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ANTH 461 A: Historical Ecology

Meeting Time: 
TTh 1:30pm - 3:20pm
SIG 229
Photo of Ben Fitzhugh from 2020
Ben Fitzhugh

Syllabus Description:

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 Martu Aboriginal Australians conducting a controlled burn to improve patch diversity and foraging opportunity. Rebecca Bliege-Bird, photo. Principles of black earth (terra preta) anthrosol formation with biochar interaction. from Fischer & Glaser 2012. A villager milks a cow in Rajasthan. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

1. Australian Aboriginal patch burning for  hunting.           2.  Amazonian dark soil formation          3. How to milk a cow in India.

Historical Ecology, Winter 2024


Ben Fitzhugh (242 Denny Hall):

Office hours are by appointment to facilitate the greatest flexibility for student schedules. In the first two weeks of the quarter, we will schedule Zoom office meetings in small groups to establish communication and discuss goals and concerns. Students are encouraged to schedule appointments at any time throughout the quarter to discuss the class or paper topics.  Email is preferred for communication for setting up meetings. (Canvas Mail is equivalent) 


In this class, we cover archaeological and anthropological dimensions of Historical Ecology. We tackle hot-button issues at the intersection of environmental social and natural 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?
      • Are humans inherently destructive to the environment?
      • Is the conservation crisis a recent development? In what situations do people "manage" (or steward) natural resources?
      • What is sustainable development?
      • 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 global geological force?
      • How have entangled histories of population dynamics, colonialism, economic intensification, resource extraction, racism, and appropriation of rights to land and resources altered human-environmental relationships in more and less sustainable ways?


This class is designed to help you develop your 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 post comments on assigned readings on the Canvas 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 physical class reading packet. If you have difficulties reading electronic documents and are unable to easily print them out, please check with DRS to see about an accommodation.  If that does not work, please contact me and we can try to find another solution.


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 sources. The last two class periods are reserved for presentation and discussion of these projects, and a paper (typed, 3500-5000 words; equivalent to 12-17 double-spaced pages) will be due on Sunday, March 10 at 11:59 p.m. At intervals throughout the quarter students will be required to submit a preliminary title and abstract, then an expanded abstract, and a rough draft 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 post-discussion summaries), and on the class research project (short abstract, expanded abstract, rough draft, 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 preferred pronouns that you want the class or instructor to use when referring to you, please alert the class or instructor by email, as you are most comfortable.

Canvas Site

This is a convenient system because it integrates all your class activities into a single web platform.  You can review and submit assignments, access online lectures and quizzes, participate in discussions, review supplementary information, and check your grades.  This web site has several features that you will need and others that you may want to use during the quarter.  But please note that Canvas is still imperfect and has several bugs and awkward features - often related to how it calculates running grades or how you see them! Have patience, use the HELP links (Top Right corner of the site) to the extent possible, but please let me know if you get stuck or confused using it.

Humanity, Grace, and Academic Honesty

Through the duration of this class, you are expected to treat your fellow students and the instructor respectfully and with the same civility you would expect to be treated by others.  It is vital that you take to heart that you are interacting with real, caring, sensitive people whether commenting on a Discussion Board or discussing ideas in a breakout group.  The basic rule is that everyone in class deserves to be treated respectfully. No one should dominate discussions. And disagreements should be expressed honestly but in a fashion that focuses on ideas not identities, perspectives not persons, and in a way that makes an effort to understand the point of view of others, and one that respects and values the potential for sharing of differences to foster greater understanding. I cannot promise to intervene in every instance, but I welcome feedback should interactions become uncomfortable for you.

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 prevent you from benefiting from the assignments. Such behavior is unfair to others in the class and 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.

Disability Resources for Students

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. DRS 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),

Students with Children and other Family Responsibilities

I am sensitive to the needs of those caring for children and other family members. Where possible, try to participate in any live class discussions. If you expect to be unable to participate in class for an extended period of time, try to give me advance notice as early as possible since it is harder to make accommodations after the fact, though I understand that family care take precedence. 

University Options in Case of Difficulty Completing Coursework

Of course I hope that you will work with me as early as possible to overcome any challenges you discover in your efforts to keep up/complete the course requirements.  Please understand that there is a limit to the amount of make-up work I can provide, and the University has additional options available for students who find themselves unable to complete the work required to finish a class within the quarter it is taken (e.g., S/NS grade conversion, Incomplete, Former Quarter Drop (f.k.a. hardship withdrawal). Let me know if you have a question about using these options or contact your advisor or the Registrar for more information.

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: 
Social Sciences (SSc)
Natural Sciences (NSc)
Last updated: 
December 4, 2023 - 8:54pm