Course Offerings

One of the aims of CCHRI is to involve a wide constituency of scholars, graduate students and undergraduates, bringing together colleagues from the social and natural sciences, from both Princeton and neighboring institutes. Such a constituency is necessary, we believe, to promote an approach to long-term historical and environmental change that involves the integration of natural and social science methodologies and techniques. Graduate students in particular will be involved in the workshops and lectures/seminars. 

Project team members will offer courses touching on the initiative's themes in order to introduce both graduate and undergraduate students to the field of environmental history. Visiting medieval environmental and interdisciplinary historian Dr. Adam Izdebski, who took up a position as Old Dominion Fellow under the auspices of the Council of the Humanities in Spring 2016, offered a new seminar dealing directly with the initiative’s key issues. In Fall 2014, medieval environmental historian Dr. Tim Newfield, a postdoctoral fellow and visiting faculty member in the Department of History, offered a graduate course on the history of Europeans and the natural world to 1500. Tim delivered an undergraduate environmental history seminar on pre-modern pathogens and disease in Fall 2015 and another course on the Global History of Plague in Fall 2016. Future course options are under discussion with colleagues in the Department of History and Princeton Environmental Institute.

Current Courses of Interest:

SOC 337 / ENV 336 Environment and Migration Sara E. Lopus

Environmental refugees leave their homes in response to earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, droughts, toxins, dams, and deforestation. Risk-mitigating farming households preemptively send family to seek jobs elsewhere, protecting against possible crop failure. In much of the world, households participate in cyclical or temporary migratory flows, driven by seasonality of the food supply. Students will become familiar with the manners in which environment drives migration and explore the potential for migration to impact the environment. Is vulnerability to environmental hazards distributed equitably across the world's communities?

GEO 360 / ENV 356 Geochemistry of the Human Environment John A. Higgins

Humans have profoundly altered the chemistry of Earth's air, water, and soil. This course explores these changes with an emphasis on the analytical techniques used to measure the human impact. Topics include the accumulation of greenhouse gases (CO2 and CH4) in Earth's atmosphere and the contamination of drinking water at the tap and in the ground. Students will get hands on training in mass spectrometry and spectroscopy to determine the chemical composition of air, water, and soil and will participate in an outreach project aimed at providing chemical analyses of urban tap waters to residents of Trenton, NJ.

GEO 362 / ENV 362 Earth's Climate History Michael L. Bender

This course examines the nature and causes of major events in Earth's 4-billion year climate history, ranging from Snowball Earth to the "equable" climates, lasting hundreds of millions of years, when Earth was far warmer than today. We discuss the evidence for each event, and examine its cause by analyzing interactions between the ocean, atmosphere, and biosphere. The course integrates fundamental topics in paleoclimate, including biogeochemistry and stable isotope geochemistry. Three lectures.


Past Courses

ENV 329 A Global History of Plague. Dr. T. Newfield

This course considers the global history of Yersinia pestis, the zoonotic bacterium that causes plague. It adopts an interdisciplinary approach to tease out macro- and micro-histories of the three pandemics associated with the pathogen - the Justinianic Plague, the Black Death, and the Third Pandemic - and to pin down biological, cultural, and ecological transitions in plague's past fundamental for understanding the bacterium's inconstant pandemicity. Students will travel considerable time and space - from the sixth century to the present, from Alexandria to Buenos Aires - and draw on diverse sources - Byzantine hagiography, the New York Times, and plague-victim teeth - to engage scholar debates, unravel plague's complexity, and assess plague's impact. 


HIS 308 Towards an environmental history of the Mediterranean world ca. 300-1900: integrating science and history.  Dr. A. Izdebski

This course would not have been possible 10 or 15 years ago. Every year since the beginning of this century, scientists have been publishing an increasing amount of data on past environments, climates and populations in the medieval and early modern Mediterranean. At the same time, historians have gradually started to digest this new evidence and thus a new, interdisciplinary field of Mediterranean environmental history has begun to emerge. But in contrast to several other regions of the world, in particular a region such as North America, the environmental history of the Mediterranean is still in the making. Scholars from different disciplines have just started to identify the key questions and are now experimenting with new tools and different ways of achieving interdisciplinary synthesis.

The aim of this course is to introduce students to both the central themes of this burgeoning field and to the types of evidence that historians and scientists use to address questions that arise. Not only will this course provide students with a thorough overview of the environmental problems of the Mediterranean world, it will also have a strong methodological focus. Thus, it will serve as an introduction to another emerging cross-disciplinary field, that of “science and history.” In this way, the course should be relevant to students whose main interests center on parts of the world other than the Mediterranean, as they will be able to apply the methodological skills that they will have acquired when learning about the Mediterranean for the study of the other regions.

The period in question covers the world of Late Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the early modern times through to the modernization era of the nineteenth century and includes the history of the eastern Roman or Byzantine as well as the Ottoman empire. With regard to the geographical focus, although it will mostly be on the eastern part of the Mediterranean world, for the sake of comparison case studies from the Western Med will be referred to in almost every topic. The course will start with a general introduction to the field of environmental history, and will be followed by an overview of how our understanding of the role of Mediterranean landscapes in human history changed over time. We will then focus on what we know about how these landscapes actually changed from AD 300 to 1900 - and how we can relate these changes to different historical phenomena and processes. Having established this general framework, we will investigate further the factors that shaped the history of these Mediterranean environments. Thus, we will try to reconstruct the socio-ecological models of the Byzantine and Ottoman worlds and we will analyze in more detail the ecological impact of human migrations. We will also examine in greater detail the ways through which major urban centres were capable of transforming the environment, in particular how Mediterranean connectivity turned distant regions into the actual hinterlands of major metropoleis.  Likewise, we will look in detail at changes in climate as major non-anthropogenic factors in the environmental history of the Mediterranean. Finally, through a few case studies, we will assess the impact that the onset of modernity had on Mediterranean environments and socio-ecological models.

HIS 544 The Environmental History of Medieval Europe. Dr. T. Newfield

An advanced interdisciplinary history course, HIS 544 examines interactions between people and the natural world over a lengthy period of European history, the Middle Ages (500-1500). Eight general topics, most notably agriculture, climate, disease, fuel and water, are investigated over twelve weeks, and issues rarely touched upon in traditional histories of medieval Europe are considered, from aquaculture, mining and the ecological footprint of cities to volcanic atmospheric clouding, disaster preparedness and zoonotic disease. Deep historical antecedents to present-day environmental concerns are established. In preparation for seminars students will master a number of assigned scholarly readings and primary medieval texts. The former are listed below and the latter will be distributed in class. Supplementary readings, also provided below, have been selected to assist those wishing to explore further a given topic or who are unfamiliar with the period or a particular topic. Most readings are in English and most texts are translated, but knowledge of other European languages and Latin is an asset.

Environmental history is a burgeoning field of study. While medieval environmental history may be described as nascent, cultural, economic and medical historians of the Middle Ages have long tackled environmental issues. In HIS 544 students will read seminal works from these historical fields alongside the new scholarship of medieval environmental history and much material from auxiliary sciences. Multiple rapidly developing disciplines beyond the traditional boundaries of medieval history and medieval studies are of direct relevance to the course. In an effort to tease out long past human- environmental dynamics and major developments in medieval Europeans' relationship with the natural world, students will become acquainted with the basic methods and results of such disciplines as archaeoseismology, dendrochronology, palynology and palaeomicrobiology, as well as the methods environmental historians employ to marry different datasets and the profits and pitfalls interdisciplinarity presents.

HIS 400 Pathogens & Disease in European History to 1800. Dr. T. Newfield

This course considers the pathogenic load suffered by European populations prior to the Demographic Transition. It surveys, in effect, the disease history of the ancient, medieval and early modern periods while addressing tools (such as retrospective diagnosing) and concepts (such as 'demographic regime', 'disease pool' and 'pathocenosis') fundamental for doing pre-laboratory disease history. Episodic pathogenic shocks to historical human populations (epidemics) as well as the baseline of disease   (endemics) are considered, and attempts are made to tease out both culturally-driven evolutions over time and space in the European disease experience as well as biological evolutions in the pathogens themselves. Disease outbreaks in domesticates (epizootics) are considered also. Primary sources (from annals and hagiography to tax records and archaeological reports on mass graves) and scholarship from multiple disciplines pertaining to both well-known (the Black Death) and obscure (the 986-988 scitta) epidemics are studied. The endemics discussed are the European 'classics': leprosy, malaria and tuberculosis.

The course does not attempt a total history of pathogens and disease for all of Europe over two plus millennia. Instead, it presents vignettes of the ill and the causes of their distress. It also does not adhere strictly to the ancient through early modern eras or the European subcontinent. Appraisal of old and new retrospective diagnoses of pre-1800 disease events necessitates some consideration of laboratory-era pathogens and disease; discussion of the initial spread of endemic diseases to and through Europe occasionally requires attention to earlier eras in the Holocene; and assessment of the origins, triggers and scope of epidemics and epizootics frequently demands consideration of African and Asian experiences. The approach throughout is interdisciplinary. Students acquire familiarity with the historical and scientific literature, the materials and methods, pertinent to the study of sickness in Europe before 1800. They learn to read critically written evidence for disease, as well as modern scientific studies on pre-laboratory disease, notably from the fields of palaeomicrobiology, palaeopathology and evolutionary biology.