Environmental History Advising Program


Environmental historians study the intersection of the natural world and the human, or historical, world. They seek to understand both how we have tried to control or engineer the environment, and also how the environment shapes us. History faculty have worked on diverse projects from agriculture in early America to monsoons and migration around the Bay of Bengal, and from the effects of climate on ancient societies to modern responses to the changing landscape of southeastern Ghana. In these works and others, Harvard historians explore the dynamic relationship between natural and culture, an interplay that often minimizes clear distinctions between the two.

Environmental historians use a vast array of sources in their research. Their primary sources include written texts—essential to all historical research—and also less commonly used records, such as the visual and the archeological. Increasingly, environmental historians also use scientific evidence, such as a climate data, in their arguments. Combining natural and written archives enables environmental historians to make important contributions to other historical subfields, such as imperial and social history, and also to join multidisciplinary conversations about humans and the environment.

Like their interlocutors in other departments, historians recognize and explore distinctions in temporal categories used to describe long-term history. Scientists and historians alike differentiate between the Holocene, the geological epoch inhabited by humans, and the Anthropocene, the period in which humans became an ecological actor able to effect geological change. Whether describing the Holocene or the Anthropocene, environmental historians foreground a sense of contingency in their analyses of how the natural world affects society and culture. As a result, environmental history is an important intervention in the very scope of historical writing, expanding its analytical frame to include subjects once beyond the purview of history.


(Courses offered by History Department faculty automatically count for the History concentration)

Fall 2020:

  • HIST 1973A: Re-Wilding Harvard
  • HIST 2019: Energy History

Spring 2021:

  • GENED 1117: Nature
  • HIST 1610: Environments: China, Japan, Korea
  • HIST 1973B: Re-Wilding Harvard

Past Course Offerings on Environmental History :

  • ANTHRO 2713: Economic Rights and Wrongs
  • DES (Design Theory) 3474: Critical Conservation as Social Activism: History, Theory, and Methods 
  • GENED 1117: Nature
  • HIS (History and Theory) 4105: Studies of the Built North American Environment: 1580 to the Present 
  • HIS 4115: History and Theory of Urban Interventions
  • HIS 4446: A History of Nature Conservation and Cultural Landscape Preservation: Where do they intersect today in urban centers and beyond? 
  • HIST 14I: American Food, A Global History: More Than Just a Meal
  • HIST 14K: Oil and Empire
  • HIST 60c: The Nature of Modern China: Space, Science, and Environment
  • HIST 97A: What is the History of Medicine? 
  • HIST 97D: What is Environmental History? 
  • HIST 1006: Native American and Indigenous Studies: An Introduction
  • HIST 1053: After Catastrophe: Europe since 1945
  • HIST 1054: From the Little Ice Age to Climate Change: Introduction to US Environmental History?
  • HIST 1610: Environments: China, Japan, Korea
  • HIST 1910: The History of Energy
  • HIST 1917: Are You Now or Have You Ever Been an Android?: The New Materialism
  • HIST E-1551: Mapping the Russian Empire
  • HISTSCI (History of Science) 197: Nature, Environment, and the Understanding of Space
  • HISTSCI 231: Transforming Technologies: Science, Technology, and Social Change
  • HLS (Harvard Law School) 2545: Rethinking the Legal and Ethical Status of Humans, Animals, and the Environment
  • SW (Societies of the World) 51: Politics of Nature
  • SES (Socioeconomic Studies) 5342: Cities and Environmental Change

*Please be sure to check the Courses section of the History Website for more information on which of these courses count towards the History concentration and secondary field. Also, while we endeavor to keep this list current, it may not reflect all courses actually offered.*



  • Joyce Chaplin: James Duncan Phillips Professor of Early American History
  • Alison Frank Johnson: Professor of History
  • Michael McCormick: Francis Goelet Professor of Medieval History; Chair, Science of the Human Past
  • Ian Miller: Professor of History; Affiliate Professor of History of Science; Chair, Program in History and East Asian Languages (HEAL)
  • Kelly O'Neill: Lecturer on History; Director, Imperiia Project
  • Naomi Oreskes: Professor of the History of Science
  • Daniel Lord Smail: Frank B. Baird, Jr. Professor of History