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RMA Course – Environmental Humanities

Course taught in January 2016 (4 weeks).
Lectures: on Friday 8, 15, 22, and 29 January, 13.30-16.15hrs.
Venue: VU Main Building, De Boelelaan 1105, Amsterdam, Room 12A-22.
Open to: Research Master students in History, Literature, and RMA student members of the Huizinga Institute for Cultural History.
Lecturer: Dr Kristine Steenbergh ( and guest lecturers
Credits: 3 ECTS

The environmental humanities is an interdisciplinary field that is emerging from a number of disciplinary fields which have known their own traditions in environmental research since the 1970s: ecocritism in literature and cultural studies departments, environmental philosophy, environmental history, cultural geography, anthropology. This new field addresses urgent questions related to climate change, the relations between humans and other animals, between the local and the global, between nature and culture. The humanities offer new perspectives on pressing concerns that lead to a fuller understanding of environmental problems that have predominantly been analyzed from a scientific perspective, by showing that the environment has historical, ethical, and cultural dimensions. The environmental humanities therefore aim to be interdisciplinary and activist, influencing both the work in the other sciences and shaping public policy

This course, open to RMA students in Literature, History, and members of the Huizinga Institute for Cultural History, brings together two strands within the environmental humanities: environmental history and ecocriticism. In a period of four weeks, we focus on the topic of ‘timescales’ in the environmental humanities. We engage with the knowledge which the disciplines of history and literature bring to concepts of time in an environmental context and also look at the ways in which environmental concepts such as climate change and the anthropocene impact established concepts of time and temporality in these disciplines. As Deborah Bird Rose put it in the first issue of the journal Environmental Humanities in 2012: the natural world is not a backdrop for human history, rather “traditional human histories are situated dynamically within broader earth histories” (“Thinking Through the Environment, Unsettling the Humanities”).

Each week, we will focus on a different aspect of the question of timescales, such as the notion of the “anthropocene”, slow violence, the longue durée, deep time, linearity and other forms of time, post-humanism, images of the apocalypse, and relating the past to present and future.


The reading list for this month-long course will be distributed to registered participants by e-mail in advance of the course, around 15 December. The selected texts will be open access material or texts that are available through university libraries as much as possible.


Lectures on Friday 8, 15, 22, and 29 January, 13.30-16.15hrs.

Venue: room 12A-22, Main Building, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.


At the end of this course, students will:

  • have a broad grasp of the field of environmental humanities;
  • have an understanding of the main theoretical frameworks from which the role of timescales is considered within the environmental humanities (focusing on environmental history and/or ecocriticism);
  • know how and where to find secondary literature in the fields of environmental history and ecocriticism;
  • have analyzed a research question on timescales in the environmental humanities and documented the results in a 3000-word essay.


A concept map with bibliography (20%), presentation (20%), essay (3000 words; 60%). The three modes of assessment focus on the topic of the student’s individual research project, which (s)he is encouraged to begin as early as possible during the course. Students are asked to analyze an aspect of one of the topics discussed during the course, using three new pieces of secondary literature next to the material on the syllabus. Their research can focus on a theoretical question, can apply the theoretical framework to a case study of choice. Students first hand in a concept map of the ways in which concepts and ideas they encountered in the seminars, the reading for the course, and their individual reading relate to their research question, accompanied by an annotated bibliography of three articles or chapters they read on the topic. In the final week of the course, students will present their research project and submit an essay of 3000 words.