History 490Q (101) Histories of the Anthropocene




Course Level




Days Met


Course Times

12:00 pm to 2:00 pm


Welcome to the Anthropocene. It’s all different now. History is different now. We grew up believing that “human history” and “geological time” and were quite distinct, with one extending across ages beyond imagination and the other occurring as a tiny blip. But in recent years, scientific findings about the lasting effects of climate change, deforestation, ocean acidification, and other human-caused natural changes have led us to a new realization: we now live in an era of the earth’s history that is defined by human influence, the Anthropocene. The stakes may be nothing less than human survival, of finding a mode of living in this reality. History therefore has a new calling: to survive we need to understand how we got to this point, and how we might proceed. We need (among other things) new, reflexive approaches to old historical questions of capitalism, the nation-state, the British empire, the Cold War, and much more. But we also need many new historical questions about the deep history of the human species and its environments and relations with other species. We need new understanding of the role of ecological crises in historical events like Victorian colonialism, the Holocaust, or the current civil war in Syria, or the chemicals that collect in our bodies wreaking havoc on our mitochondria. In this course we will read some of the trailblazing new work of historians (Chakrabarty, McNeil, Bonneuil, etc.) on these questions, and we will also take the critical work of scientists and thinkers, the reflections of anthropologists (Tsing, Descola, Latour), the imaginings of artists, writers, and musicians, and will try to listen to the earth itself and the myriad beings with which we collaborate to survive.