Fire, Famine and Flood: An Environmental History of England, 1500-1800

Unit code : HIST31711
Credit rating : 20
Teaching period(s) : Semester 1

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Aims | Objectives | Assessment | Information | Course unit content |
Tutors | Timetable | Teaching methods |

  • To assess the complex, contingent, and independent roles of the environment and the non-human in history.
  • To provide a broad understanding of early modern environmental changes in their historical context.
  • To explore and analyse the historical relationships between society, culture, the economy and the environment.
  • To challenge traditional understandings of the early modern period by approaching it through the young and rapidly growing historiography of environmental history.
  • To explore beyond the disciplinary boundaries of history, borrowing methods and perspectives from across the humanities, social sciences, and environmental sciences.

Objectives (Learning outcomes)

By the end of this course students will be able to:

  • Identify the key environmental changes that took place in England across the early modern period.
  • Distinguish between the different ways early modern people perceived, valued and used the natural environment.
  • Understand the relationships between economic, social, cultural and environmental changes from a historical perspective.
  • Critically engage with claims made both about and with past environments, analysing them from social, cultural, political, economic and ecological perspectives.
  • Identify and critique a broad range of environmental approaches to the past.
  • Independently analyze and organize primary and secondary source material.
  • Constructively contribute to large and small group discussions.
  • Locate information from a variety of sources including books, journals, online databases, and online collections.
  • Collaborate online with peers using cloud-based software, like Google Spreadsheets.
  • Express themselves effectively and confidently in oral discussion, class debates and written assignments.
  • Work in a team towards a common goal – presenting information with their peers, to their peers through a class presentation.
  • Integrate unfamiliar subjects and methodologies with previous knowledge and understanding of the past.
  • Evaluate the quality, significance, and reliability of information found in books, journals and online.
  • Use primary sources and historiography to make and support arguments about the past.

Assessment methods
John Morgan:Unit coordinator
Written exam:40%
Written assignment (inc essay):60%


Assessment Methods

Primary source analysis (2 sources) - 1500 words - 20%

Essay - 2500 words - 40%

Exam - 2 hours - 40%

Course unit overview

English environments underwent fundamental transformations between 1500 and 1800: common land was enclosed, wetlands were drained, and animals were hunted with renewed vigour; the Little Ice Age, uneven population growth and closer national and international market integration shaped economic development; and new ways of conceiving of the environment emerged as the reformation and scientific revolution transformed early modern world-views. In this course, students will explore how climate, weather, plants and animals can be integrated into cultural, social, political and religious history, and how historical narratives can be reinterpreted and reoriented with an environmental perspective.

Making use of the multiple disciplinary perspectives that inform contemporary environmental history, this course will introduce students to a new way of approaching their subject. Students will be introduced to a variety of physical and cultural environmental contexts – from climatic changes to perceptual revolutions – as well as specific environmental issues, such as early modern ‘natural disasters’ and urban fire and smoke.


Teaching staff
No available data to display.
Seminars - 33 hours
Supervised time in studio/wksp - 11 hours

Teaching and learning methods

The course will be taught through a weekly three-hour seminar, in which students will listen and respond to a presentation from their peers, work in small groups on a variety of reading and source-related tasks, contribute to a full-class discussion and/or debate, and receive a lecture. Outside of the weekly seminar, students will be required to read and respond to tutor-selected primary and secondary reading, with non-compulsory extension reading lists available to all students. Each week one group of students will be required to prepare a presentation outside of class, and another will be required to contribute to our collaborative online timeline of environmental change.

In class, small group work will focus on the discussion of particular concepts, readings and sources. Students will discuss their own ideas with their peers, and learn from those of others, giving them an opportunity to reflect on their own study practices, knowledge and understanding. Small group exercises will be fed back to the class as a whole.

Full class discussions will revolve around each week’s major themes and questions. Where appropriate, this will take the form of a manufactured debate in which students will be assigned positions, required to make a case, and respectfully and critically respond to arguments made by their peers.

Students will also have access to a dedicated additional office hour for this module in which they will be encouraged to meet individually with the tutor to discuss their ideas and progress on the course.

The course will make use of Blackboard. Required reading and reading lists will be made available on Blackboard. All assignments will be submitted through Blackboard and TurnItIn, with written feedback returned via Blackboard and oral feedback through optional tutor meetings.