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2020-2021 Course Descriptions

Fall Courses

ENVR_POL 212: Environment and Society

Overview of the interactions between societies and the natural environment. Examines both key environmental problems, like climate change and oil spills, and possible solutions, and the roles played by different social structures and groups in shaping both issues.

ENVR_POL 336: Climate Change, Policy and Society

Climate change is the worst environmental problem facing the earth. Sea levels will rise, glaciers are vanishing, horrific storms will hit everywhere. After looking briefly at the impacts of climate change on natural and social environments both in the present and near future, we then consider how to best reduce climate change and how to adapt to its impacts. Issues of climate justice, divides between the global North and South, social movements, steps taken in different countries and internationally, and the role of market and regulations are addressed.  

ENVR_POL 390-21 Special Topics: Political Ecology

This class is an introduction to Political Ecology, a multidisciplinary body of theory and research that analyzes the environmental articulations of political, economic, and social difference and inequality. The key concepts, debates, and approaches in this field address two main questions: (1) How do humans' interactions with the environment shape power and politics? (2) How do power and politics shape humans' interactions with the environment? These questions are critical to understanding and addressing the current issues of climate change, the Anthropocene, and environmental justice. Topics discussed in this class will include environmental scarcity and degradation, sustainability and conservation. Readings will come from the disciplines of geography, anthropology and archaeology. Case studies will range from the ancient, to the historical and the present-day. No prior background in the environmental sciences is needed to appreciate and engage in this course.

ENVR_POL 390-22 Special Topics: U.S. Environmental Politics

Political problems associated with human impact on natural environment; pollution, natural resources, public lands, land use, energy, and population.

ENVR_POL 390-24 Special Topics: Media, Earth and Making a Difference

The central question of this course is: What Makes a Difference? Analyzing a variety of works of media addressing environmental themes, including works drawn from advertising and marketing, we will consider different types of environmental messaging and attempts to mobilize public moral engagement. Specifically, we will be looking at strategies for implementing media interventions as moral interventions. Discussion taken up in this class will include evaluating the comparative value of media messaging that emphasizes individual action and personal responsibility, versus messaging that promotes collective action, policy, and structural changes. Students will consider and debate what constitutes authentic "green" messaging versus mere corporate "greenwashing." Throughout, we will ask what kind of media we need in what has been called the "Anthropocene" (a time when humans are now a major geologic force affecting the future of the planet). When motivating public moral engagement in climate crisis, are the solutions being offered those that the planet will actually "register" or "notice" on a global scale? If not, what kinds of "media interventions" do we need to be making and how?

ENVR_POL 390-25 Special Topics: Politics of Disaster:
A Global Environmental History

The term ‘natural disaster' conjures images of tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes, and other powerful forces of nature that strike without warning, inflicting massive suffering on a powerless and unsuspecting populace. We now have several decades' worth of research from the social sciences and humanities showing that so-called "natural" disasters are not very natural at all. Instead, they are deeply political and profoundly man-made. This course adopts a historical and global approach in order to denaturalize disaster. From famines in British India to earthquakes in post-colonial Peru, from floods in New Orleans to nuclear disaster in Japan, we will see how disasters expose and exacerbate pre-existing inequalities, inflicting suffering disproportionately among those groups already marginalized by race, class, gender, geography, and age. These inequalities shape not only the impact of the disaster but the range of responses to it, including political critique and retrenchment, relief and rebuilding efforts, memorialization, and planning - or failing to plan - for future disasters of a similar kind. The course culminates in a unit on the contemporary challenge of anthropogenic global climate change, the ultimate man-made disaster. We will consider how memories, fears, and fantasies of past disasters are being repurposed to create new visions of what climate change will look like. 

ENVR_POL 390-26 Special Topics: Nature and Empire

The arrival of European colonizing powers in the Americas in the wake of Columbus's voyages marked a new and often disastrous chapter in global environmental history. American nations and environments shaped the course of European colonial settlement at the same time as colonial expansion profoundly changed the flora, fauna, disease ecology, and patterns of labor and land use prevailing across the Americas. This seminar explores the entangled histories of imperial and environmental history in the colonial Atlantic world. Topics will include the so-called Columbian Exchange and the dispossession of indigenous lands; the transatlantic slave trade and the rise of the plantation system; the intersections of African, European, and Indigenous American agricultural practices; European theories of race and climate; colonial bioprospecting; and the role of disease in the Age of Atlantic Revolutions. We will also consider the imperial origins of modern conservationism and of key environmental concepts such as ‘wilderness’ and 'native' and 'invasive' species. 

ENVR_POL 390-27 Special Topics: Native American Environmental Issues and the Media

Native American Environmental Issues and the Media introduces students to indigenous issues, such as treaty-based hunting, fishing, and gathering rights; air and water quality issues; mining; land-to-trust issues; and sacred sites. These issues have contributed to tension between Native and non-Native communities and have become the subject of news reports, in both mainstream and tribal media. We will focus on how the media cover these issues and how that coverage contributes to the formation of public opinion and public policy. Students will read and analyze newspaper and on-line news reports and view and critique broadcast news stories and documentaries about Native environmental topics. 

ENVR_POL 390-28 Special Topics: Environmental Cultures of East Asia


This course is dedicated to the study of environment and culture in east Asia, particularly in China. China is often imagined both as a site of localized environmental ruination that prefigures imminent global collapse and as a source of contamination and contagion that easily cross national borders. Particularly in the Global North, China has become a focal point for ambient eco-anxieties that are shadowed by longer histories of perceived racial, cultural, and economic threats. It is easy (and essential) to critique the demonization of China; the challenge lies in disentangling the imagined from the very real and present dangers that country’s environmental and public health problems pose at home and abroad. This course confronts that challenge by approaching our current environmental crises not as scientific issues with technological solutions, but as crises of culture and urgent objects of representation. How we imagine and depict our uncertain future has a direct impact on how we act in the present.


Winter Courses

ENVR_POL 340: Global Environments and World History

Environmental problems have today become part and parcel of popular consciousness: resources are being depleted at a record pace, human population levels just crossed the seven billion threshold, extreme poverty defines the majority of people's daily lives, toxic contaminants affect all ecosystems, increasing numbers of species face extinction, consumerism and the commodification of nature show no signs of abating, and weapons and energy systems continue to proliferate that risk the planet's viability. This introductory lecture course is designed to help students understand the relatively recent origins of many of these problems, focusing especially on the last one hundred and fifty years. Students will have an opportunity to learn about the environmental effects of urbanization, industrialization, population growth, market economies, empire-building, intercontinental warfare, energy extraction, and new technologies. They will also explore different environmental philosophies and analytic frameworks that help us make sense of historical change, including political ecology, environmental history, science studies, and world history. Finally, the course will examine a range of transnational organizations, social movements, and state policies that have attempted to address and resolve environmental problems.

ENVR_POL 390-23 Special Topics: Maple Syrup and Climate Change

Sesipâskw’pêskân is the Nehiywa (Cree) word for a maple sugar camp. It’s the time in between late winter and early spring when families gather to collect maple sap, and to harvest fish, beavers, and early spring plants, or at least it used to be. As the earth’s climate changes, maple trees and the subsequent maple syrup industry in the U.S. and Canada are being affected, in both good and bad ways. To compound this, the demand for maple syrup is rising in Asia. The class will cover these effects, their impact on Native American and non-Native communities, the maple syrup industry, and maple species themselves. 

ENVR_POL 390-24 Special Topics: Archaeologies of Sustainability and Collapse

Description coming soon

Spring Courses

ENVR_POL 101: First-Year Seminar: Chicago Environmental Justice

The concept of environmental justice in the United States emerged in the early 1980s as African-American residents fought hazardous waste sites planned in and around their communities. Since then, the environmental justice perspective has been expanded to include the struggles of other minority groups disenfranchised on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender or class. In the first part of the course, students will learn about the history of the environmental justice movement in the US and its development. Next, the course will take a closer look at environmental justice in Chicago, both past and present. A mandatory field trip to a local environmental justice organization is part of the course.

ENVR_POL 390-21: Environmental Anthropology

Anthropology has had a long, storied relationship with questions of nature and culture, society and environment, during which time a variety of theoretical approaches have been developed. This class will review these intellectual developments and recent trends with the aim of giving students toolkits for analyzing present-day environmental concerns.

ENVR_POL 390-22: Earth, Politics, and Poetics

Planet Earth” has a political and social history. The Copernican turn and geological notions of deep time, for example, radically shifted understandings of the Earth, time, and humans’ relationship to them. Whole Earth images first generated by the Apollo Space missions in the late 1960s and 1970s have been the characteristic form of planetary imagination during the late twentieth century. Earthrise and The Blue Marble images enabled humans to imagine the planet as an interconnected whole against the backdrop of the Cold War and environmental disasters. They have been crucial to the emergence of a “global consciousness” and became famous icons of the global environmental movement, depicting the planet as the common home of humans as one species. The power of these images has not decreased, yet other forms of representation and imagination have emerged as well. The development of Google Earth or advanced climate modeling systems, for example, mark a different notion of Earth, characterized by dynamic, heterogeneous, and open systems. This course examines such shifting notions of the Earth by tracing how practices and discourses of geopolitics, political theory, cartography, population studies, climate modeling, deep ocean sensing, outer space exploration and mining, and science fiction literature, have come to sense, know, represent, and imagine the planet since the 18th century. In doing so, this course also surveys shifting socio-political currents, from the intersection of the military-industrial complex and technoscience to how climate crisis, Anthropocene debates, and Earth Systems analysis reflect further shifts in the ways the planet is understood today. Tracing these shifts in planetary representation and imagination is also crucial to understanding how core concepts such as “humanity” and “species” are made and unmade. Understanding the deeply mediated processes behind planetary depictions is not only central to making sense of contemporary politics and policies that propose to shape the future, but also to imagining alternative worlds and futures beyond our grim ecological predicament.

ENVR_POL 390-23: Art and Nature in the Global Early Modern

Description Coming Soon

ENVR_POL 390-24: Ocean and Coastal Law and Policy

This course focuses on laws, policies and the decision-making process related to coastal and ocean resources in the United States, and internationally. Through examination of treaties, statutes, cases, administrative materials, and academic articles, we will explore issues such as coastal land use, offshore energy, ocean pollution, the impacts of climate on ocean/coastal ecosystems, marine mammal conservation, and fisheries management.

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