*HIST-LIT 90EE. Fighting the Climate Crisis

Humanity currently faces a rapidly worsening environmental situation in light of the global climate crisis: rising seas and ocean acidification, deforestation and ecosystem collapse, and species extinction at alarming rates.  Behind these worrying developments, however, lies a human history of imperialism, industrialization, and globalization that remains inextricable from the so-called natural world.  Recent efforts in climate justice, such as Extinction Rebellion and the Green New Deal, have sought to counter this history by imagining new visions for sustainable societies.  In this course, students will explore the ways that storytelling and history intersect with the discourse on the global climate crisis, as well as the social responsibilities of artists, businesses, and citizens in effecting climate justice.  The course is divided into three units: the first covers early environmental movements from 1945 to 1970, leading to the establishment of the first Earth Day; the second covers 1971 to 2001, from the 1970s oil crises to the terror attacks of September 11th, 2001; and the final unit looks at the period from 2002 to the present, tracing the increasing politicization of climate change and culminating with the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement.  Throughout these units, we will study materials from environmental history, politics, and fiction by writers such as Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, and Ted Chiang.  While exploring these cultural and literary documents, students will reflect on historical outcomes and unrealized possibilities, as well as the delicate connections between past, present, and future—how what we do today affects what happens tomorrow.

Notes: Seminars meet for two hours of synchronous class discussion each week. To register, complete History & Literature’s application to enroll by August 21. Instructors will notify students of enrollment decisions on August 24. This seminar is open to all undergraduates, but priority will be given to sophomores interested in concentrating in History & Literature.


Patrick Whitmarsh







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History and Literature

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  • [Course titles in brackets] indicate that the course is not scheduled to be taught during the 2020-2021 academic year, but may be offered in an alternate year.
  • An asterisk (*) before a course number indicates that a student must obtain the instructor's permission in order to enroll in the course.

Harvard University
Center for the Environment

Address: 26 Oxford Street, 4th Floor, Cambridge
Phone: (617) 495-0368

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