Environmental History

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreSHE2ED1034

Semester and Year Offered: Ist Semester; 1st Year

Course Coordinator and Team:Dr Budhaditya Das

Email of course coordinator: budhaditya[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: None

Course Description:

The course is an introductory course on the discipline of environmental history, with a particular focus on South Asia.The course will encourage students to build a historical understanding of contemporary environmental concerns and acquaint them with intellectual genealogies of ideas like prudence, conservation and wilderness.It aims to critically examine the ways in which colonialism and capitalism transformed human-environment interactions in the Global South since the sixteenth century. The course will attempt to highlight linkages between the discipline of environmental history and the traditions of environmentalism in postcolonial India.

Learning Objectives:

  1. To learn modes of historical thinking and the turn towards social and environmental history within the discipline.
  2. To study the formative and significant works of scholarship in the discipline of environmental history.
  3. To study the key debates which have stimulated historical research on environmental issues.
  4. To understand the effects of colonialism and capitalism on South Asian landscapes and for communities of pastoralists, peasants and forest-dwellers.

Course Outcomes:

On the successful of completion of this course, students will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate awareness of the ways in which human societies and non-human environments have shaped each other.
  2. Demonstrate knowledge of the key works of scholarship and conceptual frameworks within environmental history.
  3. Articulate the ways in which colonialism and capitalism have influenced environmental and ecological change in South Asia.
  4. Critically examine debates about prudence, resource use and the role of state and communities in conservation in pre-colonial and colonial societies.
  5. Appreciate the role of ideas and ideologies in shaping human perceptions and action towards their environments in different historical periods.

Brief Description of Modules:

Module 1: Introduction to Historical Thinking

This module will familiarise students with the diverse responses to the question ‘What is History?’

Module 2: Environments and Histories

The module will introduce the key questions that inform the discipline of environmental history.

Module 3: Human Societies in Early South Asian Environments

This module will focus on human-environment interactions in early South Asia and examine resource use and ideas of nature in the pre-Mauryan and Mauryan empires.

Module 4: Politics and Resource Use in Pre-Colonial India

The module will introduce students to early theoretical frameworks that gained popularity in the study of environmental history of India.

Module 5: Colonialism I: Contact, Commerce and Empire

The module will examine ecological transformations wrought by traders, explorers, imperial armies and settlers in the early phase of mercantile capitalism, with specific reference to the Columbian Exchange.

Module 6: Colonialism II: Ideology, Property and Law

The module will discuss categories of thought and ideologies of nature that informed the policies and rule of the colonial state in South Asia.

Module 7: Forests and Shifting Frontiers

The module will examine the colonial demands for timber, nontimber forest produce and revenues, and the institutions and legislations that transformed forest landscapes in South Asia.

Module 8: State, Pastures and Pastoralists

The module will consider the transformations within long-distance nomadism, alpine and semi-arid pastoral ecosystems in the Indian subcontinent in the colonial period.

Module 9: Landscapes and Wildlife Conservation in the Raj

The module will discuss the continuities in imperial attitudes towards wild fauna between the Mughal and British rulers, through the linkages between shikar, sovereignty and masculinity.

Module 10: Canals, Irrigation and Environmental Change

The module will introduce students to colonial hydrology and the political project of building dams, canals and irrigation networks in important river basins in north and northwest India.

Module 11: Colonial Governance of Floods and Floodplains

The module will continue the discussion of the earlier module by focusing on colonial practices of flood control and management, and examine the limitations of hydraulic interventions and colonial attempts to control society and nature.

Module 12: Nationalism, Nature and Development

The final module of the course will introduce students to the linkages between conceptualisations of nature and the ideologies of nationalism in the late colonial period.

Assessment Details with Weights:

Short Memos: 35%

Take-home essay: 30%

End-semester exam: 35%

Indicative Reading List:

  • Arnold, D. and R. Guha (Editors). (1995). Nature, Culture, Imperialism: Essays on the Environmental History of South Asia.
  • Carr, E.H. (1987). What is History? (Second Edition). London: Penguin Books (pp. 7—30).
  • Cronon, W. (1995). The Trouble with Wilderness, or Getting Back to the Wrong Nature, excerpted from, Uncommon Ground: Toward Reinventing Nature. W.W. Norton & Co Inc.
  • D’Souza, R. (2003). Canal Irrigation and the Conundrum of Flood Protection: The Failure of the Orissa Scheme of 1863 in Eastern India, Studies in History, 19, 1, pp. 41—68.
  • Gadgil, M. and Guha, R. (2013). This Fissured Land: An Ecological History of India. Delhi: Oxford University Press.
  • Gilmartin, D. (1994). Scientific Empire and Imperial Science: Colonialism and Irrigation Technology in the Indus Basin, The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 53, No. 4, pp. 1127—1149.
  • Grove, R. (1993). Conserving Eden: The (European) East India Companies and their Environmental Policies on St. Helena, Mauritius and in Western India, 1660 to 1854, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 35, No. 2, pp. 318—351.
  • Guha, R. (1990). An Early Environmental Debate: The making of the 1878 forest act, The Indian Economic and Social History Review, 27, 1, pp. 65—84.
  • Mandala, Vijaya Ramadas. (2015). The Raj and the Paradoxes of Wildlife Conservation: British Attitudes and Expediencies, The Historical Journal, 58, pp. 75—110.
  • Menon, A. (2004). Colonial Constructions of ‘Agrarian Fields’ and ‘Forests’ in the Koli Hills, Indian Economic and Social History Review, 41, pp. 315—337.
  • Mosse, D. (2006). Rule and Representation: Transformations in the Governance of the Water Commons in British South India, The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 65, No. 1, pp. 61—90.
  • Rangarajan, M. (1994). Imperial agendas and India’s forests: The early history of Indian forestry, 1800—1878. Indian Economic and Social History Review, 31, pp. 147—167.
  • Rangarajan, M. (2001). India’s Wildlife History. Delhi: Permanent Black.
  • Sen, A. P. (1998). Of Tribes, Hunters and Barbarians: Forest Dwellers in the Mauryan Period, Studies in History, 14, pp. 173—191.
  • Worster, D. (1988). The Ends of the Earth: Perspectives on Modern Environmental History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.