, and nongovernmental organizations and examine a growing array of scholarship in U.S. Environmental History, International History, Globalization Studies, Political Economy, and Postcolonial Studies that have brought the environment from the background to the center of their analyses. Students will be prepared to analyse historical debates over how humans, corporations, and governments have interacted with nonhuman nature on a global scale, and how nonhuman nature shaped interactions over time. Along the way, we will ask, how did officials and decision-makers try to define and manage a borderless nature? How might an environmental lens help us to better understand historical relationships between nations?


20 hours of seminars in the MT. 20 hours of seminars in the LT.

10 x 2-hour seminars in the MT; 10 x 2-hour seminars in the LT. There will be a reading week in the Michaelmas and the Lent Terms.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay, 1 presentation and 1 other piece of coursework in the MT.

A 1,000-word book review, a 1,500-word keyword essay, a class facilitation presentation.

Indicative reading

Alfred W. Crosby, Jr. Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe, 900-1900 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

Sunil Amrith, Crossing the Bay of Bengal: The Furies of Nature and the Fortunes of Migrants (Harvard University Press, 2013).

James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998).

Jessica B. Teisch, Engineering Nature: Water, Development, and the Global Spread of American Environmental Expertise (Chapel Hill: University of North Caroline Press, 2011).

Ian Tyrrell, Crisis of the Wasteful Nation: Conservation and Empire in Teddy Roosevelt’s America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015).

Timothy Mitchell, Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).

Thomas Robertson, The Malthusian Moment: Global Population Growth and the Birth of American Environmentalism (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2012).

Kate Brown, Plutopia: Nuclear Families, Atomic Cities, and the Great Soviet and American Plutonium Disasters (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).

David Biggs, Quagmire: Nation-Building and Nature in the Mekong Delta (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2011).

Stephen Macekura, Of Limits and Growth: The Rise of Global Sustainable Development in the Twentieth Century (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

Kirkpatrick Dorsey, Whales and Nations: Environmental Diplomacy on the High Seas (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2014).

Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011).

J.R. McNeill, The Great Acceleration: An Environmental History of the Anthropocene since 1945 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015).

Julie Sze, Fantasy Islands: Chinese Dreams and Ecological Fears in an Age of Climate Crisis. By Julie Sze (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015).


Essay (35%, 3500 words) in the LT.
Essay (35%, 3500 words) in the ST.
Class participation (15%) and presentation (15%) in the MT and LT.

3500-word historiographical essay due in Lent Term (35%); 3500-word state-of-the-field essay due in Summer Term (35%); Seminar participation (15%); Presentation (15%).

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2018/19: 13

Average class size 2018/19: 13

Controlled access 2018/19: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills