ANTH 461 A: Historical Ecology

Meeting Time: 
MW 1:30pm - 3:20pm
RAI 116
Photograph of Radhika Govindrajan
Radhika Govindrajan
Ben Fitzhugh

Syllabus Description:

 AboriginalBurning-RBliege-Bird.jpg FischerGlaser2012Fig-3-Principles-of-terra-preta-formation-and-soil-biochar-interaction.png Cow-seva.jpg

Martu foragers using fire for small-game hunting.                                          Terra Preta, dark soil formation                           How to milk a cow in India.  (Wire, 1/5/2017)
photo by R. Bliege-Bird, Penn State U.                                                               Fig 3 in Fischer and Glaser 2012 


Historical Ecology, Autumn 2017


Ben Fitzhugh (242 Denny Hall):, 206-543-9604 (email, most effective)
Radhika Govindrajan (142 Denny Hall)

Office hours for both Ben and Radhika are by appointment. This is for flexibility so we can find times that work for all students.  Please DO schedule appointments with us to discuss the class or your paper.  Email is preferred for communication.

Anonymous email link if you have comments to express that you do not feel comfortable attaching your name to.


In this class, we cover archaeological and cultural anthropological dimensions of Historical Ecology. We tackle hot-button issues in environmental social science with a focus on the deep temporal legacies of human-environmental relationships. At the end of this class, students will be familiar with the intellectual histories of environmental anthropology and contemporary debates and tensions around ethics, agency, environment, and historical causality. Questions to be addressed include:

  • How is human history shaped by the physical environment?
  • How is environmental history shaped by humans?
  • How do we understand the intersection of human and environmental forces in the “Era” of the Anthropocene when humans are thought to act as a geological force?
  • Are humans inherently destructive to the environment?
  • Is the conservation crisis a recent development?
  • What is sustainable development?
  • How might we understand the relationship between Nature, capital and the politics of gender, race, and disability?

This class is designed to help you develop critical reading and thinking, collaborative learning, written and oral communication skills, understanding about the historical dimension of human interactions with environment and climate, and informed global stewardship.

This class is a seminar. The instructors' primary purpose is to facilitate and moderate discussion. Expect and be prepared to engage in active, creative, and critical discussion of each class's readings and general topics. To facilitate this process, for some topics and readings, students will be asked to take turns preparing insightful and provocative discussion questions. At other times, students will read different articles and come together to share what they learned with a small group of colleagues who read different but related pieces. For each class session, students will be required to submit or post comments on assigned readings on the discussion site associated with the class period.

Required readings are mostly scholarly articles in journals and book chapters linked on individual days' discussion pages. There is no required text and no paper class reading packet.

In addition to class discussions about readings and related topics, each student will research a historical ecological topic that addresses a contemporary human-environmental issue with insights drawn from archaeological, historical, and ethnographic cases. The last three class periods are reserved for presentation and discussion of these projects, and a paper (typed, 5000-7000 words; equivalent to 15-25 double spaced pages) will be due on Sunday, December 10 at 5:00 p.m. At intervals throughout the quarter students will be required to submit title and abstract and then an expanded abstract as steps towards the preparation of the final presentation and term paper. More details about the paper assignment can be found here.

Students will be evaluated on the basis of their class participation (on-time online posts, in-class discussion participation), and on the class research project (short abstract, expanded abstract, in-class presentation and final paper).

Grade distribution:

  • Course participation (online and in-class): 40%
  • First abstract with 5+ references: 5%
  • Expanded Abstract with 10+ references and Peer Critique: 10%
  • In-class project presentation: 20%
  • Final paper: 25%


  • If you have a preferred pronoun, feel free to mention it in or after class.



Through the duration of this class, you are expected to treat your fellow students, teaching assistants, and instructor honestly and with respect. You are expected to produce your own work for the class. Written exercises should be original and must properly credit intellectual sources used. Plagiarism or any other form of cheating will not be tolerated. If you are unsure as to what constitutes academic honesty, go to the following campus web site. This site outlines the disciplinary actions that are required when a case of dishonesty is identified. (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.


The Disability Resources for Students (DRS) Office coordinates academic accommodations for enrolled students with documented disabilities. Accommodations are determined on a case-by-case basis and may include classroom relocation, sign language interpreters, recorded course materials, note taking, and priority registration. DSS also provides needs assessment, mediation, referrals, and advocacy as necessary and appropriate. Requests for accommodations or services must be arranged in advance and require documentation of the disability, verifying the need for such accommodation or service. Contact DRS at: 011 Mary Gates Hall, 206-543-8924 (Voice);  206-543-8925 (TTY); 206-616-8379 (Fax),

Catalog Description: 
Explores a global range of case studies in the historical dimension of the environment, human adaptation, and cultural change. Investigates the co-evolution of environment and culture in archaeological and historical contexts. Develops a better understanding of modern human-environmental dynamics as historically situated. In
Department Requirements: 
Anthropology of Globalization Option
Archaeological Sciences Option
GE Requirements: 
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Natural World (NW)
Last updated: 
September 11, 2018 - 11:52am