UC Santa Barbara Campus
Featured EH Courses
Introduction to Literature and the Environment
Professor Ken Hiltner, English and Environmental Studies
Beginning with The Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the West’s earliest texts, this course surveys nearly 5000 thousand years of literature in order to explore the literary and cultural history of the West’s relationship to the earth, as well as to better understand our current environmental beliefs. Readings include Genesis, Hesiod, Plato, Theocritus, Varro, Virgil, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Lanyer, Donne, Jonson, Milton, Marvell, Blake, Wordsworth, Shelley, Emerson, Thoreau, Ruskin, Heidegger, Carson, & Pollan.
Starting in 2013, this course was made completely open-access, including the lecture series, the Course Reader (which is open content and can be read on most computers and mobile devices, including Kindles), blog, and more – all available free of charge on the course website. The lecture series is also on iTunes University. Thus, anyone with a computer and Internet access can follow along by reading the course texts and studying the lectures. Visitors from more than a dozen countries visited the course website.
An unusual feature of the course is that the lectures are not only available as a series of online videos, but also in navigable form, as the series resides on two expansive virtual canvases that can be freely navigated online. These canvases visually represent 5000 years of Western culture on two axes, vertically moving temporally from Mesopotamia through thousands of years of literature to the present day, while horizontally following deforestation and a range of other environmental issues as they moved out of northern Africa and up through Europe and into the US. Clicking on any part of this overview zooms in on that part of the lecture. Thus, the material need not be approached sequentially; rather, students can freely navigate to points of interest using this mind map. Moreover, students can add highlighting and notes directly to personalized versions of these “cloud” canvases.
Wildlife in America
Professor Peter S. Alagona, Environmental Studies and History
Humans and wild animals have lived together in North America for more than 14,000 years. During that time, around 150 native species have gone extinct, and thousands of exotic species have colonized the landscape. Some formerly rare species have become common, and some common ones have become rare. Wild animals have served as food, clothing, shelter, servants, companions, weapons, and totems. A few charismatic species—such as the gray wolf, bald eagle, and American bison—have attained the status of icons. But they are not the only ones. Today’s wildlife symbols include a peculiar menagerie: California condors, spotted owls, desert tortoises, polar bears, delta smelts, and Delhi Sands flower-loving flies to name just a few. As we will see in this class, their stories have much to tell us not only about ecological science and environmental politics, but also about American history and culture.
This course will explore the turbulent, contested, and colorful history of wildlife in North America. It will span from the Pleistocene to the present and cover the entire continent. Throughout the term, we will return to examples from California—the state with the greatest biological diversity, largest human population, and richest conservation history. The goal of this course is for you to develop a sophisticated understanding of the changing relationships between people and wild animals over time. There are no easy answers for why things happened the way they did, and no simple lessons for what we should do in the future. But it’s a good story, and one that offers myriad, often unexpected, insights for serious students of history and environmental studies
World Agriculture, Food and Population
Professor David A. Cleveland, Environmental Studies
The challenge to agriculture has never been greater than it is at the beginning of the 21st century. World food production over the last 12,000 years has been able to keep up with the demand for food as farming spread from its centers of origin, and as farmers developed new crop varieties and technologies. Modern industrial agriculture and the green revolution have greatly increased yields. However, the human population of 7+ billion is currently doubling every 40 years, the negative impact of agricultural production on the Earth’s natural resource base is increasing, the social and economic structure of agriculture is changing dramatically, and many millions of people continue to be malnourished.
Consequently, the search for a balance between the food requirements of a growing population, and the need to produce and distribute food in ways that are more environmentally benign, socially equitable, and economically viable dominates discussions of local and global futures. But there are many different ways of defining the problem, which lead to different solutions.
The class will cover the theory and data underlying fundamental food, population and agriculture issues, illustrated by case studies from around the world. We will analyze different problem definitions and solutions in terms of theories, assumptions, data, and values.
Earth in Crisis
John Foran, Sociology and Environmental Studies
We are in a big mess! It’s time to wake up…
A growing international scientific consensus has emerged that there is now only a 50 percent chance that the official United Nations target of limiting the rise in average temperature to 2 degrees Celsius by the year 2050 would effectively avert irreversible climate change. We have already raised global temperatures by 0.8 degrees Celsius, and put enough CO2 in the air to guarantee anther 0.6 degree increase.
“Business as usual” – staying on the current trend of burning the fossil fuels that create the C02 that is warming Earth – puts us on a trajectory to four degrees Celsius or more by the end of the century, which climate scientists believe is tantamount to a catastrophe for life on our planet. Think of it as a kind of hell on Earth for your great-grandchildren, should you have any.
On the side of hope, since 2007, or even earlier, a promising global climate justice movement has emerged behind the slogan “System change, not climate change!” making demands for a socially just, science-based, legally binding climate treaty. To get such a treaty, governments who do not want to vote for it, or whose short-term interests and economic elites are not served by signing, will need to be persuaded (or, more likely forced) to do so by their own citizens and Earth citizens everywhere.
The purpose of this course, then, is to get our heads round the reality that we now live on an “Earth in crisis,” and to explore the implications of this for living, at a minimum in a survivable future, and potentially in a much improved, more just one than we have today. This course is about knowledge and positive action to secure a better future.
Films of the Natural and Human Environment
Professor Janet Walker, Film and Media Studies
This course offers a rich and careful look at a category of filmmaking and critical practice that deals with topics such as inter-species communication, e-waste, and climate change among other prominent issues of our day. The course draws on concepts from visual anthropology, deep ecology, cultural geography, philosophy and the environmental justice movement to engage “not only the non-human ‘natural’ environment, but also the urban, human-built environment and spaces of protection and pollution, exploitation and risk.” This course hopes to encourage students to gain a greater understanding of environmental films, and of media itself as “an environment in and with which we constantly interact.”
In addition to our regular faculty, UCSB regularly brings visiting scholars to campus. The below course was taught by Postdoctoral Fellow Jennifer Martin.
History of the Oceans
Jennifer Martin, Environmental Studies and History
How can something that seems as infinite and timeless as the ocean have a history? Over the semester, we will explore the different ways that historians and other researchers have attempted to answer that question. Marine environmental history is a relatively-new interdisciplinary field that explores the relationships between people and the oceans over time. One of the field’s central arguments is that the oceans—what we once considered unknowable and unchanging—have a history as complicated and rich as the histories of terrestrial places. The oceans cover 71 percent of the Earth’s surface and play a fundamental role in our lives in terms of ecology, economics, culture, law, and social relations. It is time that we begin to untangle these histories.
This course has three themes: what counts as knowing the oceans has deep disciplinary roots—in history, science, culture, and law—that in turn shape the kinds of stories that people tell about the oceans’ past and present; the boundaries that we draw between work and play in the oceans are also historical and cultural constructs; and, finally, issues of power are deeply intertwined with how some people speak for their particular visions of the oceans and what constitutes appropriate activity there.
To make these themes as concrete as possible, we will employ a variety of learning methods. We will describe and analyze the past using a historian’s skill set: gather evidence, look for patterns or discontinuities, develop explanations about context, causes, and consequences, write and revise our ideas, engage others, refine our arguments—although not necessarily in that order. These steps frequently overlap as we will learn over the quarter. One of this course’s main goals is for you to develop and practice these skills by participating in class and completing the required readings and assignments. At the end of the course, you should walk out of the classroom ready to explain how the oceans have histories and how those histories might help us respond to contemporary problems with a historian’s insights into the past.