ENVS 2: Human Nature, Technology, and the Environment Fall 2016
Prof. Carr Everbach Hicks 202 X8079
The course examines the relationships among human cultures, technology, and the environment. Three or four million years ago, our Australopithicene ancestors’ main enemies were disease and predators, about which the hominids could do very little. For two and a half million years thereafter, human culture changed only very gradually, employing very limited technologies (e.g., stone tools). Starting about 50,000 years ago, however, a cultural revolution occurred that produced an explosion of language, art, religions, and new tools. The agricultural revolution of 10,000 years ago created crops that were the basis for civilization. The continuing acceleration of the pace of technological change is seen in the development of writing a few thousand years ago, the invention of printing a few hundred years ago, the industrial revolution in the previous century, the computer revolution since World War II, and the internet revolution within the last decade. Human societies now control technologies that influence local pollution levels, regional ecosystem characteristics, and global climate change.
Has the evolution of human culture kept pace with the evolution of human technology? Pessimists, pointing to war, racism, and selfishness, argue that global environmental catastrophe is inevitable. Optimists, pointing to changes in human thinking about slavery, animal rights, and the interconnectedness of ecosystems, argue that we can attain a sustainable society. What societal mechanisms can be employed to help our culture evolve quickly enough to adapt to modern realities? Among the answers: technology, from nanochips to wind turbines to human genome manipulation; legal structures that take into account issues of environmental racism; new economic theories that value the services provided by natural systems; political systems that transcend traditional borders; and religious principles that integrate ancient wisdom with modern understanding.
Structured chronologically, the course investigates how humans evolved physically and genetically, what tools they employed and what were the consequences for humankind and the surrounding environment. Special attention is paid to how the problems of the 21st century relate to circumstances of the past, from excessive fat intake in our diet to the “tragedy of the commons” and its relationship to the depletion of finite natural resources.
The course is structured around readings, response essays, and discussions on broad topics that are raised as we walk through human history. Student response essays are posted on the web at http://fubini.swarthmore.edu/ENVS2/
*** A note: This course views the history of technology through a Social Science lens insofar as it examines the reciprocal relationship between the development of human societies’ structures and the environments that affected them (and in turn were affected by them). It is has traditionally been viewed as a course without Divisional affiliation, but within ENVS it may be properly viewed as supplying SSH content rather than natural sciences content.
Readings (some substitutions may occur)
A Green history of the world: the Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations. Clive Ponting; St. Martin's Press, 1992. Ch. 3-4.
Global Ecology in Human Perspective. Charles Southwick; Oxford UP, 1996. Ch. 13
Guns, germs and steel. Jared Diamond; W. W. Norton, 1999. Ch. 1-2.
Deforesting the earth: from prehistory to global crisis. Michael Williams; Univ. of Chicago Press, 2003. Ch. 1-2.
Modern human origins--faunal perspectives. Stiner, Mary C., Annual Review of Anthropology, 1993, Vol. 22 Issue 1, p55, 28 pages.
Domestication of Fire:
Fired up. McCrone, John, New Scientist, 05/20/2000, Vol. 166 Issue 2239, p30, 5p, 2 maps, 10c
Geological analysis damps ancient Chinese fires. Wuethrich, Bernice; Science, 07/10/98, Vol. 281 Issue 5374, p165, 2p, 1c
Did Homo erectus tame fire first? Balter, Michael; Science, 6/16/95, Vol. 268 Issue 5217, p1570, 1/2p
Environment and behavior of 2.5-million-year-old Bouri hominids. Jean de Heinzelin, et al., Science, April 23, 1999, Vol. 284, Issue 5414, pp. 625-629
Hominid evolution; lifestyles and survival strategies. Ullrich, Herbert [editor], Ed. Archaea : Gelsenkirchen/Schwelm, Federal Republic of Germany, 1999.
Effect of Environment on Evolution:
Debating the environmental factors in hominid evolution. Feibel, Craig S., GSA Today, March 1997, Vol. 7, Issue 3, pp. 1-7
Hominid evolution and the evolution of the environment. Coppens, Y., The Wenner-Gren international symposium on Behaviour of the earliest hominids; Ossa Solna, 1989, Vol. 14, pp. 157-163.
Evolution of the hominids and of their environment during the. Plio-Pleistocene in the lower Omo Valley, Ethiopia. Coppens, Y., Bishop, W. W. [editor], Scottish Acad. Press : Edinburgh, Scot., 1978.
Evidence for the technical practices of early Pleistocene hominids, Shungura Formation, lower Omo Valley, Ethiopia. Chavaillon, J., Earliest man and environments in the Lake Rudolf Basin; stratigraphy, paleoecology, and evolution Prehistoric archeology and ecology series, Univ. Chicago Press : Chicago, Ill., 1976.
Megafauna Extinction. National Public Radio
Aboriginal Climate Change. National Public Radio
A Green history of the world: the Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations. Clive Ponting; St. Martin's Press, 1992. Ch. 1.
Ibid, Ch. 13.
From Wolf to Dog, Yes, but When?, Nicholas Wade, New York Times, Nov. 22, 2002.
Deforesting the earth: from prehistory to global crisis. Michael Williams; Univ. of Chicago Press, 2003. Ch. 5, Medieval Period.
A Green history of the world: the Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations. Clive Ponting; St. Martin's Press, 1992. Ch. 6.
Global Ecology in Human Perspective. Charles Southwick; Oxford UP, 1996. Ch. 24
Plagues and Peoples, Ch. 1-3.
Guns, germs and steel. Jared Diamond; W. W. Norton, 1999. Ch. 4-6.
Section : Industrial Revolution
Alfred W. Crosby, ECOLOGICAL IMPERIALISM: THE BIOLOGICAL EXPANSION OF EUROPE (1986).
Merritt Roe Smith and Greg Clancey, eds., MAJOR PROBLEMS IN THE HISTORY OF AMERICAN TECHNOLOGY (Houghton Mifflin, 1998), Ch. 1, 6.
Global Ecology in Human Perspective. Charles Southwick; Oxford UP, 1996. Ch. 16
Merritt Roe Smith and Greg Clancey, eds., MAJOR PROBLEMS IN THE HISTORY OF AMERICAN TECHNOLOGY (Houghton Mifflin, 1998), Ch 11.
Andrew C. Isenberg, THE DESTRUCTION OF THE BISON (Cambridge UP, 2000).
Global Ecology in Human Perspective. Charles Southwick; Oxford UP, 1996. Ch. 18
Leo Marx, THE MACHINE IN THE GARDEN (Oxford UP, 1964).
William Cronon, CHANGES IN THE LAND (1987?).
Modes of Prophecy and Production: Placing Nature in History, William Cronon, JOURNAL OF AMERICAN HISTORY 76 (Mar. 1990): 1122-31.
Section 8: The future of Technology
Global Ecology in Human Perspective. Charles Southwick; Oxford UP, 1996. Ch. 25-26.
Carolyn Merchant, ed., MAJOR PROBLEMS IN AMERICAN ENVIRONMENTAL HISTORY(Houghton Mifflin, 1993), Ch. 3, 4, 7, 9.
Section 9: Student Project Presentations
Each student will research and present to the class and upload to the website a topic of relevant interest that has been pre-approved by the professor.