Below is a sampling of the upper-level undergraduate courses I have put together. If interested in more information or a copy of a syllabus, please contact me.
The Environmental History of Latin America
Students in this course will explore the history of Latin America through the lens of human-nature relations. Through readings, lectures, and discussion, we will examine how the environment and various human groups have shaped each other in different ways through the centuries. The central idea of the course is that “environmental” problems like deforestation, declining biodiversity, and pollution are inseparable from social problems like colonial domination, uneven capitalist development, and political violence. Our discussions will concentrate on the post-contact era, when the continents of the western hemisphere became a New World. Lectures and class discussion will include primary sources, maps, and multimedia—students are encouraged to find supplementary material on their own and bring them up in class. Some of the big questions we will ask throughout our discussions are: Who is responsible for environmental change? What is environmental “degradation” and who gets to define it? What is conservation? What makes Latin America unique, and what does it have in common with North America and the world at large? Why is Latin America’s past important to understand the world today?
The Global Cold War (I also have a version of this course focused on the environmental dimensions of the conflict, titled “Gaia & the Global Cold War”)
This course approaches the Cold War as a global phenomenon, the emergent result of many local and regional conflicts that became entangled in the rivalry of superpowers and reshaped that larger conflict in turn. The readings and class discussion will decenter the United States and Soviet Union in order to focus on the “Third World” places that supplied the great majority of the combatants, strategists, and casualties of the Cold War. The superpowers will not disappear altogether, but rather recede into the margins of events driven, if not ultimately determined, by local actors and processes. The historical study of the Cold War has blossomed in recent years as new sources have been made available and innovative approaches have challenged longstanding assumptions. This course uses primary sources and some of the most influential new secondary literature in order to demonstrate the diverse array of interests involved in the Cold War, as well as the profound legacies of that ideological conflict in the twenty first century.
Mythbusting Tropical Nature: Environmental History and Ecological Fables
This seminar uses historical methods to deconstruct three widespread myths about tropical nature, the people who live in them, and what “fixes” both require. Each of the myths examined appear in twenty-first century policy debates over environmental conservation, but each has deep roots that often reach to times and places far removed from the contemporary tropical world. These myths are closely related, playing off of and reinforcing each other. In this class, we will explore why these myths have proven so resilient, despite repeatedly being revealed as untrue or at best misleading, and how their use serves to redirect attention away from the role played by outsiders in altering and degrading tropical ecosystems. By the end of the class, students will be equipped to spot these myths and use the tools of history to challenge them.