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.


Spring 2019:

Sample of Past Course Offerings in Environmental History:

Societies of the World 51 - Politics of Nature (0710) 

Anthropology 2713 - Economic Rights and Wrongs (91647) 

Cities and Environmental Change (SES 0534200 – Section 00) 

Critical Conservation as Social Activism: History, Theory, and Methods (DES 0347400 – Section 00) 

History and Theory of Urban Interventions (HIS 0411500 – Section 00) 

History of Science 197 - Nature, Environment, and the Understanding of Space (69934) 

Studies of the Built North American Environment: 1580 to the Present (HIS 0410500 – Section 00) 

History 60c - The Nature of Modern China: Space, Science, and Environment(84665) 

History 97a - What is the History of Medicine? (69581) 

History 97d - What is Environmental History? (45123) 

A History of Nature Conservation and Cultural Landscape Preservation: Where do they intersect today in urban centers and beyond? (HIS 0444600 – Section 00)

History of Science 231 - Transforming Technologies: Science, Technology, and Social Change (64715) 

Mapping the Russian Empire (HIST E-1551 (23871)) 

Rethinking the Legal and Ethical Status of Humans, Animals, and the Environment (2545)