The history of the framework within which humans act (the history of the environment), the history of how they act upon it (the history of technology), and the history of the ways in which they understand it (the history of science) are necessarily intertwined and can be fully understood only in conjunction with each other. In a world that is changing at unprecedented speed the history of how environment, science, and technology are connected becomes essential to understand how the epochal change marked by the Anthropocene started and is progressing.

The environment is not a simple object of inquiry. It stands in an active relationship of reciprocal influence with human and non-human actors. While the environment is a relatively recent conceptual construct, it has become a central facet of many political and scientific discourses and an unavoidable element of public debate in the face of a ramping climate crisis. Moreover, in recent years it has been the object of a lively scholarly debate about both its history and materiality, which has led to a significant growth of the relevant literature.

Questions that will be tackled in this seminar through the reading of key texts taken from scholarship in environmental history, history of science, and history of ideas include, but are not limited to: what was the historical context in which the environment was first conceptualized? What distinguishes it from the idea of nature? How are environments materially made and measured? How does the history of the concept materially affect our understanding of the world and future challenges?

While the readings will be exclusively in English, the seminar will consider also the issue of linguistic and cultural differences, highlighting how terms commonly used interchangeably in translation (e.g. environment/Umwelt) maintain their peculiarities due to specific local historical developments.

Please read the weekly readings ahead of each meeting. The files are available for download once you access the seminar's moodle pages. Drop me an email for the password:

Semester: SoSe 2023